Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
October 23, 2022
Numbers 21:4-9; John 5:1-9
It has always been a special interest of mine to look at these healings and try to decipher some kind of pattern or repeatable action. In seminary, we would have constant arguments about what is that thing that needs to be in place for healing to happen because not everybody was healed. There were times when Jesus left the crowds and times when he would heal everyone or just a couple of people. What was the difference? What needed to be there for healing to take place?
One of my colleagues in seminary was insistent that it was a presence of humbleness. Which I answered with today's lesson. This guy doesn't seem very humble. He gives a lot of excuses on why he can't be made well. He doesn't have anybody to help him and when he tries he gets trampled on. It's kind of a snarky response to Jesus. I think Jesus deserved this kind of response because Jesus asked a snarky question.
The guy is at the pool where people go to be healed, and Jesus says “would you like to be healed” YES!!!! It's like asking me when I'm at an apple orchard would you like some apple cider ..yes that is why I'm here! I think maybe the man didn't have to be all that humble because Jesus didn't start the conversation all that great either.
Nonetheless, I think today’s lesson proves humility is not the ultimate rule for healing to be ensured. There are other theories out there for what Jesus looks for in someone he is about to heal though. Usually what I hear as the thing that needs to be in place for healing is faith.
This teaching is one I think it's important for us to examine and test and challenge because this idea that having enough Faith or the right faith will guarantee to heal can cause a lot of harm. When someone has not healed the assumption becomes that the prayers or the faith surrounding the situation were not enough. The blame for the tragic situation then falls on the victim or the family and friends who prayed for their healing.
When we see a practice or doctrine causing shame and not producing the fruits of the spirit it is a clear sign that we need to examine it more closely. When I saw my assignment for the week was to look at Jesus specifically as a healer I was excited to have the opportunity to do just that. To put the “you must have faith to be healed” to the test. If it is true every healing should have a person of faith being healed.
I opened up to the gospel and stopped at every section involving healing and looked for faith. Wouldn’t you know it I quickly found healing that did not fit the mold. The woman who reaches out to touch Jesus’ cloak and is instantly healed of years of bleeding. Her faith is not accessed before she is healed. Okay, maybe the act of reaching out to touch Jesus’ cloak is an act of faith in and of itself. Let’s keep looking.
What about the centurion’s servant then? There is no mention of the servant’s faith just the faith of the master. Does this mean that faith that is worthy of healing can be anyone’s faith? We can offer our faithfulness to others to withdraw healing from us as a source? Then we have the nine lepers who did not return to thank Jesus for their healing. Only one returns to give praise and gratitude for their health. The others are still healed even though they do not seem to have much faith. There are other healings but I think these are examples enough for us to see faith is not a prerequisite for healing.
Yet we still want healing to make sense, to be replicable, and to be something we can ensure for ourselves and our loved ones. We want to heal to make sense, just look at the story about Moses and the snake on the stick. Some scholars lean heavily toward logical explinations for all miracles. In our first lesson, they see an ancient practice of slowing down the venom of a snake bite. Survivalists to advise staying calm and keeping the wound below one's heart to slow the spread of the venom. Having the bronze snake on the pole could be a way Moses encouraged people to stay calm and upright when they are bitten by a snake.
That is a possibility, we don’t know for sure, but some of us are a little more comfortable with mysticism being part of our faith story. Us who don’t need everything to be completely logical are also the ones who get the most hurt by a doctrine that say “faith is necessary for healing.” We know that magic has rules, for example, true love’s kiss solves everything in our fairytales, and so we are more apt to believe that there is a standing rule for the “magic” of healing as well.
Unfortunately, healing is complicated, like everything in life and faith. I tried to sort through all the different healing scenarios and find the “true love kiss” equivalent to who Jesus chooses to heal. I found no pattern. What I did find is that even Jesus has a complicated relationship with healing. Reading through his ministry from healing to healing a reluctant healer narrative emerged.
