Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Mark 1:21,22
Jesus and his disciples came to the town of Capernaum, and on the next Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach. The people who heard him were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn't like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority. 

Teaching our children

Back in the mid 1990ís a movie did the rounds of the theatres called Mr Hollandís Opus. Itís about a high school music teacher, Mr Holland, who attempts to make music meaningful and relevant to his students. When he was nearing retirement and after many years of encouraging and helping his students to learn music and to participate in the school orchestra and musicals, the school budget suddenly curtailed the schoolís music program.

He had packed up his desk and was about to leave the school sad, wondering if all that he had done over the years had been worth it. As he passes the auditorium he heard a noise. It was packed with students he had taught over the years and had gone on to make successes of their lives. A young woman went to the podium and said that she owed her achievements to the encouragement that Mr Holland had given while she was at high school. While teaching her music he had built up her confidence Ė she changed from being timid and shy to a confident politician, in fact, the governor of the state. Itís a moving moment when the whole auditorium gave Mr Holland a standing ovation and his past music students played a piece of music he had composed.

There is a sub plot in the movie. Mr. Holland and his wife had an only son who was born deaf. Mr. Hollandís life was dedicated to teaching and writing music for those who could hear and didnít know how to connect with someone who didnít share his world of music. We witnessed the frustration and anger of a boy who wanted his father to love him and connect with him in his world of silence.

No doubt, every person who saw this movie came away with a realisation of the powerful impact that we have on the lives of young people - for good or bad. Like Mr. Holland, we may not realise how we are affecting the lives of others, and in most cases we will never know, but make no mistake about it, we are influencing other people, especially the young.

Today, we heard of Jesus entering the synagogue at Capernaum and beginning to teach. Now Iíll admit that if you compare standing up and teaching folk in a synagogue to some of the other things Jesus did - like stilling a storm on the sea, or curing a blind man, or raising a young girl from the dead - teaching may seem rather unimpressive. But as ordinary and dull as teaching might seem, Mark tells us that all who heard his teaching "were amazed" because "he taught them as one having authority." In fact, a little later Mark repeats how amazed everyone was, saying, "The people were all so amazed that they started saying to one another, "What is this? Is it some kind of new teaching?"

Mark doesnít tell us what Jesus taught that day. Rather, he tells us firstly, how he taughtówith authority. He spoke as someone who knew what he was on about. He explained what the Scriptures said with confidence and when asked a question he knew how to answer. There were no awkward silences as they waited for him to answer; there was no admission that he didnít know how to answer. He spoke with authority. When he challenged Satan and cast out demons, he spoke with authority. When he spoke to the wild forces of nature, he spoke with authority.

The secondly thing Mark records is what impact Jesus had on those who heard him. Without any exaggeration, those who heard him would never be the same again. In fact, this is just the beginning of what would happen throughout Jesusí life, death and resurrection.
He taught his disciples and all who would listen using stories and the Scriptures;
he spoke with authority words of forgiveness;
he spoke with authority to the man on the cross beside him;
he spoke with authority as he ascended and promised he would be with us always.
And whenever he spoke, or helped someone, the Gospel writers tell us what impact Jesus had on peopleís lives. Again and again we are told, how amazed people were.

We know of at least one instance when Jesus invited children into the inner circle of listeners. The disciples had tried to shoo them away because Jesus was far too busy to worry about kids. They should have known better. Jesus spent time with the children. He was keen for them to hear what he had to say. He wanted them to get to know him. No doubt, what was seen and heard left a lasting impression on those young lives.

No doubt we can think back to people who have made a lasting impression on our lives Ė either good or bad.
Perhaps it was a grandparent, an uncle or aunt, a parent, who loved you and cared for you in such a way that left a lasting impression on you.
Perhaps a Sunday School teacher or pastor who encouraged you in your faith and helped you to know what it meant to be a Christian. I know I am grateful for the Sunday School teachers who were agents of the Holy Spirit and had a very positive impact on my life.
Perhaps you remember the kindness along with the firm discipline that a schoolteacher gave you.
As we look back often we canít specifically remember what the person said but we remember what kind of person he/she was and the impression that was made on us. We may not even know what it was so special about the person that we recall with such fondness. All we know is that person has somehow made an impact on our life and made us what we are today.

