Let Me Ask Ya This...

It is good to be home in Pirate Country! Georgia is now home but East Carolina is always on my mind. I'd like to play a little game today, something interactive to get our minds going a little. It is a fill in the blank game. I'll say a phrase and you finish it...

At an East Carolina home game you hear: First Down...(and you say:) Pirates!
A Teacher: There is no such thing as a stupid (question)
A Police Officer: Please hand me your license, insurance and (registration)

All three of those phrases were part of my time here in Greenville. But of the three, only one is part of my journey. It is so much easier to major on the minors but it is in the questions, that we come face to face with God. Granted the same might be said to be true: if you don’t want to come face to face with God, don’t ask questions.

There is unfortunately different stigmas around questions. We are afraid to ask for fear we might look stupid. Also, people take questions to mean you don’t like them. One of my best friends asks great questions but because he does, some people take it the wrong way. But as a military officer he learned to ask REALLY good questions.

But questions also cause us two fears. One of the things we fear is not knowing. The other, less obvious, is finding the answer. In the earliest centuries of the church, the formation of monastic communities in the deserts were places where men and women could go to face questions. On one occasion, a group of men went to see Abba Anthony. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a Bible text and beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each had his opinion but to each, Abba Anthony said, “You have not understood it.” Last of all he came to last, to Abba Joseph and he asked him, “And what is your explanation.” Abba Joseph replied, “I do not know.” Then Abba Anthony said, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way. for he does not know ("The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," pg 4).” These early Christians learned there was nothing to fear in “not knowing.”

What maybe the greater fear is finding the answer or for that matter, admitting we knew it all along.

The pattern of the desert fathers and mothers grew out of the Rabbinic traditions of the Jewish people. For us, the questioning of Jesus in the temple is exactly the type of pattern which kept the earliest Christians questioning, attentive and passionate about the way of God Jesus had revealed.

Look at this exchange between Jesus and the priests in Matthew 21:23-32


Whoever reported to Matthew the argument only reveals the tip of the iceberg. The priests’ response to Jesus’ first question seems to be the same as Abba Joseph: “I don’t know.” But it is a heart issue. The seeker of God does not fear not knowing. The seeker of glory fears being found out. And it is true of us: We know but we don’t want to know that we know.

But stories reveal the deeper things of our souls. Stories reveal who we are as people. When we hear a story, it brings down our guard. Try this one:
Allan Boesak, was involved in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
That simple phrase told you a story if you know anything about the hideous effects of apartheid. It prepares us for what comes next for Allen wrote, “We will go before God to be judged, and God will ask, "Where are your wounds? Was there nothing worth dying for?'"

Like those folks in the temple, we’re hearing a story, one we casually consider and think it does not apply to us. And then suddenly, Jesus drops the hammer on us... “Who did the will of the father after all?” Or maybe it is Allen’s words, “Was there nothing worth dying for?”

In the height of the middle ages, Mechthild of Magdeberg noted, “...that too often Christians - especially those who are intellectually bright - obstruct the Lord’s intimacy (Glenn E. Myers, Seeking Spiritual Intimacy, pg 143).” How? We avoid the questioning nature of the Spirit of God. We cover over ourselves with “busyness” or “ministry” Examine the Old Testament starting with what maybe the oldest of its writings, Job. Seek after God, question him by all means, but be prepared chapter 38 verse 2 and 3 tell us:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”

In other words, to go after God is (in the words of my friend Jeff Coleman) to put on your big boy underpants and your big girl panties. It is to recognize that any God we can understand or even prove, is not likely to be a God any of us would find worthy to worship. This, I have to imagine, is what must have been so disconcerting for these priests, I more pity them than get angry with them for here appears a man, flesh and blood, claiming divinity!

So let us at least give credit to these priests, they are not yet condemned. Just because some are going ahead does not mean those at the back can’t get in too!
This isn’t an intellectual journey
This isn’t a physical journey
This isn’t a belief journey
I’m not even sure it is a faith journey

No, this is a soul journey and the way to the soul Jesus tell us, is in the story - it is in the questions - it is in the moments that God arrives and we stand our ground and do not shy away.

So let me ask ya? What about those two brothers? Who are you? You may not like the answer but like Sister Hazel once said (maybe even paraphrasing this verse):
If you want to be somebody else,
If you're tired of fighting battles with yourself
If you want to be somebody else
Change your mind...

My invitation to you is this: become part of God’s story.

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