Education Sunday at St Michael’s Church
Nehemiah 8.1-3, 5-6, 8-10
I Corinthians 12.12-31a
Thank you all so much for having me here today, it’s a real pleasure to be here with you, to join your worship with you, and of course, to talk to you a little bit about learning and why it’s so wonderful on this Education Sunday.
I’ve never been to a church which marks ‘Education Sunday’, and I have to say that I think it’s the most wonderful idea.
Just a few weeks ago, the lectionary covered a reading from Luke’s Gospel in which we see Jesus for the very first time since he was a baby. The twelve-year-old Jesus has travelled to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover Festival and gets separated from them while travelling back home. And that’s because he has stayed, unbeknownst to them, in Jerusalem.
I have it on good authority from my husband and brother that any normal 12 year old boy who manages to wriggle away from his parents is probably up to some kind of mischief. But not 12 year old Jesus. He is spending time listening to teachers and asking questions. The very first time we see Jesus as a child, he is learning.
But it’s not only children who can learn, and enjoy it. We are all Christ’s disciples, his followers, are we not? And the word ‘disciple’ comes from the Latin word ‘discere’, which means ‘to learn’. Now I know that it might be a bit early in the morning to start talking about Latin, but you’ll have to forgive me. Because I think that one of the most important, and most exciting, part of being a disciple of Christ, is learning – learning more about Him, learning about His Creation, learning as individuals as well as learning in fellowship and community with others.
I am the Cathedral’s Adult Learning Officer, and as such, it is my responsibility to run a programme of events which allow us to learn. I’ve never been trusted to speak during a sermon slot before (partly because, I suspect, my vicar is also my husband and is worried what I might say), but I’m told that the sermon staple is a ‘three-point argument’. So here goes!
For me, there are three main reasons to be excited about learning.
The first reason is that it’s great fun. Yesterday we were joined by 250 singers for a celebration of music and singing at St Albans Cathedral which was led by your very own Pete Letanka. This was a form of learning – of coming together, of expressing ourselves, of using those different gifts which Paul writes about in his letter to the Corinthians which we heard this morning, and offering that resultant praise and glory to God. Learning can take many forms – which is why I’m so keen to be able to offer art study days, and craft and spirituality workshops, and poetry recitals as part of the programme, alongside more traditional theology courses and talks. Learning is and should be exciting and enjoyable! And for my part, I hope to reflect this in a programme which I really truly and whole-heartedly hope offers something for all of us, however we learn, wherever we are along our journey of faith.
The second reason is that as true disciples, or learners, learning is indivisible from our Christian faith. It brings us into closer relationship with God.
As the reading from Nehemiah demonstrates, when the people of Israel hear the scriptures, and are most importantly taught their meaning, it brings a richer understanding of our relationship with God. When Ezra reads the Law to the people, we are told that they shout ‘Amen, amen!’ and fall to the ground.
They don’t always quite get it, and when the Levites, who I’m told are the first teachers mentioned in the Bible, start explaining the meaning to them (because the scriptures were written in Hebrew and the people would have spoken Aramaic), they start crying.
But with careful guidance and nurturing encouragement from Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levite teachers, the people of Israel come to learn that it is fact a special day for the Lord – through the gift of learning, God brings us closer to Him, allows us to deepen that relationship with Him which He intends for all of us. Just as it was for the people in the reading, if we allow ourselves to learn from good teachers, we just might be surprised with what we come to know about God.
And the third reason to be excited about learning, and to find
value in it, lies in our Gospel reading this morning. Learning, especially
learning through and about our faith, inspires us to build God’s kingdom on
earth. Jesus Christ, our Saviour and the Son of God, reads out loud the
scripture and it contains a prophecy from Isaiah which gives the promise that
someone will come to
tell the Good News
to the poor…to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers.
This is the promise of Good News that Christ fulfils, and it is found in scripture. As we learn, we find passion and excitement, we draw closer to God, we learn more of His plans for us and for His world, and we are filled with the inspiration to do God’s work here on earth.
So it is with these three reasons in mind that the Learning Department at the Cathedral was created. As far as I am aware, we were one of the first cathedrals to create a learning programme for schools, and we are still the only cathedral in the country to have a full-time Adult Learning role. You probably have noticed by now that we’re undertaking a rather enormous new building project, and while perhaps the most obvious difference will be a new Welcome Centre, there’s also going to be an exciting new learning centre and library, where we can hold our school visits during the day, and where we can hold talks, courses, our book club and our language reading groups by night.
So this is an invitation to you, whatever your gifts, whatever your place on that life-long journey with Christ, and whatever your particular interests, to pursue learning and enjoy it. Perhaps you might like to try our 5-week course coming up on the Passion Narratives before Holy Week, or maybe you’d like to listen to a blend of live piano music and talk about the life and faith of the composer Franz Liszt. Maybe you’d like to revise that Latin that you learned years ago, to think about the impact of technology on society, to explore moral philosophy, to learn about local history, or even to hear your vicar giving a talk on the Seven Churches of Revelation. If you’re interested and would like to know more about what’s coming up this term, please do pick up a programme, or come and see me after the service, and I’d be delighted to talk more about it.
So, thank you, for inviting me here today, and please do come and visit at the Cathedral for one of our events, if you wish. As an Anglo-Saxonist, I am reminded that the ‘ship’ end to words, such as ‘discipleship’, comes from the Old English language and refers to a ‘coming together or gathering because of a common interest’. Discipleship, therefore, is powerful, because it is a coming together of people who want to learn, and to come into deeper relationship with God. Enjoy the discipleship here in this wonderful parish through your worship, make God’s kingdom on earth grow and thrive through your community, and, if you fancy, try out a talk, or a discussion group, or a study day or course, and enjoy that learning, that excitement, and enjoy being a disciple.