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Most Intriguing Question

The Most Intriguing Question

Proverbs 2:1-5

July 12, 2015

Epworth United Methodist Church

Linda Loessberg-Zahl

We are born curious. We just look around and questions come up. We have questions about how things work, how people work. Eventually we get to questions about meaning, how it all began, questions about God, questions for God. We read children’s questions in Children’s Letters to God (real letters written by children to God).[i] Some questions are fun:

Norma writes, “Dear God, Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it just an accident?”

Some questions are serious:

Little Nan asks, “Who draws the lines around the countries?”

(Something still being debated!)

Arnold: “God, It’s OK that you made different religions but don’t you get mixed up some-times?”

Dennis: “My grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy.

How far back do you go?”

What serious (or whimsical) questions come up in the wonderings of your mind? That’s what we’re considering today. Here’s the backstory: It’s a tradition at Epworth for pastors to auction off the choice of a sermon theme at our fun Harvest of Gifts fundraiser in the fall. Last fall David Ourisman, our resident preaching professor kindly bought the right to pick a theme for one of my sermons. (I don’t think there was a lot of competition!) His request was that I preach about the most intriguing question. Notice he didn’t say the most intriguing answer! I was intrigued!

I’ve been asking questions for a long time. Once I was telling someone that I started asking questions around the time I became a teenager. My mother overheard me, interrupted and said, “No, you’ve been asking since you were old enough to talk!” I used to have trouble sleeping because of my questions. I remember waking my parents up to ask them, “Is God real?”

We all have questions and a natural curiosity. Curiosity and critical thinking are cultivated in school, but not always in church. It seems strange to exclude inquisitive thinking when we ponder life’s ultimate significance and purpose. I grew up Roman Catholic. When I was young, it wasn’t unusual for me to ask a tough question and have someone shut me down by telling me, “Oh, it’s a mystery” -- end of conversation.

Other Christian traditions don’t always invite questioning either. Doubt is most often seen as the opposite of faith. Doubt and questioning are not the opposite of faith, apathy is. Not caring enough to think about important questions or to consider the significance of one’s actions is a sign of little faith. A person who passionately searches for what is true is engaged in life and its meaning. Thoughtful questioning breaks through the false images of God and false images of ourselves we may have held in the past.

When has questioning something led you to deeper understanding? How has asking questions broadened your vision? To be a person of faith requires critical thinking and a willingness to examine actions, to critique systems and beliefs that may not be life-giving.

The Proverbs passage today says if we search for insight with the same enthusiasm as hunting for treasure we’ll deepen our understanding and experience the awe of God. So, deep questions are part of our journey to and with God.

German American theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich saw questioning as essential: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” 1 Thess. 5:21 tells us “Put everything to the test, then hold on to what is good.” Our United Methodist tradition encourages questioning by lifting up reason as a guideline of faith. We Methodists are not always so encouraging in practice.

Questions are not new to the Jewish tradition. A man asked his rabbi why rabbis always answer a question with another question. The rabbi answered, “So, what’s wrong with a question?” One question can lead to another. That’s not a bad thing.

I’m probably preaching to the choir. You’re probably already thinking, “So, what’s wrong with a question?” I know, because you’ve asked several. Last week I asked you to tell me your most intriguing questions.

There were intriguing questions about God:

What happens when your understanding of God changes?

Why do we say “In God’s name?” What’s in a name like that?

Does God have wrinkles? Where? (Asked by someone older)

Is all of this (the universe, us, etc.) just for God’s amusement?

Why does God allow children to suffer?

Those are intriguing, but they weren’t my most intriguing question.

There were questions about our connection with God:

Is God’s direction really specific or is it general – to be Christ in every moment. If I feel I’m getting specific direction am I fooling myself?

How does God hear all of us and know the numbers of hairs on our heads? How does God keep track of all of us?

How do we know when God’s spirit descends on us?

Does prayer really work? How?

Those are intriguing, but they weren’t my most intriguing question.

There were questions about us and the world:

How do I keep peace in my heart strong when peace on earth is so elusive?

