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Actions may speak louder than words – The Revd Canon Maggie McLean

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I wonder what school was like for you. The best days of your life, or the days you couldn’t wait to leave behind? Maybe a mix of both. Certainly, for me, there were subjects I loved, and ones I couldn’t wait to give up. I’m sure my teachers probably couldn’t wait for me to give them up either.

In the Dickens novel Hard Times there’s a pretty grim depiction of education. On the first page we find a teacher in a classroom and Dickens describes the pupils like this: “little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.” Passive students, simply the recipients of facts – not participants in learning.

Thankfully our understanding of education has come a long way since the days of Dickens.

For me education is far more about lighting fires than filling pots. Teach a person how to learn and they can learn for life – an enquiring mind will never stop discovering new things.

All this comes to mind today because our Gospel passage begins with Jesus entering a Synagogue and teaching. One of the frequent titles given to Jesus in the gospels is ‘teacher’; ‘rabbi’.

Jesus is someone who teaches his disciples; teaches communities; teaches crowds.

For many of the people who heard him, his teaching was different from what they were used to: ‘they were astounded… for he taught them as one having authority’.

Perhaps it came because Jesus didn’t seem to be talking about theory but about practice.

Not about the academic debate of theology, but about the nuts and bolts of how to live.

How to live a good, faithful and loving life, even when things were tough and people had enemies. This short passage from the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel tells us something critically important about the way Jesus taught.

In the space of a few moments we move from words to deeds. Jesus teaches with authority – and his deeds mirror his words. It is when the people witness the healing of the man possessed that they are amazed: ‘A new teaching’ they exclaim, – ‘with authority’.

If the task of the Church is to teach Christ to the world then it’s often here that we come unstuck. Our words and deeds aren’t always aligned. We talk about one thing and do another – we try; we stumble; we fail. But we don’t give up. We know that faith is expressed in both teaching and doing and it might be that our doing is some of the most important teaching that we have to offer.

When we get to the end of this pandemic, and begin to reflect on our faith, the things that will mean the most to people will be what we have done. Not least through food banks, unseen acts of care, and the support offered to the bereaved. Deeds that spring from our words will be the lasting legacy.

In a faith which is all about ‘the Word made flesh’ our teaching can never be something theoretical; remote; abstract. It must be rooted in our living and come alive in our doing. It isn’t about filling pots with words, but about being lit with a faith which others may catch.

Only then will others see the Church offer a ‘new teaching – with authority’.

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