Monday, July 26, 2010

It’s Okay to Ask Questions

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
James the Elder, Apostle
July 25, 2010
Luke 11:1-13

The Ten Commandments teach us to confess our sin. The Creed teaches us to confess our faith. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us holy living. I have here a copy of a book that is familiar to us Lutherans: Luther’s Small Catechism. Our new confirmands may remember what I told them about this little book—we call it Luther’s Small Catechism simply to distinguish it from the many catechisms that are in various Christian Church bodies. The Catechism that we’re familiar with was around long before Luther came on the scene. It consisted of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. A Catechism teaches the way of the Christian life. It does this by asking questions and then giving the answers. As Lutherans we are familiar with the question asked over and over again in the Catechism: What does this mean?

The disciples have a question of their own of Jesus. It’s a request: Lord, teach us to pray. We can think of their request as a question: Lord, how do we pray? We have confessed our sins. We have confessed our faith. Now how do we pray? How do we live out the life we have received in Your forgiveness, the faith into which you have brought us?

Jesus responds with the words we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer. He responds by teaching them and us to pray. He teaches us holy living. The life of the Christian is a life of prayer. In the Psalms the psalmist says he meditates on God’s Word day and night. In 1 Thessalonians Paul exhorts us to pray constantly.

Did the psalmist have an exaggerated sense of his holiness? How could he meditate on the Word of God day and night? Was Paul engaging in hyperbole when he suggests that we can pray constantly? How can we pray without ceasing? How are these things possible? God Himself in His Word teaches us that it is impossible of ourselves. He teaches us as well that nothing is impossible with Him. We sin even in our confessing of our sin. We are lacking in faith even as we confess the faith. That’s why our Lord teaches us with the Ten Commandments and the Creed. That’s why our Lord teaches us to pray and in holy living in the Lord’s Prayer. Our Lord teaches us to pray and teaches us holy living through a lifetime of praying the Lord’s Prayer.

Throughout your lifetime, as you pray, as you learn the holy living God has called you to I guarantee you you will have questions. That’s okay. Remember the Catechism? It’s a book made up of questions. It’s okay to ask questions. God has the answers. Just observe any child for a relatively short period of time and you will see a person full of questions. This is good. This is how they learn. We all can probably remember a time or two when we were growing up and embarrassed ourselves because we asked a stupid question. Well, for some of us it happens even when we’re adults.

Just two weeks ago our synod met in Convention, which is a major event in the life of our church body. It occurs every three years and makes decisions that affect who we are as a body of Christians and how we’ll go forward into the future. I was glad to be a part of it and was excited for the opportunity to possibly go up to one of the microphones to make comments regarding some of the important matters we were discussing and deciding. I’m here to tell you that I did make it up to one of the microphones. And I’m also here to tell you that in the presence of two thousand people I asked a question that left me making a fool of myself.

We were being taught how to use the electronic keypads to vote on elections of people to various positions. On the pretend ballot there were ten names and we were to vote for multiple names. The person next to me asked how we were to punch in number ten, if we should press 0 or 1 and 0, and I said I hadn’t heard how to do that so I would go up to the microphone and ask. I stated that there were some of us who wanted to know how we should punch in a two digit number. The response was simple: for ten you press 1 and 0. That brought laughter to the crowd and I was left walking back to my seat wishing I had never asked the question.

Even though I was embarrassed I did receive some vindication. The man sitting right next to the microphone said to me right after I asked the question, “I was wondering the same thing.” I have to think that out of 1200 delegates there were at least a few more who wondered the same thing. So I might have been the fall guy, but I think it was okay for me to ask the question.

I wonder how the disciple who asked Jesus how to pray felt? Was he embarrassed? Were the other apostles getting a good laugh at his expense? But I for one am forever grateful for that disciple who went up to Jesus and threw caution to the wind and asked the question: Lord, teach us how to pray. It may have been embarrassing, but his admittance that we don’t know how to pray brought forth some of the greatest words ever delivered from the mouth of Jesus. It’s okay to ask questions.

Imagine Abraham in the Old Testament reading. The holy God has made His decision. The evil before Him in Sodom had gone on too long, He would wipe out the city. Abraham in fear and trembling approached God: Lord, what about those who believe in You? Will You destroy them as well? Who was Abraham to question the holy and almighty God? He himself was a sinner. But God welcomed Abraham’s questions. Even though Abraham was bold to keep bartering God down God responded in patience and compassion. It was okay that Abraham was asking his questions.

