Risking Challenge through Teaching - Message from March 7, 2021

Third Sunday of Lent

Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Message: Risking Challenge through Teaching


Listen to podcast | Tithes and Offerings



Transcript

As we begin this morning, I want to ask you to take a moment and consider the persons in your life who have been most influential, who have shown you care, invested in you, hoped for you, believed in you? Who are the people who spoke a kind word to you when you needed a lift, and challenged you to experience the joy of growth? Take a moment now and think of these people.


Chances are that for most of you, among the people who came to mind, there was at least one teacher. Maybe this was an early teacher who patiently taught not just letters and numbers but how to make a friend or solve a conflict. Maybe this was a teacher in middle school or high school who challenged you to think and grow. Or maybe it was a later teacher in college or graduate school who mentored you and maybe now is even a friend.


Teachers are special people, and Epworth is blessed with many educators who teach or have taught from the early ages to the graduate level. And there are persons in our congregation who may not teach as a vocation, but impart the stories of faith and the questions of right living to our children and youth. Today after church, five persons who have been training for months to be Stephen Ministers in our congregation will be commissioned, and they have been trained by our Stephen Ministry leaders. This is a ministry of both teaching and being taught in the accompaniment of care. I give thanks for these educators, one and all.


Our teachers have borne a heavy load during COVID, moving to online paradigms with not as much training and support as would have been ideal, sometimes having to field uninformed questions or criticisms. And yet they have persevered. Teachers are often the front line of realizing that a student needs help or more supportive services. And as students’ education has moved to screens and homes, this essential service of identifying needs has been even harder to enact while the needs became in some cases even more acute. And yet our teachers have kept teaching, and risking. As students and teachers go back into the classrooms here in Berkeley and in other locations across the Bay Area, our educators are being asked to take another big risk. I hope you’ll join me in praying for our teachers and educators during this anxiety-filled and transitional time.


Biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine, who is herself a seminary professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, has shared in her book Entering the Passion of Jesus how fraught teaching is—there is always the possibility that the teaching is misrepresented. She shares how students have graduated from the seminary then gone on to preach sermons misquoting her saying, “Professor Levine said…” “It’s terrifying!” she says. Then she says, “This is why the Epistle of James says, ‘Not many of you should become teachers.’” To teach, to put one’s knowledge, conclusions and challenges out into the world, is always a risk.


Jesus, of course, was also a teacher. When he spoke to his disciples or to the crowds, often his intent was to impart some teaching or spiritual wisdom. Sometimes he did this in parables, offering a story that when examined revealed layers upon layer of understanding, its meaning blooming like a flower. And sometimes he spoke directly, like when he told his disciples his death was imminent. He spoke directly when he needed there to be no question about what he was saying but knew that his message would be hard to accept.


In today’s scripture, the Pharisees approach him with the honorific title, “Teacher” or in Greek, didaskalos. But their intent is not to learn from him but to trap him as the Gospel writer tells us as this passage begins. These are people living under the occupation of a foreign ruler with a foreign God. “Is it right to pay taxes to Cesar?” they ask. One might think this was a legitimate question about how to be faithful under such conditions. But their intent was to discredit him, maybe even trick him into saying something that could get him arrested.


But Jesus refuses to be trapped into an either/or paradigm and instead teaches out of what is often called a “both/and” framework or a third way. He says, “Give to Cesar what is Cesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” How often do we find ourselves frustrated, trying to respond to someone who opens a question with an embedded assumption we don’t agree with? Whether intended or not, it’s a trap that can keep us from expressing our own truth. It feels like there’s no way to answer the question without tacitly agreeing to the assumption.


In Jesus’ day of first century Palestine there was a culture of what was called “challenge-riposte” which basically meant that when a challenge was put to someone, there was an expectation that the response would be quick. Sometimes when we get one of these questions or challenges with an embedded assumption we don’t agree with, we have the sense, the feeling that something is wrong with the question before we have the understanding. It’s like our bodies know something before our brain has caught up. In the pressure to give an answer, we can disregard our own gut wisdom that’s telling us to reject the assumption.


In today’s scripture, Jesus guides us in how to buy some time to put the pieces together. Instead of answering the question right away, he asks another question. “Show me the coin used for paying taxes,” he says, then buys some more time asking whose face is on the coin and what is the inscription. As his questioners become the questioned, the conversation deepens and Jesus is able to draw out the answer he wants. He leads us to a bigger perspective on the question, while not breaking the relationship even with those who tried to entrap him. At the same time, he does not deny his own truth but keeps himself from further jeopardy.


One of the places that we need to be vigilant most is when questions contain embedded assumptions that are really about bias. Sometimes biased assumptions are so entangled it’s hard to identify where to even begin with a statement or a question.


For the past year, I have been co-chairing a process at the Graduate Theological Union to assess the state of diversity, equity and inclusion at the GTU and create recommendations for even more robust policies and strengthened practices to make sure all persons have equitable access and support, and are seen and honored in their uniqueness and complexity so that all can thrive. It has been a blessing to experience with a group of committed educators, board members and students the depth of commitment to our task.


One of the challenges that has been raised is that the whole enterprise of higher education has become less a project of the people as its defunded at the public level and more corporatized as funding is replaced by making bargains with the private sector. Market forces that prioritize efficiency and income production are often at odds with the laborious and often slow work of pursuing deep understanding and dismantling systemic oppression. Is access and equity in a broken system really the goal, one might ask?


