Sermon, June 3
Teaching them. Teaching them doctrine? No. Teaching them obedience? Yes. Already we are in a difficult place in our culture, and probably in many others as well. We don’t like to obey – we are individuals, independent thinkers who will often agree to follow someone’s lead, but reserve the right to judge each directive and choose whether to comply. So, to simply and clearly commit myself to obey, to learn to obey. That’s interesting. Jesus did not say, “Teach them all my commandments.” as though the goal were knowledge. Jesus said, “Teach them to obey my commandments.” The is on learning obedience. That’s the hard part. Anyone can learn what Jesus taught and commanded. The challenge is learning to obey it. And so that is what we must consider – how do we learn, and thus how might we teach others, to obey Jesus’ commandments?
1. Learn the commandments. That may seem obvious, but unfortunately, too many Christians, and I have been one of them much of my life, learn the generalities of Jesus’ ‘philosophy’ but are vague on the specifics. So, either by reading, or by listening, or by watching, or by experiencing, we much learn and then teach the content – what are the commandments of the Lord? If we stick to just the gospels themselves (not to mention the writings of Paul, Peter, James & John) there is plenty to learn that will challenge us. Start with the most straightforward and clear teaching, the sermon on the mount. Jesus says repeatedly, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” OK, I need to know what was said, and what NEW thing Jesus is asking of me. Avoid Lust. Let go of Hatred. Speak plainly. Turn your cheek. Give your shirt. Walk the extra mile. Give to anyone who begs. Love your enemy. Pray for your persecutor. Be perfect. Forgive repeatedly (to a truly rediculous extent). Serve without expecting reward. Pray constantly and in secret. Fast joyfully. Store up treasures in heaven. Serve God. Strive before and above all things for the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Quit worrying. Take care in your judgements. Judge yourself first. Ask the Father for what you need. Do to others as you would have them do unto you (for this is the sum of the law and the prophets!) Expect the road of faith to be narrow and hard. Beware of false prophets (do you know how to identify a false prophet?) Be a tree that bears good fruit.
And that’s less than three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel (5-7)
2. Learn to obey. Understand yourself and be honest with yourself. Where are you obedient to Jesus, and where not? What has he asked of you as one of his disciples that you have refused him? What area of your thought life do you reserve? Does he have ALL your relationships? ALL your finances? ALL your desires and goals? Where you fail to obey, understand why. Is it stubbornness? Lack of knowledge or wisdom? Lack of discipline? Lack of will? Lack of desire? Lack of encouragement and support? Lack of faith and trust? Lack of courage? Pray for that thing you lack that interferes with your obedience to the Lord. (James 4:3 says that sometimes we do not receive what we seek because we ask in the wrong way, or with wrong motives. Check your motives and methods – do they line up with the teachings of Jesus on prayer?)
3. Understand learning processes – Modern educational science tells us that different people learn in different ways – many people have known this intuitively for generations, but its finally being studied and documented and implemented intentionally into the educational experience. Are you a “learn by doing”, “learn by seeing”, “learn by hearing”, “learn by writing” or “learn by thinking” person? Observe others, ask questions, to discover how others learn best. Discover some differences, and what best suits your learning and teaching styles. If you are a kinesthetic learner (learn by doing) they you may be best suited to teach in that mode also. For so many generations, Christianity has focused on learning by hearing or learning by reading. Cultures also have norms, and our culture (US middle class anglo, specifically) is becoming increasingly visual – really returning to an earlier norm – The stained glass windows of cathedrals in Europe told the gospel story to the masses in a visual, preliterate culture. The rise of literacy is an important thing for the spread of the gospel and the raising of people’s standard of living, but Jesus was born into a mostly illiterate culture, and the gospel spead the fastest in that same culture, with the power of the Holy Spirit. (Again James – his argument on faith with works is about allowing people to see and experience the gospel, not just hear it.)
4. Be intentional about teaching obedience to Jesus’ commandments. Understand and proclaim that obedience is expected. Model obedience with humility and transparency. Invite people to join you in obedience, not just call them to something ‘out there’. Whatever were your traps and challenges under #2, realize how companionship on the journey helps to overcome those, and offer that companionship to others. Remember that learning is a process. Most of us got some skinned knees while learning to ride a bicycle. How much more then in learning to obey Jesus are we likely to fall a few times before we get it right. The goal, as Jesus syas in Matthew 5:46, is perfection like that of the Father. This kind of perfection means completeness, lacking in nothing, full and whole. This is our end, our goal, our purpose and desire, the thing toward which we struggle and strive. The musician wants to learn to play a piece perfectly. Ten musicians may all learn the same piece perfectly, and they will sound very different, depending on the personal expression brought by the musician. So too with our faith. We do not become clones of one another or Jesus when we strive toward perfection, for our perfection includes our uniqueness in following Jesus call.
In your life, and in our church, and in the whole church, we must strive toward and proclaim this truth, that we are called to teach obedience among Jesus’ disciples to all that He commanded. Our job is not to teach not-yet Christians to be obedient to Jesus anyway. Take things in order. Go. Make disciples. Baptize them in the three-fold name. Teach them obedience to the commandments of Jesus.
Where in your life is Jesus asking for control, asking for your obedience? How will you thoughtfull teach obedience among His disciples?