Monday, April 12, 2010

The King: The Rule of School

Preached Sunday April 11, 2010
Scripture Readings - Psalm 145; Matthew 28:16-20

Anyone eighteen years old or under should stop listening for the next two and a half minutes.

When I was a kid, up to the time I graduated from high school, if you had asked me if I liked school, I would have said “no”. If you had asked me if I hated school, I would have said “yes, absolutely”.

I knew I was going on to college, and I found no silver-lining in that. But, little did I realize that I was just about to begin to like school.

I think I first learned to like school in college, because college seemed to be more about learning than school had been before. I always liked to learn and at last I found my chance.

Before, I had loved to read, and I read all the time. In fact I read much too much for my own good. But that didn’t seem to count in school. In school, book reports seemed to matter more than reading the books. In high school I loved science, but high school science seemed to be just as much about well kept lab books as it was about doing experiments. (And yes, I know the argument for well kept lab books.) I loved history, but my western civilization teacher read to us out of her college textbook, and my American history teacher spent his class time showing us history movies, talking about basketball, and flirting with the girls in the class.

I’m telling you the truth. I am also telling you nothing but the truth. But I am not telling you the whole the truth. Therefore I have just exaggerated, but I have told you the truth.

I loved to learn, but I hated school. I am sure I would have loved school if it had seemed to really be about learning.

OK anyone eighteen years old and under can listen again, if you can hear me.
Following Jesus is like school. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) The word disciple means learner.

The eleven disciples who were left after the crucifixion were Jesus’ disciples. That means that they were Jesus’ learners. Now Jesus was making his learners into teachers.

Only they would still have a lot of learning to do. Their job was to learn how to make learners of all the nations. Their job was to learn to pass on the passion for being a learner. They were called to make the whole world into Jesus’ school.

Following Jesus is like being part of a very large, very complicated school. For all the billions of men, women, and children who have followed Jesus, for thousands of years, all around the world, there has always, and ever will be, only one teacher, and that teacher is Jesus. All the rest of everyone who ever has (or ever will) follow Jesus is a student in this school; and (of all things) an assistant teacher in this school.

Everyone is a student. Everyone is an assistant teacher. The curriculum, the lesson plan, is Christ; the ways and commands of Christ; the heart, and mind, and life of Christ; the grace, and power, and good-news of Christ; the humanity and the divinity of Christ; and the saving sacrifice and the resurrection of Christ.

The Church is the Body of Christ. It is also the School of Christ; the student body, and faculty, and staff of the school of Christ. And that is why we have a problem.

When I was in school I had teachers who were not good teachers because, somewhere along the way, they had stopped loving to learn or they had stopped loving to teach. They should have been there in school as much for the purpose of learning as any of their students. And they should have been there for shear love. And, then, a lot of students weren’t there to learn either. This is often true of the Church as the School of Christ.

And there is so much else to do to maintain a school; and I am not just talking about the building. I am talking about the holiness of planning and organization.

The first generation of the church (probably in the first year of its life) practiced planning and organization. At first the apostles did everything, and there was almost no organization at all. But they had people in the church with special needs to be met. There were people who were poor and needed help and food.

The apostles, who continued to be disciples and learner/teachers, took care of this along with everything else they did. And then people began to complain that they were not doing their job, and not everyone was being helped in a fair way.

So, the apostles invented the idea of a group they called “The Seven”. You can read about this in the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts.

These seven eventually became known as deacons. They became a common feature of the churches started by the apostles. Deacon means servant, and their special job was to help the people who needed help.

The Seven had a job description and a set number of members. And so the apostles created the first church committee, the first session, the first administrative board. And it was a blessing to the church. The school of Christ had peace and order so that it could be a good place of learning. (Acts 6:1-7)

Organization can be holy, even when that organization is called a denomination. But there can be problems with this. Organization can also be a substitute for Christ and the gospel. It is possible for the church to put more effort and energy into organizing and maintaining than it does in speaking the words and doing the work of Christ. Let us never do that, and let us stop doing that when we go astray.

Let us be the school of Christ. Let us be makers of disciples. Let us make learners around us. Let us look at the horizon and think of the whole world, as our Lord does. If our call is to be learners and make learners here in this place, let us think how we are a small part of a plan for the whole world, because our classroom is the world.

