Carolyn’s Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost – 9/23/12

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today, we are faced with some questions – because the disciples were afraid to ask.

The disciples hear Jesus say that he will be betrayed and killed and rise on the third day. They didn’t understand, and they were afraid to ask him any questions.

In Mark’s gospel, the disciples don’t seem to get any smarter, no matter how much Jesus teaches them.  They just don’t seem to “get it.”

Here is the first question we get to ask. What if the disciples had not been afraid to ask Jesus about his teaching about his death and resurrection?

In today’s gospel, Jesus takes the disciples away by themselves.  He wants some time alone with them so he can do some teaching. He needs to get away from the crowds.  He needs some quiet time for instruction.

Jesus starts explaining what is going to happen to him.  He tells them that he will be betrayed.  He tells them that he will suffer and die. He tells them that he will rise from the dead on the third day.

None of this makes any sense to them.  But they don’t ask him to explain it.  They are afraid to ask any questions.

Have you ever been in a class where you just didn’t get what the teacher was saying?

I was the shy girl in school.  I usually knew what was going on. But I never wanted to embarrass myself by appearing stupid.  I would sit quietly and hope someone braver would ask a question if I didn’t understand something the teacher said.

Or, I would wait until I got home and try to look up the answer on my own.  It was all about my pride and insecurity.  I was afraid of speaking up and looking dumb.

It did not occur to me that I could do a favor for everyone else by asking a question.  I just assumed I must not have been paying attention or I would understand.  I just cared about my reputation.

What I missed was the same thing the disciples missed.  Questions are our friends.  We get to ask questions.  We especially get to ask Jesus questions.

We might want to think the disciples should have understood what Jesus was teaching them about his betrayal, death, and resurrection.  After all, it was the second time he had explained it.

Maybe one of the reasons the disciples did not ask Jesus anything was that their burning question was not, “How can I better understand and live the life Jesus calls me to live?”  Their question was, “How can I be the greatest?”

Perhaps if the disciples had asked Jesus some questions, they would have understood things better.  They would have gotten the point of the second part of the lesson – that greatness does not lie in power.  Greatness lies in compassion for those who are least able to help themselves.

But, I would like to give the disciples a break here.  This is a familiar story for us.  We live in the time after the resurrection.  We have heard the story all our lives.

Nobody in Jesus’ time expected a suffering, dying Messiah.  They were looking for a king like David who would rescue them from their oppressors.

Nobody expected the resurrection.  The whole idea is too radical.  Even though Jesus had told his followers to expect him back, it just didn’t make sense.

Remember when the disciples first heard the news that Jesus is risen?  Nobody said, “we knew it” or “it’s about time” or “just like he promised.”  Everyone was shocked.  Everyone doubted. Why? Because the resurrection is earth-shattering, life-changing news.

We are not all that different from the disciples.  Sometimes, we think questions aren’t OK.  We don’t want to look dumb.  We believe we ought to know the answer.

We equate intelligence with knowing lots of stuff.  And smart people do know lots of stuff.  But intelligence is not just knowing a bunch of facts.  Intelligence is being eager to learn more.

The edges of what we know are the places where we have the best chance of gaining understanding.  The places we are confused are the best places to learn. This is why questions are our friends.  Questions are the sign of a curious mind.

There may be another reason why we don’t want to ask questions.  We may have been led to believe that asking questions is a sign of doubt. And we believe that doubt is the opposite of faith.

Maybe we think “good Christians” don’t have any questions.  Maybe we think “good Christians” just take everything on faith.

But trusting God means that we trust God is big enough to hear us when we ask questions.  Questions are more a sign of curiosity than doubt.  And doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Doubt is part of faith.

If we do not doubt, then we must have knowledge.  But faith is not knowledge.  Faith is the “belief in things not seen,” so doubt is an essential ingredient of faith.

Asking questions is critical to a life of faith.  Asking questions is opening the conversation with God.

God wants to be in conversation with us. God speaks to us in many and various ways.  However, God doesn’t speak in a Charlton Heston voice from the sky, answering us in an intimidating way. God speaks in a still, small voice.

God can speak to us as we read the scriptures – especially as we study our Bible together in Sunday School, in our women’s circles, in our breakfast Bible studies, in confirmation class.

God speaks to us when we have animated discussions about issues we may not agree on. Sometimes we hear God speak to us when we listen to someone else’s story. Talking with each other about matters of faith is one way we learn and grow in faith.

The disciples were afraid to ask Jesus their question about who was the greatest.  But he overheard them and answered it anyway. He placed a little child in front of them and told them the child was the greatest.  He told them that whenever they welcomed someone the world ignores, they welcome him.

God speaks to us when we welcome everyone in the name of Jesus.  Because it is in the face of people the world ignores, that we see Jesus.

What are your questions?  What do you want to ask Jesus?

Are you like the disciples? Do you want to ask how you can be the greatest? Do you want to ask why the Messiah had to be betrayed, suffer and die?

Do you want to ask why the Creator of the universe chose to come as a little human child and live among us?

Do you want to ask why God lets bad things happen?

Do you want to ask what God calls you to do with your life?

Do you want to ask what happens when we die?

These are just a few examples of questions you may have.  Your questions may be more personal.

But our God invites your conversation.  Jesus wants your questions.  Jesus wants to teach you, to help you understand.

The creator of the universe is the same God who came to us as a baby boy.

The same God who was betrayed, suffered, and died for us.  The same God who conquered death for us.

The same God who ascended to heaven and will bring us there someday.

The same God who loves you and invites your questions. Amen.


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