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Teach With Authority
June 1, 2008

Wesley United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 7:21-29

Today is Teacher Appreciation Sunday. We honor and say thank you to all who teach in Sunday School and youth groups. Jesus began his ministry by teaching. After recruiting some of the disciples, he went into the town of Capernaum, entered the synagogue and began to teach. It was the custom in those days to have an open forum in the synagogue, and visitors were encouraged to speak. Jesus took advantage of the custom, and used teaching as the primary tool of his mission.

According to Matthew 7.28-29, Jesus taught with authority, and the crowds were astonished. Those who teach in Sunday School or public school soon learn that they must teach with authority or they are mince meat! I learned this in Japan. I taught three years in a Methodist Boys’ school in Nagoya. There were 1800 junior and senior high school boys. In America, the students rotate from teacher to teacher. In Nagoya Gakuin, the students remained in a classroom and the teachers rotated. When the teacher entered the classroom, the class monitor would call out, and the students would respectfully stand until the teacher reached his desk (all the teachers were men). In some of the classes, the respect for the teacher would continue, but in many the respect ended when the teacher reached the desk! In some rooms, there had been bedlam in-between classes; sometimes fighting. If you picture Japanese boys as quiet, polite, shy students, forget it!

I soon learned that an American did not automatically receive respect! I recall in one class, I had given a homework assignment. Only a few complied. So I asked a Japanese teacher to translate my response in Japanese, using Hiragana so I could read it. The next time I entered the classroom, after they sat down and proceeded to act like boys, I hollered, “Shizukani!” (Be quiet!) And proceeded to let them have it. I taught with authority after that, and most (!) of the time, I had order.

Jesus taught with authority. Jesus was a teacher, following a grand and noble tradition of the prophets. Teaching is the basic profession from which all others emerge. If it weren’t for teachers, there be no lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, or preachers. Through a teacher’s hands pass all members of every profession. Teachers touch and influence our lives in profound ways. And amid the succession of uninspired teachers, there are usually several who stand in our memories as great teachers. If you were to name three people who have influenced you the most, how many of you would include a teacher? Please turn to someone other than your spouse, and tell each other about a teacher who influenced you—a public school teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a scout leader?

How many of you are teachers? Have you ever shown a child how to tie a shoe, pronounce a word, ride a bicycle, master the multiplication tables? Have you ever shown someone how to thread a needle, change a tire, repair a toaster, prune a bush, plant a seed, pound a nail, sing a song, drive a car, make sushi, paint a picture? Now, raise your hand if you are a teacher. 

Yes, all of you are teachers. You are teaching by your example, by your life, by your actions. You are teaching by what you say, and by what you don’t say. You are teaching by intention or by default. Your words, attitudes, habits, and responses are teaching. You teach whether you want to or not. You are not free to choose whether to teach, but you do choose what and how you teach. You have no control over the fact that you influence other people. What you have control over is what and how you influence other people. 

Paul, on his missionary journeys, found a protégé, a disciple in Timothy. Timothy lived in the hills of what is now called Turkey, and Timothy’s parents permitted Paul to take their boy with him. For two years, Timothy trained under Paul so that he could continue Paul’s ministry. Paul described his teaching method in 2 Timothy 3.10-11, “Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings. “ We learn by observing, by watching. Paul taught Timothy through his conduct, his faith, his actions, as well as his words.

Whether you like it or not, whether you are willing or not, whether you choose or not, you are teaching. Others are observing you. You are teaching through your conduct, actions, attitude, habits, priorities, as well as your words. Are you happy with what you are teaching?

I recall my church family with fondness and deep appreciation. I was not raised in the church, and didn’t start going to church until a neighbor invited me (Note: a neighbor invited me. I wouldn’t be here if a neighbor hadn’t invited me!). I was in the sixth grade. There in that little Methodist Church with one room and a basement, I found the Lord through a loving church family. I can still see the row of Grandmas and Grandpas who sat in the back for their Sunday School class. The adults in that church noticed children and youth. They smiled at us. They talked to us. They knew our names. They cared about us. They didn’t realize it, but they were teaching, and I was learning.

We are all teachers. Let’s teach like Jesus taught. Jesus told stories. He held children on his lap. He was a happy person. Children liked him, and, I suspect, dogs did too! He excluded no one, and was only intolerant of those who thought they were better than other people. He forgave the sinners, and gave second cha nces. He encouraged his learners to think for themselves. He left parables up in the air for people to draw their own conclusions. He noticed everything. He knew when someone needed a special touch, an encouraging word. And, above all, Jesus radiated love.

We are all teachers, but let me close with a special word to our Sunday School teachers. Teach with authority. Believe what you teach. Live what you teach. Using the Bible as your basic textbook, you can teach with authority, knowing that what you teach is right, true, trustworthy and desperately needed. Our children and youth desperately need direction, guidance, and truth. You have the Bible. Teach with authority. And they will be astonished!

© 2008 Douglas I. Norris