Today’s scripture readings are a mixed bag for me. They speak of teachers and tongues. Uplifting and a convicting warning at the same time. James starts out saying that not everyone should become a teacher as teachers will be judged more strictly. James also says that the tongue can be like an untamed, destructive fire. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. The psalmist warns against lying and smooth lips and a boastful tongue. Matthew describes the glorious transfiguration. Peter says to Jesus, Teacher, this is great, let’s make some tents! Okaaaay. Yet even as Jesus walks down from the mountain top with the disciples he warns them that he will suffer greatly and be treated with contempt.Teachers and tongues. An interesting mix. Teachers have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve been teaching Sunday School for 20+ years. And son number two just graduated from Creighton and will be teaching at the high school where I went to school. The fact that he wants to work with young people speaks volumes to me. I’m just a little bit proud. Can you tell?
All of us, looking back on our childhood, have a teacher we remember with great fondness. Someone we could count on. Someone who guided us, took us under their wing, encouraged us and gave us direction. Someone with a gentle tongue. Some of us can remember a teacher with a little less fondness. Someone who didn’t like us. Someone who thought we would not amount to anything. Someone who discouraged us. Someone with a harsh tongue.
In fourth grade I had a teacher who told me I was destined for jail. Granted I was wild kid, but that still seems harsh and I still remember her words to this day. In high school I had a teacher who encouraged me in English and writing. That teacher can claim at least partial credit for my ability to put my faith into words.
There’s a line from the movie School of Rock. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym class. It’s a comedy and meant as a joke and it is funny. However, my experience is that nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers are often maligned, yet what profession offers a better chance to influence the future? How many people get to see lives transformed? How many people have the opportunity to touch the heart of a child? How many people get to actively shape the future of our faith, of our world and of humanity? Teachers plant seeds knowing that the fruits may not be visible in their lifetime. An amazing thing in our culture of immediate gratification. Anyone who is willing to invest their time, talent and treasures in a relationship with another human being, in my eyes, that person is a teacher. And Jesus is the ultimate role model as a teacher.
And of course there is a flip side. I’m not naïve. There is no shortage of deceivers in the world. People who use their tongues for their own gain. Who look to tear down and misguide others. Even a good and kind person can lose control of their tongue and cause damage. The tongue can heal or the tongue can inflict pain. James is right about that one.
My prayer today is in thanks and praise for Christ, our role model for teaching and using the tongue to instruct and build up. And also a prayer for those of us looking for the courage to step out in faith and take advantage of the God provided opportunities to help others.
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