Friday, January 17, 2014

Maria Montessori Shows the Way

At the beginning of the 20th century an Italian Paediatrician was doing some important work leaning how to help children with disabilities learn best.

Her work with those special needs children grew into a general approach to education for all children that is best embodied in what we call Montessori Schools today.

Among many aspects of her approach she discovered that most of us learn things in one of three different ways.  Some of us learn best by being TOLD what to do.  Some of us learn best by being SHOWN what to do or being given some written or illustrated instructions.  Some of learn best by DOING things – having a go and learning by trial and error.  These are what she called Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic pathways for learning.

A very simple way to demonstrate how you learn best is to think about what you do when you get a new Mobile Phone.  Do you read the instruction book?  Do you ask one of your children how it should work?  Or do you just try it and see what happens?  Hold onto that thought.

In John’s Gospel today we read a slightly different version of the story we read last week – the Baptism of Jesus.  John seems much less concerned about whether or not Jesus was actually baptised, but utterly concerned to let us know the revelation that was made to John through this encounter with Jesus.  It is a profound moment and very important for John the Baptist and John the Gospel writer.

What follows that REVELATION to John the Baptist that this man is the One who is to come – the Son of God – is what I want us to think about today.

In a funny kind of way, those two disciples did something I said last week was evidence of our failings as human beings.  They thought John the Baptist was the best prophet around and they were his followers.  But as soon as John says that this Jesus is greater than himself, they just dumped John and followed Jesus.  Anyway, I want to consider the things that John the Gospel writer says happened after that.

You can just imagine Jesus wandering off after John had given everyone a rather cryptic clue about how special he was – “Look, the Lamb of God!”  Maybe he was trying to be a bit inconspicuous but two of John’s disciples followed straight after him.

Jesus says straight to them, “What do you want?”

Were you surprised by their answer?  They said “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  I was surprised.  I think I might have said something quite different.  Maybe I would have said something like “We want to follow you, Rabbi.”  I would have then waited to see what he said to do next.

But these guys were very direct.  Perhaps they thought that if they could go to where he was staying he might sit down and teach them stuff.  This seems to be what actually happened because Jesus said they could come along and they stayed the rest of the day with him.

Now there is a particular word John uses numerous times in his Gospel.  It is a very important word for those of us who have lived a while in the Christian faith.  It is the word ABIDE. 

I am sure you are familiar with that phrase in John 15 when Jesus is describing himself as a Vine that nurtures all of us who are his followers – the branches.  Jesus says “Abide in me, as I abide in you.”  The NIV loses this word by using the word “remain” in our story today and so you would miss the link with this important word for John.

This word has become a theological word for us – it certainly was for John – and so when you realise that when the disciples ask Jesus where he is staying they are actually asking “Where are you ABIDING?” you must understand that John wants us to think of much more than which Inn he was staying at.

These two new followers of Jesus – the very first in John’s Gospel – are shown asking and doing the most important thing that John can think of: they are choosing to ABIDE with Jesus.

When we talk about ABIDING as a theological term we mean a very intimate learning and supporting relationship.  Elsewhere Jesus talks about abiding in the Father and about the Father abiding in him.  This seems to be about being closer to each other than the air we breathe is close to us.  It is deep within and it is life-giving.

So the first thing these two disciples wanted to do was ABIDE with Jesus – to learn from him, to get to know him, to discover what he wanted us to know about himself and God.  They stayed all day.

This has become a wonderful way of describing how to be a disciple.  It is a way of allowing all those different learning styles I mentioned at the beginning to come into play and help us learn the most – in a place where we can learn by hearing, by seeing and by doing

It means living intimately with Jesus as a friend.  It means learning from him every day about the Way that he has shown to us and called us to live by – the Way that leads us into the same intimate presence of God.  In this Way we become fully human as Jesus was – made holy and acceptable to God by grace.

The question we need to take home from this is “Am I still doing my best at ABIDING in Jesus?”  Not that this is a work by which we obtain our salvation.  Not in the least!  It is a question of accountability from those you love within this Community of the Holy Cross.  If we are all doing our utmost to ABIDE in Him, then there is just a chance that we will see his presence evident among us and within our community.

But, wait!  There’s more!  Just like the salesman on the TV I have the pleasure of telling you that there is more for us in this story.

Andrew was one of those first disciples.  John tells us very simply that the first thing Andrew did was go and find his brother and he told Simon about this wonderful Rabbi they had just met.  But Andrew had obviously drawn a conclusion about this wonderful Rabbi – “We have found the Messiah” he said.

John is using this story to tell us all that when we discover who Jesus really is we will inevitably want to tell others about it. 

In our modern expression of Christianity I think we have allowed many things to prevent us from doing what really is a rather natural thing to do.  We think we need to have a nice set of words prepared that will convince people to follow Him too.  Or we think we need a special program in Church to do it for us – like Alpha or Christianity Explained.   We also know how hard it is when doorknockers come telling us about their church.  We don’t want people to think we are weirdoes.  As a result we often don’t do much of this.

John isn't talking about that.

Here are two ideas that might help unpack this for you.  I grew up in the Christian faith.  I can’t think of a time when I was not a Christian.  Yes, I made a personal confession of faith, but there was no Road of Damascus experience for me.  So I have to look elsewhere for help to understand what it must have been like for Andrew in this story.

Nearly 40 years ago, after I had known her for a rather short period of time, really, I asked my wife to marry me.  I asked her after church one Sunday night, and when she said yes we just talked and talked and talked.  It must have been after 2pm when I drove home because the street lights had gone off (only the old people remember those days in Perth).

The next day I just busting to tell people – but we wanted to follow the tradition of seeking her Father’s permission before it was made public.  But as soon as that was settled, everyone knew about it, albeit not as quickly as people get to know things these days with Facebook and the like.  That’s how I think Andrew felt, and how Saul felt on that road to Damascus.  And some of you can remember feeling that way.  Maybe that can inspire you about how to talk to people about your Jesus.

Another way might look like this.  I remember in a class in Seminary being told that Paul in one of his letters is basically telling people to go about “Gossiping the Gospel.”  Now don’t ask me for a reference or anything, but the idea has stuck and I think it is helpful. 

It creates in my mind the sense of talking in intimate circles to close friends and acquaintances about the things we see and hear.  It is deeply grounded in our personal experience and it is about speaking from our heart about everyday but deep things.  It is not a rehearsed script.  It is not part of a “program”.  It is just you being real with the people you know.

I hope that one way or another you can catch hold of a possibility for you to do as Andrew did – because I think it is important.

Now I wonder if you noticed the very last sentence in our story.  It was very important, too.

When Peter is brought to Jesus he does something that you and I might think strange or at lease unexpected.  Jesus gave Simon a new name.  We echo this when we give our children a Baptismal name (at least some of us did).  I like to think of this as a further expression of the intimacy of this new relationship we have when we ABIDE in Jesus – it changes us so much that we deserve to have a new name – a name that marks us as part of God’s family.

There is a huge niche in the book publishing market providing books with explanations of the meaning of names.  There are some Christian groups that really emphasised this name thing and they take on a Christian name in the proper sense of it.

I am not sure if you have a Christian Name, but maybe a good thing for you to do sometime, if you don’t, is spend time considering this question: “What name do you think Jesus would give to you?”  If you come up with one you might like to celebrate it with your friends here some time.

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