I told my class that a wise man, a minister in whom I put great stock, once said that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, records man’s growing understanding of God, how it has improved over the millennia.
February 9, 2011 — Suffice to say, no matter how skilled the preacher, we all come away from worship services with different insights and different levels of comprehension from sermon messages. Sometimes, with hearts and minds preoccupied, we come away without the foggiest notion of what the sermon message was about. We’re only human.
Recognizing this, our adult Sunday school class had previously decided to begin a series of lessons over the sermons our pastors preached the previous week. On this particular Sunday morning, it was my turn to teach, facilitating discussion over the sermon that I had heard the previous Sunday, Pastor Marie Mitchell’s: Jesus, Our Teacher ~ Let’s Go to the Kingdom Classroom.
The previous lesson in this series resulted in some very interesting discussion and deeper understanding among many. I hoped for the same result on this morning.
By way of explanation, we normally have two different worship services at our church, a more contemporary, early service with our associate pastor preaching and a more traditional, late morning service with our senior pastor preaching. Some of us regularly attend the earlier service while others of us regularly attend the later service. The decision to discuss one of the previous Sunday’s sermons allows us to hear a sermon message that we may have missed.
After, administrative announcements, cares and concerns, and an opening prayer, I began my lesson saying, “As Christians, we universally recognize Jesus as the greatest teacher who ever lived. But do we know why He was so great? Was it because of what He taught or how He taught?”
I allowed time for class members to reflect on this, but it didn’t take long before one of the gentlemen in the class said, “It’s both, but mostly because of how He taught.” On this, there was general agreement.
“Thank you,” I said. “Of course, since Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, many have taught the same things: to love God with all our hearts and minds and to love one another as we love ourselves. But nobody has ever taught these things so well. Isn’t it a shame that we have not all learned as well as He taught?”
My rhetorical question didn’t get the chuckles I thought it might.
Then I asked how many had heard the same sermon that I had heard the previous week. Only two hands went up. “Great,” I said. “This will be a new lesson for most of you then.”
To the two who had raised their hands, I said, “For reasons that will become obvious to you as soon as I do this, I’m going to ask you not to share about the significance of what I am about to do.” Then, to the whole class I said, “I have a treat for you this morning. Yes, a real treat: ice-cream.”
While passing out plastic spoons and individual servings of ice-cream, including some no-sugar-added, frozen yogurt treats for those who might be on restricted sugar diets, I asked everyone to think about: (1) who was their most memorable teacher; (2) from this teacher, what they had learned, and; (3) what had made this teacher so memorable.
It took a few moments for the treats to be distributed and for the sharing about remembered teachers to begin. When the sharing did begin, it became obvious that the memories stirred emotions. The stories were heart-warming. Some of the favorite teachers were women, some men. Some were actually family members. All were remembered as being sincere, caring individuals who respected their students and were, in turn, themselves respected. They all loved what they did and they loved their students. Another common denominator was that the favorite teachers, regardless of the subject they taught, were very knowledgeable about what they taught. Also, they had the ability to connect with their students on a personal level.
Summarizing, I said, “Don’t you suppose that these great teachers’ characteristics were the same characteristics our Savior employed?
I asked my class, “How did Jesus teach?” Then I summarized responses — Jesus taught using aphorisms (great one-liners, short, pithy, memorable sayings provoking and inviting further insight). Examples: “If a blind person leads another blind person, they will both fall into a ditch, Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” and, “Leave the dead to bury the dead.” He also taught using parables (short stories that invite the student to see things in light of the story. Examples: the story of the Good Samaritan and the Foolish Farmer.
While finishing up our ice-cream, I asked for volunteers to read verses from the same scripture passages used for the Offertory Praise during last week’s worship, Psalm 139. If you have a Bible close, you might wish to read this passage yourself before continuing. It’s the song of David which begins: “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”
After the readings, I asked what images of God are made manifest by these passages.
I wrote member responses on the class whiteboard. They included: All knowing, All powerful, Judging, and Controlling. These things, I said, reflect our conventional knowledge about the nature of God – the things that have been known for ages about the God of Abraham, of Joseph, of Moses, and Isaiah. In these passages, David doesn’t tell us anything new about God, except, perhaps, about God’s personal relationship with us.