We must look out. We must look inward to know ourselves and turn around and open ourselves to the grace, and mercy, and love, and power of Christ. We must look in to repent. We must look out in order to serve. We must look out because the Lord tells us so. He tells us, “Go!” When you are going somewhere you’d better look out.

I want to comment on the details of this story to help us know how to be the school, the learner/teachers, of Christ.

The eleven of the twelve who were left, went to meet Jesus in Galilee. They worshipped, but some doubted. Their doubt was not a lack of love. It was not a lack of conviction that Jesus had died and had risen. Perhaps it was still hard for them to grasp who Jesus was, and is. Perhaps their doubt was more like fear, because they didn’t know what would happen next, or whether they could face what was coming.

All of this does not come easily. The author Dale Brunner says that the church is always bi-polar. We are always bi-polar between faith and doubt. Jesus knows this. It was going on, with his disciples, right before his very eyes.

It doesn’t matter to him, in the sense that our being bi-polar, or imperfect, in our faith is not an obstacle to being his learner/teachers. Jesus didn’t tell the doubters to stand aside or come back again when they had sufficient faith. He gave them all his calling, his mission, his blessing, his promise. That is what matters.

Who doubted? It was one of the eleven who were left. Was it Peter, James, John? Was it Matthew? Is it you or me? Yes it is! Jesus says, “Go! And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

They worshipped. Worship is surprisingly simple. It means you kneel, you bow, you spread yourself on the ground at the feet of Jesus. You don’t have to pray, or talk, or sing. Just lie there and be quiet. Lie there, and then: “Go!”

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Authority, in the Bible, means power; strength. Do you need strength? Do you need strength to live and follow through on your choices in life? Do you need strength to truly follow Jesus; to stretch, to do something wild and daring, to serve in hard ways when you have no idea what will come of it, to speak without knowing what to say? Do you need strength to forgive, or strength to trust in your forgiveness? Do you know that Jesus has all strength because he has all authority?

Do you need help with something bigger than heaven and earth? Probably not! So Jesus is more than strong enough for you.

Jesus said, “Therefore go.” Go! We think we follow Jesus by coming, and we do. Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) But we also follow him by going, because he is going somewhere and following means our going too.

Sometimes we don’t know whether we are coming or going. Following Jesus means that you don’t stay stuck. Jesus in always on the move and he will pass out of sight unless you keep moving with him.

The church also must always keep moving. We need to figure out how. We always have to pray about this.

“Make disciples of all nations.” Literally Jesus uses disciple in the form of a verb. Jesus expects us, as disciples, to be a verb, and not just a noun, a word of action and process. And he expects us to make other people into verbs as well. “Disciple all nations.” Nations are made of individuals, but nations are also the world.

Jesus’ authority in heaven and earth should make us think of the words of the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Discipling people means bringing God’s will, and the order of heaven, into people’s hearts, and minds, and actions and lives. Discipling the nations means bringing God’s will and the order of heaven into the world. It means the whole world, and every nation, and even the smaller nations like Kahlotus and Washtucna and Hooper.

Authority, in the Bible, also means freedom and ability. Can learner/teachers make their families, and their work environment, and their communities more heavenly? The authority of Jesus means that Jesus has the ability to work through you to make you a learner/teacher who can make learner/teachers out of others.

Helping others to understand and know Jesus is part of this, but not the only part. There is a lot involved in God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. There is a lot involved in the relation of human beings to God. There is a lot involved in relating the way the world works to God.

It is like Jesus’ odd order of things; where he puts being a learner/teacher before being baptized. Sometimes it is one way around, sometimes another. The order doesn’t matter. Jesus can change the order in which things get done.

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Putting something or someone “in the name” of someone else was a banking term in the ancient world. It meant legally putting something into someone’s account and giving them ownership.

A learner/teacher of Jesus is a person who has come under the ownership of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We do not own ourselves. We belong to God. By our words and our actions we show whether God owns us or whether we really think we own ourselves. We cannot make learner/teachers of Christ any other way. Or else we will make them frauds and hypocrites like ourselves (because we are all sinners).

I think you can see there is a lot to learn and that we, as the church and the school of Christ, have something to share that is life-changing and life-giving. Let us not stand in the way of learning.

It is all based on Christ and his promise to be with us always. This meal is a sign of his presence with us, and in us. We are called to go, and we cannot go unless we have the strength of coming, and eating, and being filled with Christ every day.

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