At first, Jesus is carefree about healing. Huge crowds are all healed at once. People who have been ill since birth are healed. These extravagant moments draw a lot of attention which is good to get the word out about Jesus as he begins his ministry. Unfortunately, the healing becomes a bit of a sideshow as Jesus travels around. The crowds show up simply to see the healing trick and the message of the ministry gets overwhelmed. Jesus begins to hold back healing and focuses more on teaching and building relationships.
But, Jesus is a healer and so he can’t help himself for long. Sneaking away from the crowds clamoring for healing turns into private healing. Jesus even begins to tell those being healed NOT to tell anyone. Even in these selective healing encounters faith is still not always part of the equation. The religious leaders notice that Jesus is becoming more reluctant to do public healings so they try to trap him with healing on the Sabbath. This launches Jesus into what I named his “healing with a lesson” phase. The healings from this point on all come with a lesson attached. Jesus heals outsiders, Jesus heals from a distance, Jesus gets others involved with healing, and Jesus approves of people healing using his name.
The way Jesus heals and the adjustments he makes have more to do with how the crowd is responding rather than any hard and fast rule that would make someone worthy or not worthy of healing. Further convincing me that healing is complicated. We aren’t going to find a guaranteed path to healing. Healing is more than physical, it is more than the hurts we are currently aware of, and it is more than a quick-fix miracle. True healing is not something I think we can get our human brains to grasp.
I wish I could have come here today with more but I think at the end of the day knowing that Jesus IS a healer has to be enough. Knowing that it is a trait of his ministry and practice he fully embraces and loves to do is what we can hold on to. The healing that Jesus brings is more than we even know we need or can fathom possible.
My favorite poem of all time about Jesus as a healer is called “The Ragman” By Walter Wangerin, Jr.
(Here is a link to a reading of the poem as well https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6paKdR9dIE)
These words express the impossible truth of Jesus as a healer. These words have helped ground me again when my logical mind gets too focused on the details. These words have reassured me when the impossible seemed to be the only way forward. I will read this poem to you now and then let us all sit with the meditation song as we consider what healing Jesus is working for us.
Ragman by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing in my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for. Hush, child. hush now, and I will tell to you.
Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear tenor voice: 'Rags!' Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.
'Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!'
'Now this is a wonder,' I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?
I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.
Soon the ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, signing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers. 'Give me your rag,' he said gently. 'and I'll give you another.'
He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then he began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.
'This is a wonder,' I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.
'Rags! Rags! New Rags for old!"
In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.
Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.
'Give me your rag,' he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, 'and I'll give you mine.'
The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood -- his own!
'Rags! Rags! I take old rags!' cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.
The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.
'Are you going to work?' he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head. The Ragman pressed him: 'Do you have a job?"
'Are you crazy?' sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket -- flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.
'So,' said the Ragman. 'Give me your jacket, and I'll give you mine.'
So much quiet authority in his voice!
The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman -- and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on, he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.
'Go to work,' he said.
After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.
And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I need to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.
The little old Ragman -- he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And I waited to help him in what he did but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he signed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.
Oh how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope -- because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.
I did not know -- how could I know? -- that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night too.
But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence.
Light -- pure, hard, demanding light -- slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow or age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.
Well, then I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: 'Dress me."
He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!
Rev. Dr. John Judson
October 16, 2022
Ruth 4:13-22; John 4:1-15
Comedy is cultural. I’m not sure how many of you have ever thought about it, but comedy, jokes are always culturally contextual. I learned this when I was living in the Philippines. My coworkers would tell a joke, or make a pun in Tagalog, the language with which most of them grew up. They would all laugh, grin, and find whatever had been said to be hilarious. They would turn to me and ask, “Wasn’t that so funny?” MY response would be to smile and say, “Oh sure,” even though the joke made no sense to me. Even though I knew enough Tagalog to be able to translate the joke, I was totally mystified as to why what they said was funny. The result was that it made me realize that regardless of how long I lived in Manila, or how well I knew the language, I would always be an outsider. I would never be able to feel fully included in community. Have any of you ever felt that way? Have any of you ever felt like you were an outsider looking in on a culture, whether it be a family culture, corporate culture, relational culture, and simply felt as if you were not fully part of situation in which you found yourself? If you have, then both of our stories this morning are for you. They are about outsiders.
