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For Those Who Teach and Those Who Learn

A sermon preached by the Reverend Michael Anderson Bullock

at St. Philip’s, Easthampton, Massachusetts, on 12 September 2021 [Proper 19.B]:

Isaiah 50:4-9a; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

______________________________


The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.

[Isaiah 50:40]


Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters,

for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. [James 3:1]


Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. [George Bernard Shaw]


O Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities, that they may be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[Book of Common Prayer: A Collect for Schools and Colleges; page 824]



A few months ago, a member of St. Philip’s asked me if I weren’t a priest, what would I truly like to be and do. That recent question has flipped all kinds of internal switches in me, resurrecting that haunting childhood question: What do you want to be when you grow up? It seems to be a question that most of us have been asked; and ironically it is a question now I still consider, irrespective of the fact that I am retired but not retired.


I don’t recall ever having some magnetic sense of what my life’s purpose and calling might be, what I’d be when I grew up. While I have met a few folks who seem to have known what they were to grow up to be, my own record has been both situational and fluid. I suppose that initially I wanted to be a cowboy, but as an elementary school child I surely wanted to be a baseball player. Yet, as the sobering realities of my limitations forced me to grow beyond my young dreams and aspirations, I nonetheless still flirted with notions – college notions of being a lawyer or a professor; and in the wake of 9-11, even of being a firefighter. Now, after 40-some years of being a priest of the church, the question of what I would do beyond what I have already done still looms. Nevertheless, my reply to this parishioner’s question surprisingly came without much hesitation. I said that I would like to teach and coach, which caused me to recognize what the pang in my gut was about. For I have wanted to teach and coach -- and be a priest. In point of fact I have wanted to be in a place where I could do all three things: teach, coach, and be a priest. And being encouraged to do these three things has been about my dream and vision of what a parish church should be and could be about.


Looking back over the last thirty years, my exposure and experience of the monastic tradition has provided me with a tangible reference point for what is still my vision for what a parish church might be. The primary characteristics of a monastery, I think, can inform and help define the life, mission, and purpose of a place like St. Philip’s. For instance, first and foremost, a monastery is a committed community, centered and anchored in worship and prayer. This is the central focus of the common life and faith, a focus that a secular parish is also meant to have. Yet, a monastery and a parish church are also meant to be centers of learning, places where the God-life’s wisdom and knowledge are found and shared. From this educational component, monasteries and parish churches are also meant to be entrepreneurial hubs of what the God-life looks like and how this Incarnate life may be shared for the sake of the world. And finally, such a place – be it a monastery or a parish church – knows how that community, its worship and prayer, in the work that emanates from it, and through the spiritual risk-taking – these are all ordinary, non-spectacular, one-day-at-a-time ventures that require steady tending with the intention of growing and honoring God in the tending. And this entails all its members being engaged in the wonderful ambiguity that the Prayer Book collect notes: of “those who teach and those who learn”. In this important vein, the point being that we are all student teachers. It’s what being members of the Body of Christ is all about.


The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.


What’s the word you need to hear that has the capacity to restore and strengthen you? What word do you have for others who are also wearied by the reality of our limitations and the wispiness of our fragile, self-made dreams? What is God-in-Christ saying to you that you in turn might say to the world?


Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.


Since what is not transformed is transmitted, will we have the integrity and courage to speak and live the new life for which we pray? Will we dare to reveal in our lives an authenticity that conveys not only with our lips but in our lives” that life is much more than we can and do make of it?


Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.


“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”[1]


O Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities, that they may be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth…


What are you learning? What are you teaching?


May we continue so to follow and grow in the Lord Jesus that others may eagerly trust the footsteps we make. Amen.


______________________ [1] Kurt Vonnegut


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