But Jesus models for us in today’s lesson how to refuse to be defeated by an oppressive system, in his case the Roman empire, while still staying in the struggle for a new and liberative reality. As our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant at the GTU, who is herself also an educator at USC and Cal State Los Angeles put it, quoting Black Panther Leader Huey Newton, “Survival pending revolution.” Jesus knew that arrest was coming, but the longer he could forestall it, the more time he had to teach and to prepare his disciples for the revolution of the crucifixion and resurrection.


I began this message this morning talking about the teachers and educators among us for whom teaching is a professional vocation. We honor you and are with you as you continue to navigate this very challenging time. And I want to remind all of us that we all have opportunities to teach as we model in our behavior and speech the commitments of a Christian. Parents are teachers, friends are teachers, even students can be teachers when we take risks to communicate a counter-cultural way of doing and being. This counter-cultural way is about liberating, loving and living rather than getting and spending or winning and losing. For Christians, there is always a middle way, a third way that rejects binary paradigm that tells us things must be either this or that. If we are able to risk following Jesus, the teacher, into this revolutionary third way, there we will find ever unfolding Good News. There we will find eternal life. Amen.


***


Order of Service (Bulletin) - March 7, 2021


ENTERING THE STORY

Gathering Music: “Trumpet Dialogue" - Rev. Jerry Asheim

Entering the Story - Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Annette Cayot

Prayer of Confession - Misty Harvey

Assurance of Pardon - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Opening Hymn: "Are Ye Able” UM Hymnal #530 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Margot Hanson


GETTING PERSPECTIVE

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:15-22 - Pat Bruce-Lerrigo

Children's Message - Susan Jardin

Anthem: “Order My Steps" arr. Burleigh - Epworth Choir ft. Charles Lynch, soloist

Dwelling in the Story: "The Tribute Money" by Tissot - LeRoy Howard

Message: “Risking Challenge through Teaching” - Rev. Kristin Stoneking


ZOOMING IN

Hymn of Response: "Lord, I Need You" by Matt Maher - Judy Kriege

Call for Prayer - Max Hilton

Special Music: “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" UM Hymnal #349 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Cathryn Bruno

The Prayer Jesus Taught (Lord's Prayer) - Misty Harvey

Offerings and Opportunities - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Offertory Music: “Lord Don't Move the Mountain" - Judy Kriege & Dianne Rush Woods


ENTERING THE WORLD'S STORY

Prayer of Dedication - Janene Kuan

Closing Hymn: “Cry of My Heart” The Faith We Sing #2165 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Carole Klokkevold

Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Postlude: “The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God" comp. Marcello - Rev. Jerry Asheim

​​

​SPECIAL THANKS TO:

Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking

Contributors: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Pat Bruce Lerrigo, Cathryn Bruno, Annette Cayot, Margot Hanson, Misty Harvey, Max Hilton, LeRoy Howard, Susan Jardin, Carole Klokkevold, Judy Kriege, Janene Kuan, Orion Lacey, Charles Lynch, Dianne Rush Woods

Video producer: Tai Jokela

Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey

Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt

Credits

Liturgy and Design © 2019 worshipdesignstudio.com, adapted by permission.

Prayer of Dedication © 2021 enfleshed

Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE #A-733809. All rights reserved.

Art in "Entering the Story"

  • Masaccio, 1401-1428. The Tribute Money, fresco by Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel. Public Domain, Orignial source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=513678

  • Emil Nolde, 1867-1956. The Tribute Money, from wikiart.org. Original source: https://www.wikiart.org/en/emil-nolde/the-tribute-money-1915#:~:text=Home%2F%20Artists%20%2F%20Expressionism%20..,Emil%20Nolde%2F%20The%20tribute%20money

  • Tissot, James Jacques Joseph, 1836-1902. The Tribute Money, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55996. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Tribute_Money_(Le_denier_de_César)_-_James_Tissot.jpg.

​Art in "Dwelling in the Story"

  • Tissot, James Jacques Joseph, 1836-1902. The Tribute Money, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55996. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Tribute_Money_(Le_denier_de_César)_-_James_Tissot.jpg.

Art in "Order My Steps"

  • Jesus Mural of Faith, Hope, Love, and Peace, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56412 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/36847973@N00/3342340183.

  • JESUS MAFA. Parable of the Three Servants, or, The Talents, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48297 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).

  • Schäufelein, Hans Leonhard. Christ Teaching the Disciples, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57545 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_Teaching_the_Disciples,_2,_from_Das_Plenarium_MET_DP849939.jpg – Adam Petri.

  • Christ with the Apostles, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57158 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Catedral_S%C3%A3o_Francisco_Xavier_(Joinville,_Brasil)_38.JPG.

  • Sheets, Millard, 1907-1989. Word of Life mural, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55058 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jburzynski68/6221624293/.

  • Johnson, William H., 1901-1970. Come Unto Me, Little Children, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56876 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/come-unto-me-little-children-11621.

  • Christ Teaching the Disciples, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56625 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ethiopian_-_Right_Diptych_Panel_with_Virgin_and_Child_Flanked_by_Archangels_-_Walters_363_-_Open.jpg.

  • Saget, Father George. Last Supper, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58346 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: www.robertharding.com.

  • JESUS MAFA. The Lord's Supper, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48272 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).

  • Swanson, John August. Last Supper, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56552 [retrieved March 4, 2021]. Original source: www.JohnAugustSwanson.com - copyright 2009 by John August Swanson.

  • The Last Supper Project photograph by LeRoy Howard.


Recent Posts