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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 11/10/2013

If Jesus walked through that door and you could ask him one question, what would it be?  I’ve heard people say they’d show him a cancer cell and ask, why?  Maybe you’d ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  As Lutherans maybe we’d want to know if Luther was right; is it all about grace?  What about Jews and Muslims and atheists and everyone else?  What’s going happen to them?  Or maybe you’d ask, “What were you talking about in the parable of the dishonest manager when you praised him for making friends by means of dishonest wealth?  Our pastor doesn’t seem to know so maybe you can clear it up.”

They’re all good questions and I’m sure you could come up with many more, if Jesus walked through that door.  While we might not get the opportunity to ask such questions, at least on this side of things, the Sadducees had their chance and you want to say to them, “Is that the best you could do?”  They came up with a convoluted scenario about seven brothers, the first one gets married but then dies so the next brother, according to the law of Moses, marries the widow, but he dies, so the next brother marries her, but he dies, all the way down to the seventh brother.  At some point you might have thought that one of the brothers would have said, “Law of Moses or no law of Moses, I’m not going near that woman!”  The Sadducees question then is, “In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” 

It’s silly!  It’s majoring in the minors; it’s religious trivial pursuit.  It’s the equivalent of “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” or “If God is all powerful can he make a rock so large that he himself can’t lift it?”  Jesus had been around for awhile; the Sadducees knew who he was.  They knew about his teachings and healings and other miracles.  They knew there was speculation about him; is he next Moses or Elijah, maybe even the Messiah.  They knew all that, yet this was the best question they could come up with. 

What they were really up to of course, is that they were trying to trick Jesus, trying to get him to say something they could catch him on, but he didn’t take the bait.  Instead, at least on the surface of things he took their question seriously and gave them an answer almost as confusing as their question, at which point they backed off saying, “Teacher you have spoken well!”

Basically, the Sadducees were wasting Jesus’ time.  There’s an old Jewish saying that says “You can rake the muck this way, you can rake it that way, but it’s still muck.  Meanwhile, you could be stringing pearls for heaven.”  In this encounter with Jesus, the Sadducees were given an opportunity, but instead of stringing pearls, they chose to rake muck.  How much time do we spend doing that?  How much time do we spend raking muck?  Or, more specifically as it relates to this story today, how much time do we spend asking the wrong questions or avoiding the reality of the questions that really matter?

Questions addressed to Jesus are an important part of the gospels and I’ve often said that Jesus almost never gave straight answers; he was much more likely to tell a story, a parable.  That’s true; it’s true about certain kinds of questions anyway; it was almost always true when they asked Jesus questions meant to trip him up and it was true when he knew it would be best for people to wrestle with issues and come to their own conclusions rather than just being told what to do. 

On other questions though, Jesus response was different.  When he was asked questions like, “Can you heal my son?  Can you heal my daughter? Can I receive mercy?”  When he was presented with questions like that he was more direct,  reaching out to them, touching them, relating to them, engaging them, walking with them.   Those weren’t times for stories, those were times for presence and so Jesus’ response was different.

His response is still different when those kinds of questions are posed.  We don’t usually get the instant kind of healing that happened in many of the Bible stories, but when we’re open to it, Jesus still offers his presence; he walks with us on the journey, a journey that sometimes takes us to places we’d rather not go; but Jesus is with us, sustaining us along the way and that knowledge is comfort to us. 

Still, we do have those other questions that we might ask if Jesus walked through that door.  Those questions too, invite us on a journey.  The Latin root of the word question means to seek.  It’s where the word quest comes from.  With our “if Jesus walked through that door” questions then, we have the opportunity to begin or continue a quest, a journey that takes us deeper.  But, there are questions that take you deeper and there are those that take you nowhere.  Some take you on a journey, some leave you stuck at the station.

The Sadducees didn’t want to leave the station.  In today’s lesson they were playing games with Jesus, asking him a question that didn’t have anything to do with anything.  They were content to rake muck when they could have been stringing pearls.  They were content to stay where they were, convinced that they already had the answers that really mattered.

In some ways, people like the Sadducees are still out there, asking the wrong questions.  Sometimes it’s well meaning people who really are looking for understanding but they mistake the Bible for a history book or a science book and ask it to answer questions that it’s not even trying to address.  The creation story in Genesis 1 is a classic example.  It says the world was created in six days when there is lots of scientific evidence that the process by which the world as we know it was brought into being took a lot longer than that. 

To get around that I often hear someone say, “Yes, but we don’t know what a day was; maybe it was a million years.”  Maybe, but still that’s not the point.  It’s still raking muck.  The question worth asking is what is the truth behind the story and the truth is that regardless of how long it took, God was and is involved.  The Genesis account is a beautiful and poetic and memorable way of getting that point across.  From there, there are other questions like what does it mean to be created in God’s image?  What does it mean to have dominion over the fish and the birds and every living thing that moves upon the earth?  What does it mean that God calls all this good?  Those are all questions that can help you to string pearls rather than rake muck.  They’re all questions that can take you on a journey, a quest that will take you deeper in your life with the Lord. 

It is true that when you read the Bible there are some pretty fantastic stories; we all acknowledge that.  Such stories cause some skeptics to say that no intelligent person could possibly believe this stuff.  Religion is just a crutch for the weak minded; I find that a little offensive.  The response to that, of course, is that some of us have enough intelligence and imagination to go deeper than a literal reading, to ask what the story means rather than to ask how or if it really happened.  People who get hung up and dismissive of religious faith because they can’t believe a literal interpretation of a particular Bible story stay stuck at the station.  Like the Sadducees they think they’ve got it all figured out.  There’s no journey, no quest for them because they don’t really want to leave where they are.

Real questions open up new possibilities.  That’s why Jesus asked questions rather than just giving pat answers.  Real questions begin a journey to new life and that’s the journey we want to be on even if, along the way, it sometimes takes us to places that we thought we didn’t want to go. 

Jesus probably isn’t going to walk through that door but we can still ask the questions and by asking good questions it does bring Jesus closer to us.  We can do better than just raking religious muck.  We can string pearls for heaven.   

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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