In the Epistle reading Paul responds to those who would make those who are asking questions to grow in the faith feel small. We’ve all known those Christians who think they know it all. They will expound on theological matters as if they’ve memorized every word of the Bible and as if they themselves are such a theologian that no one should question them. And that since you are asking questions that seem so simple you obviously are not a very strong Christian. Paul says that no one should belittle you in that way. If you’ve got questions about God and the Bible and living as a Christian, ask away! Don’t be afraid. It’s okay to ask questions. Yes, you may embarrass yourself, you may feel funny, people may even laugh at you or look down upon you, but I guarantee you that there are others who will be grateful you asked because they will have wanted to know the same thing. Jesus never laughed at anyone who asked questions. He answered them. He didn’t look down on them or make them feel small. He responded in patience and compassion.

That said, the kind of questions we’re talking about are questions of seeking God in faith. God does not put up with self-seeking questions. James and his brother John on one occasion asked of Jesus a preposterous request. We would like to sit at your right and left hand in Your Kingdom. Jesus rightfully showed them that they were not seeking the things of God but of themselves.

But Jesus is glad to hear our questions of seeking His will. We’re all growing in the faith, and how will we grow if we don’t ask what we don’t know? Jesus even goes farther than that. He wants us to be bold:

And [Jesus] said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and My children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”

If you had to do this you’d be embarrassed. You would kick yourself that you actually rang the doorbell. Your friends would laugh at you that you had the gall to bug your neighbor for such a reason in the middle of the night. But when it comes to God, ask. Be as bold as if you were to wake up your neighbor for something as little as food. God wants you to ask Him when there is something troubling you. It’s okay.

Sometimes Jesus is accused of being up in the clouds. He certainly isn’t here: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” It’s okay to ask questions. When you are struggling with a passage of Scripture, ask. When you’re facing an interview for a new job and you’re nervous, feeling not up to the task, ask. Pray to God for guidance and wisdom. When you’re at odds with your child, or your parent, or your spouse, ask God to help you see where you yourself are at fault so that you can talk with your loved one in humility and to seek reconciliation.

We grow up asking questions. Why should we stop once we become adults? Jesus says: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” It’s a pretty simple thing that if our child asks for what they need that we’ll give it to them. We love them and want to take care of them. And this despite our being sinful people. How much more will God hear our payers, listen to our questions, give us what we need? How much more will the one who is not evil, has no sin in Him, who is indeed holy and almighty and merciful and patient and compassionate give us the Holy Spirit when we ask?

It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to admit that you do not live as God has called you to live. It’s a joy to know that your Lord has given you what you need. He gives you what to pray for. In His Holy Prayer He lays out for you the holy life to which He has called you. When you go home and pray the Lord’s Prayer, don’t just pray it through. Spend some time meditating on it. Break out your Catechism and ask the question, What does this mean? after each petition. Take comfort in your God and Lord who is ready and willing to listen to your questions and even rejoices when you ask Him. He is your Heavenly Father who loves you and cares for you. How much more will He love you when He has given you all things in His Son who gave up His own life for you?

When He gives you His Son He gives you His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you with groans that words cannot express. The Holy Spirit loves to take your questions and deliver them up to your Heavenly Father. Ask and ye shall receive. Amen.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Re-Think Freedom

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 4, 2010
Luke 10:1-20

We’re here today in a church. There are many Christians around the world who just like us gather in a church on Sunday. But we’re in this specific church, located in San Diego. Our city is in the United States of America. Just as it’s our city, it’s our country, our nation. On this day in our nation we celebrate independence. We like to call it freedom. And it is. We have freedom to believe what we want. We have freedom to come here on a Sunday morning without fear of being thrown in prison or brought to the firing squad. The fact that we are here on a Sunday morning, in church, in San Diego, in America, tells us a lot.

Across time zones, cultures, nations, Christians gather in churches for worship. Some gather underground because they live in a nation that doesn’t value freedom as we do in our nation. Some of you may have come from other countries. Some of you may end up living in other countries. Some of you may never travel outside of our own country. But no matter where you end up, gathering in a church on Sunday morning is a custom that crosses all barriers: time zones, cultures, nations. In our country we have a particular affinity for freedom. But we are here in God’s House because we are Christians and the freedom we enjoy in this country doesn’t get to the heart of who we are here in God’s House. The Christian Church has existed long before the United States of America. God’s Holy Church exists in free countries and the most oppressive ones. The freedom we enjoy in this country is something we can truly rejoice in. It’s most definitely a gift from God.

