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We Teach
February 2, 1997

MARK 1:21-28

Jesus was ready to begin. We think he was about 30 years old when he began his ministry. He arrived at the lake of Galilee, proclaiming the good news, his mission statement, Mark 1:15, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news." He began recruiting his team. He chose Simon, Andrew, James and John, all fishermen, and together, they began the mission.

According to Mark's gospel, Jesus began by teaching. 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 synagogues, something like a Quaker meeting where anyone may speak. Visitors were encouraged to teach. Jesus took advantage of the custom, and used teaching as the primary tool of his mission.

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 were not for teachers, there would be no lawyers, no doctors, no accountants, no engineers, no 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 out in our memories as great teachers. If you were to name three people who have influenced you the most, how many of you include a teacher? Please turn to someone other than your spouse, and in groups of two, tell each other about a teacher who has influenced you. How many of you told about a Sunday School teacher, a public school teacher, a scout leader, a parent?

How many of you are teachers? Have you ever shown a child how to tie a shoe, pronounce a word, ride a bicycle, braid her hair? 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, follow a recipe, make strawberry jam, paint a picture? Now, raise your hand if you are a teacher.

Some of you have the spiritual gift for teaching, and are teaching Sunday School, or a Bible class. Some of you have the ability and training to teach in the public school or Merced College. Some of you teach piano or aerobics. Some of you are professional teachers; but, 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. As a parent, grandparent, friend, Christian, church member, neighbor you are teaching, consciously or unconsciously, by design or neglect. 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.

Gilbert Highet in The Art of Teaching has some sobering comments about fathers.

The father who never says more than "Hello" to his son and goes out to the nearest bar every evening is teaching the boy just as emphatically as though he were standing over him with a strap. It is a very tricky business, teaching. He may not be teaching his son to drink and neglect responsibilities. The boy may turn out to be a thin ascetic devoted to long plans and hard work, like Shaw and Joyce. But, for good or ill, the father is teaching him something. Many fathers either don't know this, or don't care. Yet it is impossible to have children without teaching them. Beat them, coddle them, ignore them, force-feed them, shun them or worry about them, love them or hate them, you are still teaching them something, all the time.

Paul, on his missionary journeys, found a protege, 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 the teaching relationship 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..." You have observed. We learn by seeing, by watching, by observing. 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?

This morning, I especially want to challenge you to take your teaching role seriously here in our church family. You are a teacher of our children, youth and adults. I challenge you to intentionally be the best teacher you can be. I haven't counted, but we have a large number of children and youth who are being reared by a single parent. We also have some who are being raised by grandparents. We have fragmented families, which increases considerably the importance of our church family in the lives of children. Adults also today need a larger family, need a place where they are affirmed, appreciated and loved. Each of you can have a significant impact for good in the lives of all of us.

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 when I was in the sixth grade. There in that little Methodist Church with two rooms-- a sanctuary 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 did. He 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 chances. 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, he radiated love.

Sisters and brothers, like Jesus, we teach.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris