Taught By God
TAUGHT BY GOD
As children most of us enjoyed the experience of going on a field trip. May it be to the zoo, aquarium, playground, or perhaps a longer trip to another city or another state. Perhaps our schools even brought in parents or people in the community of certain professions, like a police officer or firefighter, to give us an idea of what the adult world could be like. Back then perhaps we thought these field trips or these career days represented all there was of the adult world. But now that we are adults we see that they only gave us a glimpse of a greater world that we could not understand at the time, because we simply had not grown enough to live in that world.
In the Great Divorce, the classic Christian writer C.S Lewis uses his imagination to tell the story of a different type of field trip. The story tells about an imagined bus trip where people who are in hell get a chance to visit heaven. C.S Lewis has an interesting way of describing hell. According to Lewis it is a place full of cinemas and other forms of entertainment, but no real intellectual life. In one illustration of hell Lewis tells the state of the Napoleon, the great French military commander. In hell, Napoleon has built himself a giant mansion, millions of miles away from anyone else. Napoleon paces the halls for eternity, muttering to himself about all the people who were to blame for him losing his empire. Hell, in Lewis’ mind, is an isolated place where we get everything we think we wanted, but it ends up being hollow. It is a place where we spend eternity dwelling in bitterness, darkness, and regret. Yet, it is a more attractive place then heaven. When the bus comes to give those in hell a tour of heaven, the bus leaves hell only half full.
Heaven, on the other hand, is a place that is almost too real and full of life for the visitors from hell to bear. Lewis describes heaven as a grassy green plain, a high country, that goes on forever. The light in this high country is so bright that it passes right through the visitors from hell. It is as if they are transparent, as if they are ghosts. But the people had not changed. They were the same as they had always been. Instead, it was the world that they had entered that was more real. A blade of grass in heaven is so real that it does not bend beneath the visitors feet, instead a blade of grass passes right through the visitors feet like a knife through butter. The narrator, who is visiting heaven from hell, can’t even pick a daisy. A simple flower in this high country is more beautiful than anything the narrator has ever seen. It carries with it a great weight. A weight of glory. There is a connection to what the narrator knew before. Just as a firefighter visiting your school as a child gave you an idea of what being a firefighter might be like. And yet, you learn when you become a firefighter, a police officer, a parent, or anything else in the adult world, that the hints of what it was like in your child hood pale in comparison to the reality. This life compared to eternal life is like a mustard seed becoming a tree that birds can rest in. There is a connection between the seed and the tree. But it defies imagination how a little seed can produce such a big tree. And you cannot control the growth. But you can create a climate for growth if you are willing to be taught. If you are willing to bend with the breeze. You are at the mercy of the weather. You are at the mercy of God.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” The good news today is this.
When we are taught by God we shall enter into eternal life. And eternal life can teach us lessons about our life today. And I see two lessons.
- Banish shame and acknowledging guilt
- Learn to be taught as children are taught
Jesus quotes Isaiah 54, which gives us an idea of what it would be like to be in a world where we are taught by God, which is eternal life. First, we see that eternal life is teaching us the difference between guilt and shame. We see shame enter into human existence very early in the Biblical narrative. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve disobey God. The one rule in paradise is not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But they disobey God. After they eat of the fruit they realize that they are naked and they hide from God. Because they disobeyed God shame entered their lives. And since there is no place for shame in paradise God cast them out for their own good. And yet, he is merciful. Even though he casts Adam and Eve out he does not leave them naked, he clothes them, God provides for them in their shame (Genesis Chapter 3)
Isaiah 54, the chapter in the Old Testament that Jesus references in our New Testament passage today, talks about a common shaming experiences that many women faced in the ancient world and still face today. The experience of being childless and the experience of a wife who is cast off when her youth fades. But the LORD says there is hope. He says your maker and my maker can be our spouse. That we can have a relationship with Him deeper than any human marriage. The Apostle Paul tells us that marriage in this life is only a shadow of the Love that we share with Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32). But to free of our shame we must understand the difference between guilt and shame.
The Apostle Paul tells us that there is a worldly grief that leads to death and a godly grief that leads to repentance, a Biblical word that means not just feeling sorry but changing our perspective about the world and ourselves (2 Corinthians 7:11). Though the Apostle Paul is using different language I think he is talking about what psychologist call the difference between guilt and shame.
Brene Brown is a well know psychologist, researcher, and public speaker who teaches on the difference between guilt and shame . She begins her talk on shame by quoting President Theodore Roosevelt in his Man in the arena speech. Here is the quote in full,
“ It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “
Dr. Brown tells us that shame is the gremlin, that when you try to enter the arena, says that you are not good enough. Shame is a focus on self. Guilt is a focus on behavior, it is a focus on our effect on others. Shame says I am bad. Guilt says I have done bad. We all have a level of shame, because the Bible says it infected our existence at the Fall of man. But when we become paralyzed by shame we tend to lash out at the slightest criticism. We spew hate and harshness on others because deep down we hate and are harsh with ourselves.
One major source of conflict and shame in this life is the conflict between men and women. Indeed, the Bible suggests that is the oldest conflict in human history and a direct result of Sin. Dr. Brown points out that we both have weakness and shame but that our shame plays out differently in our culture depending upon whether we are a man or woman. Dr. Brown says, “For women shame is do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat……. Shame for women is this web of unattainable , conflicting, competing expectations about who we are supposed to be, and it is a straight jacket. For men shame is not a bunch of competing and conflicting expectations. Shame is one. Do not be perceived as weak.”
Dr. Brown spent some time interviewing men and women and this is the conclusion she comes to, “ you show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear I will show you a woman who has done incredible work,” “ you show me a man who can sit with a woman who has just had it. She can’t do it all anymore. And his first response is not, “I unloaded the dishwasher”, but he really listens, because that is all we need, I will show you a guy who has done a lot of work.” Isaiah chapter 54 mentions God teaching our children and our children walking in abundant peace. And I think it is the desire of every parent to have their child live in abundant peace. But the scriptures say if our children are to live in peace we must live in peace with each other. And we live in peace with each other by banishing shame. For the joy set before him, for your salvation, he endured the shame of the cross, and he put shame to shame. When we banish shame and acknowledge our guilt maybe we will find peace in this life.
Second, Isaiah 54 suggests that to be taught by God we must be taught like a child. Jesus is often quoted as saying that to enter the Kingdom of God we must become like a child. He said let the children come to me because thus belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. By this I think he was saying not that we should be immature like children, or complain like children, or throw temper tantrums, but that children have a desire to learn, and we are to be like children in that we are blank slates, always willing to learn from God. For the Word disciples simply means learner, someone who is willing to be taught by God.
As I think about someone in this world who was taught by God and taught others as God would teach, the example of Fred Rogers, of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, comes to mind. Mr. Rogers was host of the popular PBS children’s educational show for many decades. For those of you with younger children the successor to Mr. Roger’s neighborhood is the popular children’s show, Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood. Rogers died in 2003. And recently a documentary was released about his life called, “Won’t you be my Neighbor.” I felt the Lord tell me he wanted to teach me something so I went to see the movie. There have been a lot of rumors suggesting that Mr. Rogers had a secret life. That he couldn’t be the type of man he portrayed himself to be. Because sincerely who could actually be like that? And after going through two hours of laughing, and crying, and going through a whole variety of emotions, I can tell you he was the man he portrayed himself to be. And he had a profound testimony. And I encourage you to see his testimony.
Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Mr. Rogers went to seminary in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania right around the time that television was becoming popular. And he was greatly dismayed by the way some of the poor television programming was affecting the youth of his era as perhaps some of you are dismayed by changes in generations under you. But he always remembered what it was like to be a child. Perhaps the generation before Fred Rogers complained about his generation as well because they had forgotten how hard it was to be a child. Instead of being critical he stepped into the arena of children’s television and came along side children. He saw television as a tool not as a threat and he used it to encourage not to criticize the generation under him.
People have speculated for thousands of years about what heaven will be like. With all the images of scripture we are still only looking through a glass dimly. But if today’s text is any indication perhaps eternal life will be something like Mr. Roger’s neighborhood magnified to the point of unimaginable brilliance. Perhaps Jesus told his disciples to let the children come to him, not because he wanted us to be immature or to complain like children, but because children are a blank slate, always willing to learn, and eternal life is a place of eternal learning, a place where we will be taught by God. Perhaps it will be a place of eternal growth. As a seed grows into a tree. As a child grows into an adult, as we grow into our professions and roles in life, we will learn and grow forever. We will learn unimaginable things, and grow to be more alive, more full of joy in our eternal work than we could ever imagine. It will be a place where there are no misunderstandings and shame has no place. It will be a place where one of us as saints where have more glory than all of Napoleons armies and no weapon formed against us shall remain. And perhaps we can have a little bit of that in this life. Because Jesus taught us to pray thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven. Perhaps we can form a culture, a spiritual atmosphere where we say that God says, , “won’t you be my neighbor?” but “won’t you be my Son? Won’t you be my daughter? For I so loved the world that I gave my only begotten Son that who so ever believed in him should have eternal life and not be condemned but grow into eternity”. Because he loves us just the way we are, just was we love our children just the way they are. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to grow. And I have to say, as your pastor, being here for around 20 months now, that I love each of you, just the way you are. And I believe we can grow together, to become a place, where we are not just taught about God, but we are taught by God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.