Our first story is about a woman named Ruth. Ruth’s story begins in Israel where a woman named Naomi, her husband and two sons find themselves struggling during a famine. They hear that in the neighboring country of Moab there is plenty to eat, so they pack up and move. Once in Moab, Naomi and her husband find wives for their sons, which is where Ruth enters the picture. Over the course of time though, Naomi’s husband dies. Then her two sons die. Finally, the famine abates in Israel, and Naomi plans to return to her own people. Knowing that her daughter-in-laws would be foreigners in Israel, meaning they would be unable to get husbands and find security, encourages them to remain. One daughter-in-law does just that. The other daughter-in-law, Ruth, refuses. Ruth says to Naomi, “I will go where you go. Your family will be my family. Your God my God.” Ruth insists on going with Naomi regardless of the consequences because she loves Naomi. It is a risky move. So, when Ruth and Naomi return to Israel, it is obvious to everyone that Ruth is a Moabite, a foreigner, an outsider, and is thus not completely welcome.
Our second story is about the Samaritan woman at the well. To understand this story, we need to remember that Jews and Samaritans were like two gangs, like the Jets and Sharks from Westside story, who had fought a turf war for generations. They hated each other. So, the very fact that Jesus would travel through Samaria, stop by Jacob’s well and engage in a conversation with a Samaritan was unheard of. Yet he does. The conversation is as confusing to us as it was to the woman by the well. It centers around this thing called living water. But more about that in a few minutes. The question before us is, how could the Samaritan woman be an outsider in her own country? The usual answer is that she is somehow an outcast from her own people. This is taken from the fact that she comes to the well at noon, rather than in the morning, and that she has been married multiple times. I find that explanation unconvincing because people did come to the well at midday and it would not be unusual for a woman to have lost husbands, like Naomi. How is she then an outsider? She is an outsider to the community of God’s family. She in fact rejects any notion that the God of Israel could be her God.
The gift of the scriptures is that they remind us that the God of creation, the God who became one of us, is not a God of outsiders, but is a God who gifts welcome, community, and family. We see this is the story of Ruth and Naomi. When they return to Israel, they are unsure as to how they will provide for themselves. I say this because even though Naomi has some ancestral land, it has laid fallow for years, and there is nothing on it to harvest. Ruth then risks her own life, by gleaning from the fields of others. I say she risks her life, because as an outsider, she is at the mercy of the men who are harvesting. If something happened to her, she would have no legal recourse. One day she goes to glean in the fields of a godly man named Boaz. He learns who she is and of her love for Naomi. He then instructs his workers to not only protect her but give her extra wheat. Then, like in a Disney movie, he discovers what a loving and amazing woman she is, proposes to her, and in marriage not only does Boaz welcome her as family, but so does the community. She is no longer an outsider, but is the ultimate insider, becoming the ancestor of not only King David, but of Joseph, the father of Jesus.
The question that would have confronted those listening to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, was, “Will the outcome for this woman, the outsider, be the same as that of Ruth? Will this Samaritan woman become an insider?” The answer to these questions come into focus in a way many of us might miss because it has to do with the strange gift Jesus wants to give this woman, the gift of living water. This metaphor of living water works on at least two levels. The first is the way the Samaritan woman takes it, which is that the water has magical properties that allow a person to drink from it once and to never have to draw water from a well again…which by the way if you have ever had to haul water, would be a great gift. The second way in which this image of living water works, and the way Jesus intends it, is in reference to the mikveh baths used by Jews as they prepared themselves to come into God’s presence at the Temple in Jerusalem. The waters of those baths were never to be stagnant but flowing, alive, and moving because the water represented the process of being cleansed and transformed. They represented moving from being an outsider to God’s grace to being renewed as one of God’s beloved children. What Jesus was doing for the woman was offering her an opportunity to find a new family, a new community, as a child of God…and when she realizes this, she becomes the “mother” if you will, of the Samaritan church.
