Sunday Night Live Sermons
THE PROMISE OF A GOOD TEACHER
22nd September 2002
Last January I was flying across the Pacific toward the USA where I was to lecture once more at Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee. It was early morning and most passengers were sleeping. I was dozing and staring idly at the movie screen. The movie was set in 1957 in a very poor coalmining town in West Virginia. The film was called "October Sky."
I sat up. That was where my friend Dr Robert F Hull Jr. grew up. Bob Hull is Dean of Emmanuel. His home town was a mining town in the south of the State in the dirt poor Appalachians, near the borders of Kentucky,
Virginia and Tennessee. He told me the coal mines were closing, unemployment was high, poverty was wide-spread, and the little town of 4000 people was grimly holding together. The coalmine traditions held them
together. I admire Bob. He escaped the poverty trap, got a good education, earned degrees at Milligan College and Emmanuel School of Religion, with his Ph D. from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Bob has taught here at Macquarie University, and many other distinguished universities in the USA and
overseas. Then I heard this film was set in Welch, West Virginia - the hometown of Bob Hull. The film said it was a true story about a boy in the local High School. This was Bob's school and the era was at a time when I knew he was a student. I was riveted to the screen! The story was about a schoolboy who was encouraged to use his ability in a community limited by poverty, and to
succeed at winning a coveted national science prize. With every other boy in Coalwood, West Virginia in 1957, Homer Hickam is heading for a life as a miner.
But on the night of October 5th 1957, the world's first manmade satellite, Sputnik, crossed overhead. Homer's life is changed forever. Not only does Homer never
intend to become a miner, now he is set on a career in space engineering, a field of work that does not even exist yet! Determined to build and launch a rocket of his own, Homer enlists the help of his three friends. They scrounge materials, study math, and are encouraged by their physics and chemistry teacher, Miss Riley. She gives them books on rocket science and encourages Homer and his three friends to fight the odds and build their rockets. The high school principal sees the job of the school is to train miners' sons for the coalmine. But this young science teacher (played by Laura Dern) tells Homer she feels her life will have failed if some kids do not get out and realize their dreams.
Homer is a good student, but math and science are his weak points. He knows he needs help, and approaches the class brain named Quentin. They talk about rocket fuel, nozzles, and velocity. Two other boys get involved. Their first rocket blows a hole in the picket fence in front of Homer's house. The second one narrowly misses some miners at the coalmine. Homer's dad John (Chris Cooper), the mine supervisor, forbids further
experimentation and confiscates all of the "rocket stuff" from the basement. But the kids labour on in the woods, building a shelter to protect themselves from exploding rockets. They talk a machinist at the mine into building them a rocket casing of stronger steel. They use alcohol from a mountain moonshiner as an ingredient in the rocket fuel. The tension in the movie is not between the boys and their rocket, but between the boys and those who think miners' sons belong down in the mines.
Homer's father is a good man; he fights for the jobs of his men, he rescues several in a near-disaster, he just wants Homer to follow in his footsteps down the mine not to dream of up in the sky. Soon, the whole town
becomes captivated by the boy's plan to win the national science prize with one of their rockets. If they can win this million-to-one shot, they could all get scholarships to college and tickets out of Welch (Coalwood) forever.
Homer Hickam, Jr.'s autobiography Rocket Boys,
recounts his struggles to escape the small mining town which would allow him to reach for the stars. He is
today a space scientist at NASA, training the Shuttle astronauts. Homer wrote in his autobiography: "Until I
began to build and launch rockets, I didn't know my home town was at war with itself over its children, and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives." I got to thinking. In that same era, here were students in
different fields who came from a background of depression, unemployment, limited opportunities and community poverty, yet were encouraged to reach the top of their fields. Why? Because they were encouraged by good teachers like Miss Riley. Every subject is interesting if you have a good teacher. Spiritually we need a good teacher. We require someone to help us develop our faith and our understanding of the world in which we live our faith. We want someone to come to us and say, "This is the way of the Lord, walk in it." Many could say, "Well, there was a man like that in my life." Or "I knew a lady like that." Or "my old Sunday School teacher…" We can recall someone whose words or life inspired us. We remember them with gratitude.
