And You Shall Teach Them
II Timothy 2:1-2
September 12, 2010
There are certain passages in Scripture that are like anchors holding us fast to the faith of our ancestors. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” is one such text.
Another is the text we read this morning from Deuteronom: The Shema, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord.” For almost three thousand years, these words have called the people of God to worship. For almost three thousand years, these words have called the people of God to worship.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise . . .”
These ancient words of Deuteronomy are one of the great anchors that hold us firmly to the faith of our ancestors. They are both a call to faith and a call to be about the business of education. And it is for these reasons that I lift up these words as the foundation of our educational ministry.
Now before you settle back in anticipation of an extended advertisement for Sunday school, understand that the call to be about the business of education is far more than a slogan for Genesis Sunday, the day we commission our church school teachers and launch or new classes.
The task of education to which this text calls us has to do with the fundamental matters of who we are, what we believe, and what we are to do as the church of Jesus Christ.
“Hear, O Israel.” We are not just any people, we are God’s people. We are not just faces in the crowd of humanity, we have a name, we are Christians, Christ’s ones.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. We have an identity and our God has an identity. What this means is that our God is not simply one option among many options, one god we can select from a shelf of gods the way we would select a book from a library shelf.
Our God is the particular God who has disclosed God’s nature, character, and power to us through the mighty acts of calling Abram and Sarai, of setting Israel free from bondage in Egypt, in raising Jesus Christ to new life.
Our God is the particular God who has disclosed God’s nature, character, and power to us in the mighty acts of calling us to faith, of setting us free from bondage to sin and death, in raising us to new life in and with Christ.
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.”
We are not just any people and our God is not just any God. What’s more, we discover our true identity and we know the true identity of our God when we bind ourselves to God with all we have and with all we are; heart, soul, and strength.
It is this identity and this devotion that form the core, the center, the heart of what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ; it is this identity and this devotion that shape our educational enterprise; and it is this identity and devotion that determine what we learn, why we learn, and how we learn.
Any teacher or educator will tell you that before you walk into your first class you have to answer some fundamental questions: What is the subject to be taught? What are my goals or educational objectives for the class? And, how am I going to accomplish my objectives and reach my goals?
What is the subject of Christian education? The subject of Christian education is the grace and power of God made known in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Now notice that this subject matter is personal, relational, and dynamic. It is historically grounded and learned through experience: personal experience and shared experience.
The subject matter of Christian education is not how many missionary journeys Paul took, what charges were brought against Jesus, how many soldiers David commanded, or even how many hours where in a day of creation.
The subject matter of Christian education is what God, through the Holy Spirit accomplished in bringing the gospel to the Gentile world; what God accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; what God accomplished in raising up David the Shepherd King; and what God accomplished in calling forth creation out of chaos.
But it doesn’t stop there. The subject matter of Christian education is also what God has accomplished, and is accomplishing, by calling us together to be disciples in his name here in the heart of Columbia, Tennessee in the year of our Lord, 2010.
To be sure, Christian education is about discerning what God has done, but equally important, it is about discerning what God is doing and what God is calling us to be and do today.
It is here, then, that we find our goals and objectives for Christian education. Our goal is not to learn more about Jesus, it is to become more like Jesus. Our goal is not to learn where Jesus walked and what Jesus did, but to walk where Jesus walks and to join in and become partners and instruments in what the risen Lord is doing here and now, in this world today.
Some of you may be familiar with a book that was popular several years ago, “I Learned Everything I Needed to Know in Kindergarten.”
Well, I would have to say that I learned almost everything about the Christian faith in kindergarten; and I learned it in three songs I was taught by three marvelous, elderly, and frail women.
The first woman was Mrs. Finley. Always impeccably dressed, gentle and calm she taught all of us two, three and four year olds to sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” She also taught us what the words mean with her soft hands, her gentle spirit, and her patience with some pretty raggedy kids.
The second woman was rounder and more buxom than Mrs. Finley. She was Mrs. Van Horn. She taught us 1st and 2nd graders to sing songs we heard in worship. I can still see the poster board with its neatly arranged black stick-on letters, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” What a gift she gave as she made it possible for us to join our voices with the whole congregation singing praise to God.
The third and final woman was Ms. Hall. She came to our public school for an hour each week to teach Christian education. I think her meager salary was paid by the Virginia Council of Churches. And the very fact of her presence in our school gives you some idea of how long ago this was.
But constitutional questions aside, I am thankful to her for teaching me the enchanting melody and words “Lord I Want to Be a Christian; Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart . . . Lord I want to be more loving in my heart . . . Lord I want to be more holy in my heart . . . Lord I want to be like Jesus in my heart.”
The knowledge that I am loved by Jesus and that the story of that love is told in the Bible; the capacity to sing praise God for the gift of creation; and the desire for the love and holiness of Christ implanted in my heart were extraordinary gifts these women gave to me. These lessons formed my identity and shaped my life in ways I can hardly speak.
Now I need to say one final word about this morning’s text: “You shall teach them to your children.”
The Revised Standard Version of the passage in Deuteronomy I read this morning says: “You shall teach them.” In the New Revised Standard Version it is translated, “You shall recite them to your children.” And in the New International Version it is translated, “You shall impress them on your children.”
Whenever I see this kind of variation in the translation of a word I know there is a gold mine nearby.
I called my friend Brenda Barroughs who, in addition to being the assistant registrar at Union Seminary is also a linguist, an Old Testament scholar, and a poet. I knew that she could give me a clue about what was going on her.
She told me the word to teach is really the word “to cause to know” and that the word to know is the same word that appears in Genesis 4:1 “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain.” Furthermore she said that when the word is used in the sense of being known by God it means that God knows us through and through, inside-out.” In other words it is a most intimate kind of knowing.
The word to teach here, then, means to cause your children to know love for God in a personal and intimate way. It means to cause your children to know love for God in a deep and complete way. The word teach here means to teach your children to know deeply and personally and completely love for God as it can only be expressed day in and day out as we speak, as we sit in our houses, as we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise.
The call to be about the business of Christian education is a call that must be answered daily and by us all. It is the call to live in such a way that our children and all who see us can experience in the depths of who they are identity and our devotion as the people of God, as disciples of Christ.
It is an awesome challenge, but one when met has kept faith alive for almost three thousand years. The future is our responsibility.