St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Epiphany, October 8, 2023
“If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”
THE back of our bulletin assures folks that questions are welcome here. We have answers to settle your mind and satisfy questions that arise when wrestling with thoughts of Jesus. Don’t check your brains at the door. We contend for the mind, and desire that your mind to be converted along with your heart. There are very valid questions one should ask about Jesus. There are questions of the mind, and there are questions of the heart. God is not insulted by our questions. He is only put off if we don’t want His answers.
Even as a young lad, Jesus asked tough questions and had answers that baffled the old men in the Temple. A twelve-year-old, He sat and discussed deep questions with them for three days before His fearful and guilt-sick parents found Him. His mother questioned Him harshly then, “Son, why have You done this to us? See, Your father and I have sought You anxiously. And He said to them, Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?” Luke 2:48-49 He would often answer a question with a question, mostly because the questions were wrong, the premise of them based on mistaken ideas.
There is a question that keeps back many of us from fully accepting or following Christ. The question is different for each of us, but the question is there. It may be intellectual, or emotional, but if unasked, it goes unanswered. Ask, Jesus said, that ye might receive. This goes for questions as much as anything. Many questions are really arguments we have with God. “Why did you let me down? Why is there suffering for innocent people? How could you make a world with so many wicked folk in it? How can you create us this way and then command us not to follow our feelings?” When our question comes with the assumption that God can’t answer it, that it really puzzles Him and He has to just shrug and apologize to us—then the question stops us mid-step and we retreat from Him, offended that God can’t meet our accusation. Asked and answered in our own hearts, before God ever got a chance to get a word in.
I had such a question in my teen years. I had a lot of Jewish friends. I felt Christianity’s exclusive claim to salvation must be wrong—putting Jews and other good people out of heaven, into hell’s flames, by an accident of their birth into families of other religions. So, if the Church is wrong about one thing, it could be wrong about many things. Therefore, I reckoned, I don’t have to follow this thing. See how easily a question can turn to distrust and disaffection and finally disobedience and sin? Did I ask anyone my question? No. I let it fester for twelve years, and all the while got myself really good and lost.
Today’s questions might be about Islam and the world-sized conflict within a religion. Or about abortion, transgenderism, world government, climate politics, war and death, corporate greed, homelessness, and new diseases. These questions cause such angst in our souls that we recoil, perhaps to believe that the doomsday of our world is the only answer God offers. But we’re all still here. Now what? What indeed?
King Solomon once sat on an ivory throne, judging questions with God-given wisdom renowned throughout the world. Sheba’s queen came, doubting the stories, but she left telling Solomon his subjects must really be happy, having such a king. Solomon didn’t remain wise, however, and he failed to keep Israel pure in following Jahweh. Human wisdom fails. Our pat answers may just be wrong. Vanity and chasing the wind…
People heard of Jesus, His wisdom, His miracles, and they had two reactions. Many flocked to Him for an experience with God. They didn’t have theological training and proof for their zeal; only desire and faith that led them on. For them, Christ’s wisdom poured out, and they saw Him heal, so their faith was renewed and rewarded. Their questions were answered and they learned about the Kingdom of heaven. He told them the queen of Sheba “came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.” Luke 11:31
Others grew angry about Jesus and felt certain He was a charlatan, leading people away from the truth. They came, bringing their sharpest lawyers with the most impossible questions they could throw at Him, knowing they’d expose Him as a fraud. They put their questions to Him, and He was ready. Sometimes He wouldn’t answer, or would pose a question back to them. “Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.” Mark 8:12 “I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.” Mark 11:30 He didn’t have time to banter words with the faithless. It would do no good to get lost in their labyrinth of trick questions and tests. These were word and logic traps for God, and they were certain that even God couldn’t answer them. Today atheists and agnostics often strike this pose, sure there is nothing in this Jesus thing and smug in their refusal to become fools like the rest of us. If only they would ask their question. He would have an answer. But the question has to admit of an answer.
Questions without answers are not questions at all. Have you stopped beating your wife? is the classic word-trap that has no answer if you’ve never hit her. “If you’re almighty like they claim, God, why did you allow Hitler to kill all those Jews? If you’re really God, why do children starve in Africa? If you’re loving, why do you send anyone to hell?” These are questions that signify aching hearts. But when they go unanswered, the false premise of such questions can’t get disassembled and corrected. God did not make an evil world, nor did He make Hitler powerful and wicked. God doesn’t make children starve, but the worst thing for a child is sometimes worse than death.
Step back one more pace: God created freedom. He made us able to obey, and thus we are free to disobey. A world that is not free to get dark, turn evil, oppress its own, kill and destroy life—hard as it is to think about—is a world of mere robots, simpletons, droids, mental patients and zombies following what they must do, unable to do anything but what is commanded, unable to ask questions.
The very fact we have questions proves a world where freedom is a principle, and freedom lets people make their own choices. The choices are not all the same, and haven’t got the same consequences. Choices can be bad or good, bringing contentment or disappointment, joy or addiction, pleasure or pain, and maybe both. The answer we don’t hear enough is love. The answer to the really tough questions, our most convoluted challenges to God’s authority and goodness, may simply be love. The most frequently quoted verse in the Bible is “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Love does cover a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 Not God’s sins—God doesn’t sin. Our own sins may have made us question His goodness, His reasonability, His love: but love overcomes our questions with a kind of understanding that bridges the gaps in our logic. We look at Auschwitz and can’t comprehend. Here are millions of Jews going through torture, dehumanization, and death—and then hell? We shouldn’t make that assumption, not against God. He didn’t make the Nazi party. They weren’t following Him at all, despite a veneer of Christianity that Germany still faintly held. And who is to say what miracles of sacrifice, redemption, heroism and faith occurred at those poor folks’ last moments alive? And what kind of judgment did they really receive at heaven’s door? Are you sure they were excluded because they’d worn a yellow star on their discarded clothing? God may have ushered millions of Jews from Europe into their Messiah’s heaven in 1944 and not violated His own will nor the New Covenant they were born to receive. What can’t His great love accomplish?
Theologians and clerics can be badly at fault mishandling questions that break the hearts of people who have wandered from their Savior. We may build our granite castles of wisdom and ready answers only to have them crush the victims of human cruelty as they fall, stone by stone, in ruins when the blocks don’t fit. A woman beaten by her husband is given three verses from Ephesians and sent back to her abuser with orders to obey. A youth struggling with same-sex attraction is sent to hell with the Sodomites. A girl runs to Planned Parenthood to shed the blood of her baby, lest she come under harsh judgment from her family and church. If we fail to have loving answers that lead to healing and life, we don’t understand our faith or our God. The rules still apply, and truth is truth, but people are involved and their souls are more important to God than our looking certain in our theology. Sometimes we need to simply say, “I don’t know. That’s hard. I understand why you’re struggling. Can we pray about this and see what God might tell us?”
Questions abound, and answers must come from heaven.
Many are straight forward and have biblical answers, easy to find.
Others are complex, and may not really be asking the heart-aching problem that stops a soul from getting to its Healer.
But we must always stand ready to give answers people need to questions which have become roadblocks to the Savior of their lives, the path barricaded to their eternity.
As St. Peter admonishes us, we have to be “ready at any time when you are questioned about the hope which is in you, to give an answer in the fear of the Lord and without pride.” 1 Peter 3:15
And if you don’t know, just ask.