08/29/2021 ~ Proper 17 ~ Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9; Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 ~ VIDEO OF THE COMPLETE SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUqVO69J__A
Your Children’s Children
“But take care and be diligent in guarding yourselves closely, so as neither to forget those things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days you live; make them known, teach them to your children and your children’s children—…” — Deuteronomy 4:9.
I believe this is a given. We all have specific ways of learning things. In the field of education these are commonly called learning styles.
And, depending on the research you look at, learning styles can be broken down into at least 7 or 8 ways of learning. I, myself, would argue there are about 107 or 108 learning styles. After all, we each have different ways of learning, so to break the styles down to that kind of simplicity, while useful for understanding, seems like a stretch.
Now, one of those 7 or 8 officially recognized styles is labeled as visual learning. I am not a visual learner.
However, research says about 65 percent of the population are visual learners. Perhaps that explains why movies and television— visual mediums— are popular.
These are new mediums but please do not delude yourselves by thinking visual mediums are new. The ancient Egyptians wrote in hieroglyphics, writing recorded in pictures. There are over 1,000 distinct pictographs, characters, in Egyptian writing.
The Cathedrals of Europe had stained glass windows and statuary. The buildings, themselves, are full of visual cues. These ancient shrines are old examples of how people learned about faith in visual ways. (Slight pause.)
Well, on a slightly different but related topic, here’s a true story about how non-visual I am. I am not making this up. I am sure you have all seen the international symbol which means “fragile” on some box, a circle with a line through it. And behind that circle with a line is what looks like a broken champagne glass.
When I was a kid I would look at boxes with that fragile symbol and I would think, “Does that mean broken glasses are in the box?” No— it means fragile; handle with care. Since I am not visual the symbol made no sense to me.
I am also dyslexic. Hence, I think I cultivated listening as a learning style so I could process first through hearing, through sound, not sight.
One other thing on that count— in my profession being dyslexic could have been devastating. After all, is the word “angel” or is it “angle”? Two letters difference, right?
There is the good news for me on that. The letters “e” and “l”— el— are one of the root words in Hebrew for God. Indeed, the word ang-el means messenger from God. Once I learned Hebrew in Seminary and understood God is a part of that word, I got a lot better at spotting the difference between “ang-el” and “ang-le.” (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the Fourth Chapter of Deuteronomy. “But take care and be diligent in guarding yourselves closely, so as neither to forget those things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days you live; make them known, teach them to your children and your children’s children—…” (Slight pause.)
Right after the reading we heard today leaves off, verse 13 uses the word ‘covenant.’ It is the first time the word covenant is used in Deuteronomy.
So the words heard in today’s reading are meant to prepare the reader, the listener, for the idea of a covenant way of life is real, is important, is lived… fully. Therefore, God admonishes the people to not (quote:) “…forget those things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days you live;…”
God, through Moses, says, “teach them to your children and your children’s children—…” Teach what? (Quote:) “…the commandments of your God…”
To be clear, in Hebrew a commandment is not understood the way we understand it— as in “do this” or “don’t do that.” In Hebrew there is no command tense at least in the same sense as there is in English. In fact, the word commandment here means teachings— plural— teachings. And what is being taught? Covenant. (Slight pause.)
So, how do children learn, really? I’m not talking about learning styles. What I’m addressing is how we live our lives and how share our lives with children. (Slight pause.)
Sometimes, especially in private situations, people introduce me as Reverend Joe. And especially in private situations, I correct them and say, “People usually call me irreverent Joe.” That is not meant to be impious. That is meant to be realistic, real.
So, what’s my point about trying to be real? We need to be real with our children. Let me try to unpack that with something I shared just last week. I mentioned that given my very Irish name— Joseph Francis Connolly, Jr.— it’s hard to hide the fact that I came to maturity, grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition.
But when it comes to my family background, it’s even worse than that Irish heritage sounds. My father, for his entire working career, was a teacher at a Jesuit High School. My mother was a nun. Seriously, entered the convent at a young age, dropped out before taking final vows, then married my father. It could be argued I just went into the family business. (Slight pause.)
I would be foolish to ignore that personal history. Their background with and in the church had an impact on me. This brings me back to what God said through Moses.
“…teach them,”— teach them— what does that mean? That means share with the children, share these learnings, share this covenant living, share this way of life. This points to an obvious question. How do children learn, really?
Yes, children learn from their parents. But children also learn from the adults around them, learn by example. Learning happens not just with and through the parents but with all the adults— around them. And we all have to be real with children.
Yes, age appropriate information is necessary when working with children. But age appropriate also needs to be real. Why? How do children learn? Children learn from their elders. And children will sniff out phoney, bogus or unreal in a second. They may not react. But they know.
And yes, my parents taught by example. But there were others. Many family friends were clergy— priests, nuns. I saw them at parties, on trips, on vacations, at family dinners. I, therefore, saw them as real people, not icons.
And I learned. Learned what? I learned this God stuff was something with which everyone grappled as they lived their real lives.
I learned these adults searched for meaning, lived in hope, prayed with humility, sought to embrace justice, were passionate about loving God and neighbor. I learned this God stuff is not to be placed on a shelf, taken down and dusted off every Sunday. (Slight pause.)
What I am really saying is through teaching (quote:) “…your children and your children’s children…” the first thing we need to be is real. Age appropriate, yes— but real, genuine, careful, thoughtful, truthful… conducting lives well lived.
Children do learn from the adults who surround them. And if our life with God is not something with which we grapple, something fully lived, if our life with God is something we place on a shelf, take down and dust off every Sunday, children get it.
So please remember these words from Deuteronomy: “…take care and be diligent in guarding yourselves closely, so as neither to forget those things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days you live…” And these words are followed with this instruction (quote): “make them known, teach them to your children and your children’s children—…” Amen.
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “These are the words of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II from the Musical South Pacific: ‘You’ve got to be taught / To hate and fear, / You’ve got to be taught / From year to year, / It’s got to be drummed / In your dear little ear / You’ve got to be carefully taught. / You’ve got to be taught to be afraid / Of people whose eyes are oddly made, / And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade, / You’ve got to be carefully taught. / You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, / Before you are six or seven or eight, / To hate all the people your relatives hate, / You’ve got to be carefully taught!’ That lyric is seventy-two years old. Perhaps it sounds like it could have been written yesterday. And yes, we need to be careful not just about what we teach but how we teach. To use another song idea, we need to teach our children well.”
BENEDICTION: God’s Word lights our path. The risen Christ dwells among us. The Holy Spirit, guides, protects and sustains us. Let us go forth from this service of worship and offer service to the world in the name of Christ, for the grace of God is deeper than our imagination, the strength of Christ is stronger than our need, the communion of the Holy Spirit is richer than our togetherness. May God guide and sustain us today and in all our tomorrows. Amen.