Summary: For Transfiguration Sunday: we, like the disciples, have not imagined Christ as who He is, we as who we can become, or the cost of glory ... losing our lives to save them.
Every one who teaches knows what a mighty struggle it is to teach anybody anything and make it stick.
Students come to school drowsy and distracted. Some are there because they have to be; some because Daddy’s money put them there; and some just because they cannot think of anything else to do. Doing the right thing, maybe, going to school, but for all the wrong reasons.
Other students come to school hungry, tired, cold, ill clothed, and torn up inside by the turmoil of home. Some of you who are public school teachers have told me that it is all you can do to get a few basics across, because the children who come to you are so poorly cared for at home that they are not able to learn. They are not ready to train their minds when their bodies have been so abused. And I can only say that we as a church do want to support you and your efforts to make a difference in the lives of these children. But, for you, teaching is no easy task.
And then for some teaching is a tough task, just because the students are so dull, so pedestrian, so ordinary. They cannot see anything beyond the noses on their faces. They have no imagination, no dreams. They want only to get by and get on with fun and games and TV and trivia. For some of you, the pain of teaching is that you know the world is full of so much treasure, and you want somebody to know it and love it. But those you try to teach want only to know whether if will be on the final exam, and does spelling count? A tough job, teaching.
You see, the great enemy of learning is failure of imagination. The great enemy of learning is that so many of us have gotten satisfied with low-brow, minimal, partial truth. The great enemy of learning is that we are asleep when some new and greater truth is on the horizon.
In a recent film, Robin Williams played a teacher, John Keating. Keating teaches in an upper-crusty boys’ academy, surrounded by desperately dull students. Oh, some of them, to be sure, had some knowledge, and some of them were even studious and bright in their own ways. But this gifted and passionate teacher could not get his students to break out of the conventions and molds they had brought to school. They were not really open to learning anything new, they had long since stopped listening, they were locked up in their dull little worlds of pattern and tradition, and he was enormously frustrated.
And so, as master teachers will do, he worked on ways to get his students to open up, to break out, to learn. He found ways to get them to see truth for themselves. His teaching techniques were brazen and unusual. He would have his students rip pages out of the book if the pages were boring and stupid. And in a classic scene, he forced his students to stand and recite from the tops of their desks. He said it was all to get them to see things from a new vantage point, a new perspective.
Now Keating in his own student days had been a part of a small group of students who called themselves the Dead Poets Society. The Dead Poets Society, with its macabre name, was nothing more than a group of students who got together, out on their own, away from the stifling rules of formal education. They just read poetry, that’s all. But they read it with passion, they read it for meaning, they read it to one another and learned great lessons for life.
Strangely enough, in Keating’s student days, the Dead Poets Society had been an act of defiance and rebellion. And yet because these young clods got caught up in the beauty of language and the flashes of insight offered by the great poets, they learned. They learned something more than materialism and cynicism. It was a glimpse of glory to belong to the Dead Poets Society, and for that Keating longed again. For his students – if only they too could belong to a Dead Poets Society, defiant and yet glorious.
Maybe a desperate move, maybe a futile exercise, maybe just another energy-burner for the teacher. But the dedicated teacher is always willing to try one more way to facilitate somebody’s learning.
I wonder whether something like that was not on the mind of Jesus that day, a week or so after he had tried to teach a very hard lesson. He had spoken with his students about the enormous cost of discipleship. He had brought them face to face with an unwelcome truth, with something that seems to defy logic and certainly goes against what everybody thinks they know about the world and the way it works.