WELCOME to worship, using this post and the worship bulletin. Sorry, we do not have video of a children’s story this week. (Luke 4:14-30) J G White – 11 am, Sun, Jan 17, 2021, UBC Digby
Welcome to School; class is now in session! 🙂
For at least the first fifteen years of my career, this is what I wore for every worship service, including each funeral and wedding. The old tradition of basic black, academic robes for preaching: a Geneva gown. This really is rooted in the clothing of teachers and students of old. So we declare that the Church is about teaching and learning.
Well, this is one aspect of our life with God, and a good one. One of many aspects we will explore over the next couple months. Some people are drawn to be part of church because of the learning that happens.
Perhaps we see the roots of this in Judaism. Once again today we visit that Bible scene where Jesus visits his hometown, Nazareth, and gets involved in the teaching of the Synagogue on Saturday, the Sabbath.
The Jewish religion – thousands of years old – has changed quite a bit, through time. Before the days of Jesus, they had developed in their towns these meeting places – synagogues – for education, for worship, for legal decisions, and so forth. Communities of Jews, scattered in many places, could still gather to be God’s people together, learning the things of God, learning how to be Jewish.
Luke chapter 4 (:16) today tells us Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He, like many other Jews, kept the Sabbath holy, in part, by gathering for prayer and scripture reading and teaching.
How does spiritual learning happen today? How do people gather and study together? For many, local religious groups are not the place they turn to for spiritual education. For others of us, this still is the heart of our learning about God, humanity, the universe and everything. How churches are meeting together is changing a lot, and not just because of pandemic precautions. The ways of meeting in small groups in homes keeps getting re-invented, including by the ‘Fresh Expressions’ movement. That has new Christian gatherings happening at the coffee shop, the tattoo parlour, the dog walk park, and the brewery. ‘What Would Jesus Brew?’ – that’s the new ‘church’ for some, apparently.
And these creative ways of meeting can be branches from a traditional church – like us. Our own denomination just last week started a new program called ‘Launch,’ which is all about churches starting new branches of themselves in different ways, out there. Digby Wesleyan is doing this now, with their Tuesday services in the Deep Brook Lion’s Hall.
The whole world is God’s classroom, and laboratory, with us. We who have enrolled to be disciples of Master Jesus find life lessons everywhere, thanks be to God!
So, church is about getting together to learn. Another important thing people seek from God in the churches is Scriptural understanding. What the Bible means, how to find God in it, how to live the Bible’s way. A system of learning what is real and good, based on Holy Scripture.
This is a hard day and age for TRUTH. In our religion, we make claims about ‘the truth.’ That we are in touch with the source of truth: God and the Bible. Yet the truth about so many things is very hard to know, it seems.
We are witnessing the tragic finale of a world leader this month. And the whole USA is in a tense and dangerous condition. What is true? What is right? What is fair? What is just? What is needed? What is wrong? Sorting the details out is so challenging – certainly for us as bystanders. The daily news can set our heads and our hearts spinning. I don’t even want ‘to go there.’
Yet my faith stance tells me I have something to say, we have something to say. Lying is a problem. Ridicule and contempt is a problem. Greed is a problem. ‘Looking out for number one’ is a problem. The Bible tells me so. And the Bible will also challenge me and you, the way we live.
Look at that scene of Jesus in the synagogue. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. (Luke 4:16-17) This was the usual thing. It still is.
Once Jesus started talking about other Old Testament stories, that day, He got in hot water. He was mentioning non Jewish people who’d been helped, over and above the ‘chosen people.’ His fellow chosen people were furious at this. ‘If this local guy was going to claim to be the Messiah, he had better put the Jews first!’ He didn’t. The crowd tries to kill Jesus! This is the first attempt of a few, before the day we know about when He does die.
So, in our lifetimes, we should not be surprised if we find people who dislike Jesus, or who reject the Holy Bible. Lines from a Christmas song haunt me, a song by an atheist comedian and musician from Australia.
I don’t go for ancient wisdom
I don’t believe just ’cause ideas are tenacious
it means that they’re worthy
(Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun)
The Bible has been tenacious, and some people do not like that. I do. One thing I asked for for my fiftieth birthday was any volume of the seven volume St. John’s Bible. I got it. In fact, I got three of the volumes. This text, Scripture, is so influential and powerful for me. I am here to learn.
And, it goes without saying, I am also here to teach. The role of the Rabbi/Teacher/Preacher/Prophet is strong in human history. People are part of the Christian Church to learn from God through the teachers we have.
We look up to Jesus, our quintessential Master, Teacher, Lord and Friend. When He began to speak in Nazareth, that day, things started well. (Luke 4:) 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. Jesus was impressive. Think about some of the things Jesus said that most impress you.
