Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 17 October 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 31: 27 – 34, 2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5, and Luke 18: 1 – 18.
This is also Laity Sunday and I will be taking part in the message at my home church, Grace UMC. I hope to have a video of this message posted and when I do, I will let you all know.
I had thought of writing this from the perspective of three different people (a disciple, a parent, and a circuit rider) but it wasn’t flowing like I wanted it to. So it will be from a individual perspective. Still, I am a parent (and a grandparent), I am a circuit rider, and I hope that I am a disciple.
The key thing about the Scriptures for today, especially in light of this being Laity Sunday, is the need for people to learn what is in the Bible and how that that learning is going to be accomplished. Actually, the title of this blog should be “How will the children learn?” because we have “taught” our children already. Unfortunately, we haven’t taught them well.
I would be willing to bet that if someone were to take a survey of Biblical knowledge at this time next year, the results would be viewed as appalling. But why should that be a surprise? After all, most of us viewed the results of the recent Pew Survey with alarm and amazement. (See “What Do You Know? For some, apparently not much!”) How is it that we still, after years of teaching people about the Bible, have people who cannot name the four Gospels? Why, after all these years of teaching, do the majority of Christians still not understand what it is that they believe? And when you look inside the Methodist denomination, you still see a woeful lack of understanding about who we are as a denomination and what we believe.
We think we have taught our children but we taught them what we knew and since we do not know much, there is no way that they can know much either. Paul tells Timothy to remember what it was that his mother and grandmother taught him and to take those teachings to heart. And perhaps that is where we are missing the point. We see the words, we memorize the words, but we do not take them to heart. We do not make the words of the Gospel more than words in our minds; we leave them out of our heart and soul and thus we have not learned them.
The difference between teaching and learning, at least to me, is that learning is a two-way process. Teaching is the transmission of knowledge from one person to another. That’s all we are doing in our schools (both on Sunday and the rest of the week) right now. We teach our children and expect them to memorize the answers and then “spit” them back on the test.
But what do they learn? Six months after the test, how much of the knowledge that they so laboriously studied do they remember? How much of the confirmation class that many of our youth and young adults is still a part of their lives? If the truth were told, I don’t remember much, if any, of what I was taught in confirmation class back in 1964 and 1965.
There is a certain degree of responsibility when it comes to learning something. And what we do as teachers goes a long way to insuring that our students learn the material, instead of just knowing it. What good does it do to speak of God’s love for all mankind when the actions of a congregation do not reflect that love? What good does it do to speak of missions to the world when the people of the congregation are more concerned about the building?
I do not expect the laity of the church to totally understand the nuances of a Greek translation. But I do think that they should be able to understand what’s in a Bible and why there are different translations. I expect the laity of the church to have a basic understanding of what the church is about and what is expected of them.
God spoke to Jeremiah of a new covenant, not one given to the leaders who will share it with the people, but one written on the hearts and in the minds of each individual. Jeremiah writes of there being no need for schools where we teach others about God because the teachings will be written on our hearts.
That may remove the schools from the picture but that will not remove the learning. In fact, it will make what we do on Sunday (or whenever we might worship) even more important. It will become a time when there is meaning to the words that are said and feeling to the songs we sing. It will be a place where the Holy Spirit is alive again.
I am not sure where the church is headed in the coming days. I see so many churches who offer a muddled, escapist type of religion. They are so much like the judge in the Gospel reading who doesn’t want to hear the cry of the widow.
But the world outside the church walls is crying out and it would seem that many are not listening. They aren’t looking either. They wonder why their church is dying, or perhaps just lifeless. They wonder why there are no youth in the church anymore. The youth were taught in the church but they saw that the words spoken had no meaning and the songs had no feeling. So they left looking for meaning and feeling somewhere else.
Laity Sunday holds a special place in the United Methodist Church. We are the only denomination that puts an emphasis on the laity’s role in its operation. In the early days of the denomination in this country, it was the laity that spread the word from place to place. So, the answer to the question that frames this message is that it will be the laity that teaches the children. And if the laity does not know the answer, then it would be best that they seek it out themselves.
There is a new covenant found in Christ. It was promised by God through Jeremiah and it was lifted up by the disciples and the early teachers. Some were parents, some were leaders, but all were disciples. Our call today is to accept Jesus Christ in our hearts so that we can renew that covenant; our call today is to accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, minds, and lives so that we can go forth into the world and teach the world and show the world the power of Christ. If we live the words that we speak then the children will not only be taught but they will learn as well.