Teaching is Not Learning
Words for the Day of Pentecost – 23 May 2021 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, (John 16v15)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
During my teenage years the second book I read about the Journey of Faith (the first was Michel Quoist’s wonderful ‘Prayers of Life’) was called ‘The Gospel According to Peanuts’ by Robert Short. Those of you who follow my annual Lent Reflections may recognise the lasting influence just the title of that book has had on my life.
A short book that, with its companion volume ‘The Parables of Peanuts’ remains a very inspiring if quirky look at the Christian journey, it taught me to try and look at the whole of life and not separate my Sunday self from my Monday reality.
One cartoon that struck me was the one in which one of the characters tells how they have been teaching their dog to whistle. His friend, complaining that the dog doesn’t whistle is greeted with the reply, ‘I said I taught him, I didn’t say he learned it’.
Anyone who has ever spent time educating young ones in a formal setting will recognise this dilemma. For that matter most vicars recognise it as well! When I was on the staff of St Martin’s School in Johannesburg I learnt very quickly the difference between ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’. No amount of scribbling on chalk boards, well-crafted lectures, or entertaining study notes would induce learning, as opposed to teaching, unless and until the students in the class were ready to learn.
Apparently the Holy Spirit faces similar challenges! Sent amongst us to teach us and ‘guide us into all truth’ I think she has had a really hard job of it (…and yes the Holy Spirit that God breathed over the earth at its creation is female – the Hebrew word for Spirit is רוּחַ [rûah] a feminine noun). Either we are not very good at learning or the Holy Spirit is not very good at teaching! From my personal experience I would suspect that the former is the case!
I know what righteous things God wants me to do with my life.
I know what unrighteous things God wants me to stop doing.
I even know that it causes both of us pain when, having been taught the best way of living I still end up living life the wrong way up.
With St Paul I frequently cry; I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7v22-24)
What I need, I guess what each of us needs is someone to hold our hand and walk with us on the journey of righteousness every step of the way.
What we need is some sort of advocate to remind us of the dance steps.
Or some sort of Comforter to nurse us when we fall and scrape our knees.
Perhaps we would manage this journey a little more easily if there was someone who would strengthen us when we are weak and empower us to do things about which we only dream…
Oh wait. Isn’t that why the Spirit comes to us?
So let’s look at those three lessons about the nature of God that the Spirit is always teaching but we ain’t that good at learning.
The first and for me most precious lesson to learn is that God the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and is with us every step of the way of the journey of life. Whispering advice to us, encouraging us, being our cheerleader, never ever leaving us alone. This is so different from the picture of God I grew up with. I was taught that God was out to get you; a sadistic school teacher ever ready to reach for the cane and say ‘Come here boy!’ every time you wandered from the straight and narrow. No! The Holy Spirit is our advocate. Fully aware of our frailties and failings nonetheless She catches us as we fall, stands with us as She puts our feet back, and journeys alongside us on the pilgrimage of faith.
When we begin to say ‘Yes’ to the call of God’s love it begins to change us and gradually transform us. This is when we will need the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we leave our old life behind those who remain will want to pull us back. This is not surprising for, even if we say nothing at all, a change in our behaviour will almost always be seen as a criticism, or judgement even, of their behaviour. People will malign us for not being part of the ‘in crowd’ anymore. People will question our motives. People will proclaim us to be do-gooders who are behaving as if we are ‘holier than thou’. (Beware for this may have a ring of truth about it for even the Holy Spirit cannot vaccinate us against sin). But wherever it comes from the accusations and cold-shouldering hurts like crazy. The Spirit comforts us when are cast out and rejected by others. The Spirit comforts us when the call of God seems distant and indistinct. The Spirit comforts us when we fall and fail, reminding us that we are still loved even if we feel unlovable and ugly.
Thirdly the Spirit comes to us with power and strength bestowing gifts with which to serve all of God’s children. As I try to travel further and deeper following the vocation to serve God and others I have come to see that God’s economy is perfect. God does not call people to serve into a vacuum. Whenever God calls the Spirit strengthens us, providing the opportunity to serve, the wherewithal to serve, and the ability to serve. In this way the words of the apostle become a living truth and by the empowering of the Holy Spirit we can do all things through him who strengthens us (Philippians 4v13).
Learning from the Holy Spirit as Advocate, Comforter, and Enabler is essential for the growth of humility in the community of faith. If we stop at being taught and never move on to learning not only will we be unable to, with the Blest Pair of Sirens
keep in tune with Heav’n, till God ere long
To His celestial concert us unite,
To live with Him, and sing in endless morn of light
But we will be tempted to sing our own discordant song and try in our own strength to work the work of the one who sent us.
To not only be taught about the Holy Spirit but to learn from Her is to commit ourselves to an act of surrender. Offering ourselves completely as did Isaiah when in his vision of glory he heard …the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ (Isaiah 6v8)
Perhaps we could learn a little from Michel Quoist? When he was asked what was the most important thing in life;
“Le plus important chose, est de se brunir devant l’amour de Dieu.”
Which I like to translate as, “The most important thing is to sunbathe before the love of God.”
[This blog ‘Teaching is not Learning’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]