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The Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany
January 29, 2012
The Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
Sermon: "The Oldest Profession"

The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
The Gospel:

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching-- with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-28


The Oldest Profession

Just which profession is the oldest? The answer I’m thinking of may surprise you. It’s teaching! Think back for a moment to the very beginning of the Bible; there, in the Garden itself, after Creation was accomplished. The very first thing that God did was to teach humanity how to survive there. In the beginning, teaching was on the scene well before any other so-called oldest profession. 

And, according to our Gospel lesson this morning, teaching was the first form of ministry Jesus engaged in. As prominent and important as all other parts of his ministry were, none were foremost to his first act. After calling the first of his disciples (pupils), Jesus went into the town of Capernaum and, according to Mark, “immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught” (Mark 1:21). He soon after performed a healing right there in the synagogue, but his first act of ministry was to teach. 

Teaching has always been, and will always be, the basic profession from which all others emerge. If it were not for teachers, there would be no lawyers, no doctors, no accountants, no engineers, and no preachers. Through a teacher’s hands pass all members of every profession. Teachers touch and influence our lives perhaps more than any others. And amid the succession of the dull and uninspired ones, there is usually one or more who awakened us to understanding and appreciation of genuinely important things. 

In my own case, at one point, it was Mr. McCleary. Mr. McCleary was my High School junior year English teacher. He was a master storyteller. He was also very easy to derail in the middle of a lesson plan. All we had to do was ask a question that would get him started talking off the subject, and he would lose all track of time until the bell rang. We actually managed to get him to forget a major test for two weeks straight doing that. But Mr. McCleary enkindled in me a love for storytelling, and a respect for words and the carefully crafted turn of phrase. And he did it with patience and with largeness of heart. 

Now, what we can say about teaching this morning does not apply just to school teachers. The truth is that you and I are all called upon to be teachers. Every one of us is a teacher to one degree or another. A mother teaches her baby to talk, a father teaches his youngster to play ball, a coach teaches a wrestler how to hold and escape, and a foreman teaches a crew of laborers how to lay a road. From simple addition to higher physics, from skipping rope to brain surgery, life is a teaching environment; especially the Christian life, if we are to be effective disciples and ministers for Christ. We are all being taught and are teaching until the bell rings. 

Given the importance of teaching and being teachers, it might be helpful this morning to look to the Gospels, to the example of the greatest master teacher ever; our Lord Jesus. Jesus’ teaching methods were simple. He was, of course, an incomparable story teller. He illustrated his teaching by parable and story, by concrete references to the life with which his hearers were familiar. Also, his teaching, unlike that of the scribes, was not a learned commentary upon Scriptural texts, but a direct and simple statement of truth. And, he taught with a freedom and spontaneity, an inspiration and power that made a deep impression on those who heard him. His illustrations gave life and vitality to abstract ethical principles. Into a community concerned with legalistic interpretation of dogma, he brought a new sense of ethical reality. He did not speculate about truth; he did not argue about truth; in simple act and story, he demonstrated truth. Jesus never forgot that he was teaching. His approach was that of a friend offering help, not that of an imperious scholar bestowing knowledge. To his wisdom and insight he added a simple kindliness and affection. If he talked of love, he demonstrated love in his life; if he taught the necessity of humility, he was himself humble. With the transgressor he was always kindly and human, quick to reprove, quick to forgive. 

His greatest gift as a teacher was, perhaps, his ability to help others think for themselves. In his teaching he was not handing down the law so much, as revealing the truth that makes people free. He taught always as one, who having a knowledge of truth, wished to reveal it to others that they too might share its power and beauty. It is no wonder that those who heard him felt that he spoke as Mark puts it, “as one having authority.” 

Something the opposite of the priest’s sermon that was all laid out on the pulpit one Sunday morning before worship. The Junior Warden read through it and left helpful preaching tips in the margins. The comments went like this: “point needs emphasis here, speak loudly; point here is dramatic, speak slowly; for best effect here, point toward Heaven.” The last entry read, “point weak here, pound pulpit!” 

Here’s the first thing that we can learn from Jesus teaching style; Jesus taught with urgency and passion. When you’re trying to teach something to someone else it helps immeasurably if you have a personal sense of passion about it. If it’s really important to you, let the urgency come through you in your focused direction, and in the joy you communicate through it. That passion in you, once caught by those you’re trying to teach, will give you the authority you need to be listened to. 

Here’s the second thing we can catch from Jesus’ methodology; Jesus taught by example as well as words. This is very important for all of us to understand; especially if your words or example are displayed for young people. Nothing will destroy a young person’s thirst for learning faster than pretence, hypocrisy, and platitudes. Like it or not, whether you are a parent or a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, a family member or a friend, distant or just next door, it is impossible to have young people around you without teaching them. Coddle them, ignore them, force-feed them, shun them or worry about them, love them or try to avoid them, you are still teaching them something, all the time. Make sure that your example and your word match. 

Finally, in Jesus’ teaching we see compassion. Here’s the most important part of Jesus’ methodology. You can have passion and you can set a consistent example, but without compassion you will never be effective as a teacher. Of course, not everyone agrees with this third item. Here’s a quotable quote for you. “You can get much further with kindness and a gun than you can with kindness alone.” Al Capone supposedly said that. I’m sure that if any of you are or have ever been a school teacher, there has to have been at least one moment in your career when “Baby face Al” never sounded truer. But the simple truth is that it is very difficult to teach anything without compassion. It can be done, of course, by the exercise of strong compulsion; threats, punishments, and so forth, but there are not many types of pupils on whom such compulsion can be exercised successfully for long. Those we teach should feel that we want to help them, want them to improve, that we’re interested in their growth, are sorry for their mistakes and pleased by their successes and sympathetic with their inadequacies. 

Learning anything worth while is difficult. Some people find it painful. Everyone finds it tiring. We’ve all had the experience of sitting listening to instruction-even of something we’re motivated by and desiring to know-when we reach a point where all available information storage in the brain is now full, and everything still coming at us just washes over the top of our brains. In Seminary we had a favorite Scripture quote about this effect, especially around exam time. I still have it memorized. “Much study is wearisome to the soul, and of the writing of books there is no end.” Few things will diminish the difficulty, the pain, and the fatigue as well as the compassion of a good understanding teacher. 

In closing, let me share with you the words of Henry Van Dyke. They are a tribute most especially to the classroom teacher, but they are also just as true to the teacher in all of us; the teacher we are all called to be in our daily lives of service to Christ. 

“I sing the praise of the unknown teacher. Great generals win campaigns, but it is the unknown soldier who wins the war. Famous educators plan new systems of pedagogy, but it is the unknown teacher who delivers and guides the young. He lives in obscurity and contends with hardship. For her no trumpets blare, no chariots wait, no golden decorations are decreed. He keeps the watch along the borders of darkness and makes the attack on the trenches of ignorance and folly. She awakens sleeping spirits. He quickens the indolent, encourages the eager, and steadies the unstable. She communicates her own joy in learning. He lights many candles which, in later years, will shine back to cheer him. This is her reward. 

Knowledge may be gained from books; but the love of knowledge is transmitted only by personal contact. No one has deserved better of the republic than the unknown teacher. No one is more worthy to be enrolled in a democratic aristocracy, ‘king of himself and servant of humanity.’” 

May I add to that, that no one deserves better of Christ’s church, nor is more worthy to be called good and faithful servant and true child of God. Friends, in all your teaching, by word and example, by personal profession and daily living, teach with passion, and compassion, and you will be known for the Truth that sets all free.


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