Sunday, 11 September 2016

Education Sunday: searching and re-searching God's wisdom

A sermon preached at All Saints, Onslow Village, Guildford, Education Sunday 11th September 2016
Luke 15:1-10.

Lord, you have searched me out and known me, you known my sitting down and my standing, you discern my thoughts from afar. (Psalm 139.1)

+ In nomine Patris…

Today is Education Sunday and as a chaplain at the University of Surrey I have, or at least should have, an interest in the subject.

Of course education is not just about universities, it’s not even about educational institutions like schools or colleges or courses but it is about the way in which we encounter every day as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, about our world and environment, and most significantly about God.

Education is about being led into the mystery of God often just by glimpses, and is a powerful action of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth, often kicking and screaming and insisting on our own truth. Learning what we do not know is perhaps the most profound education of all!

Learning to live lives that are shaped like Jesus Christ helps us to learn what it means to be a true human being: made in the image and likeness and God and being restored in that image. This is what St Benedict in his Rule calls, ‘the school of the Lord’s service’. (Rule of St Benedict, Prologue, v. 45)

This morning’s gospel reading gives us two particular ways of thinking about education. First there is thinking about the method of education and then there is what the process of education actually is.

Jesus the Teacher - Coptic Icon
Jesus, as we can all agree, is an excellent teacher. If he wasn’t a great teacher then the chances are that we wouldn’t be here in the first place. Without good and clear teaching from Jesus, the first disciples would never have grasped what the gospel was about, and those who received the disciples’ testimony and teaching would never have been able to pass it on themselves. The transmission of faith relies on well taught people communicating the faith that they have received and learnt, even if they don’t grasp every last word.

So Jesus was a great teacher both in his method and content and both the method and content turn us into life-long learners.

His teaching style is characterised by taking questions head on, and, in the typical style of the Rabbis of his time, either to answer with a question or to tell a story.

These stories of memorable teaching are the parables: and we have two of those in this morning’s gospel reading. And in these parables Jesus both asks a question: which of you on losing a sheep or losing a coin would go all out to find that which is lost? And he tells a story: of the shepherd who searches, and finds and brings the found sheep home rejoicing and of the woman who diligently searches her home to pick up her silver coin.

Even if they’re not the best known of the parables many long standing Christians don’t have to trawl the depths of Sunday School experience to recall them. We can picture them and imagine them: the desperation of searching and the joy of finding; we can see ourselves in them.

Parables are memorable because of their pithiness – oh, that the same might be said of sermons sometimes! These parables so brief they are almost proto-soundbites.

But unlike soundbites they unfold layers of meaning and, because they are true teaching, they yield more and more meaning the more they are explored. Otherwise we needn’t hear or read them again; the matter would have been resolved.

So from ancient wisdom and teaching comes treasure ever old and ever new.

The overriding theme of both parables is searching.

The human quest of searching mirrors God searching out and knowing of each one of us. They raise questions of self-examination: what do I truly search for? What do others search for in me? What does it mean to say that God searches me out and knows me, as the psalm puts it? Am I really so precious that Jesus Christ searches me out when I am lost? Am I lost or found?

This theme of searching resonates in my role as a chaplain at the University. First the University is a research intensive institution, searching and re-searching information, knowledge and wisdom. Secondly my role has a pastoral dimension which, like a shepherd and pastor, calls me to search out those who are lost, stumbling or cry out for help.

Searching and re-searching is part of learning and growing, which is the heart of the educative process. We talk about life-long learning and, as Christian disciples (those who learn) this means searching and re-searching the scriptures. In other words, we pay fresh attention to the Bible as the words which are sweeter than honey to our lips.

There is a wonderful ancient method of reading scriptures that is at the heart of our searching and re-searching out of the meaning of God’s word in our lives called lectio Divina. This method invites us to a fourfold way of paying attention to scripture known under their Latin titles: lectio, the actual of reading it; ruminatio, the act of chewing it over, contemplatio, contemplation that leads us deeper into that word, and oratio, the act of taking that insight and praying with it.

A healthy church, or school or university is one that seeks to learn and to grow, that searches and re-searches. True wisdom is a gift of the Spirit who leads us into all truth: the Spirit who leads us in deeper to God’s word; the Spirit who sends us out to search for God’s wisdom, as we delight and wonder in creation, the earth and heavens, in one another and even – shock, horror - in the people we find most unlikeable or annoying.

May we all continue to search out the treasure which is Christ; may we be sought out by the Good Shepherd when we stray from what and who God calls us to be.

Please pray today for all in education, whether formal or informal, for teachers and learners in school, colleges, courses and universities. Pray that we may seek out God’s wisdom every day: a precious treasure. 

© Andrew Bishop, 2016

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