I have much respect for teachers – those highly educated, grossly underpaid, dedicated life-servants who happily and carefully prepare us for making our ways in the world as grown-ups.
I idolized my teachers from the very beginning, especially the musical ones. One of my Presbyterian kindergarten teachers was a pianist, as was my Methodist Sunday school teacher the same year.
My first-grade teacher was a Baptist church choir director and a pianist and an organist. She had a Magnus Chord Organ sitting beside her classroom desk, which she used to play during our nap time after lunch.
I never once remember napping, as I was listening to every note she played on that little organ. Are we surprised? One might say that I have come by my life’s calling naturally, yes?
As a child and youth, I wanted to be a fulltime teacher who “did” church music on the side. As an older youth, when I began to meet fulltime career church musicians, much of whose time is spent teaching and inspiring the laity to sing correct notes anyway, my career path was set for life. A beloved grad school professor said to me, “Most of what you will do in the church will be considered teaching."
I should probably say that, for me, teaching is a calling and not an ego-trip. Four universities and three degrees and thousands of bursar’s office dollars later, I often wonder if I know anything at all. I am merely a vessel, passing along the benefits that I have gleaned, with the hope that what I have been taught might help, encourage, or inspire someone else.
Jesus was a teacher. In fact, people called him “Rabbi,” which translates best to “teacher.” Teaching is, therefore, a noble profession in my book.
In our weekly lectionary readings, I always pay attention when Jesus is teaching in the temple. I believe I will learn something important and valuable for success in life. I also pay attention whenever the disciples address Jesus as “teacher” because I know he is about to tell them exactly what they (and I) need to know.
This Sunday’s lessons are full of teaching. The Psalm begins with, “Hear my teachings, O my people; incline you ears to the words of my mouth.” Many rich lessons to be learned are found in the Epistle reading from Philippians, one of my favorite passages in the entire Holy Bible: “Let this same mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
And in the Gospel reading, Matthew tells another story of Jesus teaching in the temple, during which the chief priests and elders questioned his authority, as they often did. Jesus instructs them by using a parable, which made them think. (Don’t you hate it when a teacher answers a question with a question?)
This Sunday’s 10:30 service music is centered around teaching. The Parish Choir will begin the liturgy with an arrangement of the beloved, brief hymn, “Day by day,” which is sung at the end of each St. Mary’s Episcopal School weekday chapel service, as has been done for decades.
The entrance hymn is one of the most contemporary texts in our hymnal, not beloved by all, but its theology is absolutely irrefutable: “Earth and all stars, loud rushing planets, trumpet and pipes, engines and steel and loud pounding hammers, classrooms and labs and loud boiling test-tubes, athlete and band and loud-cheering people, knowledge and wisdom and loud-sounding wisdom, daughter and son and loud-praying members…sing to the Lord a new song!”
The Offertory anthem, “Teach me, O Lord,” is a precious Anglican verse anthem from the English cathedral tradition. Thomas Attwood (1765-1838) was a choirboy in the Chapel Royal. The Prince of Wales (later King George IV) noticed his talent and paid for Thomas to study harpsichord abroad in Naples, Italy. After two years, young Thomas moved to Vienna where he became one of Mozart’s favorite pupils.
At age 31, Attwood was appointed organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. He taught as a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, composed music for the coronations of George IV and William IV, and was working on music for Queen Victoria’s coronation when he died. He is buried in a crypt beneath the organ of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Come to church this Sunday with your ears and minds open. We all may learn something.