But what’s even better, is that God gives us the opportunity to re-think freedom. The freedom God shows us is even greater than what we Americans normally think of as freedom; that we are free to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The reason this is so is because of a thing that was around long before the Declaration of Independence. It is the Word of God. The Declaration of Independence is a great document of history, certainly one of the most cherished of our nation. And it no doubt stands the test of time and is timeless in its truth. But the Word of God truly addresses all people of all time of all cultures and nations. The Word of God was proclaiming freedom long before the founding Fathers of the United States began writing the Declaration of Independence. The Bible was written in times far different from our own, in times far removed from our own, to people of different cultures than ours today. Yet the freedom that rings out from the pages of Holy Scripture is not freedom that is bound to political regimes or certain societal structures. The freedom God proclaims in His Word is freedom that is intact no matter what country, culture, or time you find yourself in.

So even though we are Americans and we are grateful for the opportunity to live in a free country, we see from God’s Word that as Christians no matter what country we live in we have true freedom. Look at how Jesus teaches us this in the Gospel reading. It’s an isolated event but tells us so much about who we are as Christians in the world. Jesus sends out seventy-two men to make known the Gospel. Now, how would you like to be sent out in the way He sent them out, as lambs in the midst of wolves? I’m not crazy about the prospect. Maybe they weren’t either.

But we should be. We should be because in His way of sending out there is true freedom. Jesus sets the t0ne here, doesn’t He, for the kind of freedom He brings about. It is freedom in Him. It is freedom from sin and our sinful flesh. That’s why His sending out of His servants must be as lambs in the midst of wolves. If we are not sent out into a hostile environment then where is our freedom? We will seek it within ourselves. Or equally as bad, from the world itself. We will be left in our sins and separation from God. Being sent out into a hostile world is how we see that our freedom is in Christ. Freedom from oppressive governments or things like that is a blessing but is fleeting. Freedom in Christ is eternal.

Jesus drives this point home with His injunction to “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” How will these men be sent on their task? With everything they need in Christ. He will provide for them. That is what their freedom is in. Freedom of knowing they don’t need to rely on themselves or on others or the things of the world in order to carry out the mission Jesus has placed before them. Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t make use of the things of the world. He Himself did and that should be enough for us to know that we are free to eat and have shelter and enjoy the wonderful creation God has given us. But in sending them on their way with nothing they see off the bat that their lives are entrusted to Him and in that there is freedom from being enslaved to their desires and what they perceive as lacking in their lives.

The freedom Christ gives is freedom that we have no matter the reception we get when we make known the Gospel to others. There will be those who are receptive to it. Others will respond in hostility. Jesus gives the words to say to each: blessing upon those who hear the Good News gladly and judgment upon those who reject the Gospel. But to each the message is made clear that “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Just think about what freedom Jesus is offering us here. We do not have to be bound to our feeble attempts at bringing the Gospel to others. We rely only on Christ and the message He gives us. We rejoice when people hear it gladly and speak the solemn message of judgment to those who reject the Gospel. But in either case we entrust it all to God. He is the one who converts people. We are free to bring the Gospel to others without the bondage of wondering if they will be converted. We leave it God.

You are here today hearing the same Good News that was proclaimed on that day. You are receiving the same message of salvation that has been made known over the past two thousand years. As you hear it, you are hearing Christ. He is the one speaking because He speaks through His servants. As you have heard, you also go out and make it known. Not everyone will hear it gladly but you can rejoice that at the very least you have planted a seed. God can do far more with the planted seed of the Gospel than we can with all our abilities and ideas. There is freedom in simply being in the Word, absorbing the Word, growing in the Word, and making known the Word to the world. There is freedom in that because it doesn’t all fall on you. It falls squarely on Christ.

And that’s really where He has been going with this whole thing from the outset. He’s the one who was going. He sent some to prepare the way before Him. But they were simply servants. They were making known the Gospel. He is the Gospel. He is the one who was making His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He was the one on whom the sin of the world, the guilt of every person, the eternal punishment of all fell. He took it all upon Himself in His suffering and death.

And in that is freedom. True freedom because it is freedom that rings for all eternity. Freedom you can rejoice in whether you live in North Korea or the U. S. because you know that your name is written in heaven. Amen.