Archives for June 2014
Text: Acts 2:1-21
News headlines can be confusing. One boldly states, “Church in America marked by Decline.” The first sentence of that article makes the assertion that, “The church in America is shrinking.” As evidence, it says that, “The number of men, women and children in the pews has dipped to the lowest level since a comprehensive effort to count members began in 1980…” (source: www.christianchronicle.org) But if you turn to Christianity Today, a well-known and respected religious publication, you will read a different headline. It reads: “The State of the Church in America—Hint: It’s Not Dying.” If you go on to read the first couple of sentences of that article, here is what you will read. “The church is not dying. Yes, the church in the West—the United States included—is in transition right now. But transitioning is not the same as dying, particularly if you hold the belief that Christianity is represented by people who live for Christ, not check ‘Christian’ on a survey form.”
Is the church in America dying or not? While the debate about the state of the church wages on in scholarly religious periodicals and even popular magazines like Time and Newsweek are asking the question, “Is the church dying or not?” there are others of us asking a different question. And that question is this, “What role does the church play in our society today and what relevant message, if any, does it have for the world?” I raise this question about the state of the church in terms of its role and message because today is Pentecost—the liturgical day when Christian worshipers celebrate the birth of the church as described in Acts 2. And so today is a good day to ask some questions about the state of the church in our society.
Text: Job 28:12, 15-19
“When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”
“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”
“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”
Ms. Price was my kindergarten teacher. I have spoken about her before in sermons. For those who have not heard my stories of Ms. Price or weren’t paying attention the first time I told them, it is important to note that she was not only my kindergarten teacher, she was also my Sunday school teacher. Yes, I attended kindergarten at my church. I don’t know why but I’m thinking that maybe when I came along, back in the dark ages, kindergarten was not a part of the public school system. For whatever reasons, that was my experience and I loved my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Price. After all, we spent six out of seven days a week together. My memories of her is of a stern and caring older woman who expected much from us 5 and 6-year-olds in terms of behavior and learning (learning was serious business); and while she often used questionable discipline techniques (such as having us stand at the black board with our nose in a circle when we had misbehaved), I knew, and all of us in that 1967 kindergarten class of Sandy Plains Baptist Church knew that she loved us deeply, wanted us to learn, and would have done anything to protect us. I can still feel her arms wrapped around me drawing me into her bosom for one of her firm but loving hugs—the kind of hug that can make a child feel like they are suffocating—that let me know just how much she cared for me. She was the first person, and as it would happen, the first teacher in my life who would nurtured a place of belonging and understanding.
Beginning with Ms. Price, teachers would become the single greatest influence in my life, offering over many years a place of understanding and acceptance and encouragement—shaping me as a student, as a learner and as a person. In second grade it was Ms. Martin who told me that I had the best penmanship of any student she had ever taught. Her words gave me confidence and taught me to take pride in my school work. To this day, my handwriting matters to me. In the fourth grade, it was Ms. Reager. She was the first teacher who encouraged my spirited approach to learning—thinking outside the box and being curious. In junior high it was my history teacher, Mr. McSwain, who invited me and one of my friends to his home to ride horses. While history was always a challenge for me, the connection I made with him that day riding horses made me want to work harder at a subject that was not my best. In high school, it was my French teacher, Ms. Niver who taught me that as learners we all have limits, but she did so with humor and goodwill. She never made me feel like a failure although after a year the only thing I could say in French was “Je ne sais pas.” And I can still hear her saying to me each class, “Fermez la bouche Nanette.” If you don’t know French, there is your homework for this sermon.
Beyond high school, teachers would continue to be the single greatest influence in my life, offering to me a safe place of understanding. My college and seminary teachers and professors opened my mind in ways that I didn’t know existed and offered me blessing after blessing after blessing with their words of affirmation and encouragement. Through the teaching/learning process they nurtured an imagination within me that taught me that life offers possibility after possibility after possibility. It is not an overstatement when I say that the teachers throughout my entire life—those I have named and others: Bob Poerschke, Alan Neely, Sam Balentine, Elizabeth Barnes, Dick Hester, Bonnie Stone, Lou Rosser and Mahan Siler—have shaped the core of the person I am today. So when I think about how teachers have shaped my life I think of Maya Angelou’s words, “I come as one, but I represent thousands.” Maybe not thousands, but for certain every teacher and every educator whose class I’ve sat in.
Today, our state is in a crisis when it comes to public education and supporting those who teach our children. Elizabeth Queen who is an MDiv student at Duke Divinity who compiled a document for the North Carolina Council of Churches titled “A Call to Action for People of Faith and Public Education”: “In the United States, the value of education is a given for most people. Research and overwhelming public opinion both attest to the importance of the classroom as a laboratory for learning and skill development. Education is a doorway to resources that improve both the lives of students and their communities by providing them with social and cognitive skills that equip them for successful participation in society.” Despite this, she goes on to say “North Carolina’s education policies often do not support [the] basic needs of students and educators. Chris Hill, Director of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, noted that there are several threats to public education in North Carolina that widen the achievement gap between student groups and undermine the adequate and equitable education of all the state’s students.” It seems that in NC the value of education may not be a given for many children.