“Lovers and Fools: But Who?”
Sacred Reading: Excerpt from “A Great Wagon” by Rumi
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
March 11, 2018
My 3 year old has now entered into the development stage of asking the question, “Why?” Children love to ask the question, “Why?”
- Why is the sky blue?
- Why are there no stars out tonight?
- Why can’t we see God?
- What can’t I have a chocolate donut for dinner? (Daniella’s personal favorite)
Why, why, why? Children’s minds seem to be shaped like a question mark. Children are naturally curious beings and it is an important part of their development. My understanding is that a child’s question is never exclusively about the sky, stars, or the chocolate donut. The question of a child is a million questions. Do you love me? Do I matter? Do you care about me? Is what I notice worth noticing? Parents have a primary responsibility when it comes to children’s questions – the very same responsibility the church has for the people of faith:
Treasure the questions. Perhaps, turn the question around on the child. Why do you think that I don’t want you to have a chocolate donut, ice cream, and gummy worms for dinner?
Likewise, when our questions in the faith community are kept alive, our souls have a chance of staying alive. I believe that the church is called to spend more time seeking questions than answers, mystery instead of solutions, wonder instead of explanations (Yaconelli, M. Dangerous Wonder, p. 41 – 42). My task as a minister is to shepherd people on a journey of exploration and adventure, awe and wonder, mystery and possibility rather than to give definitive, clear answers. Thank goodness because I don’t have the answers
The gospel cannot be reduced to a set of principles, Bible verses, moral absolutes and theorems – as though God were some kind of mathematical problem that needed to be solved. Say this prayer and abracadabra you received eternal life. Jesus was more concerned about people living fully than living right.
For billions of people, for Christianity to be Christian, only one thing matters: correct beliefs. Based on the priorities of many Christian leaders and institutions, we might conclude that Jesus said, ‘By their beliefs you shall know them,’ or ‘This is my command, that you believe the right doctrines,’ or ‘Behold, a new systematic theology I give unto you.’
Or Paul wrote, “Faith, hope, love, right beliefs abide, but the greatest of these is right beliefs.
In spite of the fact that no such statements can be found in the Scriptures, you can take this to the bank: when it comes to Christianity in many of its forms, (if you) have the right beliefs, you are in. Orthodox. Certified. Bona fide. Legit (McLaren, B., The Great Spiritual Migration, pg. 19 – 20).
Unfortunately, this problematic system of beliefs has led to a wide range of unintended consequences from colonialism to environmental destruction, from the subordination of women to the stigmatization LGBTQ persons, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia to white privilege. Excessive certitude draws lines between those who are in and those who are out.
Jesus was not as concerned about correct doctrine as he was concerned about people living fully. He let go of the need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness. He preferred asking questions rather than giving answers. Jesus was not the answer man, he was the question man.
Jesus asks a lot of questions in the gospels – 307 different questions. No, I did not count them myself, but someone did. Of the 183 questions that were asked of Jesus in the gospels, he only directly answers 3 questions. Jesus often responded to a question with silence, a story, or another question. The exact opposite approach of modern televangelism or traditional Christianity with its focus on the Nicene Creed, the Apostle’s Creed, or biblical inerrancy.
Christianity often stands for the opposite of what Jesus stood for. Through questions, Jesus greets the world with open arms. Through fixed answers, Christianity often stands guard with clenched fists. Through questions, Jesus empowers others. Through fixed answers, Christianity often hoards power determining who is in and who is out. Through questions, Jesus unleashes imagination. Through fixed answers, Christianity often refuses to think outside the box
Jesus was not the answer man, he was the question man. Sometimes his questions were rhetorical. They were meant to hang in the air:
“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?”
“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
Sometimes the questions are invitations to ponder and wonder:
“Why do you call me good?”
“What are you looking for?”
Or in today’s scripture passage, “But who do you say that I am?” I love that question. For while traditional Christianity tells me that there is one and only one right answer ‘les I burn in hell –“Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior” – Jesus leaves the question open for me to explore, discover, and grow. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. Well, it depends on the day, dear Jesus. Sometimes I see you as a prophet leading me toward justice and peace. Sometimes I see you as a mystic calling me, uniting me with all that is Divine. Sometimes I see you as a Good Shepherd caring for me tenderly. Sometimes I see you as a teacher showing the way of love and compassion. Sometimes I think I know exactly who you are Jesus and other days I am not so sure. Sometimes I see God in you; other times I am doubtful. Sometimes you make perfect sense; other times you are a riddle. Do you see where my questions lead – to deeper reflection and ultimately to a deeper relationship. No wonder, Jesus is a lover of questions!
Likewise, Rainer Marie Rilke has written “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…Don’t search for the answers…live the questions.” Similarly, Trappist monk Thomas Merton says, “In the spiritual life, we don’t go from question to answer, but question to question.” Or in the words of Mary Oliver as found in our insert entitled, “Some Questions You May Ask”. In regard to the soul, she says “One question leads to another. Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg? Like the eye of a hummingbird? Why should I have it and not the anteater who loves her children? Come to think of it, what about the maple trees? What about the blue iris? What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight? What about the grass?” One question indeed leads to another. In Rumi’s words today, “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
These poets are encouraging us to love the questions. Live the questions. Let them seep into you. When we love the questions, we discover that life is a mystery to be lived rather a problem to be solved. Conventional answers can stifle our spiritual growth. They can spell the end to something that is meant to be an ongoing exploration. No wonder Jesus loved questions!
I am grateful for this denomination. In the United Church of Christ, we say that we worship a “Stillspeaking God.” We quote Gracie Allen, “Never place a period where God placed only a comma.” The comma is a way to proclaim, “Our faith is 2000 years old, but our thinking is not.” No, we don’t check our brains at the door nor our hearts for that matter.
I was fortunate to grow up in this congregation. I had Carole Wesson and Charlie and Betty Wheeler as my Sunday School teachers. Richard Blakely was my pastor during some very formative years. I had a lot of questions growing up. Who wrote the Bible? Why do we go to church if God is everywhere? Who is Jesus really? Is Jesus God? Is Jesus the Son of God? Is Jesus a child of God who was just really in touch with his divinity? If God created the lion to lie down with the lamb, where are the dinosaurs in the Bible? Carole, Charlie, Betty, Richard never gave quick, pat, simple, fixed answers. But rather, they treasured my questions and replied with other questions. Question after question after glorious question leading me to a faith journey of exploration and adventure, awe and wonder, mystery and possibility.
Our Lenten theme is “Lovers and Fools”. May we risk being the fool by avoiding conventional answers and simply love the questions themselves. As Rumi reminds us, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. (The Divine) will meet us there.” So, what do you say? Shall we go out to the field and play?