In our lives we have so many great teachers, and through them the Spirit of Jesus continues to train us. I think we are more likely to name some of these others, without giving credit to Jesus directly. You may have been taught well through the years by Billy Graham, or Max Lucado, Joyce Myers, or Martin Luther King, Jr., Anna Robbins or Leon Langille. All these teach in the church, from the church, and for the Christian church.
Thousands of other spiritual teachers are available to us, just in the English language. From other religious traditions, to ‘new age,’ non-traditional perspectives, everything is out there. And everyone has a following. We believers don’t have a corner on the marketplace of spiritual teaching.
So plenty of folks who used to be in pews are now getting their spiritual instruction for other ‘experts.’ I feel, from time to time, the strong urge to compete, but in my better moments I think I am better just to talk. Just be able to chat with others. Hear how others understand life. Get good at explaining myself without coming across as selling something. We all can do that. I prefer to think that’s what the Apostle Peter would say to us today with his words: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Pt 3:15-16)
If the Christian Church is a place for learning of God by getting together, by studying the Bible, and by hearing from teachers – including God – it must also be about life-long learning: always making progress.
A well-known Southern Baptist theologian quips that the whole of his Sunday school training could be summed up in one sentence (delivered with a broad Texas drawl): “Jesus is nice, and he wants us to be nice, too.” (Cynthia Bourgeault, quoted by Richard Rohr, Jan 14, 2019) there’s a pretty weak gospel! Even Sunday school for children needs to go deeper and farther than this. Not to mention the training we offer to teenagers, young adults, middle-agers like me, and elders like you. 😉
My memory of school days is poor, so I asked some teachers I know about the curriculum. So many things children learn come in stages. You learn the basics, then some more, then you build on that and learn greater things. The first things you learned are not pointless, they are the foundation.
For instance, in preschool and primary children learn to read and write the alphabet. The methodology now is mainly to learn lower-case letters, along with the sounds they make. The capital letters are added in as they go along. Later, in about grades three and four, the teachers are free to teach them cursive writing, though that is no longer in the curriculum now.
Some things we learn at an early stage get replaced by better lessons, more detail, more accuracy. A lover of science, I remember learning about atoms. Everything is made up of tiny atoms. In about grade nine I learned the structure of an atom. A nucleus of protons and neutrons, with electrons circling around in orbits, like the planets going around the sun.
But wait! In grade eleven chemistry I learned this: it is better to describe the electrons as being in ‘orbitals,’ sort of like clouds, around the nucleus, not in simple orbits. They do not actually just spin around in circles; they exist in foggy clouds of probability.
What I learned in grade nine was not wrong, just simple and basic. Two years later I got a fuller story. And, of course, this prepares me to think that real experts in chemistry and physicals see the atom far differently than I knew it in grade eleven. It is more complex and amazing that I know, even with my minor in Chemistry.
So it is with God. So it is with the human spirit. So it is with creation. So it is with the past, and with the future. We learn more. What I learned as a kid about having Jesus in my heart was a very simple thing. As a teen I got basic training in praying and using the Bible and obeying the will of God for my life. In my twenties I was introduced to so much more about human spirituality & Christian theology. In my thirties I got obsessed by the spiritual disciplines, far above and beyond the very basic Bible reading and prayer I’d been taught when I was a kid. & my journey continues.
Sometimes I get concerned about all the failures of the Church I see when it comes to teaching people stuff. We can learn lessons from what we did poorly. Yet there is also such success in what we have taught one another, and I want to see and celebrate these things. God has used us in beautiful ways as students and teachers of faith. And the new things that are always there to be learned – at times we have learned these lessons.
When Jesus was in the synagogue that day, He clearly was using the old Bible in new ways. The audience got so upset with Him: He must have been making some points they did not want to hear! As it says, When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. (Luke 4:28)
Today, when the Holy Spirit reminds us of all that Jesus taught, we may still get some surprises. We should. I suppose that one of the uses of the church that really still attracts me, is the church as a group for study and learning. This does not appeal to every believer; it does to me.
So, in the role of spiritual teacher, I need to remember two things. First, not everyone is in church as a classroom. We will look at many other reasons to be here, in the upcoming sermons. Some of you are in church as a family, or in church for a miracle, or in church to do good.
Second, I need to remember that not every one of you wants or needs what I want or need from the Bible. Each sermon is for all of us, with all our different places of faith and understanding.
This year, may we see our wise God still gather the Church to learn, deeply influence us by the written Word of God, anoint many teachers to guide us, and teach us all more and more, moving us from milk to solid food.
To the glory of Jesus. AMEN.