Then, in the same order of worship followed by our pastor the previous Sunday, I next shared what was taught during the Children’s Sermon: The Importance of Signs and Why We Should Obey Them. A poster showing various traffic signs was displayed. The signs included a stop sign, a railroad crossing, a speed limit sign. When the children were asked why these warning and caution signs are important and why we should obey them, a precocious little lad answered, “Cause if you don’t, you’ll get crashed!”
“Exactly, responded the pastor. “And (holding up a Bible), there are warnings signs in here too. We need to learn about them and obey them so we won’t get crashed.”
I told my class that a wise man, a minister in whom I put great stock, once said that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, records man’s growing understanding of God, how it has improved over the millennia. This helped me to understand how my image of God as creator, a jealous and sometimes vengeful God, can be reconciled with the New Testament image of God as an accepting and forgiving Savior.
I then asked the class, “What did Jesus teach?” I listened to their responses then summarized — Jesus taught about God, the Kingdom of Heaven and how we should treat one another. I added, “Jesus taught an alternative wisdom, did he not? He taught his disciples to see things differently.”
Next, I asked class members to read verses from Matthew 5, verses 1 through 12, The Sermon on the Mount. Again, if you have ready access to a Bible, you might want to read these verses yourself before continuing with this posting.
After the readings, I asked my class, “What do the beatitudes tell us about Jesus’ alternative wisdom?” I listened to the responses, and then summarized using the following table adding a couple of my own insights .
|Conventional Wisdom||Jesus’ Alternative Wisdom|
|God is punitive lawgiver and judge||God is gracious|
|A person’s worth is determined by measuring up to social standards||As a children of God, all persons have infinite worth|
|Sinners and outcasts are to be avoided and rejected||Everyone is welcome around the table and in the kingdom of God|
|Identity comes from social tradition||Identity comes from centering in the sacred, from relationship with God|
|Strive to be first||The first shall be last…; those who exalt themselves will be emptied…|
|Preserve one’s own life above all||The path of dying to self and being reborn leads to life abundant|
|The fruit of striving is reward||The fruit centered on God is compassion|
Before closing, I told everyone the reason for the ice-cream. I hoped it would help them remember the bottom line message of the sermon. Our pastor had finished her sermon with a parable, teaching us a basic truth about all of us being teachers and how it’s often more important how we teach than what we teach. This was her story:
A mother took her little boy to a restaurant. After their orders were served, the mother asked her son if he would like to return thanks. He smiled, folded his little hands and bowed his head.
“God is good, God is great. Thank you for our food,” the little boy prayed, “And I would be even more thankful if I could have some ice-cream for dessert. Amen!”
Along with the laughter from the other customers, a nearby woman remarked, “That’s what’s wrong with this country. Kids today don’t even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!”
The little boy burst into tears and asked his mother, “Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?”
Hearing this, an elderly gentleman approached the table. He winked at the little boy and said, “I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer.”
“Really?” the little boy asked.
“Cross my heart,” the man replied. Then, in a theatrical whisper so that others could hear too, he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing), “It’s too bad some people never ask God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes.”
Moved by all this, the waitress who had served the mother and the little boy brought a dish of ice-cream over to the table along with the check. “Here you go,” setting the dessert down in front of the little boy. “This is on the house.”
The little boy stared at dessert for a moment, and then he did something really special. He picked up his ice-cream and walked over to the critical woman’s table, placing the dessert in front of her. With a big smile he said, “Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes and my soul is good already.”
Whether we intend to be or not, we are all teachers. So, it behooves us to remember the alternative wisdom Jesus taught and how he taught. He taught with love and compassion.
I ended my lesson with some homework. I asked my fellow class members to think of an issue in their lives or in the world today. Then ask themselves: (1) What does conventional wisdom say about it? And (2) How does Jesus’ invitation to see differently affect your perspective and response to the issue?
I look forward to reading and responding to your comments.