On the other hand, there may be people in your past that you would prefer to forget. Their memory brings pain and discomfort. They had an impact on you that is lasting and negative.

As we think about Mr Holland and the positive influence he had on the students he taught and the difficult and often negative effect that he had on his son, and the people who have had a good and bad impact on our lives, especially when we were growing up, we begin to ask ourselves the question,
"What kind of an influence am I on the younger generation. What good and positive things are children learning from my example and from the way I speak to them? Are children learning something from me that will stand them in good stead for the future?"
These are natural questions for parents and grandparents to reflect on. Itís a perfectly good question for teachers, Childrenís Time and Sunday School leaders, youth leaders and helpers, in fact anyone who has anything to do with children, to ask.

We want children to grow into strong, wise, confident, capable, mature adults. But we want more than that. We want them to grow in their faith and follow Jesus all the days of their life. We want children to see through us the love of Jesus and the ways our Christian faith affects our lives. This is a good question for elderly people to teenagers to ask,
"In what way am I helping the children I know grow in amazement at Jesus and his love for them?

A speaker at a seminar on just this topic talked about his front lawn. He said there were two ways to go about growing a lawn. One method he called "benign neglect". Why water the lawn, or fertilize it, or spread weedkiller? Why go to all that work mowing, and edging, and spreading mulch? After all, grass grows naturally in paddocks and fields all over the world. The rain waters it, and the sun warms it, and it thrives without any human help. So just let nature take its course. And what would be the result? Well, there might be some grass in your front yard but there would also be a lot of weeds as well as dead patches. Instead of looking like one of the fairways at the golf club, the front yard would look more like an overgrown vacant block.

Whatís grows naturally is not the kind of lawn wanted. To have thick, green, soft lawn takes a lot of hard work. Cultivation. Maintenance. Fertilising. Weeding. Watering. Mowing. And repeat all this over and over again. Itís a never-ending cycle. When you decide to have a nice lawn, youíre committing yourself to a lifetime of lawn care.

I donít know if itís a good idea to compare our children to the front lawn but it does illustrate the job that God has given to all of us when it comes to growing children to be loving and with a strong faith. We canít treat them with an attitude of "benign neglect", and expect them to flourish. What if we say, "Well, after all, itís a natural thing for children to grow up. As long as we provide food and clothing, and love, we can just let nature take its course. Theyíll pick up what they need to know. Theyíll learn how to get along in society. Theyíll turn out OK."

Iím afraid too many people in our society today have that kind of attitude and let their childrenís moral and spiritual life be moulded by the world. Distressed mothers and fathers have approached me with a great deal of pain in their hearts because they donít understand why their child has "run off the rails". In most cases it is clear that from a very early age they have let their childís values be moulded by societyís values, which are reflected in the values of the parents. They have not taught their child about God's ways with authority and conviction. They have not led their child to see Jesus and his love for them to the point where their eyes are wide open with amazement.

In a time when Australian culture is becomingly less and less sympathetic to Christian values, when the television shows, and movies, and popular music promote a way of life that is decidedly not the way God wants us to live, we have to take seriously our God-given responsibility to teach our children. We have to work constantly to keep the weeds from taking over, we have to work constantly to nurture and strengthen their faith in a God who will help them choose whatís good and right.

As parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts, God has given you the responsibility to deliberately be a powerful influence in the lives of the children in your family. As members of this congregation into which children are baptised, some who are members of your family but many who are not, through the water of baptism God has given each of us a special responsibility to ensure, either personally or through our support of those who teach children. It is our responsibility to see to it that they are able to come and see Jesus as their Saviour and friend.

I know there are times when we have regretted what we have said to our children and the way we have acted toward them. There are times when it is all too hard. We wonder if we are doing the right thing, giving the right judgements, showing the right amount of love. Realising all this is also an important lesson for our children because they then can see in you your faith in Jesus. In Jesus, there is always the chance to make things right. He loves failures. He forgives our weaknesses and failings. He encourages and supports us, and through the Holy Spirit he gives us the know-how to do a better job.

When God's Word and God's ways are taught and spoken about with authority Ė with conviction Ė our children (and others) will see with amazement God's love for them in his Son Jesus.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd February, 2003

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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