This is the fourth Sunday in our series about the five Marks of Mission. … Just to remind ourselves once again, these are the 5 Marks of Mission espoused by the Church of England:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
- To teach, baptise and nurture believers.
- To respond to human need by loving service.
- To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
We have not been able to follow them in order. We started with the first but then jumped to the third and then the fifth. We are now going back to fill in the second and the fourth Marks of Mission. Over recent weeks, we have heard how interdependent these Marks are, we cannot pick and choose between them. Together they describe God’s Mission in our world and we are called to see what God is doing and to join in.
The second mark is: To teach, baptise and nurture believers.
Our call is to be a learning community. We are called to be people who continue to learn and grow throughout their journey as followers of Jesus. To be so, we need teachers. The call to be a teacher is not just for the clergy. We need many people who are able to lead discussion groups, able to preach, able to nurture new believers. It is possible that you might be being called to be such a teacher in God’s Church. If so, what are the qualifications? …………….
I guess that the first thing I want to know about someone who is going to teach me, is whether I can trust them. What is it that makes someone a good teacher? What should we expect from those who teach us?
Recently, I have been on retreat, reading various parts of the Bible. I’d like us to think about a few of those passages this morning.
- James 3
- Jeremiah 31
- Isaiah 50 and Psalm 45
- Proverbs 8
1. James 3
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes.
He goes on to talk about the kind of wisdom that a teacher should show:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
The call of a teacher is not to be strident or contentious. A teacher who does God’s work will be one who brings peace, who is gentle, willing to yield, full of goodness. Someone who is inclusive, someone who draws people together in faith rather than someone who is dogmatic and divisive. That is the first test of a teacher of the Christian faith.
2. Jeremiah 31
Secondly, let’s listen to Jeremiah. ……………..
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
It might seem at first as though Jeremiah is saying that God’s plan is that we should all go our own way, just listen to the inner voice of our conscience and everything will be wonderful. And Jeremiah is in the wider passage talking about taking individual responsibility for our lives. He is also talking about the rebuilding of community.
I wonder whether your experience of school was a little like my experience of learning Latin or my times tables. In each case I had to be able to sing out what I had learnt in a form of chant. Do you remember? ………………………..
Education was primarily about learning facts. Which is very important. However, very little effort went into giving me the skills to think for myself. Very little was done to help me evaluate what I was being told. I suppose I picked up a few of those skills in some of my science subjects but they were still primarily about learning facts. What I most needed as part of my education was to be helped to develop learning skills that would mean that as I grew older I would be able to check evidence for myself and make good decisions. I think that is what Jeremiah is talking about. Our faith is not to be based on what we learn by rote, nor just one what we are told, we have our own faith and our own responsibility to learn and be disciples of Jesus. So Jeremiah says on God’s behalf: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.
What does a Church teacher look like in these circumstances? What role do they have? ………….
I think that, while there are some important facts to learn and there needs to be a shared understanding of faith, effective teachers of the gospel will be facilitators rather than autocrats. They will learn, themselves, how to draw truth out from those they teach and they will help us learners to learn from each other what God has for us in Scripture. Learning will be inclusive and exciting, it will build our understanding rather than just our knowledge. It will take seriously those words of God spoken through Jeremiah: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
So a teacher will show great humility and draw people together in faith and they will respect those they teach. What else will be true of them?
3. Isaiah 50 and Psalm 45
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The best teachers are those who themselves are willing to learn. The best teachers believe that we need to go on learning as disciples of Jesus. The best teachers expect that God will challenge and change them as they pursue their own journey of faith. Good teachers don’t sparingly share their knowledge but willingly share with others – seeking to bring hope to the weary. There is a similar short passage in Psalm 45 v 1:
And that verse gives rise to the song that we sang as our gradual hymn and its chorus:
My tongue will be the pen of a ready writer,
And what the Father gives to me I’ll sing;
I only want to be His breath,
I only want to glorify the King.
The best teachers continue to learn, and “only want to glorify the King.”
So a teacher will show great humility and draw people together in faith and they will respect those they teach. A teacher will be someone who is always ready to learn. ……….
4. Proverbs 8
And one more thing. …… For this we turn to the book of Proverbs, which has a lot to say about Wisdom. The wise one, the teacher is set alongside God in God’s work in the world. In Chapter 8 v 1-4 we read these words:
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
The wise one, the teacher, will share their wisdom not just in the safe confines of the home nor in the church. God’s wisdom is for the public space. God’s wisdom applies to all things which we, as God’s people, encounter. “The heights” refers to places of worship which were always found on the high points in Israel. But wisdom speaks elsewhere as well. “Beside the way” and “at the crossroads” – on the journey and at the place of decision, God’s wisdom will guide us. “The gates in front of the town” were the place of decision and judgement in the public sphere. The leaders of the people gathered at the town gates to make decision s and to dispense justice for the community.
Teachers of God’s wisdom are called to inhabit those spaces, to be community leaders and to bring the wisdom of God to bear on the matters of civil society. Our faith is not just for the private sphere.
So, we have four important things to bear in mind if we think God might be calling us to be a teacher. ……
- A teacher will show humility and draw people together in faith.
- A teacher will respect those they teach and listen to them as they learn.
- A teacher will be someone who is always ready to learn themselves.
- A teacher will have courage and will speak in the secular and public sphere and will help us to apply our faith in the world.
Do you think God might be calling you to be a teacher? I hope so. We sure need people of integrity who will help us to grow in faith and take a place of leadership in the world.