I had the privilege of preaching at Chapel A on Sunday. Here are the rough scribblings of what I said, loosely based around the theme of Jesus the teacher.
I went home a few weeks ago, back to my parents house.. They presented me with two large boxes from their loft. They were triumphant that these were the last of my belongings that were cluttering up their home. And in these boxes I found, amongst other things, these..
(show exercise books)
I threw away most of my school books a few years ago, but these were important because these were in subjects that I went on to teach.. And as I sat and had a look at these books I was struck by memories of particular teachers- rather than the notes of what they taught. I wonder if I were to ask you what you learned when you were 14 if you would remember.. But I bet you could tell me your teachers and what they were like.
Are we more influenced by the teaching or the teacher?
Thats kind of what I want to journey with this morning as we look at Jesus the teacher. And I want to look at Jesus the teacher through the lens of one of my favourite characters in the gospels, Mary of Bethany. Because Mary goes on a journey with Jesus the teacher that I think might have something to say to us today.
So turn with me if you will to Luke 10: 38-42
Here we see Jesus teaching, and Mary of Bethany listening to that teaching. It is what is implied by her sitting at his feet. We don’t what Jesus taught at this moment, but this very act (a woman being accepted at a teacher’s feet) tells us something about Jesus’ teaching.
Essentially His teaching subverts all the traditions of the day- so women were not supposed to learn, but Jesus commends Mary for listening to his teaching. There are so many other places where he subverts. The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus (Matthew tells us) has just started attracting large crowds who want to hear his teaching. His response- to head half way up a mountain! He gets away- and he does it several times in the gospels, you only really got to hear Jesus teach if you were prepared to make the effort. I think that that has something to say to our cosy ‘we are terribly sorry for taking your time but we will give you nice coffee if you listen to teaching for just a few minutes’. Ay way thats not my point..
When we get to the teaching in Matthew 5, that subverts too. Its not what was expected.. The poor blessed, those in mourning.. Blessed? In some ways its downright perverse. The parables again shift the ground of teaching in that moment. They subvert- they disturb. And they disturb still if we will let them- I wonder when was the last time we let Jesus’ teaching disturb us?
Anyway- all of that is a bit of a tangent because I want to talk about Mary of Bethany.
She received Jesus’ teaching.
And the next time we come across Mary is in very different circumstances. Its found in John chapter 11- Lazarus is dead and Mary won’t even leave the house... Until Martha says to her, ‘the teacher is here’. Why is that important? Well I wonder if Mary had been sat in her room- maybe the very same room where she heard that teaching, trying to get her head round what it meant to have received Jesus’s teaching, even when her real situation sucked.
That has got to be a lesson for us: Jesus’ teaching doesn’t always and immediately make life work for us.
People still die.
But do you know what? Its at this point I want to suggest that the important thing becomes, not just the teaching, but an encounter with the teacher as Jesus weeps for the loss of his friend.
And not only does he weep.
If Jesus was just a teacher I don’t think we would be talking about him 2000 years later.
Yes Jesus teaches subversive stuff, but it is an encounter with the teacher, that really changes us..
Which takes us to the next scene, literally just over the page where we see Mary in one of her most “famous scenes” It is here where Mary takes a jar of pure nard and breaks it over Jesus’ feet in an act which most teachers would run at the very thought of.
This act is extravagent
It is costly
But in some way it also shows that Mary has grasped Jesus’ teaching in a profound way, and her grasp of it doesn’t lead to a retelling, or a talk or a lecture, it leads to a worshipful unpacking of what was about to happen as she prepares Jesus body for burial. She does something which is so simple and spontaneous and yet is so utterly complex.
And actually our best, our most beautiful worship is like that
It is both simple and deep
And it is a real responses to the activity and encounter with Jesus the teacher.
Our encounter with Jesus and his teaching cannot lead just to knowledge, they must lead to worship.
And in my view, it should also lead to mission.
The final passage this morning is another of my absolute favourites- its John chapter 20 where Mary encounters the risen Jesus. This scene starts with confusion as Mary doesn’t recognise the risen Jesus (I wonder how many times we don’t recognise God at work- we can’t see him)..
But notice when the penny drops for Mary- when she realises its Jesus she addresses him as ‘teacher’.
And Jesus sends her.
This is the most beautiful and intimate scene and yet it has Jesus telling Mary- ‘do not cling on to me- but go... and tell’
Jesus teaching is not for us to just cling on to- it is to be passed on, it is to be told. Jesus, it seems to me, always pushes us out. We don’t need to cling on to what we have and defend it against all comers- God is big enough for us to not cling on. But we should go.
I don’t know where you are at this morning.
I wonder if some of us are aware today that its been a long time since we engaged with Jesus the teacher. You might have been like Martha, busy for the Kingdom and you have run out of time and maybe even energy to get taught. I wonder if you might need to sit at his feet for a moment.
I wonder if others of us are in a life situation where we are aware that Jesus’ teaching doesn’t seem to measure up to the life situation that we are facing. I wonder if actually what you need is an encounter with the teacher who weeps with you: where some might need to pick up their Bibles, you just need to put your down and just wait for a while.
I wonder if this morning some of us need permission to worship- to respond to our encounter with the teacher in things and ways that are both simple and profound (and maybe a little shocking).
And I wonder if some of us need to hear again, ‘do not cling on to me, but go and tell’.
In a moment we will take communion together. In my tradition this communion meal is not just a place of remembering, important though that is.. it is also a place of encounter. We know that somehow, mysteriously through 2000 years people have encountered Jesus, through this simple and yet immensely complex act of worship.
And so let us bring ourselves..