As I said a moment ago, the gift of the scriptures, the gift of God, the gift of Jesus is open arms and an invitation to move from being an outsider to becoming an insider; to becoming family. The gift Jesus gives is indeed living water that washes over us, claiming us, changing us, welcoming us, and transforming us. From the beginning to the end of the scriptures God is the one who whose desire for family is universal, all encompassing, and all embracing. Jesus demonstrates this in all that he does, bringing all persons into the life and work of God’s kingdom. This is the reason we are Everybody’s Church. When the Session chose this identifier for our community, we had a long discussion on how this name could be understood. Some people said, well not everyone would want to come to our church, so how can we be Everybody’s Church. The answer was that, yes, there are many people who won’t want to come here…maybe because of our style of worship, maybe because of their own religious preferences, maybe because of our inclusive nature. But the flipside was that we wanted Everybody’s Church to represent the open and welcoming arms of Christ who offers living water to all people.
My challenge to all of us this morning is this, to ask ourselves, how are we, in our lives, being living water to all that we meet, such that they might know they are not outsiders, but members of God’s beloved family?
Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
October 9, 2022
Ezekiel 37: 15-23; John 3:1-9
I wore this stole today because we're talking about Jesus as a teacher. This is the stole from my Seminary, where I had lots of great teachers. In every institution that I've ever attended as a student, there seems to be that one teacher that rises to the top as everyone's favorite. Since we were talking about Jesus as a teacher this week I tried to figure out what it is about these teachers that make them a favorite. The only thing I could maybe see as a consistent pattern was that they aren't the teachers who give the easy A's. They're the ones that challenge us, the ones that reasonably meet us where we are, and help us to become better. Their methods are all different, their subjects, how old they are, what kind of music they like, all these factors are completely random. There is no guaranteed formula for becoming the favorite teacher that I can find.
Our story today, however, has two great teachers meeting for a conversation. Nicodemus is first introduced as a leader of the Jews. This title means that he has his colleague’s respect. He would have been a high-tenured senior faculty in his time. The teacher that other teachers go to with the questions and seek advice. Nicodemus is more than just respected among scholars; he is also referred to later as “teacher of Israel” which means that he's also well-loved by the people. He's a relevant teacher, and easy to understand. Having the favor of the people and the respect of the elite has brought Nicodemus to a position of immense authority.
Nicodemus’ reputation makes it a big deal that he wants to have a conversation with Jesus. This meeting means that Jesus has great scholarship and is worthy of Nicodemus’ valuable time. And he doesn’t just give Jesus any time of day, he seeks Jesus out at night. Scholars at this time considered nighttime to be the best time to think. They believed that the best time to study was when the hot sun went down, the people went to bed and the animals all found their cozy little corners. There was no bustle, no responsibilities left in the day. You could simply sit and focus on studying. So if two teachers are meeting at night there is something very important that they want to discuss. They don't want distractions! Even more, Nicodemus doesn't want Jesus to confuse his arrival and questioning with the other questions that have been thrown at him with the intent to trap him. Nicodemus wants to be clear that this is a friendly discourse to truly speak about important matters. Nicodemus wants to learn from Jesus, the teacher.
The lesson Jesus teaches is not just important because he describes baptism, it is also an optimal example of how Jesus works as a teacher. Now if you ask me on any random day what I thought about Jesus as a teacher you would either get the answer that Jesus is a genius teacher or I will answer by saying Jesus is the worst teacher. Most likely if I give you that second answer I probably read about a fig tree or wicked tenants or some other complicated parable that week and I'm just frustrated about its unclarity. There are some days that I just want Jesus to tell me what he means. If I'm supposed to live in a certain way, if my faith is supposed to be acted out or lived, or have correct belief in something specific, why isn't this more specific? I can get so frustrated with the unclear and ambiguous and vague teachings. But then on those days when I would say that Jesus is a genius teacher, it's the exact same things that I think make him a genius teacher. That lack of clarity leaves room for us to be part of the learning even 2000 years later. Leaving that ambiguity for us to ask questions allows us to be a part of what is being taught. Jesus’ teaching method is always the same, I just don’t always appreciate it.
