It’s pretty ironic that, when we have spent all last week hearing about the teachers’ strike in the city of Chicago, 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!”
Of course, St. James is talking about Christian teachers and catechists in the early Church, the ones who were charged with the responsibility of preparing the followers of Jesus for Baptism and Confirmation which sacraments we are celebrating here today in the lives of Don and Scott. But teaching IS important – whether in the church or in the “secular city” like Chicago. My daughter-in-law is an elementary school teacher in a charter school for homeless children in Phoenix, and my son has just resigned his position to go back for teacher certification himself. I can’t think of a more important “ministry” today than that of teaching.
I think James’ primary 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.
Actually, St. James doesn’t spend much more 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 attack ads by both political parties gracing our television screens these days to know the truth of that warning. Why can’t we be civil to one another in this political season? Why can’t we “disagree” agreeably? Well, I guess Christians have been wondering about that since James wrote his Epistle! (Pause)
But, speaking of politics, today’s politicians are not the first people to pay attention to public opinion polls. Even Jesus did that from time to time according to today’s Gospel! In this story, 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. 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 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, 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 hoping Don and Scott will help us do after they receive the laying on of hands and the strengthening of the Holy Spirit in their lives today –which is what we’ll be praying for in a few moments. We want them to join us in not “being ashamed” of Jesus and his message, but to help us share it with others – in our families and neighborhoods and schools and workplaces, anywhere we come in contact with other people.
Years ago there was a poster put out by our evangelism office in the Episcopal Church. When you first looked at it, it appeared to be a chalice. But it was really an optical illusion and, when you looked at it more closely, you could see that it depicted two people, in profile, looking at one another. And there were three words beneath the picture – Go, Listen, Tell.
That’s a pretty good “evangelism strategy” – for Don and Scott and for every one of us in this church. Go – back outside the doors of this church when we are dismissed from worship. Go into those families and neighborhoods and schools and workplaces. And then,
Listen – listen to the pain and the longings of those with whom you come in contact. Listen for their deep desire (even if they are not completely aware of it) for purpose and for meaning in life, even for a relationship with the Living God. And finally,
Tell – tell them about what you’ve found here. A loving community of Christian people, a place to hear about and experience a God of grace and a God of glory. That’s what we should be teaching others by our words and by our example.
That’s what we should be using our “tongues” for, rather than slandering and criticizing others. That’s what it means “not to be ashamed” of Jesus and of his message. That’s what it means when we sing in our Gospel hymn today:
“I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back…No turning back!” Amen.