Jesus, Our Teacher
May 06, 2012
The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”
When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan. (Joshua 3:7-17)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:1-12)
Reading from Swedenborg
. . . for one who teaches faith, and not charity, cannot perceive the more interior things of the church. But if he teaches charity, he has good, and this is a dictate to him and guides him . . . (Arcana Coelestia 4715)
The doctrinals of faith . . . if separated from those of charity, teach almost nothing. For the doctrinals of charity teach what good is; and the doctrinals of faith teach what truth is; and to teach truth without good is to walk as one who is blind because good is what teaches and leads, and truth is what is taught and led.
[T]he one who teaches divine spiritual goods teaches also divine spiritual truths, for the latter are from the former and are about them. (Arcana Coelestia 4844(4))
Faith without charity, or truth without good, teaches nothing . . . (Arcana Coelestia 4925)
Our subject for this morning is “Jesus, Our Teacher.” It seems that every year at about this time the subject of teaching comes up among us. And I expect it is a good thing, for it strikes home with me every time. For you all know I love to hunt, and it follows from what Swedenborg has to say about the corresponding meaning of hunting that I love to teach.
Arcana Coelestia 3309(3): To hunt = to teach, and also to persuade; and this in both senses, from the affection of truth, and from the affection of falsity... Fishers = those who teach from sensuous truths; hunters = those who teach from scientific truths and doctrinals.
Arcana Coelestia 4922(2): 2 Samuel 1:24; To teach the bow = to teach the doctrine of love and charity.
Well, I do have something to teach you this morning—about teaching and learning, and about Jesus—and our spiritual salvation depends upon how well we learn it.
As I said, this subject always shakes me to the core. Swedenborg has a lot to say about how easy it is, as a teacher, to be a hypocrite, and he has some pretty harsh things to say about those who teach and do not live what they teach. From the number of times he refers to the topic in his writings, we can gather that hypocrisy among teachers is a pretty common thing. The topic was also one of the recurring themes in the teachings of Jesus; he too has some pretty harsh things to say to the religious teachers of his day.
It is a great responsibility to stand up here every Sunday morning, knowing that you all come looking for me to teach you what is right and wrong, good and evil, and how to live your lives so that you can be right with God. If I thought for one moment that that responsibility began and ended with me, it would be too much to stand. I would either succumb to the temptation and become the Jerry Falwell of Fryeburg— or else give it up completely and become a landscaper. What allows me to continue in the position of your minister and keep my head on straight is what we find in Divine Providence: “The Word cannot be taught otherwise than mediately, through parents, masters, preachers, books and especially through the reading of it; but still it is not taught by these agencies; but through them by the Lord” (172.6); and also “It is a law of the divine providence that people be led and taught by the Lord from Heaven through the Word, doctrine, and preachings from it; and this in all appearances as of themselves.”
You see, it is only an appearance that I am your teacher. It is only an appearance that you are learning about the Lord by your own intelligence. For the fact is, whatever comes out of my mouth that is good and true is not from me but from the Lord—and whatever you understand of good and truth is not from your own mental abilities but from your willingness to accept the presence of the Lord in your life. At all times, in all things, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is our teacher. Anything else is simply an appearance of the truth.
The challenge for me is to surrender my sense of self to the Lord and let divine love and truth flow through my words. The challenge for you in listening to what I have to say is to sort out what is divine love and wisdom, what is true and good, what is from the Lord—and what is not. And you do that not through your intelligence, not through what and how much you know, but through what and how much you love.
In Divine Providence 172, Swedenborg writes, “It follows that the person who is taught from the Word, is taught by the Lord alone. But everyone is taught according to the understanding of their love: what goes beyond this does not remain.” He also says, “Leave is granted to no spirit, or angel, to teach any person in this earth divine truths; but the Lord teaches everyone through the Word, and teaches them in the proportion that they receive from the Lord good in the will; and they receive it in proportion as they shun evils as sins” (De Verbo 13.2). And, in Arcana Coelestia, he says, “The Lord does not openly teach anyone truths, but leads them through good to think what is true . . .” (5952.2).
Swedenborg is saying that you cannot learn beyond the limits of your capacity to love. What you understand and truly learn is limited not by your intelligence but by the extent of your goodness. It has been demonstrated over and over again, from the time of Jesus to the present day, that it is entirely possible to be extremely intelligent and know all kinds of information, even about the Bible and spiritual matters, and still be a profoundly unloving and unkind person.
If you leave here this morning with one idea, let it be this: the key to heaven depends entirely upon the quality of your relationship with the Lord and the quality of your relationship with your neighbors, and that quality is not about how smart you are, or how much you know. It is about how deeply and sincerely you love. You can memorize facts, you can memorize Bible passages, you can teach doctrine to thousands of other people, but if you do not have love in your heart, it amounts to nothing more than the empty clanging of that gong that Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians 13.
This does not mean learning is pointless! It means that to truly learn and absorb teachings, you must do it with an open and loving heart. We learn divine truth by knowing divine love. We get to the truth by loving God and by expressing that love sincerely in the world to the people around us. Most importantly, we learn not by idolizing our teachers or preachers but by putting into practice the things we see and hear from them that resonate with and affirm what we love and understand of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So I hope you were paying attention to our New Testament reading this morning, for while I have nothing to teach you, there is yet one who has more to teach you than you can ever learn.
“You are not to call them teacher, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ” (Matthew 23:8-10).
Rev. Ken Turley