Learning Christ. Teaching Christ.
This week I sat in on a two hour Zoom class that was being offered to ministers. Within the first hour my mind had drifted and then I spent the second hour practicing my banjo. At least I was learning something.
I don’t know how or if my kids are managing their education this way. Or how teachers are able to teach in this limited capacity. It’s tough enough to harness the energy or lethargy of adolescents when they’re in the same room. I can’t imagine it’s any easier online. But until the vaccination takes hold, Kathleen and thousands of other teachers will have to find ways to engage their students, hoping no one will fall behind.
The good news is, we are naturally a learning species. We approach every situation with a certain curiosity to discover or to try new things that will help us grow and evolve. Moreover, we love to pass along what we learn, whether formally to students in a classroom or informally to one another. Teaching and learning isn’t just in our DNA. It’s a part of the evolutionary process. So who we learn from matters to our survival.
We have friends who are teachers in the traditional sense in that they teach at schools and universities.
We also have friends who teach Pilates and yoga classes, and courses on breathe work and guitar to name a few. I’ve had teachers who were mentors, people at work who have inspired to be a better version of myself both professionally and privately. And I’ve learned a lot by watching others succeed and fail. Like I discovered, who you learn from matters to who you can become.
Most of you have had dozens of teachers throughout your life. If you’re lucky enough, some made a lasting impression or an impact. Like my art teacher, Linda Knisley. She didn’t just teach me how to draw and paint. She showed me how to remain patient while learning to basket weave. She taught me gentleness through lessons in water color and stain glass. And how to think backwards and see negative shapes with lessons in woodcutting, and print making. She also introduced me to Salvador Dali, Miro, Picasso and other artist who, like Ms. Knisley would ignite my imagination. With only one good eye, this amazing teacher showed me how to see the world and to know myself in a variety of different ways.
Then there was Frank Morris. His classroom wasn’t at a school, but in the small kitchen of his Italian restaurant where I first learned how to cook. Working for Frank taught me how move under pressure, how to think on my toes and multitask in a working environment that was literally as hot as hell. He also taught me how to smoke cigarettes, a few other things too that are better left unsaid.
There are also those teachers who you barely know, but they make you realize who you are or what you can be. Like my college English professor whose name I can’t remember. But I will never forget the first paper I got back from him that had more red ink on it than black. To my surprise, the grade on the top of that paper was an A. When I asked about it, he reminded me that this was a creative writing class. He said, “Anyone can go and learn grammar. But not everyone can be a writer.” He showed me I could to go and do both. Although I’m still struggling with one.
Who we learn from matters because it will shape not just who we are but our lesson plan that we will use to teach others. Which brings us to today’s reading about a teacher who stands in a synagogue and teaches the sacred scriptures like it’s never been taught before.
Read Mark 1:21-28
Mark tells us that Jesus entered a synagogue and began to teach. We don’t know why he went there. Perhaps he was invited to be a part of a lecture series or was just the guest speaker for the day. We don’t know. He might have just wandered in and started doing his thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jesus did stuff like that. He was that kind of teacher, spontaneous and hands on. Whatever the case was that day, Jesus started teaching. And did so with authority.
Mark tells us that Jesus’ style of teaching was different than what the people were used to. We know it’s different because the scribes, whose job it was to teach the laws and traditions of the church, never would have let the man with the unclean spirit enter the building. Mark doesn’t give us much about this man’s story either. But if you were paying attention, you learned that when the man addressed Jesus, he saw him for who he really was. We aren’t sure how, because Mark gives us nothing more than to say Jesus was teaching. We can safely assume Jesus was teaching the sacred scriptures. After all, that’s what you do in church.
So one could argue that the way Jesus approached this man is the same way he did with scripture. With authority. Like the Holy One of God. When Jesus spoke to the man, we see his authority came from his willingness to do the will of God and see to it that justice was served. He practiced what he preached. As a result, this man’s life was saved and made new again. Who we learn from matters.
