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Sermon at the MERK, May 12, 2018 (Lukas Amstutz)

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Author: Lukas Amstutz
Source: Merk 2018
Source language: German

Dear MERK visitors
Our conference motto "TransMission" contains an educational task. It's about learning and teaching. At first we can ask for the content of this "TransMission": What is it that we can not keep to ourselves? Equally important, however, is the question: how can we pass on what is important to us? The answer to this "how" question depends crucially on how we understand human learning processes.

In our society learning is often understood as a rational activity. Anyone who wants to pass on something, therefore, conveys knowledge. Others tend to pursue emotional or intuitive learning experiences. The learned should act from the inside to the outside. These learning models combine that they primarily understand learning as an individual event. Everyone learns for themselves.

That's true to a degree. Too little attention is paid to the fact that we live and learn in relationships. From earliest childhood, we unconsciously and consciously imitate people and their behaviors. We learn from others, through others and also for others. In this relationship learning field, our own will is often not as strong as we think. And our own experiences are often influenced by the respective environment. Relationships have shaped us - more than we think and feel.

Habits play an important role in our learning process as a relationship. Those who want to pass on or learn something have to develop and strengthen their habits. They help us to become what we want to be. Making music - practicing - turns musicians into musicians.

This power of habit was also known to Jesus. I try to illustrate this with three short episodes from the Gospel of Luke. The first scene belongs to the Christmas story. Jesus is just eight days old when we read: "... when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do with him according to the custom of the law ..." (Luke 2:27).
Like every Jewish boy, Jesus is circumcised. Everything is normal. The story of Jesus was anything but ordinary until then. Maria is getting pregnant - heaven knows how. The angels are doing an open air and unknown shepherds are worshiping a baby. Anyone who puts down such a birth is anything but ordinary. There are truly enough reasons to get over your habits. But Mary and Joseph act like a normal Jewish family. They ensure that the visit to the temple becomes a habit for Jesus from the very beginning. They knew the value of this community and its religious rituals. Jesus went to the temple again and again. This habit formed him. It made him what he was.

To the second scene. We read "... [Jesus] came to Nazareth [...] and, according to his custom, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day" (Luke 4:16). In the synagogue, people hear the old stories that God has written with his people.

Jesus sensed how important this community is that seeks to hear God's word. Who seeks ways to make life according to the will of God. I suspect that Jesus also got bored with one or another sermon. That he once thought: These stories, these songs, these prayers - I know all of them. Nevertheless, he kept going. And that habit shaped him.

To the third scene. Just before the Passion, we read: "... [Jesus] went out and went to the Mount of Olives as usual ..." (Lk 22:39). Again, no single case is described here. Jesus went to this place again and again to seek the conversation with God. We are little told how Jesus prayed. However, I believe that Jesus did not reinvent prayer. Jews at the time of Jesus knew formulated prayers that they learned by heart. And then, of course, the psalms were prayed there. When Jesus dies on the cross, he prays psalms. That was not spontaneous inspiration. These are words that Jesus practiced while praying the old texts again and again. I suspect that Jesus did not constantly make extraordinary prayer experiences. But that was why he did not give up his habit. He knew she was shaping him. That she makes him what he wants to be.

The Gospel of Luke tells us many extraordinary episodes from the life of Jesus. However, I believe that this extraordinaryness in Jesus is rooted in his lived habits.

He cultivated habits that led him in communion with the People of God. Habits that reminded him of who God is and what his heart beats for. Habits that have strengthened his trust in God. In short, habits that made him the person he was. It is probably no coincidence that the two Emmaus disciples recognize the Risen Lord as he breaks bread. The way he did it, that was Jesus.

The Greek word used by the evangelist Luke for "habit" is called "ethos". Our word "ethics" is derived from it. So there is a connection between the habits of Jesus and his way of life - his ethics. He was and did what he always got used to.

How can we pass on what is important to us? I am deeply convinced that habits play an important role in this. Because as a relationship we learn in and through habits. This also seems to confirm brain research. What we practice becomes part of our person. We become what we do. So we learn to believe by believing. We learn to be thankful by being grateful. We learn generosity by being generous. We learn mercy by being merciful. We learn to make peace by creating peace. We learn to love by loving.

Theological education takes place on different levels. We need places where we reflect on what we want to share. We also have to think carefully about what habits can help us.

And finally what we want to pass on, can always be exercised. The fellowship in our churches and families as well as the Holy Spirit wants to and can shape us into these habits. May it make us more and more the people we are from God.
AMEN

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