There were times when the disciples were unsure of themselves and needed a good teacher. On the night before Jesus was to die, Judas Thaddaeus, said to Him, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" Maybe Thaddaeus was thinking: "We know because you have shown us in so many ways who you are and why you are here, but the world hasn't seen these things. We believe, but how can we know for sure that what you tell us is the truth, and how can we convince others?" Jesus responded that the only way the disciples could be sure of their way and their task was to use the One whom Jesus was giving them. "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." John 14:25-26
Jesus said only those spiritually joined with Him would receive divine knowledge. If you scoff at God's Word then God's truth is not for you. God does not cast His pearls before swine! But God's own know! Thaddaeus asked, "Lord, how can we know for sure?" The
response was the promise of a good Teacher, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my
teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." 14:23-27 That was His promise of a good Teacher.
How can we receive that Teacher in our own lives?
1. LOVE CHRIST.
That is the first step. You must love Christ. "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching." 14:23. The way to know the Spirit of God is to love Jesus Christ. To those who love Him, He will give His Spirit. Everything in Scripture starts with love. God's creation, provision,
redemption, all start with God's love. The life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, were all the explanation and exposition of His love. The early church learned the lesson well and no matter how much it
suffered, at the end of the New Testament, the church was still preaching love. This is how John put it: "we must love one another… We know that we have left death and come over into life; we know it because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love is still under the power of death…this is how we know what love is: Christ gave His life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers." 1 John 3:11, 13, 14, 16 Start loving Jesus Christ and love others, and you will discover the presence of the Good Teacher.
2. OBEY HIS TEACHING.
Our love for Christ carries with it obligations. The first is obedience to His teaching. That is why Jesus said, "If you love Me you will obey my commandments". 14:15 It is not optional. Some who want to love Him but not obey Him. Others want to do the works of Jesus, but not to love Him. They are busy with good deeds but they do not have words of faith. Some have words of faith, but do not follow them with deeds of kindness. The
Christian has both words and deeds. We are incomplete if we have deedless words or wordless deeds. We need
always the deed and the Word.
John wrote, "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." 1 John 3:10 John went on: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:17,18 Here the two requirements are brought together again: love your brother and do what is right.
3. INVITE HIM INTO YOUR LIFE.
You cannot believe one thing, do the opposite, and still be Christian. Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." 14:23 On the other hand: "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching." Such a person will not have the Teacher with him. There are three steps: Love Him, obey His
teaching, invite Him in. Incredible though it may seem, our heart become His home. It does not matter how rough your heart is: He went into the homes of Peter, of Simon the Pharisee, and of Zacchaeus. They were all different, all with many faults. But wherever the heart was open He went into them. "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Revelation 3:20 Have you done that? Have you opened that door and invited Him in? To do it, you must love Him, obey Him, and then invite Him in, and then….? "All this I have
spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." v 25,26 Invite Him into your heart now!
4. LEARN THROUGH THE GOOD TEACHER.
The Holy Spirit is God's enabling power Who will come into our hearts and lives to teach us everything. Love leads to obedience; obedience leads to experience;
experience leads to certainty. That certainty comes from learning through the indwelling Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit…." God's enabling power within us to help us to learn Christian perfection and sanctification, "…….whom the Father will send….." the Holy Spirit is God's gift to believers who love, obey and invite Christ into their lives, "……will teach you all things……" the Holy Spirit is the Good Teacher who helps us to
understand God's will and word, "…and will remind you of everything I have said to you" that Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ's word and the truth about God.
It was through the Holy Spirit that the disciples
remembered the teaching of Jesus when they wrote it down. That is why we call the Bible the Holy Scriptures and the inspired Word of God. The Holy Spirit enabled the
followers of Jesus to remember all that was told them. You may have the experience of knowing Jesus Christ and His word for certain, through the Good Teacher, by
loving Jesus Christ, obeying His teaching, inviting Him into your heart, and then growing through the indwelling of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Good Teacher who
inspires us, encourages us, and enables us to know everything about Jesus Christ.
"October Sky" Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, William Lee Scott, Laura Dern.
Director: Joe Johnston. February 1999