A Teacher’s Influence: Communion Meditation

April 13 2008

John 10:1-10

Who told you who you are?

Who taught you who you are?

Jesus meets us today, in the Gospel, speaking through the many echoes of many other voices. Take…Eat…As often as you shall drink…In remembrance of me…

Mixed in some of those voices, painstakingly remembered, may come the voice of the shepherd.

Our community of discipleship is centered today upon the Marsh Chapel altar. In a moment we shall celebrate Holy Communion. Presence beckons to us. Memory beckons to us. Thanksgiving Beckons to us. Again we are called and called out.

Do we hear, here?

Other echoes add acoustic bounce.

The sudden recognition of end of term calls too. Papers to edit, projects to complete, exams to prepare, irregular verbs to parse.

Concerns for safety of troops afar, refugees overlooked, a future to engage, with courage and humility. These greater issues call out as well.

The daily routines of hospitality and generosity, they too beckon. We have lunch downstairs today. Somebody is thinking about the oven temperature. Among our radio congregation a brunch or several thousand are in preparation. Somebody is thinking about the meal, as the service of worship, of word and table progresses.

Our Gospel is spoken, lisped, ‘gospeled’, amid other, many other echoes.

We have our monthly offering from our Inner Strength Gospel Choir. Their words and music encourage us.

We have our weekly gifts from the Chancel choir. Introit. Hymn. Kyrie. Gloria. Benediction.

Together, since Easter, we have heard loving voices of caring teachers. A young man from Chicago. A wise man from New Jersey. A word for the wise and foolish. A word of graceful rememberance.

We have also had our losses. Which remind us of other losses. The newer give again voice to the older losses.

Jesus meets us in a particular place and time, his voice like none other, so equable, so magnanimous, so serene, so true, so real. We cannot fully separate the voice of Shepherd from the many other sounds of the sheepfold.

While the table is open to all, it will not do to suppose that the table this morning has no place or time or context.

Hic et nunc. Here and now.

Listen…

He calls his own sheep by name

They know his voice

I am the door

If any one enters by me he will come in and go out and find pasture

If any one enters by me he will come in and go out and find pasture

If any one enters by me he will come in and go out and find pasture

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly

Listen….

There is an immediacy to his voice.

Its own echoes pierce through the many others, the many other sounds, the many other voices.

A month ago, I was not with you for communion. Our able team provided excellence in preaching and sacrament. For this we are deeply grateful. We had traveled to the mid-west for a wedding. We found ourselves in a community, located near the heart of Michigan State, an ecumenical congregation devoted for some 75 years now to ministry among teachers and students, People’s Church of Lansing. In the course of the regular wedding rituals and rhythms, we came to know a whole of host of new friends. At dinner, following rehearsal, we found people who had known one of my dearest teachers, Richard Baurle. One memory evoked another. In preparing the homily for the next day, the teacher’s own influence came again to mind. One memory of Scripture evoked another. In the delivery of the sermon, his name emerged, spoken and heard. One memory evoked another. In the congregation, so it happens, others had known him, for, as it happens, he was raised and educated in that region. One name memory evoked another. The community of the wedding dispersed, but the recognition of this fine teacher carried and was e-discussed, including a note from his son, and a request for further, other memories. One story evoked another…

Days later this message was sent.

Dear Jim (if I may),

Greetings to you and best wishes from Boston. I am glad you wrote.

Yes, I did mention your Dad in the course of the wedding homily. The homily was prepared earlier in the week, and I had not originally included Richard in it. But Friday night we had dinner with John and Marv, close friends of the Heinze family, who had known both Richard and Ruth. We spent some time reminiscing about your Dad particularly (I only knew your Mom to greet her, not having studied with her at all). It was one of those serendipitous moments when people from Grosse Pointe and people from Boston find out they have a lot in common.

When I was preparing the sermon for delivery on Saturday morning, I was thinking about Dr Baurle, and realized that some of the material mentioned in the sermon was literature I first had read under his fine guidance. It happened then that Mike Weiss and I spoke together about your Dad and about his friendship with you.

Your Dad was one of the three or four most influential teachers I had at OWU (others–L Easton, R Davies). In his classes I learned to read and write, at a certain level, under his careful teaching. I remember him telling us to write an essay from the middle out, a habit that has been a part of sermon preparation for me for three decades now. I remember his S…E…X teaching about the structure of a paragraph, guaranteed to stay in the 20 year old mind (statement…explanation…example). I remember his emphasis on introductions and conclusions. I won’t blame all my patterns and foibles in writing on Richard Baurle, but many, many of the things he taught us have stayed with me (including the few mentioned above).

It was not however the craft of writing which was his main gift to me, as important as that was. It was his human spirit, or his humanistic spirit, or his brooding, careful, loving, serious yet playful attention to the texts we read. Everything from Socrates to Fahrenheit 451. I do not know his personal history, so I do not know, really, what depths he drew from to convey both the pathos and the poignant power of the human spirit. You knew you were in the room with a real person, which drew me to take 3 or 4 courses with him in the course of earning a Humanities degree. It is strange, but I can see him right in front of me as if we were together yesterday, though I graduated in 1976.

Beloved, as you come to the table this morning, I invite you to a sharper memory, and a better life. As the rhythms of hospitality proceed—liturgy, music, cup and bread—I invite your active awareness of one, someone, who taught you who you are, one someone whose influence shaped you. For those invisible in our communion, listening across in time across space, I invite you to a sharper memory and better life. I invite your activated awareness of one, someone, who taught you who you are, one someone, who shaped you.

The enchantment of Easter comes in the Resurrection voice of Jesus who meets us today in word and table. In very humble elements, table elements, of bread and wine, he meets us.

If any one enters by me they will come in and go out and find pasture…

As the 23rd Psalm recalls…

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