Last week, we talked a little bit about Jesus and miracles. As I was pondering that, the lyric “miracle wonderman, hero to fools” from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar popped into my head. I like that description. “Miracle Wonderman.” Definitely one of the “hats” Jesus wore.
We talked about how miracles were part of the way that Jesus revealed power…to his followers and to the religious elites who were keeping an eye on his message and ministry. And we talked about how those ancient miracles can still speak to us today, about how they might inform our ability to recognize miracles around us here and now, about how they help us to understand what miracles mean to us.
Today, we’re turning to another mad skill set that Jesus had – teaching. He was teacher extraordinaire. In We Make the Road by Walking, McLaren points out that Jesus teaches in large and small lectures, in small groups, through protest and parables, over dinner and as he’s walking from place to place. He even does some one-on-one tutoring in the dark of night, as with Nicodemus. And he consistently modeled good teaching so that the disciples might pick up some skills.
We are blessed to have a lot of educators in this congregation. Good educators know that teaching happens in so many settings and in so many ways. Good educators know that answers aren’t always the goal of good teaching. Good educators know that relationships are part of the learning environment. Good educators know that learners have to be challenged in order to stretch sometimes. It was almost as though Jesus had a PhD in education…
Why was it that Jesus was so busy teaching? I mean really, his ministry seemed to be built for education for anyone who will listen. What was the wisdom he was working so hard to impart?
Think about it…. He was teaching about the Kingdom of God. It is no small subject.
He was trying to help people understand what God was like, how God was active, and how they could be part of God’s work in the world.
He was teaching about religious practice, the economy, politics, health, history, sociology, psychology…all under the umbrella of God’s desire to restore the fullness of God’s creation.
He was teaching about the Kingdom of God.
The language of a “kingdom” would have been a more familiar metaphor for the times…I appreciate some of the alternatives offered by McLaren – perhaps today we better comprehend the “global commonwealth of God,” “God’s beloved community,” “God’s holy ecosystem.” A synergistic, interdependent, living, breathing thing that is the fullness of creation...in harmony.
I had this image while writing this week – it was as if he were trying to impart the fullness of 1000 different encyclopedia sets. Those of us 45 and older will get that. But for the rest of you, it is as if he was trying to teach the fullness of everything (good) on the internet. He’s working to do nothing less than teach the wideness of God.
He was teaching all the time in part because the topic was vast. The work to be done was vast.
Here in Mark’s gospel as it was read today, we get a glimpse of his teaching through the parable of seed and soil to a large audience. Once he’s alone with his ministry companions, they ask for more explanation because they don’t fully understand.
Jesus responds by quoting from the prophet Isaiah, passages from the Hebrew scripture that would have been familiar to his followers.
But it is a hard passage from Isaiah, especially for us in this day and age. The voice of God in this part of Isaiah is dripping with something like contempt for a people who have turned away. And I think we don’t like to often force ourselves to hear that voice of God, right?
After Isaiah has been purified with coal pressed to his lips so that he can speak for God, the oracle he is told to deliver suggests all the ways Jerusalem will fail to return to God, by not listening, not hearing, not understanding.
And so when the disciples gather privately with Jesus, probably aware that the parable about kinds of soil was not entirely clear to the gathered crowd OR frankly, the them, Jesus suggests by referencing the words of Isaiah that there is a little insider/outsider thing going on here – only those who lean in, who pay attention, who commit to understanding will have the truth of these teachings revealed to them…
Did Jesus really mean there was some secret to all this teaching? Some decoder ring that some people received and others would not?
That’s not how I encounter this teaching nor is it how I encounter the gospel. Jesus IS saying that the hearers of the word do have to commit to work and action on an ongoing basis to participate in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
And so it is as if the passage as a whole takes on another new level of meaning. Not only is the parable about seeds and soil itself suggesting that people are fruitful when they ground themselves in the right environment and attitude and ethos and practice, but then…then…he tells the disciples who have already made a specific kind of commitment to travel and learn and practice and teach with Jesus that it is only BECAUSE they are doing this, because they said yes to becoming disciples, that they will understand.
It is something of a narrow gate (which we’ll actually talk about in a few weeks)…The good soil is not some passive place where the message lands – the good soil is about being willing to learn and grow and become and live in new ways. The good soil is about committing ourselves to these teachings and to the work of being a disciples ALL of the time.
All of the time. Because the world around us keeps changing, and frankly, keeps putting other possibilities in our path. We are constantly being lured toward what might seem to be an “easier” way of doing things – I mean…wouldn’t it be easier if I didn’t spend so much time reading this bible and praying on these knees and carving out time to serve somebody else or being intentional about how I use my money, my voice, my vote?
Wouldn’t that be pleasant?
Maybe for a while it would be easier…
But that is not how we create the Beloved Community, or God’s holy ecosystem.
Nope, that takes leaning in and a commitment to doing the hard work of learning and rooting and growing all the time.
The good news of the Gospel is that God created us with love and for love so that love would bind us all together.
The hard work of the Gospel is that we have to keep situating ourselves in the right soil. Because it turns out that free will we were also created with makes it awfully easy to go find the quick fix or the immediate pleasure.
And along each step of the way, if we are paying attention, we are learning.
As we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, if our eyes and ears are open to hear and listen, we see what it means to bear fruit.
We see what it means to love our neighbor.
We encounter the difficulty of not just loving our friends but also loving our enemy.
We grow deeper roots for the next lesson that washes over us.
And as our roots dig more deeply into the soil we are better able to hear and understand and perceive ever more complicated teachings.
Where are all of the places you learned something this week?
What lessons have stuck with you this week?
What have you learned over the course of your lifetime from teacher Jesus that has become part of your root system? Or maybe even part of your flesh?
Hear again these words from the prophet Jeremiah:
…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
What is the good news?
I will be their God and they shall be my people…I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.
It is written on our hearts. It becomes part of our flesh. God has known us since the beginning. We know God through Jesus… We learn what Jesus taught and teaches by placing ourselves in the midst of that teaching by our choices each and every moment of each day.
As I looked back over our liturgy for today, these words from the prayer of illumination took on so much meaning:
Almighty God, in you are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
IN YOU God are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I only receive it by being in relationship with GOD. I only learn in relationship to GOD. And when I learn, the treasure of God’s promise is in me.
With 1000 other things clamoring for our attention, our energy, our bandwidth, our created goodness, there is Jesus teaching us, sometimes in a big crowd, sometimes in a private tutoring session in the darkness of night. Rooting us in good soil, helping our very hearts bear God’s promise if we let him teach us.
What a promise that is. What good news that is. Makes me want to learn more at the feet of Rabbi Jesus.
May it be so.