As I examined Jesus as a teacher I realized the methods sounded familiar to me. Jesus’ teaching was very similar to the way God teaches in the Hebrew scriptures. If God teaches in a certain way and Jesus teaches in a certain way, then there is a good chance the Spirit teaches in that way too. It would be wise for us to better understand the way Jesus and God teach so we can see the lesson the Spirit is teaching us today. So let’s do that now. Let’s look at the methods Jesus uses when he teaches, see how those methods work when God teaches in the Hebrew texts, and then spend this week looking for those methods in our lives and finding the Spirit’s teaching.
There are many, many methods of teaching. Especially now that we have made it a professional career we know a lot about these different methods. We can also analyze what works better for different kinds of students to help us get the results we hope for. Many of you probably came from churches that relied on rote memory. A couple of verses later in our reading today we get to John 3:16. I bet a few of you could rattle off what John 3:16 says because we were raised on rote memory faith development. We were expected to memorize these words. Jesus doesn't use rote memory methods, even when teaching the Lord's Prayer; he had to be pressured to give words to repeat over and over. It just isn’t his style.
Jesus mostly uses the method of asking questions. This method is really helpful in saving time and quickly meeting the learner where they are to begin an impactful lesson. Asking a question helps check someone’s understanding. There are times when people ask Jesus a question and he asks back, “What do you think? How have you read the meaning of that scripture.” When they give an answer that is right on track Jesus can save time and say “yep” and move on to a lesson they still need to learn. It saves a lot of time if Jesus does not have to go through the whole lecture and the whole conversation. If the person already has a good understanding and a good grasp of the concept, asking a question will reveal that to Jesus and allow him to focus on something that is more worth the time spent teaching.
The other thing asking questions does is it allows Jesus to meet people where they are. Wherever that student's level of understanding is, Jesus can start there and move them slightly further. This ensures students don't get overwhelmed with information. This technique was very helpful when I entered High School. We were required to take a year of a foreign language. Unfortunately, our elementary schools and middle schools did not have the same curriculum for foreign languages. Some elementary schools had after-school programs, some middle schools had classes to begin their student’s learning formally. All these students came into one high school and they'd have to figure out how to teach all these different levels of students. Their solution was to have us all go to the language hall during freshman orientation. There we found three doors with “German” “Spanish” or “French” posted on the outside. We lined up in front of the door with the language we wanted to take and one by one we were asked to come in and meet the teacher. Once inside, the teacher asked a question….in that foreign language. The students who were practically fluent would be able to answer the question with no problem and be assigned to Spanish 3. Students that maybe had a little less understanding of the exact words could maybe piece together and answer or at least ask for clarification in the language they wanted to continue learning, they were assigned to Spanish 2. Then there were students like me. We knew no Spanish whatsoever. We just stared blankly at the teacher with silly smiles on our faces, we started with Spanish 1.
Asking that question allowed the teachers to meet the students where their level of learning was and to take them farther from that moment without overwhelming them. If I had been in Spanish 3 I would have been frustrated and failed immediately. Meeting students where they are is very important in teaching and it's important to Jesus too. It’s actually so important to Jesus that even at the moment he was about to ascend to heaven and end his teaching career on earth forever he said, “There is more I want to teach you but you are not ready yet.” Up to the end, Jesus was aware that overwhelming students with information would not do anyone any good. That’s how we get the Holy Spirit to be our teacher now.
God of the Hebrew texts asks questions as a teaching technique too. Look at Job. Job asks questions to God and God asks questions right back. It's this discourse of “Well what do you think… well let me guide you a little bit further…how about this,” to walk with the student through the problem. If this is how God teaches in the Hebrew scriptures and the way Jesus teaches, asking questions is probably how the Spirit teaches too. So pay attention to the questions that arise around you. Whether it is an internal wondering or something people keep bringing up with you. These questions could be the way the Spirit is guiding you to a fuller understanding of God and this world.
