The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Monday, July 25, 2016

Teachers, Learning styles, and the Lord's Prayer

This is the unabridged version. You can listen to the audio version here. The gospel and other texts are here.


Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and from our lord and savior Jesus Christ.

There is so much to be said about today's gospel regarding the Lord's prayer. It is, after all, 
the greatest teaching of all time taught by the greatest Teacher of all time.
And we cannot take that lightly because there are so many great teachers in our world. 

I've been thinking a lot about teachers this week. Great teachers that I have had, great teachers my children have had. I would venture to guess that many of us have chosen careers based on the advice of some good teachers who inspired is in a particular way. 

I think about my children’s teachers to come, how in another month our sweet Thomas will enter kindergarten for the first time. Jacob is going into 3rd grade and will continue to grow and be molded by great teachers whose impact will last much longer than a school year. Great teachers sow seeds that take a lifetime to develop. Which is why teachers never stop teaching. Even now in the middle of summer teachers minds are preparing new curriculum, want to make the learning experience as accessible and fun as possible. 
And I think about Avery and I've already started praying for the teacher who has given her time to teach two-year-olds who have endless questions. 

In my prayer time regarding teachers, I think about their impossible task to And I think about all teachers who balance trying to support individual growth and achievement with managing a class with twenty or thirty students at a time.

I don’t view going back to school as something to dread. No complaints here. School is good for my kids and they love it.
Teachers work their tails off for us and for our children. 
Teachers come in all kinds, petagogys and styles.

And it seems to me that when I think of the teachers I have had, they tend to teach in two fundamental ways. 
There are some teachers who teach facts and systems. These teachers take the established methods of teaching and develop a syllabus to follow the best practices from over the years. These teachers tend to teach certain subjects that go easily with a straight-forward approach. Subjects so exact that the answers can be predicted and tested, and even published in the back of the book. They value order and rules of the trade and they have high expectations that others can work within the proven systems.

There there is another gaggle of teachers (what do you call a group of teachers? A flock? A hoard? I like gaggle!) who teach with a style full of creativity and critical thinking. Here, answers aren't given. What is expected is for the student to respond from their own self. These teachers a less inclined to apply established practices than they are to ask open-ended questions.   

So, what does this have to do with the gospel text about the Lord's prayer? I'm glad that you asked! 

The Lord's prayer is taught to us, as I said, by the greatest teacher of all time. In fact, Jesus is called Teacher more than he is called anything else in the gospels. Even after he has died and risen he appears first to Mary Magdeline who doesn't know who he is. 

But Jesus calls on her, his student, and says, "Mary" and she responds, "Rabboni" which means "Teacher" 
Like all the best teachers, Jesus inspired others to learn from him and follow him. 

So the Lord's prayer is taught to us in both Matthew and Luke, and both gospels teach it a bit differently.      

In for the sake of transparency, those who study with me already know that I have an affinity for Luke's teaching style. Luke has Jesus teaching around food, more informal learning setting, but nonetheless powerful. Luke tells more parables than the other gospels combined. Parables, that, by the way, aren’t driving at one particular point, but are spoken in order to open your mind, not to close it.

Matthew works within the established rules of Judaism and their practices, Jesus in Matthew talks a lot about Kosher laws and applying them to people- and there is a lot of talk about separating, which is a kosher law. Kosher is about keeping things separate. Milk and meat use separate containers. So Matthew talks about separating the wheat from the chaff and the sheep from the goats. It’s very rule based. For people who like rules and order, Matthew hits the nail on the head. Those rules are there for a reason. They have been refined over centuries and following the established best practices is the best way to a relationship with God.
If that sounds like you, listen to what Jesus has to say about the Lord’s prayer in Matthew. He introduces it this way in Matthew 6- "Don’t heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your father knows what you need before you ask it.
When you pray, say, “Our father, who art in heaven.”
Matthew seems to tell us to stick to the script. Don't make up your own long prayers. Stick to the rules and facts.  
Matthew seems to suggest that the disciples already know how to pray. It suggests that prayer is already part of their daily life- that as good Jews, they understand that prayer is simply a best practice for their lives. He doesn’t have to offer commentary to the rule-followers because they know how to follow the rules. Giving them directions about praying would be preaching to the choir. He even has to tell them that when they pray to do so in quiet, not on the streets to show others how prayerful you are. The disciples in Matthew are like those of you who read Christ in our Home as Pastor Trexler referenced last week with the Children’s message. If that works for you, then you probably don’t need a reminder to pray in this sermon. Keep the path that you are on. Plan your work and work your plan.