Why didn’t the Pharaoh let the Jewish people go after the first plague?

How can we deal with the hypocrisy of people who proclaim they are Christians but cause hurt and pain in others?

Will I ever be able to speak to my father again?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Are these the end times?

Those are intriguing, but they weren’t my most intriguing question.

There were questions about Christianity:

To be a Christian, must I believe things that are unbelievable – the whole package of mystical religion? I do not look down on believers of religious mysteries, but I cannot join them.

Without trying to deny, redefine, or move on briskly, as “white” people are responsible for working on privilege/racism, how should “Christians” continually work on the ineradicable dark sides of being Christian?

Is the Book of Revelation valid, worth trying to interpret, understand?

Of all of the religions in the world (Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, etc.) why practice Christianity?

What is the theological argument that celebrates non-procreative sexuality in all its diversity?

Those are intriguing, but they weren’t my most intriguing question.

They did make me want to preach 20 consecutive sermons today. Don’t worry, you’ll get to the lunch before everything is cold, though, you may hear some of those questions in a future sermon!

As I read your most intriguing questions I remember a moment when I was 13 years old. It was a moment of clarity, when I realized that no one will ever be able to tell me “the answer” or decide for me what is true. It felt like I was standing in silhouette at the peak of a high mountain, alone. As Jerry Asheim reminded me, that’s what Albert Schweitzer was talking about in The Quest of the Historical Jesus when he said that those who dare to answer Christ’s call to follow… “as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”[ii]

We have to explore the wonderings and questions of our own heart, mind and experience. Biblical scholar Marcus Borg followed his questions and discovered much more than he expected. He was raised with a simple Sunday School faith that started to fade as he reached adolescence and young adulthood. His skepticism was dispassionate until he took a college course on “Christian Doctrine” and was exposed to the diversity of Christian thought. He says, “I realized that Christianity did not have any settled answers to the big questions in life….I realized that there were no definitely settled ways of seeing life…” This lit a fire of curiosity in him. He began exploring scripture and discovered the passionate God of the prophets he had never noticed before. He discovered… “God’s desire, God’s dream, God’s yearning, for the transformation of this world to a world of greater economic justice.”[iii]

Even deeper learning came from profound moments of connection in his own life, rare mystical experiences that he didn’t summon or control. They led him to love the mystery of God. Through study, reflection and his experience, Borg learned that to love God is to love like God, to participate in God’s passion for “a different kind of world” where everyone has enough to live and there is no war. He says it may be utopian, but for Christians “it is the only world worth dreaming about – and striving for.”

Notice that both Schweitzer’s and Borg’s questions and curiosity eventually led them to look at their own experience, those moments in their lives that are beyond words. When have you been at a loss for words? When have you been in awe? When has something taken your breath away? When have you had a brush with mystery, or an experience of love that is beyond words? When have you, maybe, glimpsed the Divine?

Follow the questions in your mind, but don’t forget to look at the leadings written across your own experience. While no one can give us that deeper understanding, we really aren’t alone. We join each other and people through the ages who have asked important questions. As we ask together, as we share moments of awe and joy, strife and struggle in this life, we discover our own responses to the questions, we find our way to God and to what God loves. Would you finally like to hear my most intriguing question? Oh, before that, even Charlie Brown got into the fun. Katie Johnson gave me a comic strip. Charlie Brown and Lucy are hanging out on the wall. Charlie Brown says, “You know what I wonder? Sometimes I wonder if God is pleased with me. Do you ever wonder if God is please with you?” Without hesitation, Lucy says, “He just HAS to be please with me!”

Back to the most intriguing question for me. My most intriguing question is, “What would our lives, what would our world be like, if we lived out what we do believe?” Boldly pursue the questions that clear away falsehoods boldly, discover how to love who God loves, and live out the love and hope you do believe…and God just HAS to be pleased with you! Amen.

[i] Compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall

[ii] The Quest of the Historical Jesus A Critical Study of its Progress From Reimarus to Wrede By Albert Schweitzer

[iii] From Convictions How I Learned What Matters Most, By Marcus Borg

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