Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Path of Discipleship: Study Hall

Study Hall                                      4/26/15
Psalm 78:1-8, Matthew 11:25-30
The Path of Discipleship:  Sermon 8 in series

One year while in high school, I chose to take a study hall as one of my electives.  I have three remembrances of that time in the South Hunterdon Cafeteria.
1.       Only the first half of the 45 minute period had to be quiet, during the second half you could move around and talk with your friends.
2.       They opened the cafeteria during the second half of the period, and usually freshly baked chocolate chip cookies were sold.  They were so good.
3.       I remember playing paper football during the period.

You may notice there is one key word missing in my recollections of my least productive elective in high school:  Study.

My hope is that we do not approach Sunday morning like a study hall:  a place where most people ignore the opportunity before them in order to goof off and waste time before you are “freed” to do what you want.  

We’ve been talking during Lent and Easter about Discipleship.  Christians, by their very name, are disciples:  we are followers of Jesus Christ.  The three congregations in our shared staffing agreement are talking about specific ways in which to better our relationship with Jesus Christ.  We are looking at a guide that will move us from tourist to participant in the Christian faith.  At the end of Easter, I’ll be asking you to choose specific steps you want to take in 2015.  Today, we speak about Christian Education.

Stockton currently offers Christian Education opportunities.  They might not compare with the waning years of Christendom, but they are doing some good things.
Our Sunday School is led by good, salt of the earth teachers, who care for the five regular students, and are consistent in their teaching Christian faith to these regulars.  Our Palm Sunday play showed all of us that there is depth of spirit in our young people.  Would it be great to have 20 students each week?  Yes.  But perhaps the next step is to invite those who have received baptism in this place to learn about the One who has claimed them.

We do offer Christian Education to our community through Vacation Bible School.  Would it be good to have more of the participants from VBS attend here regularly?  Yes.  But by attending VBS, they receive 15 hours of instruction in Christ’s message.  For some, they receive more in one week than a person who comes to Sunday School only 2 or 3 times a year.  This year, Ellie Brehme will be directing VBS, and we will partner with Nueva Esperanza and Grace Church from Titusville. 

Christian Education is not only for children.  It should be complemented by opportunities for all ages.  We do offer Friday morning Bible Study, as well as our annual Delaware Valley Summer Institute with our sister churches.  What we do not do, and might be helpful, is offer a Sunday morning class for adults.  If there is someone who would like to convene a group, we invite your prayerful consideration.

In short, as a small congregation, we do some things, and I am grateful for all who give of their time and energy.  I appreciate the devotion rooted under the work.  This week, I had coffee with David Shearer, we had a delightful conversation, which included an analogy he has been thinking about.  I’ve asked him to share at this time.

(illustration of the energy needed to take care of landscape)

When I think of David’s words, and Christian Education, the phrase that comes to mind is “its worth the effort”.  The Biblical support we will use this morning comes from a prayer and teaching from Jesus Christ, and a prayer and song from Asaph, storied singer of the Ancient Hebrews.

Jesus essentially tells his disciples that they shouldn’t always look for the flashy, the most deserving, the obvious.  God’s ways are mysterious and holy.  I think there is something delightful that 5 children in a small campus are hearing about Jesus and learning.  It goes against the grain of conventional wisdom.  Why was this so?  “Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (11:26)

God’s good pleasure is the phrase that can provide us fascination.  The Scripture provides some clues as to what gives God pleasure.
  • In the book of Haggai, where the people were being commanded to rebuild the temple of God, the reconstruction was to be done so that God would have pleasure in what was created.
  • In Ephesians, Paul writes that people who believe in Jesus have been predestined to be adopted as God’s children in Christ:  This was God’s pleasure.
  • Also in Ephesians, Paul writes that it is God’s pleasure to make know his will to us.

We also learn about what does not give God pleasure, according to Scripture:
  • God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked
  • God does not take pleasure in anyone’s death
  • God does not take pleasure in wickedness and ungodliness.
  • God does not take pleasure in the blood of bulls and the sacrificial offerings
  • God does not take pleasure in evil.
But God does take pleasure in the ways that his truth is made known to those who will believe.  John Calvin, commenting on why God’s wisdom is sometimes hidden from the wise and learned writes:    (New Testament Commentaries:  A Harmony of the Gospels, Vol II)
As the flesh is too greedy in self-praise, if the clever and learned were put first, the idea would soon hold sway that men acquired faith by their own skill or industry or learning. (21)


The reason why human wisdom is cast down is that it may not obscure the praise of the divine grace  (22)

If we accept the kingdom of God like a child, we may enter it, Jesus says elsewhere.  Here, he prays a prayer of thanks, that the children have received a gift.  And the grace that we find in this exchange brings pleasure to God.

God sent Jesus Christ into the world so that people might believe in him and be saved.  The end goal that Jesus invites us is to come to him, to learn from him (11:28).  When we come to Jesus, we find rest for our souls.  We find Christ’s yoke easy and his burden light.  Yokes unite two animals like ox, to work together.  A properly fitting yoke allows less of a burden on the animal.   Ancient farming practices often linked an experienced ox with a young beginner.  We find ourselves yoked with Jesus Christ when we come to him. 

Douglas Hare writes “Jesus may be saying: “Become my yoke mate, and learn how to pull the load by working beside me and watching how I do it.  The heavy labor will seem lighter when you allow me to help you with it.”

In other news, Hank Aaron and I have combined to hit 756 home runs in our careers. 

When we think of Christian Education, we should be asking, are people learning about Jesus Christ, his teaching and his call to follow. 

Asaph, the song writer from Israel, cements our work in its proper foundation.  Asaph set up a school of music during the time of David and Solomon, and has 12 of the psalms attributed to him.  Asaph uses history in Psalm 78 to teach us what our job is in preserving the faith, and why it is important.

When we think about Christian Education, teaching people about Jesus, what is our job?  Psalm 78 proclaims it is to open our mouth and tell the next generation.

When we open our mouth, we should declare hidden things and things from of old.  We should declare what we have heard and known.   We should tell what our parents told us.  What valuable advice!  The content of our teaching should include instruction that might not always be highlighted in the world.  We should lift up those practices that have steadied God’s people throughout the generations.  We should teach the next generation what we have experienced:  those things we have remembered hearing and the things we have come to know are true.  And yes, sometimes our mothers and fathers proved to be wise, and what they instilled within us is worth telling again, even if it takes a few years for those seeds to grow.  It is funny how my father was so wrong about everything when I was 18, and so right about so many things when I turned 40.

We tell the next generation about the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power and his wonders.  That is the most honored content that we should deliver.
Asaph tells us our job, and he tells us why we should do our job.  Why should we open our mouths?
·         Because God has decreed laws for his people, and therefore, they are important to hear and know. 
  • Because God has commanded that his ways be taught.
  • we tell so that the next generation might know
  • we tell so that unborn generations might know  (have we thought about the gospel message for your grandchildren’s grandchildren?
  • So that people might put their trust in God, not forget his deeds, and keep his commands.
  • Asaph also mentions so that stubbornness and unfaithfulness will not prevail and people will not forget the Lord.  Humanity without God would be a bunch of demons.

One man in Scripture who became like a demon, like an animal, was King Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.  And yet, when he repented and believed, God rescued him:  He was then able to pronounce to the nations his pleasure:
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.  How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders!  His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation (Daniel 4:2-3)

When we invest in the story that has come to us, open our mouths and tell it to people, including those newer and younger than us, we invest in what pleases God!  God’s pleasure becomes our pleasure, and God’s pleasure fills us with life.

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