Yesterday today was Education Sunday and so I had a go at asking What has the church got to say about education? The style of the sermon was inspired by open letter Stanley Hauerwas wrote Christians beginning college.
Every weekday since September we take Kirsten to school.
She will be doing this until at least 16 or 18
and then she might go on to university.
Getting an education is just what happens,
so has the church got anything to say about school?
The rest of the sermon is going to come in a form of a letter,
a letter to someone just starting their education.
you are just beginning your education in school
and learning to love it and at times loathe the idea of it.
I pray that as each year goes by, you will learn to love it more than loathe it,
that you will see that anything worth doing takes effort,
and learning is worth doing;
that not everything can be done for you, or simply given to you.
I pray that as you come to see the great diversity of ways at looking at our world –
through geography, chemistry, physics, biology, maths;
through the appreciation of different languages, cultures, beliefs;
through the histories of peoples and places;
through the ways people have expressed themselves in story, poem, painting, drama,
baking, architecture, carpentry,
through the pleasure of sport in all its forms –
you will see the beauty and truth and goodness in the world that comes from God
and that you will see the ugliness, falsehood and evil that is the lot of humanity
This is why we pray prayers of praise and thanksgiving and also prayers of confession
I pray that you will learn to love stories –
long stories, short stories, funny stories, tragic stories
and most of all to love the stories in the Bible.
If Jesus shows us what God is like, and Jesus told lots of stories,
I think this means that God loves to tell and to hear a good story.
I pray that you will come to see that there are perhaps very few better gifts
than the gift to be able to enjoy a good story.
I hope that as you hear and read stories of the past
and stories made up and imagined
you will see that education is about learning to discover
whose story you are part of.
I pray that you will have teachers
who inspire and cultivate a love of learning,
who will teach beyond and outside what might be on a exam paper.
I pray that you will see ‘knowledge’ –
whether it be of the sciences or the humanities
not as something just to fill your head,
not as something which makes you clever
not as something that is to boast about
but as something that is given to for wisdom,
to make you good,
to make you live and love in such a way
that reflects the source and giver of all knowledge and wisdom.
You will find that the world is full of knowledge,
more people are educated than at any time before,
but this doesn’t result in meaning we are any wiser.
I pray that you will see ‘knowledge’
not as just a means of passing an exam,
or for getting a good job,
or even for winning one of Melvin and Nick’s occasional church quiz nights
but that you will love it for its own sake,
its own gift and blessing.
The book of Proverbs says
‘the teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
turning a person from the snares of life (Prov 13.14)
At its best your education should make you wise
and that wisdom will be life-giving
and protect you from the temptations of life.
Education then is not just matter of being able to read books, do sums and explain the
likes of photosynthesis;
education is a matter of coming to see and think and love and act in the world
and for the world.
The Bible tells us we need to be taught,
the cry of the Psalmist is to be taught the ways of God,
to be shown the straight path;
this is not the same as getting straight As
or achieving the grades needed for some amazing job,
for the ways of God says the prophet Micah
are ‘to act justly, love mercy
and to walk humbly’ (Micah 6.8)
This is why your education will always need the church,
for the church is a school of people learning
to show justice, offer mercy and live humbly.
The word disciple means ‘learner’ and we are disciples of Jesus,
learning his way.
The most important lesson that comes with following Jesus
is you don’t need to be smart to be a Christian.*
During school, especially when you get to secondary school,
you can be led to believe, by your teachers, by the world,
even possibly by me and your mum,
that there is nothing more important than achieving good grades
but remember that Jesus chose a group of largely uneducated and unmannered
followers to start the church.
I pray that whatever your education gives you,
whatever you come to love be it running, acting,
painting, writing, problem-solving, doctoring, building
you will find a way to serve the church and the world with it.
You will need the church,
and the church will need you,
and I pray you find the church to be your family.
You will need the church
for most of what you are taught will act with the presumption
that the God of Israel and Jesus does not exist,
it will be suggested that our world is a very flat place,
with no space or time or concept of the transcendent.
It will be suggested that its ok to believe whatever you like,
as long as you are tolerant of others
and that theology – talk of God – has no place in the classroom,
especially any science class, apart from religious education.
I pray that as you go through your schooling,
you will not be ‘taken captive’ to borrow a phrase from the apostle Paul
by a view of the world that pushes God to the margins;
it is my prayer that you will come to see that
in Jesus Christ
all things were created through him and for him
and in him all things hold together (Col. 1.16-17)
and this means there is nothing that he does not touch,
that there is no space or time where he is not,
and there is no subject or curriculum in which he does not matter.
We have nothing to fear from an honest investigation of the world,
Christianity is not anti-science,
but at the same time, the knowledge of the world is not a given which cannot be
For there is a knowledge in Christ which means that we see and act towards the world
and each other in particular ways.
For example our knowledge in Christ
will call us to talk about creation rather than nature; **
will call us to see that no life and no act is beyond forgiveness;
will call us to see non-violence is ultimately more powerful that warfare;
will call us to see that justice is more important than profit.
I pray that you will come to love and follow Jesus
and that where this will make you odd.
and sometimes perhaps school a hard place to be,
that you will have the courage and grace of God
to not let go of Christ; he certainly won’t let go of you.
In the midst of this
I pray that your school days
will be filled with friendships;
friends who like you for who you are,
friends you can trust and be truthful with,
friends that will see in you the joy and life and light of Christ.
What a wonderful adventure you have before you,
If you’ve paid attention this morning,
if you’ve listened carefully,
hopefully you will have heard something of what I think
the church should say about education.
I wonder if you wrote a letter to a child, be it one of your own,
or a grandchild, a nephew or niece,
or one of the children in the church,
what you would say to them,
what you would pray for them, hope for them.
Most of the sermon today has suggested that education
is something we do in the first stage of our life,
but if education is about becoming wise and about
learning the way of Christ,
that means we are learners for life,
so ask yourself today who is teaching me and what am I learning?
* I owe this line to Hauerwas, 'An Open Letter to Christians Beginning College', Without Apology (2013)
** I owe this line and the thought in this section to Hauerwas, 'How Risky is The Risk of Education?', The State of the University (2008)