19 Pentecost, Year A

19 Pentecost, Year A

Psalm 78:1-4

Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


Today is designated by our Synod as “Loonie Sunday.” (For all of you non-Canadian readers, a loonie is a one dollar coin). It’s a day we remember students, professors and campus chaplains; and it gives us an opportunity to support our Lutheran Campus Ministry; involved in all of the major universities throughout our province. It’s kind of interesting that we call it “Loonie Sunday,” don’t you think? Does it mean that the life of teachers, students and campus chaplains is so crazy that it drives them into the loonie bin? :-) I hope not. That reminds me of two students who were friends. The first one asked the second one: “Why is a college degree called a ‘Sheepskin’?” The second student replied: “It’s because college costs so much. You’re the one who’s getting fleeced!”


In the first four verses of today’s psalm, we learn that teaching and learning and passing on the values of faith were highly valued by  and an integral part of ancient Israel. Ancient Israel took teaching and learning very seriously. The passing on of their faith from one generation to the next was a gift, a responsibility and a privilege. They loved their God and the faith their God had given them so much that virtually nothing could prevent them from passing on their faith to future generations. The early church learned a lot from the Jewish traditions of teaching and learning--adopting them to their specific needs and circumstances. Throughout the centuries, the church too has taken learning, teaching, and passing on the faith to future generations very seriously. In fact, the church founded many of the most reputable universities in Europe and North America. For centuries the church was, and in some cases, still is a leader in education.


As I pondered the first four verses of our psalm today, it occurred to me that there is a lot of wisdom here concerning teaching, learning, and passing on our faith from one generation to another.


First, the psalmist emphasizes careful listening to the spoken word of God. As we all know, the good LORD created us with only one mouth and two ears; therefore, we need to listen at least twice as much as we speak. Obviously in ancient Israel, listening was highly regarded as a method of teaching and learning. I wonder if you’ve ever had that experience of talking with someone, and you could see that the person listening was not focussing on what you were saying to them. Oftentimes people are distracted when they listen; their ears, along with their hearts and minds are somewhere else. It requires a lot of focussed concentration to listen with both ears; to listen with care. However, when we do listen with care, we discover that not only are our ears open, but our hearts and minds are open as well. This means we are more than likely going to benefit and learn from what is being spoken to us.


Second, in verses two and three of our psalm, we learn how important it is to be clear on teaching methods. The psalmist tells us that parables and dark sayings from of old (proverbs?) were a couple of methods used by ancient Israel to teach and learn and pass on their faith.  The ancient Israelites were masters at using parables and proverbs (often in story form) to pass on their faith. The teaching and learning methods of today also need to be examined carefully and utilized with care to pass on our faith to our children and our children’s children.


For example, it has been observed that when we hear something, we learn or remember only about 20% of it. When we see something, we learn or remember only about 30% of it. When we see and hear something, we learn or remember about 50% of it. When we see, hear and do something simultaneously, we learn or remember about 80% of it. So, we can talk about the virtues of prayer to our children and explain in great detail the nature of prayer; we might analyze the various types of prayer; we can even communicate a sound theology of prayer; however, unless we ourselves pray with our children and grandchildren, it is then more likely that they too will pray with their children and grandchildren.


Third, in verse four of our psalm, the ancient Israelites were deeply committed to passing on their faith to future generations. There is here a love of teaching and learning. That love and enthusiasm is captured in the following words of the psalmist: “We will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD.” Those ancient Israelites had a vision for their future—they realized that if their faith were going to survive and continue, then they had to be committed to passing the faith on to future generations. Along with this commitment comes a sense of curiosity, which sparks interest, and motivates people to learn and to teach. We never stop learning, no matter how young or how old we are—there are still new things for each one of us to learn and in so doing help us grow in our faith.


Francisco Goya, the Spanish painter, was one of the most determined and courageous people who mastered some of the disabilities of growing old. He had such bad eyesight in his old age that others had to sharpen his pencils for him. Despite this he produced some marvellous drawings.


One of his last pictures shows an old, bearded man, bent over and supporting himself on two sticks. The title given to it by Goya, “Aun Aprendo” shows clearly his philosophy of life. It means “I am still learning. 1


Would that we, like Goya, might have the same philosophy of life: “I am still learning.” If we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, then we cannot avoid learning—for the very word disciple means that we are life-long students, and learners on our faith journey.


Fourth, but by no means least, the psalmist tells us in verse four that teaching and learning will include awe and wonder of our LORD and what he has done for us. This awe and wonder can take many forms—even and perhaps especially in the everyday events of life, which we too often tend to take for granted.


(Rabbi Louis Jacobs tells the following story): Professor (Abraham Joshua) Heschel began a lecture at the New London Synagogue by declaring slowly and with great seriousness: “An hour ago there took place the greatest event in all history.” The audience sat up in surprise. “The sun set!” That was enough to remind even the staid English gathering that our seemingly mundane existence is shot through with wonder. 2


So it is for us too, if we cultivate a sense of awe and wonder of our LORD and what he has done for us every day, then we too shall likely continue to keep learning, teaching and growing in our faith and life journey.


So careful listening, clear, helpful teaching methods, a deep commitment to passing on our faith to future generations, along with awe and wonder in our God and what he has done for us, all belong together in the teaching and learning faith and life journey just as fish belong in water. May our gracious LORD help us to remain continuous learners and teachers—passing on our faith to future generations.


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1 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1985  meditation for January 18.

2 Unfortunately I’ve lost the source of this story.

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