So as families up and down the country today are preparing for the onslaught of getting their children ready for school and sewing on the labels in to the new school uniform I thought I would reflect on how we teach and learn.
It was in June 1987 – almost exactly 30 years ago – that I qualified as a teacher. In those days we spent a lot of time designing visual aids for our classes. I spent a whole Sunday afternoon drawing a tiger roaring so we could look at his teeth for a lesson about the body. BBC Micro computers were just making an appearance in classrooms and we are allowed to wheel that into our classroom one afternoon a week for the 32 children to have a go at it.
On Thursday morning I moved into my new classroom and the first job was to find space for four laptops which are now set up permanently so that children are able to use a computer as often as they like. The times they are a changing – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
Certainly the days of sitting in front of a black board or with a text book with barely any pictures in them as my mother did in her school days are long gone and the ethos of teaching today is all about teaching our young people the skills they need to be effective learners; it is not about teaching them the facts.
People learn in different ways:
So what has this all got to do with church?
Well the days when we all sat in church and listened without engaging are numbered. Most of the big flourishing churches today invest time and money in all sorts of resources which make church attractive to visual learners.
When Jesus was in active ministry in 1st Century Israel his early training was to attend the school in the synagogue and listen to the scrolls being read in Hebrew and his experience would not have been that different from a synagogue today. He learnt to speak and read Hebrew and had a deep understanding of the law and scriptures. Remember Luke 2 which has the story of him being left behind in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph and they searched everywhere for him, finally finding him in the temple teaching the elders about the scripture with an eloquence that engaged and amazed them – even at that age.
However when it came to his own ministry he acquired quite a following – not just the disciples he had picked but the thousands of men and their families who sat on a hillside and listened to him as he told them about the kingdom of God. Jesus was probably the world’s most gifted, connected, persuasive and compelling communicator. His words, storytelling and actions made such an impact on those who first heard him that his words are still changing the world today.
Think of the pictures Jesus created in his story – pictures which engaged with things his listeners knew about. He talked about a man who built a house on sand which collapsed. He told a story about a shepherd who lost one of his sheep.
Like the best teachers he creates pictures, something which captures the imagination and allows people to engage with images that they can visualise and put his ideas into context. And more than that he was the sort of man who used his power to feed 5,000 people on a hillside and when he was most tired he made time for small children and played with them and blessed them.
Look at this photograph. What do you see?
This man is a Christian who is preaching the gospel. He travels the Universities in the USA sharing what he perceives to be the gospel. I have never heard of him before but I chose him only because I could verify who he was and because His message is indicative of a particular interpretation of Christianity. The fellow who is standing behind him is actually a comedian but he is making a valid point. I hope most of us would agree with that.
Much has been said in the media in the last week or so about Diana princess of Wales. Although not recognised as representative of the Christian church she was however seen as representative of a different approach to being Royal. She was very tactile as a person and like this fellow in the background she recognised the power of physical contact to heal the wounded and the broken. She was photographed shaking hands with Aids patients, with her arms around the leprous, cuddling a dying child. Whatever we may think of her there is a profound and serious lesson in her capacity to reach out to strangers and those excluded from society. I would suggest that her attitude to people is much closer to Jesus’ than the man who is preaching judgement and damnation on those who fall short of God’s standards.
So what can Jesus as a teacher tell us and challenge us to do today? When Jesus told the disciples to go out into the world and make disciples of all men there was no mention of pointing fingers and telling people how sinful their behaviour was; recognising our sin and our need for God’s forgiveness and grace is of course a very important part of what we practise as Christians, However God calls us to do much more than that.
Jesus parables and teaching are all about connecting with the word around us. He allowed himself to grieve at Lazarus death, he became angry at the unfairness of the money changers in the temple, he felt joy and sadness and fatigue. It was in doing so that he showed that he was fully human as well as a divine Messiah. He loved people and connected with them and that is how he could engage and teach in the way he did.
In our reading today from Romans the Apostle Paul is talking about the marks of a true Christian; here is a reminder of just some of them:
Let love be genuine; love one another with mutual affection; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Extend hospitality to strangers. If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.