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.


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