Third Sunday After Epiphany
January 27, 2013
Text: Luke 4.14-21
At this point in our lives, I can safely say that we have all had them. They have come to us in all shapes and sizes, all ages and colors. Some had brown hair, some blond, and some blue. Some we remember because of warm smiles and friendly faces. Others we remember because of their scowls, their talents to reduce us to tears, or their profound ability to put us to sleep. And yet none of us can escape the fact that our teachers have had significant influence on our lives, for better or for worse.
Because of our own histories and the images called to mind, it might seem strange that the way we encounter God this morning is as Teacher. Creator, Redeemer, Breath of Life, and King of Kings we buy. But surely “Teacher” is a bit…mundane. Boring. It seems somehow less powerful and less meaningful than all those other names.
But we also live in a time that oddly places Jesus into this category quite often. Jesus has taken up residence among the great moral teachers of our human history. He takes his teaching seat alongside Moses, Confucius, Buddha, Sun Tzu, and Gandhi, a whole host of other people who have taught us everything we need to know about how to be in the world. Perhaps thinking of Jesus as “Teacher” is not quite so strange. Perhaps many of us would even admit that we show up each week to learn how to live rightly from the wise teachings of Jesus. We come to learn how to live better lives of consequence and meaning. Perhaps we have found our way back into the life of the church because we believe that it where our children will learn how to be good people from one of the best teachers we know.
It is here, at this place where we name God as “Teacher” that St Luke begins to challenge us. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus returns to Galilee, a small part of a small corner of a large empire, and what does it say that he did? He began teaching in the synagogues and was praised by everyone. Reports spread throughout the surrounding country. This morning we join the crowd in the synagogue at this first moment in Jesus’ public ministry following his baptism and temptation, only to find that this is a familiar haunt. He stands up in the synagogue, as has been his custom, to proclaim the word of God to God’s people.
What would we expect to hear from the lips of this great teacher? Perhaps something more like what we hear in his hilltop sermon from St Matthew, all of these “you have heard it said…but I say to you…” statements that illuminate the perfection of the law. That sort of teaching is coming in the days ahead, but it seems that the Teacher would first lay the groundwork for our time together. This is our introduction to the class. Jesus stands in the synagogue and prepares to read the opening lines of the syllabus. We might expect to hear course goals and outlines that include things like: learn how to treat others as you would like to be treated, learn how to pray, learn how to make the best of your life in order to be prosperous, upright, and good in all the ways you can, or simply to learn how to get saved.
Instead, his goals for the course are as follows: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Standing in the synagogue this morning with the people of Nazareth, we see, perhaps for the first time, that good teaching is not the terrible burden of a collection of facts to be memorized by the students. True teaching is not the simple presentation of a textbook with the instruction to read it. Good teaching does not come with tests or quizzes or flashcards.
The life of Jesus shows us that true teaching is the opening of a new world. Good teaching is the introduction to a new way of life. Good teaching is the gift that sweeps up both teacher and student into a new reality that is more truthful and more perfect. Good teaching requires everything from us. Not just our minds, but also our hearts and our hands, our entire being. Good teaching requires discipleship.
A good teacher does not simply look at you and say, “Learn this.” A great teacher says, “Come, follow me.”
I can remember one of the first times I experienced this in my own life as a student. Despite my education in engineering sciences, I was never a good student in math. I was always better with words than with numbers. Yet in high school, during our senior year, I decided that I wanted to be an engineer. I knew I needed to take calculus before going to college, so I boldly signed up for the class, even though it was two levels above me. The teacher, a much-feared and much-hated member of our faculty, told me I was not up to taking her class. And yet I did, mostly I admit just to push her buttons.
One day, a problem came up that we could not solve together, and the teacher and I spent the rest of the week going back and forth, working out a solution. I would stop by during free time in the day to share my newest efforts, and she would share hers. Eventually we came to the solution, but the learning was what had really mattered. Everything had changed, from teaching guided by the textbook to lives spent learning from the new world opened before us. The collective act of trying to work out the problem had opened a new space for us to work in together as we learned how to navigate the strange realm of calculus. It was there that I saw a glimpse of what true teaching really is. Perhaps you too find such a story in your own past, of time spent in classrooms and workshops, lecture halls and living rooms, where you saw glimpses of true teaching break out in your lives.
But those are glimpses through smoky glass. They are blurry reflections of something we find fully embodied in Christ. This morning St Luke tries to clear up that image for us. Jesus the Teacher is the one who stands before us and says, “I have come to restore the world to its true relationship with God and proclaim that the time has come when the Lord will set his people free.” He then goes off to be about this work among the people. Only a few verses later Jesus calls the first disciples into this life, to share this teaching with them. And we are going to have to keep reading to see more of this. We are going to have to pay attention to where St Luke takes us next in the life of this Teacher, if we are going to learn from him. The work of teaching is the powerful work of sharing life together, where the teacher says, “watch what I do and do likewise.”
But we Christians know something else about this Teacher, something that sets him apart from all the others. This Teacher who calls us to follow is the one through whom all things were made, the Son who proceeds from the Father. He does not teach simple moral platitudes or good life lessons that one might learn from any good book of quotes or the back of a Hallmark card. This Teacher is the one who teaches us the ways of God because he is God in the flesh. He teaches us the ways of the Father because he is the Father’s perfect Son. In Christ, we meet the God who has said to us for generations, “See who I am and watch what I do. Now come with me and do likewise.”
