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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Proverbs 1:20-33 AND Psalm 19:1-14 OR Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1 OR Isaiah 50:4-9a AND Psalm 116:1-9, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38

Many of those who are unemployed were trained for jobs which no longer exist. If they are to move back into the workforce, they need retraining. There’s always something new to learn. The world, life, does not stay static. Educators have for years spoken of “lifelong learning.” But who is going to teach us? What is it that we need to learn? How are we going to learn it?

This week’s lectionary readings can be considered from the perspective of such teaching and learning.

Traditionally, teaching has been viewed as the transfer of a body of knowledge from one generation to another. That doesn’t always work. Technology moves so rapidly that the younger generations become the teachers of the older generations. Consider computer technology, for instance.

Furthermore, is the knowledge that is passed on that fixed? It is true that much of science and mathematics, at least as it is applied in everyday life, is quite defined. The force of gravity and the speed of light don’t change much from generation to generation. Human behavior and morality, although subject to certain kinds of measurement and predictability, are not nearly so fixed. Even science, when one digs beneath the surface, has a lot of apparent randomness in it.

Yet religion has often attempted to set morality in stone with teachings that say this is the way you must behave or you’ll go to hell. Are they simply trying to say that behavior has consequences? The consequence may not be a literal hell. They may go overboard in drawing sharp lines of right and wrong, but there are consequences. Abuse alcohol and it’s probably going to catch up with you. Pursue a life of greed and selfishness and you may well end up lonely and unhappy, with few friends. All of life we are discovering the consequences of our behavior, good and bad.

In the reading from Proverbs, Wisdom, a female expression of the Spirit of God, is the teacher—a teacher who, in these verses, is being ignored. She is addressing people who refuse to learn. “How long, O simple ones,” she cries, “will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22) Finally, all she can do is leave them to suffer the consequences of their ignorance. “ . . . they shall eat the fruit of their way.” (vs. 31) It is less a matter of being punished and sent to hell by the wrath of God than it is the inevitable consequence of living unwisely, or refusing to learn the new lessons that come each day—if we heed them

Psalm 19 invites us to learn from the order and beauty of the natural world. “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) It is as if nature itself is speaking, but we ignore the wisdom it offers. “Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night offers knowledge. There is no speech, not are there words; their voice is not heard.” (vss. 2-3) We no more listen to nature than we do to Wisdom. What is it that causes us to refuse to hear the warnings of things like global warming?

The Psalm moves on to suggest that morality partakes of the same order as creation. Again, I don’t respond well if I’m expected to take these words simplistically. Nevertheless it is true that being attuned to the work of God’s Spirit, Wisdom, in our midst, is “more to be desired . . . than gold, even much fine gold, sweeter also than honey, and the drippings of the honeycomb.” (vs. 10)

The reading from the Wisdom of Solomon is a love song, not unlike the Song of Solomon except that this time the lover being addressed is Wisdom. “ . . . she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things . . . She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the others, and she orders all things well.” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-27 & 8:1) We are presented with a Spirit that indwells all of life, including us, whose wisdom is to be pursued as one would pursue one’s beloved. Learning is an act of passionate love seeking after truth—daily!

This week’s readings from the lectionary include two that specifically mention teachers. The first is Isaiah 50, where the writer says, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (Isaiah 50:4) One of the tasks of teaching apparently is “to sustain the weary with a word.” The reading from James reminds us that “from the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” (James 3:10) The call of the teacher is to bring blessing with his or her words. To learn is to seek the blessing God has for us today. In the reading from Isaiah, the teacher is a learner as well. “Morning by morning he (i.e., God) wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

It’s worth noting that the teacher in Isaiah, chapter fifty, is one who suffers with dignity, refuses to respond to violence with violence. “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (vs. 6) They are words that came to be applied to the Messiah. Followers of Jesus came to see the Messiah embodied in him and his teaching. Peter, for example, when Jesus asks who the disciples think he is, says, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29) Are teachers to follow the model of the master teacher? Certainly a little humility goes a long way in the process of teaching.

I struggle to connect Psalm 116 with the theme of this blog. It is a Psalm giving thanks for being saved from death. “The snares of death encompassed me . . . Then I called on the name of the Lord; ‘O lord, I pray, save my life!’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful . . . For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Psalm 116:3-5 & 8) When I think about lifelong learning, what I find tucked in this Psalm is a call to daily awareness of and attention to the daily mercies of God. “I will call on him as long as I live . . . I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (vss. 2 & 9) Where in life are there lessons to be learned? Remember that Wisdom, the Spirit of God, is active there, ready to teach us.

The reading from James is the second one that specifically mentions teachers, this time with a warning. “Not many of you should become teachers . . .” (James 3:1) The focus is upon the power of the tongue and the words we—and teachers—use. As already mentioned, they can be a blessing or a curse. It is enough to give any teacher, or learner, pause. Psalm 19 ends with a prayer that we all might appropriately pray as we walk about teaching and learning in the land of the living. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

That brings us to the Gospel lesson in which Peter identified Jesus as “the Messiah.” The problem is that the disciples hadn’t yet learned the lessons of their day. Jesus wasn’t going to fit into the mold of what they thought they had learned about the Messiah. When he told them that this Messiah was going to “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” it sounded to them like foolishness. (Mark 8:31) A Messiah who was going to be killed? It was sacrilegious! Peter was so offended that he “began to rebuke” Jesus. (vs. 32) It got even worse. Jesus told them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (vss. 34-35)

The wisdom of the world is not the same as what Wisdom would teach us. Paul wrote, in I Corinthians 1:25, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” He followed it up a couple of chapters later, with these words: “If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (I Corinthians 3:18-19)

Life is not about getting and grabbing all one can for oneself, not about gaining fame and prestige and wealth. It is about giving one’s life in humble service. Where is that in the curriculum of most schools? It may take a lifetime of daily attention to the still small voice of God to learn that lesson. We need to enroll in lifelong learning.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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