Read: Matt 4: 12-23
Jesus was a teacher. People called him Rabbi. One of the first things he does as he begins his ministry is to call together a group of people called disciples. Disciples are people who learn from someone and then follow in the way epitomized by the life and teaching of a teacher. The word disciple come a Latin word which means to learn. So as modern disciples of Jesus we are learners. We are people who have learned and still are learning how to live well in 2020, with Jesus as our teacher.
Our scriptures talk often of Jesus as a teacher. I remember as a young boy at Sunday School hearing stories about Jesus and being drawn into a way of looking at the world and other people that resonated deep within. He seemed to radiate the presence of God. Often the teaching was about moral living. I discovered it was much better to tell the truth than to lie. Jesus taught me to be honest and respectful. I was amazed at the way Jesus reached out to strangers and people who were rejected by others and tried to do the same. I has my eyes opened to see others treated badly by others at school so would try and befriend them. Kids with a different skin colour or some oddity would often be picked on or ignored, so I tried to put myself in their shoes and feel how it might be for them and act accordingly. Every week we would meet in our Sunday School and learn.
Later in my student years I was part of a Youth Group. The learning continued. This was the time that there was a movement of the Spirit and the Charismatic Movement was moving through the church. There were many discussions and eye opening moments about what that all meant. I was part of several flats that were idealistically asking how should we live as followers of Jesus. We took to heart Jesus’ advice to live simply and tried to avoid being duped into the consumer dream that happiness is found in having lots of things. Part of that dream was to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle so as to consume less of the world’s resources which we did for some years, but alas the meat lover won through again. We talked a lot about the importance of community and welcomed others into our flat who were a bit lost in the world. We were part of the anti-nuclear movement staging street dramas and doing whatever we could to alert others to the evil of nuclear weapons. When Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’, we took his words seriously. To spend billions on making and peddling weapons of destruction in a world wracked by poverty and basic health and education issues, seemed and seams so wrong. Jesus clearly stood for another way. In our flat we talked often of how we could be a witness for Jesus and so we tried to invite someone we didn’t know well at church to share a meal with us each week. It was an all guys flat so guests had to put up with some interesting meals.
In those days we didn’t know much about carbon footprints and taking off overseas for the bog OE was common. I felt called by Jesus to do something different. It wasn’t London and parties, but I decided I wanted to learn about world poverty. I had been captured by the prophetic writings in the Old Testament which speak so much about equality and justice for all. These writings filled out Jesus’ teaching on welcoming all people as brothers and sisters. As I looked within I felt a call to visit Christian communities around the world but also to live in a wealthy country and a poor country to see what I could learn. In America I volunteered to help in a Christian rehab community for people suffering from mental illness for six months. It was real eye opener into some of the issues surrounding mental illness, the importance of therapeutic drugs, but also the huge importance of a loving community in any healing. I also learned that despite being a very wealthy country America had terrible poverty and many people were consigned to the scrapheap. I then spent a year in India working as a volunteer with the Presbyterian mission project in Jagadhri and in a multi-faith ashram trying to teach kids from very poor villages how they could farm and grow crops in more productive ways. I learned poverty was a complex matter that had few quick fixes. I discovered more laughter in rural India than existed back home in New Zealand. But I also learned about the spiritual practices of Jesus like the setting aside of quiet time to meditate and reflecting on God and on what was really motivating and driving my life. I had my eyes opened to other Christian traditions and other religions as an important part of listening to Jesus, and seeking to be a disciple….someone who was constantly learning from Jesus.
Youth is, of course, a time to experiment and learn. Unburdened by responsibility you can take risks and can be idealistic. Time progresses and sadly these elements get trampled in our lives. We tend to adopt a settled and safe routine that is risk averse – as we move on we like to stay safe in the boat instead of trying to walk on water. We tend to become one of the crowd and our Christian faith becomes a chameleon faith of fitting in and adapting to our society. Jesus becomes domesticated. The danger is that no longer is Jesus a teacher and we disciples, but we are much happier to talk of Jesus as possibly a friend, a comforter, but the teacher takes a back seat. We may talk simply of Jesus as the one who has saved us by his death, our Saviour, and forget that salvation is about finding and discovering heaven on earth. Repent, open your eyes, for the kingdom of heaven is in your midst if only we have eyes to see and imaginations to dream. We need the Rabbi to show us. We need Jesus to teach us how to find true life.
I believe that most of us want to live a life that honours God, our creator, a life that is meaningful, a life of significance, a life that honours our soul and the dream of God within each of us. We want to live a life of integrity, a life that is true to our essence, and which will make a difference in our world. To do this I believe we have to continue to learn, and we have to be part of a group of disciples of Jesus who challenge and encourage each other in our faith journey. We need to see ourselves as learners and experimenters with Jesus as our guide and teacher.
I was speaking to a person a while ago who started going to church. Actually they were going to a church on a Tuesday as part of a Weight Watchers group. He said he’d been trying to lose weight for years and knew all the head stuff about what was required. Eat less, exercise more….it’s pretty simple really. But however hard he tried he never managed to put it into practice. His weight remained the same or in reality slowly crept up over the years. What made the difference he said was meeting with others who encouraged and supported him and together they began living a new way. He wasn’t sure just what made the difference but being with others, sharing the journey with others, learning with others, being encouraged by the example of others, changed everything. In just a couple of months he’s lost nearly 15kg. It’s being part of a group together that’s made the difference, he said.
I don’t quite understand why our religion and spirituality is so private. We are good at keeping masks in place which hide the real me and you. We very rarely talk about Jesus and what he might be saying to us, or how he might be calling us to open our eyes as disciples in 2020. Sometimes I think I as the minister may be the problem, because when you label someone as the expert you deny your own journey and experience. They know the answers and I don’t. Let me tell you, I am still learning and I do not know all the answers. I often learn from you.
Maybe we get older and say I’m done with learning, and we stop asking questions, but I look at Rob and Margaret Mclean in our midst and see people not who are old but who retain a youthful sense of asking questions even as they draw close to 100 years of journeying. I think one of their secrets is that they never stop asking questions. As a rabbi or teacher, Jesus taught his disciples to risk asking all sorts of questions so they could find the true way of living. Notice how often he asks a question of others. I believe the gospel of Jesus, spreads not by force, or fear, but by fascination. We open our eyes to the kingdom of heaven when we ask questions together, talk together, courageously be honest and take down the masks we hide behind. One day Jesus took a child in his arms and said unless you become as a child you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. I’ve often reflected on that. Children are curious and ask questions. Children have yet to learn the secret of hiding behind masks. Children know they have more to learn and new realities to see.
Our church community is a learning community, so let’s not be afraid of asking questions however stupid they may seem, and let’s never stop searching for the answers to the question ‘What Would Jesus Do’ in our journey together. Let us be people who help one another open our eyes to the reality of heaven in our midst.
Dugald Wilson 26th Jan 2020