(Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 116:1-9, James 3:1-12)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/yRrf0HW5H1E)
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Daniel Webster, the Massachusetts Senator from the first half of the 1800s, is quoted saying,
If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble to dust; but if we work on men’s immortal minds, if we impress on them with high principles, the just fear of God and love for their fellow-men, we engrave on those tablets something which no time can efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.
What Mr. Webster so eloquently phrased in one rather long sentence is the importance of teaching. He understood that everything in this life is temporary. Nothing lasts forever as we reflected on several Sundays ago. Nothing, that is, except the Word of God. God’s Word is an extension of God Himself; it is timeless and life-giving just like God. But the Word of God isn’t self-evident. God’s Word isn’t simply intuited. We have to be taught God’s Word. We don’t come into this world already knowing God’s Word. We need to be taught God’s Word. And like all types of work, teaching isn’t all fun and games. At times, teaching can be work. Perhaps those being taught are unable or unwilling to learn. Teachers must then work at finding new ways to present the material so that it resonates with the students. Anyone who has ever tried teaching something to someone or something that isn’t receptive to learning would tell you that it is indeed work…hard work!
Make no mistake about it, teaching God’s Word is HARD WORK! God doesn’t make His lessons easy to understand. He veils them in strange language, strange people, and strange situations. The language, people, and situations of God’s Word are not our language, people, and situations. They are strange, outdated, other-worldly languages, people, and situations. Yet God’s lessons, God’s truth, is just as relevant to us today as it was 2000 years ago. This is because God’s Word is timeless and life-giving like God Himself. It is the teacher’s responsibility to peel away the strangeness of His Word to reveal His deep and abiding love for us. This is the lesson underlying all the lessons of God’s Word—God loves us…always has loved us and always will love us. Everything God does for us, has done for us, and will do for us has its source in a deep love for us.
But getting back to the work of teaching. Mr. Webster astutely pointed out that we are always working on something in this life. He used the three examples of working upon marble, working upon brass, and working at building temples. All three types of work produce products that eventually crumble and fall apart. All three types of work serve limited purposes. But teaching…teaching serves endless purposes. There are endless products of teaching. Teaching creates endless possibilities for the future. Teaching bridges the gaps between the past, the present, and the future. By learning from the past, we are better able to live in the present. By learning from the present, we are better able to prepare for the future. By learning from the future…well, we haven’t quite figured out how to do that …yet! But teaching helps bridge the gaps between the past, the present, and the future. Because of this, teaching can transcend the limits of time. Teaching is the work of the eternal. As Mr. Webster notes, in teaching “we engrave on those tablets something which no time can efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.”
So why all this discussion on the importance of teaching? This morning we, as a congregation, set out on another year of learning with our Sunday school classes and youth group kicking off before service. Earlier this week, our junior high students returned to learning in their confirmation class. Last Sunday, some parents returned to their learning on how to be more effective parents. Our Thursday morning learners keep plugging away at their weekly Bible studies. And how is all that learning made possible? Through the generous and diligent efforts of teachers. Without the leaders among us who are willing to step up and do the hard work of teaching God’s Word, we would live in fear and darkness, unaware of God’s deep and abiding love for us. We need God’s Word! We need to witness God’s love for us! We need to warm ourselves by the light of God’s Word! Teachers serve an invaluable role in our lives. What a gift to receive teaching!
But besides another year of learning kicking off, our readings assigned for this week also provide insight into the act of teaching. The prophet Isaiah acknowledged how he had been blessed by God with the “tongue of a teacher.” He was thankful to have been given the ability “to sustain the weary with a word.” At the same time, he was grateful for the gift of wisdom in spite of what it cost for obtaining it. The act of learning often involves sacrifice. We often give up our time and resources for learning. Yet God rewards those who make these sacrifices. God helps those who seek wisdom. God helped Isaiah and God will help those who seek wisdom.
The apostle James offered words of caution to those called to be teachers. As he said in the start of our passage, “not many of you should become teachers.” Why? Because of the high value of wisdom. We make sacrifices to learn. Because of this, wisdom has high value. Those called to teach ought to respect the sacrifices made by those they teach. More importantly, they ought to teach nothing but truth. Teachers have a high calling and they’re held accountable for what they teach. If they teach untruth, they will be judged accordingly. James admonishes those teachers that are not willing to respect their duty of teaching truth. Teachers, choose your words wisely and speak nothing but truth.
In our gospel reading, we heard Jesus teach some hard truths. He taught his disciples “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” These were hard truths to accept, even for Peter, Jesus’ trusted disciple. Jesus taught that “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” In sacrificing time to teach God’s Word, the teachers among us have, in a sense, lost their life for the sake of the gospel. I pray that you realize the lives you’ve saved in making those sacrifices—not only your own but those of your faithful students. Teaching is a form of dying to self and reclaiming new life.
So teachers, thank you for your willingness to “work on men’s (and women’s and children’s too!) immortal minds, to impress on them with high principles, the just fear of God and love for the fellow-men,” as Webster stated. It can be hard work teaching God’s truth of love and forgiveness. You will need to make sacrifices, not only for teaching but also for learning that which you teach. In making those sacrifices, you will be transformed in order to transform the lives of others. If there’s anything I’ve learned in this life, it is that God’s Word is both transformative and life-giving. Teaching God’s Word will transform you and those you teach. You’ve been entrusted with the sacred responsibility of forming and reforming people who know God’s love. Like Isaiah, let us boldly go forth and…teach to form and reform.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit