It’s pretty ironic that, on the day when we begin our fall Christian Education program here at Trinity Cathedral and commission our teachers and catechists (along with our Pastoral Visitors), our Second Lesson begins with these words: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness!”
No wonder congregations have trouble recruiting Sunday school teachers every year! Who wants to be judged “with greater strictness?” Actually, the Apostle James doesn’t spend much time in his letter developing that idea, but moves along to write about the importance of guarding our tongues, and pointing out how destructive slanderous speech and partial truths can be. We need only look at some of the recent political outbursts there today to see the truth of those words!
Actually, I think his only point in saying that ‘not many should become teachers’ is to highlight the importance of that ministry, and to recognize the fact that not everyone can do it. Not everyone has that particular gift …any more than we may have other specific gifts.
But teaching our Faith to others is important and that’s why we’ll be praying for those catechists and teachers “God of all wisdom and knowledge, give your blessing and guidance to all who teach in your Church, that by word and example they may lead those whom they teach to the knowledge and love of you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Occasional Services, page 186)
Sometimes people hesitate to teach because they don’t think they “know enough” about the Christian faith to teach it. But notice what the prayer says: “…that by word and example they may lead those whom they teach to the knowledge and love of you…”
We want our teachers to lead our young people and adults “by word and example” to know and to love God!
I don’t want to minimize the content of our Christian education courses and experiences, but I have to say that – of all the many years I spent in Sunday school – I can’t remember much content, but I can remember the faces and the voices, and the love and the faith of Nelson Glass who taught the boys’ Sunday school in Junior High.
And Barbara Kane who taught the co-ed Senior High School class (and who just happened to be the mother of the girl I was desperately and hopelessly in love with in those days). I remember knowing – even then – that these adults “knew and loved” God…even as they “knew and loved” me! That’s what teachers (and Pastoral Visitors) are supposed to convey.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are journeying through the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and he asks them “Who do people say that I am?” In others words, what are people saying out there? How am I being received? How is my message being understood? And the disciples give a variety of answers – presumably different things they’ve heard in their travels – because there was still a lot of confusion about just who this new rabbi was!
Well, some say that you’re really John the Baptist; others that you may be the “Elijah” written about in the Prophets; others that you may actually be another prophet, they say.
And then Jesus gets specific: “But who do you say that I am?” It was apparently important for Jesus to get some kind of reading about what people were saying about him, about what the general population was thinking at this point in his ministry. Doing his own “opinion polling,” if you will.
But what he was really interested in was what his closest followers thought! Who did they think he was? Because, in the final analysis, it wasn’t going to be what popular opinion happened to be that was going to preserve his message. It was going to be what the disciples, later known as “apostles,” thought that would come down to us through the ages! They were the ones who were going to preserve, carry on, and even in some sense enlarge upon, his teaching.
Well, Peter gets it right – at least initially – and speaks up: “You are the Messiah.” In other words, you are God’s Anointed One, the one we’ve been waiting for, the one who is finally going to deliver us from this endless oppression by the Roman government, and set us free!
So, he was on the right track but as Jesus began to sketch out how all that was going to happen, and that it was not going to be by starting a war, but rather by undergoing great suffering and rejection and even death, Peter loses the thread and suffers a pretty severe rebuke himself from the One he has just called “Messiah!”
But even that blunder gives Jesus the opportunity to teach the disciples some important lessons; lessons about self denial, about taking up their own crosses, and about what following him really meant. About the “cost of discipleship” And, finally, he leaves them with the insight that it’s not really about “getting it right.” It’s not about “perfection.” It’s about…being “faithful.”
“Those 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…” Conversely, if we’re not ashamed of him, he won’t be ashamed of us! So, it’s not so much about getting it right about me, Jesus is saying. It’s about not being ashamed of me. It’s about being willing to share the “knowledge and love” you have of me with those to whom I send you.
That’s what we are entrusting our teachers and catechists, and our Pastoral Visitors, with here this morning at Trinity Cathedral. With conveying the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ to those in their classrooms (if they are teachers), to those at home and in hospitals and nursing homes (if they are Visitors).
And, by the way, it’s what all of us are called to do…in the various callings and in the ministries we all have – in our homes and families, in our neighborhoods and communities, in the businesses and institutions and schools where we spend our time. We are to share the knowledge and love of God with those to whom we are sent.
There’s a line in today’s Psalm which originally referred to “the heavens” themselves, and the silent witness they bear to God’s glory and faithfulness. But for centuries Christians have applied these lines to ministers and evangelists:
“Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 19:3-4)
That’s what God asks of us too, dear friends. Whether we are teachers or visitors or ordinary Christians. Whether we feel that we have the right “words or language” or not.
By word and example our sound is to go out into all lands…and our message about Jesus…to the ends of the earth!