Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lectionary 24
Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 116:1-9
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

I love Jehovah, because he heareth My voice and my supplications.

Zack had a teacher that was unable to communicate his subject matter to the students. He taught every day, but despite his efforts, the students could not learn what he was teaching. They went to him for help, asked him to explain it in different ways, and begged him to approach the subject in a way they could understand. He never changed his tactics and the students continued to fail. The school finally realized what was happening and the teacher was removed from his post. Unfortunately, it was too late for most of the students who did poorly on the standardized test for which they were preparing.

The teacher didn’t listen to the students, parents or administrators and refused to adapt to the situation. He could not meet the needs of his students and he was judged by their failure. He failed because he didn’t listen and learn. He was the teacher; he thought he knew enough. But the best teachers know that they continue to learn something new every day. If he had learned more about their needs, he might have found a way to get through to them about the subject.

Teaching is not easy. I’m sure many teachers that are good at their job have faced students that could not learn the subject or could not learn as they were able to teach. I’m sure many teachers have had students that did not want to learn. I’m sure many teachers have experienced the wrath of angry parents, the scorn of students and the stress of dealing with administrative requirements. Teachers face these difficulties and find ways to overcome because they love to teach. They love the students. They have something to share and they want to help others grow and learn; they want to transform individual lives and the world.

A talent is a natural ability given at birth; a spiritual gift is a supernatural ability. A gift is given to a believer at rebirth and is used to communicate the truth of God’s kingdom to the world. The difference between a talent and a gift is most clearly seen in the gift of teaching. A teacher is someone who shows others how to do something or who provides knowledge and insight. Some people have the natural ability to communicate information to others. We can all remember teachers from our school days that had a powerful impact on our lives. They had something special, and we walked out of their class better in some way. We might know some people who are great teachers in the church. When they share the Word of God, it has an impact beyond the imparting knowledge. People are transformed by the knowledge.

There are many good teachers in the world, but there are never enough. This is true also in the Church. Many people are afraid to take on the responsibility of teaching, and who wouldn’t be when faced with the possibility of unmotivated children, irresponsible parents, and demanding administrators. A teacher has great influence on his students and so does a Bible teacher. Those who might be gifted to teach in the Church often look at New Testament lesson from James and do not want to be held accountable. They think that because they are not trained that they don’t have what it takes to teach God’s Word. We must remember that when God gives us a gift, He gives us everything we need to use that gift. He gives us the right words, courage, wisdom and strength to teach. It is up to us to encourage those with the gift. It is a hard job, a hard responsibility, but necessary for the future of the Church.

Prophecy (preaching) and teaching are closely related and are often mentioned together in the scriptures. Some people are gifted at proclaiming the message of God’s Kingdom, while others are gifted at explaining it. It is vital that churches find those who are gifted in teaching, so that the congregation will learn how to apply the lessons learned from those who prophesy.

Isaiah was a prophet. He faced incredible trouble, life threatening difficulties far worse than any modern school teacher. But Isaiah trusted in God. Isaiah accepted whatever persecution he faced. He accepted the strikes to his cheek and the pulls of his beard. He accepted those offenses because he knew God was by his side. God has heard his voice and answered his prayers.

The psalmist writes, “I love Jehovah, because he heareth my voice and my supplications.” This seems upside down, because we know that we should just love God without condition. But the psalmist puts it into perspective with the next verse. He writes, “Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, Therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.” God listens, and because He does so we can cry out to Him with our troubles, trusting that He will not only listen but also answer. In His mercy and grace, we receive the healing we need, whether it is in body or soul, and we respond with love. We cry out to God because we trust in Him. We trust in Him because He is faithful to His promises. He hears our voice. He is near. That’s how Isaiah lived. It is how we are to live, even if we are called and gifted to do the hard thing.

Jesus knew that He could change the world. He knew that He would change the world. But the crowds and the disciples did not quite understand how He would change the world. So He asked, “Who do people say that I am?” They had plenty of answers. The answers included John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. This question was not so much about Jesus' identity—obviously He could not be John the Baptist—it was about His authority and His position. Some folk saw Him as taking over the ministry of John the Baptist. Others saw Him as one of the prophets. The prophets were sent by God to give warning and hope to the people. So, was Jesus the new leader, the promised herald or just another prophet through whom God would speak to His people? Or was He something else?

Then Jesus made the question more personal. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ.” This was an amazing confession of faith; one that Matthew tells us comes not from Peter but by the hand of God. This is a confession that Jesus would commission the disciples to take to the world. It is the foundation of all that we believe. Jesus is not simply a man taking over the leadership of a growing ministry, He is not simply a herald announcing something great, and He is not simply another prophet in a long line of prophets proclaiming God’s word. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.