Yet I am sure that there are others who often don’t find comfort in a conversation or sermon about prayer. Some of you don’t sit down to balance your checkbook, let alone open the devotional book and sit down. 
In Luke, the disciples start the conversation after watching their teacher pray. So they ask, "Lord, teach us to pray" And Jesus does. Then Jesus goes into a parable about a man who needs help and doesn't get it until he is persistent. Luke loves to tell parables because their meaning is more of the open-ended type of teaching style. Jesus tells more parables in Luke than the other gospels combined. By attaching a parable to the teaching of the Lord's prayer, followed by Ask, seek, knock, Jesus suggests that we pray with our hearts, not merely from a script. 

So, some people look at Jesus and see a teacher of rules and facts and others see tolerance and ideals.

And this is a good reminder to us that all people learn differently, and therefore we pray differently. And the Lord's prayer is perfectly suited for those who like the structure of an organized prayer- the greatest teaching of all time- and it also opens the mind to a bevy of deeper conversation and meditation for God's work through us, his children. 

No matter which gospel you read, Jesus is a masterful teacher who seeks to inspire in his students a passion that is unparalleled. 

Soren Kierkegaard wrote a lot about God and was a student of theology. He agonized over whether or not God existed at all until he came to this conclusion.
Part of the confusion, he says, is that there are two kinds of teachers, Socrates and Jesus.
Kierkegaard says Socrates wanted his students to focus on truths in the world. Which is to say, you were to focus on the teachings not the teacher.   And when you study with Socrates you are meant to learn the subject being taught- whether it’s philosophy or math or 18th-century British lit- the goal of the teaching is the subject.
But then there are teachers like Jesus where the subject cannot be learned apart from the teacher. When you study Jesus, the ultimate goal is not to know some new truth, such a new commandment to love one another or "Blessed are the poor" or 'The Good Samaritan" or The Prodigal Son', or 'Forgive them father for they know not what they do', the goal is to know Christ.
To study Jesus is to be known by Jesus.
Jesus is the kind of teacher whose words tell the story of who he is and to follow him we do not just recite his words, we live as he lives. 

There have been countless others who have tried to paint Jesus as a great thinker like Socrates, whose sayings can be used as inspiration alongside Gandi or Mya Angelou. 

There are those like Thomas Jefferson, who is known for his Jeffersonian Bible, which was little more than the collection of things Jesus taught. 

But to study Jesus without following him is to miss Kierkegaard's point. Because Jesus didn't just teach us to help- he taught us to pray. 

So Matthew is right that we are not to pray empty words- we are supposed to mean them. Jesus teaches us how to pray using these holy and glorious words that our lips may guide our hearts to be like the teacher, not just learn his subject.

And let's admit it- at times, prayer is difficult.
Even for pastors, we get asked to pray for everything and sometimes the words just don’t come.
About a month ago I was having lunch with Bishop Smith and when I offered to pray before the meal he said, “O thank goodness, I love to listen to a prayer someone else gives once in a while”

Prayer takes time and concentration which are two things that our society isn’t too fond of. We run around pushing our bodies and minds and souls to their limit, and for all of that busyness, we rarely concentrate on anything.

One of the things I like about yoga is that I don’t have to sit still, but I can still meditate, that's my 21st adaptation to prayerful meditation. 

I love the Lord's prayer so much that I teach it more than any other subject. 
For the past four years, I have taught it to my 7th-grade confirmation classes. when I teach confirmation. Each of my students hears me say that more than learning the words of the Lord’s prayer, the world needs them to live the words of the Lord’s prayer. The world needs them to submit to God’s kingdom, pray that it come to earth, the world needs them to forgive as they are forgiven, and to actively avoid temptation. The world needs them to pray the prayer that Jesus taught them to pray.
My brother is an education who always reminds me that the best learning happens at home. Which is why every when we tuck the kids into bed we pray the Lord’s prayer, because greatest prayer ever written. We said it to Jacob every night until his little lips adopted the phrasing and cadence. Thomas learned it right after we moved to Winston-Salem, and as I laid with him on his bed in our old house I remember him starting the prayer, “other father, who art in heaven.” I have never corrected him because it's just too perfect. He is praying to his "other father" 
Now Avery is learning it. She can say nearly the whole thing. She doesn’t know her whole name, but she knows who she is in the Lord’s prayer.
So for you, sisters and brothers. Some of you know how to pray and what works for you and I say keep up the good work. Others of you don’t make time to sit down and pray because you never sit down for anything. If that’s you, then let me say I understand.

Kierkegaard is right- Jesus cannot be separated from his teachings, so to pray as he teaches is to pray like he prays, and in it we are connected to Jesus the great teacher because by praying like him, we become like him.
And because of him we no long address the prayer to some diety in the sky. When we pray like Jesus we say, “Our Father.” Abba. Our daddy.
To learn to speak like Jesus it to learn the ease at which we call his dad our dad. Or as Thomas says, “other Father”
And I know that the greatest modeling I can do is to teach my son about his "other father" in heaven.
And watching your children say and live those words, is about all a dad can ask for. Amen.