In meeting Jesus and hearing his words, we realize that our old ideas of teaching are outdated. Our old ways of listening and responding will have to be reshaped by the life of this Teacher. We will have to place ourselves under a new authority, take on a new posture of discipline and readiness to learn. Now when we hear someone stand before us and read God’s commandments, we will no longer hear just a litany of good moral teachings to be memorized for fear of a later test.
Instead, we will hear the words that are scattered throughout the law, the words that call us to remember and obey. It is a remembering that moves beyond the disinterested recollection of historical dates and events into a past that truly becomes our own. These are the words that call us to remember who this god is that we gather to worship and obey. These teachings come to us not as an arbitrary list of common sense rules to live by but the necessary way we are to live with God among us. From now on, when we hear “law” we will remember that the root of that word, “Torah,” means “to teach or instruct,” and we will remember that the one who comes to teach us is the one who comes to live with us and save us. We will stand like the Israelites before Nehemiah and Ezra, with ears attentive to the teachings of our God. This God who teaches us is the Breath of Life who has made us to be in communion with him and with one another. This Teacher is our Redeemer who has come to restore that lost communion again. Just as we bend the knee to the King of Kings, so we also must bend our hearts and minds to the Great Teacher.
In order for us to be taught we will have to let go of our notion that we already know everything there is to know. The posture of discipleship is the posture of submission. It doesn’t surprise anyone here that “discipleship” and “discipline” share a common root, and one requires the other. Following this Teacher is no easily managed task to be added to your calendar on every other Thursday. It is everything. Discipleship begins with placing ourselves under the authority of our teacher. This is a hard posture for us, a disobedient and prideful people with necks grown stiff and hearts grown hard. In order to be taught, we must first confess. We will have to accept that we need to learn.
But catch the beauty of this. The Teacher must submit, too. The Teacher submits to take on our flesh, walk among us and with us such that he might truly teach us. Just as we begin to bend our lives toward the Teacher, we find that the Teacher has first bent toward us. Both the Teacher and the student will have to take up the cross to participate in this true learning.
So teachers, beware. The bar is set high for you, and for all you students, too. To be taught by this Teacher is to surrender your life to the teaching. To be taught by this Teacher is to live in a different way, to follow behind the Teacher and live as he lives. It is to live as he lives because he is the Way and the Life. We will learn to proclaim the good news of recovery of sight to the blind and release to the captives. We will learn to give freely and love deeply. From this Teacher, we will learn how to be the creatures we were made to be, most fully and most perfectly, in the light of God’s Word.
Here is our last lesson for the day: the classroom is not a room for one. It is a packed house, with a gathering of people who have heard the call of this Teacher. We are with a whole host of students, saints, and disciples called “church.” We have not come to learn a truth, but to learn from the Truth. We gather for our primary lecture, here where we listen for the Word of God read and proclaimed. Who knows, we might even be asked to give a few comments here and there. We might even be asked to give a guest lecture, as the saints are wont to do. A walk past that font is how we mark our attendance. Not only does our Teacher gather us and speak to us, but he also feeds us. He cares for us, drawing us ever deeper into his life.
Here we are, where we find ourselves at the feet of the Teacher, listening for his command. Here we sit, ready to be taught, ready to be shaped by the life of God our Teacher. We listen for his words, “Come, follow me. The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news, in and with and through you. Watch what I do, how I live and move and breath in the world. Come with me and do likewise.”
And if we do, if we let ourselves be taught and if we go alongside our Teacher, we will take part in his life. If we have come looking for the guide to being a good Christian, we are sure to leave a bit disappointed. The teaching offered to us is not the kind to be found in a Guide for Dummies. There are no CliffNotes, no summarizations or infographics that will give us the important bits minus all the fluff. There won’t be any test at the end to see if we’ve made it in, if our knowledge of how it all works has made us into good people with all the right boxes checked off.
We will have to come and submit our lives to the God who comes to teach us the ways of new creation. We will have to let the teachings of Christ take flesh in us so that his actions become our actions. We will watch the textbooks get thrown to the side as the blind are given sight, as the lame walk, and the captives are released. We will have to come and have our sight restored, our bodies healed, and the chains of our bondage torn away. Spend your life with this Teacher, and what you learn will change who you are and how you move about in the world.
If we spend enough time with the Teacher, maybe we too will speak good news to the poor, give back sight to the blind, and help the oppressed go free. We will show up to class with the Teacher only to find ourselves sitting down at a table at Durham Urban Ministries to eat a meal and to share our what we have learned. We will show up to hear a lecture only to find ourselves in a prison cafeteria or a hospital hallway. If we spend enough time here, with the blind, the captive, the poor and the oppressed, we too will hear the good news: “Today, today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And so we give thanks to our Teacher with the words from today’s psalm: Come and teach us, Lord, for your teaching is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and the drippings of the honeycomb. For who can see in them any error? Cleanse us then, Lord, from all our hidden faults.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock, our Redeemer, and our Great Teacher. Amen.