Summary: Christians aren't called to teach to the world, because the world is essentially unteachable. However, we can reach the world through our witness, the authentic living of a Christ-like life.
Who here is a teacher? St. James tells us, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers…because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (Jas. 3:1). Who presumes to be one? Anyone want to be judged? Nodody? Well, I guess that, to escape any additional judgment (and who wants that), we ought to back off from being teachers. In light of that, I will not be teaching you anything today.
So if we’re going to shy away from being teachers, how is it that anything will get passed down? Is Fr. Norman really the only person in this room who’s brave or crazy enough to teach? I’ll answer “yes” to that question. Yet what are we who are less brave (and crazy) supposed to do?
We are not called to teach the world. Honestly, we live in a generation that over-values intellect. This generation believe that science will solve all our problems; it’s “common knowledge” that religion is antiquated and only good as an opiate for the masses; God is a delusion. The world didn’t reason God into existence, nor can it reason Him out of existence. || The world is un-teachable. But that doesn’t mean that it’s unreachable. ||
Witnessing is the only way to reach those who cannot be taught. We are all called to be witnesses. Each of us in this room, on the day of our baptism, from Fr. Hughie (who’s old since he’s retired), all the way down to little Garret, each is called to serve as a witness to the Christian Faith. And the really cool thing is that the Christian Faith, while dogma and doctrine and liturgy are intrinsic and indispensible parts of it, it’s not about the ritual nor about teachings, but about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
To be a witness is not to teach, but authentically and without shame or secret to live out a life that emulates Christ, the new Adam, to the best of one’s abilities. What kind of life does the world see us live: 10%, 50%, or 90% Christian? Last Sunday’s reading from James told us, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? … Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (Jas. 2:14.17). The world will never see our faith (at least so long as it remains “the world”), but they will see our deeds. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). If we can’t see the object of our faith, neither can the world.
Isaiah likewise speaks of witnessing for the Lord. He writes, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue” (Is. 50:4), which sounds an awful lot like teaching. But he continues: “To know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. ” (Is. 50:4). The goal of the “instructed tongue” was not to teach, but to sustain the weary, to give encouragement, to witness God’s care and sovereignty to them. Also, Isaiah clearly places himself in the role of the student, with God as his teacher.
What was the result of Isaiah’s learning, and how did he give witness? “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Is. 50:6). Sometimes witnessing can hurt. Who knows what the Greek word for “witness” is? It’s “martyr.” A witness must be willing to suffer for the truth shared. A witness who changes his testimony has perjured himself, and is subject to judgment. But the witness who keeps to the truth without addition or subtraction will be protected. “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced” (Is. 50:7). The Lord is the righteous King and the just Judge; no martyr shall go unvindicated by His court.
Jesus teaches us that witnessing or failure to do so has consequences. “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in this Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mk. 8:38).
At the end of last school year, I took Steven and his best friend to see a movie. When I went to pick him up at school, I wondered whether he’d be too cool to acknowledge me, whether he’d be ashamed of me (you know how kids sometimes get). But as soon as he came out the door and saw me, of his own action, he ran up and gave me a big hug in front of all his friends, announced that I was his uncle, and then returned to talk with his friends about all the fun things we’d be doing that night. Why does that mean so much? Because I got to see him show—witness to—his friends how much he loves me, regardless of what they might think or say. Do you think that the already gracious plans that I had for him that evening were (if possible) further embellished? You betcha! Had Steven not given me the hug, would I have denied him anything that I’d already promised? Absolutely not. But by living as a true nephew of Uncle Jon, he ensured that every grace, every candy bar, every extra minute past his bedtime came to him.