What does this mean? The disciples did not yet know the depth of what had just been revealed. For many, the expectation of the Messiah was as an earthly king. He would have power and authority from God to bring healing and transformation, but it would come to the nation of Israel in a very tangible way. Israel would be made free. She would be made well. She would become strong, independent and would return to the Golden Years when they were a powerful nation. If the disciples went out and told the crowds that Jesus was the Messiah, if they gave them such a word of hope, the people would assume that He was what they wanted the Messiah to be—a king, come to save them from their troubles.

Yet Jesus came with a different purpose, a purpose that is still beyond our comprehension. He came to die. Jesus told the disciples to keep silent about what they knew—that Jesus was the Messiah—because they still did not fully understand how this was to be.

It is easy to get the wrong impression about a person. I know who I am, but everyone around me only knows a part of who I am. My husband and children know the homebody housewife. My high school friends are familiar with my gifts and abilities that came out in that time of my life. My best friend since childhood knows all about my vices. My neighbors know that I’m a pretty good cook and a talented crafter. But there is so much that most people don’t know.

The other day a few friends came by for a picnic and we spent the afternoon sharing stories about ourselves and our lives. They noticed that Bruce and I have a huge collection of vinyl albums. We don’t use them very often, but Bruce did buy me a unit and I can play them now when I want. I said, “Oh, those are from the old days, when I was a disc jockey.” It was a shock to these friends; they had no idea that I did that job. They really didn’t even know that I had the personality to stand on a stage, to perform and to help a crowd have fun. I’ve often commented to Victoria that I would enjoy getting on stage, but she can’t see it. She didn’t know me when I was a disc jockey.

So, we can ask one another, “Who do you say that I am?” and we might find that we get as many answers as Jesus got from His disciples that day. People see us as they know us, and they find it hard to believe those things about us that they can’t see or understand. The disciples couldn’t imagine Jesus as the suffering servant, the one who might sing the psalm as we see it in today’s passages. But we also know that Jesus is like Isaiah, trusting in God and knowing that even when His enemies slapped His cheek or pulled His beard, He would not waver from the reason God sent Him.

Jesus tried to tell them. “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Since the crowds were whispering possibilities of kingship, the idea of suffering and death was far from their minds. Peter rebuked for Jesus. “Don’t say that Lord! You can’t die.” They were just getting used to this idea that Jesus would be near. He could not be near, He could not hear their concerns, He could not heal them or save them if He was dead.

Jesus responds rather harshly to Peter’s rebuke. “Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.” Jesus is not calling Peter the devil. He is commanding Satan to get out of the way. Peter could not see the reality of Jesus’ identity, despite the fact that he confessed just minutes before that Jesus was the Messiah. He wanted Jesus to be King, but not the kind of king Jesus would become. Jesus refused to be tempted by a different path. Anything less than the cross would be useless. It was through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection that true healing, true freedom, true salvation would come.

Jesus asks us the question, “Who do you say that I am?” What is our answer? Is He simply a teacher? A prophet? Can we, like Peter, identify Jesus as the Christ? And when we do, do be believe that He is the kind of Messiah that He came to be, or do we want Him to be the Messiah that fits in our expectation.

It is a difficult path to believe in Jesus as He is, especially since the world around us, even in the Church because we all have our own expectations. But it is because of the cross of Christ that we can live daily with God as our constant companion. By His grace we live know that even when we fail, God will be there to help us through. With Him at our side we will change the world. With Him as our guide we will do what Jesus calls us to do: to proclaim the Gospel to the world, to take up the cross and follow Him no matter what we might face. He is near; He hears our cries and saves. We can carry our cross because we know this to be true.

Jesus’ words were tough to hear and even tougher to believe. Even the reaction from His closest friends was negative. They didn’t want to hear about suffering and pain. They wanted hope and peace, just like we want today. We don’t want to hear about suffering and pain either. We would much prefer a comfortable life faith, that the promise will be fulfilled in the here and now. We don't want to face persecution or contention.

Yet, Jesus says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” God has heard our voice and sent His Son. He calls us to live by faith, to follow Christ even if it means to face suffering and humiliation. He calls us to speak His word into the world, to confess that Jesus is the Messiah even if it means we will face death. “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” He calls us to teach, to take the word of hope into the world. We have nothing to fear, because He is always near; He is close enough to hear our cry and He is faithful to answer.

James warned against becoming teachers because those who do so are judged more harshly. Teaching affects lives; teachers can cause people to change, both for the good and for bad. We all fail, and our failures can affect the lives of others. Like Zack’s teacher, we can cause others to fail when we do not do what is right. This is no reason to fear the responsibilities we have been given with our gifts. We are cautioned to beware how we use our gifts and talents, always remembering the effect we can have on another, but also encouraged to step out in faith, to speak God’s Word into the world. He is with us. He will help us through. We will be judged more harshly, perhaps by the people with whom we have failed. But we can trust that God will make a difference in the lives that we have not been able to affect, because He is faithful and He desires the whole world to be made new.

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