Of all the teachers in my life, only one so far has come close to doing what Jesus did. Fr. Harold Anderson was my priest, mentor and friend. I learned more about Jesus by watching him than in all my classes of seminary. Wherever Fr. Anderson was, it was obvious that Christ was there too. He welcomed everyone with an open mind and an open heart, just as Jesus welcomed the man with the unclean spirit.
Like Jesus, Fr. Anderson made God’s love a priority; bringing the gospel to life by putting love into action. His way of teaching inspired me to want to be my best. And he did that by teaching me how to think with my heart and love with my head. A life lesson that I desperately try to practice, even though I often fail.
That’s what good teachers do, they don’t just teach; they help us push ourselves to be better. That’s the kind of teacher Jesus was. Like my friend Dawn pointed out to me the other day, Jesus doesn’t give us a bunch of facts to pass a test. He speaks and shows us a way to go deeper inside ourselves so we can discover who God made us to be, and what we’re all about. Jesus teaches us the fullness of life; igniting the fire within us that fuels our thirst for knowledge, curiosity, and wisdom that make us want to be better people so we can make our world a better place for ourselves, our neighbors, and the next generation...who we will inspire to do the same.
Using God’s word as his textbook, Jesus doesn’t merely read it, or explain it like the scribes. Instead, he demonstrates it by living it, and living it in such a way that it will inspires us to follow him. Jesus practiced what he preached because he knew people were watching and listening to him. He knew his responsibility to proclaim God’s truth. So that’s what he did in all the ways he lived. With authority.
When questioned about his authority in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “I did not come to change the laws and the prophets but to fulfill them.” And wherever Jesus went, God’s words were proclaimed and fulfilled by the love he gave and the mercy he showed others.
That’s a lesson for us all. By seeing the world through the eyes of God’s love, Jesus possessed the power to heal and transform people. It allowed him to face human ugliness, with justice and mercy and kindness; always ready to forgive and to give.
In John’s gospel Jesus said, “I am the truth, the life and way.” I have come to believe this to mean that Jesus is the way to our salvation because he lived God’s truth perfectly. Jesus knew God’s love and made it the central part of his life. He embraced love’s power to heal us of our brokenness, to forgives of our transgressions, to lift us up when we are down.
He taught us how to do the same. How to harness God’s love to save ourselves from the mess we make or find ourselves in. Imagine how our world could be transformed if we dared to live like Jesus did, as if God actually meant what God said.
Soon enough Jesus will send his new students out into the world to do just that. They aren’t perfect. They mess up like we do. They fumble to find their way. Yet Jesus sent them knowing they had all they needed. They had God’s love already written on their hearts. Jesus sent them out to preach the gospel, like St. Francis suggested, by using words only when necessary.
He showed them the way. The way of love, the way of peace, the way back to God’s redeeming grace. And then he sent them on their way to show and send others. Jesus didn’t require his followers to have seminary degrees in order to teach this gospel. Even though they will doubt themselves, Jesus never lost faith in them. He knew they could do it, because Jesus showed them how. They watched he did, and chose to follow suit.
This tells me, that you and I can do the same. Just as Jesus called his students, so too does Jesus invite us to go out into the world to share the good news. By studying scripture like he did, we know what to do. The only textbook you need is an honest heart. And a lesson plan that includes a gentle smile and a willing hand. As for your students, well, they are everywhere. In classrooms, boardrooms, living rooms and beyond.
As students of Christ, we are called to be teachers of Christ - practicing what we preach in the ways we welcome one another - loving on them in all the ways Jesus loved us.
We will all have different teaching styles and methods, but we all share the same assignment; to show the truth and the light of God’s love. And to go and teach that way with authority as the holy ones of God.
Let us pray: Lord God, you have taught us your ways through Jesus Christ, and you have empowered us to teach them by your Holy Spirit. Send us now, out into the world, to do just that. Amen.
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has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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