The other main way that Jesus teaches is on this spectrum of pure discovery versus guided discovery. If you've ever had a class where they give you a bunch of marshmallows and sticks and a couple of lengths of tape and you have to build the highest tower, that is pure discovery. The teacher backs off and you and your classmates have to figure it out on your own. You have to fail and try again and discover better strategies on your own. That's pure discovery. Pure discovery is how humanity has learned throughout time. We see the sun and we think maybe it's rotating around us or maybe we're rotating around it. Pure discovery is how we learn new things as a collective. If no one else knows the answer the only choice is pure discovery.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with pure discovery when the answer has been established. Pure discovery has a tendency to develop a lot of misconceptions. Human knowledge shifts as we discover new things but if we all have the begin at the beginning and discover everything for ourselves, we have to process through all those misconceptions we have proven wrong. It’s a waste of time and energy. Pure discovery also creates high levels of frustration and dropout rates. It also does not always make the solution clearly replicable. We might make the highest tower, but have no idea why we were successful. Missing the key to the solution is often overlooked. Understanding how to reliably build a tall tower requires replicable strategies.
Thankfully Jesus does not make us discover everything about God all by ourselves. Jesus’ teaching style is on the guided discovery end of this teaching method. Guided discovery starts as pure discovery but the teacher is allowed to give hints and feedback. They can praise the students who are catching on to important concepts and redirect the ones who are missing the correlation. I was excited to learn that guided discovery often includes visual aids which we saw in our first lesson today. This is God’s way of teaching in Ezekiel. Having those two sticks held up with labels on them is a visual guide toward discovering the solution God wants Israel to understand. In the second lesson, Jesus guides Nicodemus through the concept of spiritual birth. First Jesus makes the statement plan, “We must be reborn.” Nicodemus then thinks about it and asks a question to check his understanding or clarify any confusion. He asks, “How can a grown man be born again from his mother’s womb?” to which Jesus guides a better understanding by talking about flesh birthing flesh and spirit birthing spirit. Nicodemus wrestles with the new information and the process repeats. Jesus is able to guide the learning but also allows Nicodemus to discover for himself and be part of the learning. This back and forth allows the student to bring themselves into what is being learned to follow their own logic trail so that they have a better chance of being able to follow the problem-solving path again and finding the solution later on when the teacher is not there.
Other signs that Jesus uses guided discovery are that he will debrief the disciples about the meaning of parables, he will remind them of past teachings, and show how that lesson relates to the new one. Jesus knows the disciples will not come up with a better understanding of God and creation by pure discovery. They need guidance but they also need to wrestle with reality in their own ways. This makes the teaching personal and lasts longer. If God uses visual aids to guide us to new discoveries of truth, and Jesus guides discovery with slight adjustments to current understanding, we can be fairly sure the Spirit is trying to teach us with guided discovery too.
That's the challenge this week: to recognize where you are being guided to discover a truer understanding. In this process of engaging the teaching of the Spirit, please be kind to yourself. Remember that Jesus said there are lessons we aren’t ready to learn just yet and that is okay. It does not mean we are dumb or weak. It means learning is a process and we can’t skip steps. The old saying is that “When the student is ready the teacher will come.” When we know how the teacher teaches we can be confident we won’t miss anything.
Pay attention to questions that repeatedly arise in your own heart and in the conversations around you. These could be the questions the teacher is asking us to shape our answers and examine new ways to see the problem. Look for patterns in the emotions, or situations you find yourself in. If there is a relationship that keeps presenting an issue, or the same problem happens over and over, there is probably a reason the Spirit keeps guiding you to that place. Open up your mind and heart and try to see something new, seek a deeper understanding, and discover what it is you are meant to discover.
If you need a place to start this learning I suggest looking at boredom. I am reading Brene Brown's most recent book (Atlas of the Heart) and one of the things that she talks about is boredom. She says boredom is the imagination calling out for attention. Just like those scholars that knew nighttime was the best time to think, imagine, and explore new possibilities and ideas, those places where we feel bored are also a rich ground for us to imagine what we can fill that boring space with.
If we can push past “I'm so bored; I'm so bored; I'm so bored,” the things that our spirit and our imagination and our inner selves can create might be the thing that the Spirit is guiding us to discover anew.