Sermon: What Is Your Question?

Scriptures: Luke 20: 27-38; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Preached: Nov. 10, 2019 at Nottingham Presbyterian Church by Rev. Merritt N. Schatz

 

     Accusations of “fake news”, and fake news itself, are not new phenomena. The Thessalonians receive a letter which appears to be from the apostle Paul. In this letter the writer either claims, or suggests, to the Thessalonians that Jesus Christ has already returned – perhaps has even come and gone. Why would someone do that?

          We don’t really know why. Could it be a non-Christian who wants to discourage those who believe? Could it be someone who really believed this to be the case? Of course, the Thessalonians may have misunderstood. The writer might have meant to encourage the Thessalonians because the day of Christ’s return was taking longer than expected. Maybe the writer wanted to suggest that it wouldn’t be long or that is was already here, to encourage them. All these are real possibilities!

     We do know that the congregation at Thessalonica, or at least some members in it, panicked. Could they have had missed the big event? Could God have deemed them unworthy of being among the faithful? Some may have thought, “What if this Christianity thing itself is a hoax? I risked so much. What if I was wrong?” Like the multitude of reasons someone might send such a letter, there are a multitude of reasons for the fears evoked by it.

      Paul, who knew quite well how it felt to have your basic beliefs shattered, calms their fears. “Don’t be easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from me.” Paul thanks God for the grace God has shown in calling these Christians to faith. In the process, Paul reaffirms that children of God have nothing to fear. Finally, Paul prays that Christ and God the Father will encourage the congregation with eternal encouragement as they live out their lives in every good deed and word. There is life beyond ‘fake news’!

   The Sadducees came to embarrass Jesus with another kind of ‘fake news’. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection because they could not find reference to it in the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. They did not consider the prophets or the Psalms to be holy Scripture. The law which they use as their example is found in the Torah. But, why did they feel they needed to challenge Jesus, and to do so in this way?

   Perhaps it was because they felt Jesus was leading people astray. Could it be that they thought Jesus was relying too much on the prophets in his teachings? Certainly, Jesus’ challenge to the laws found in the Torah – about food restrictions and working on the Sabbath – would have been offensive to them. So the Sadducees come to Jesus with a question which they think will show how ridiculous this notion of resurrection is: “Whose wife shall the woman be in heaven?” You can imagine the people nodding their heads at this conundrum. It was a puzzle. What would the Teacher say to this?

     How did Jesus respond? This question followed a long series of questions from the Pharisees and the scribes, each seeking to make Jesus stumble over laws and teachings. I fear I would have been tempted to snap back at the Sadducees, “Really? You who don’t believe in the resurrection are bringing me a question about the afterlife? Go away, you hypocrites, and come back when you have a real question to ask!” But Jesus is not me, thank God!

     Jesus addressed the question by looking at its foundation. Even if the Sadducees were not serious, Jesus knew others were. Jesus said, ‘You have a misunderstanding about the new life which comes with the resurrection. You assume people take up where they left off. It isn’t like that. In this age, we are bound to one another in marriage, in particular families. Our capacity for loving is limited. After the resurrection, we become like angels – able to live in God’s love, an immense love to be shared with all. As God’s children, the love which we can share is boundless!’

     Then Jesus poses a conundrum of his own. Because the Sadducees began their question to Jesus by citing Moses, Jesus quotes Moses back at them. ‘In the account of the burning bush, Moses calls the Lord the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Now, these men were long gone when Moses encountered God. Yet ‘God is God of the living not of the dead, for to God all are alive.’

   Jesus stumped the Sadducees, to the point that they – and some others – were afraid to ask him any more questions. This is not necessarily what Jesus intended. He did want insincere questions to stop. Yet Jesus welcomes questions that are sincere, that seek information and direction, wisdom and clarity.

     So what do we do, in this information age when so much that we hear or read or observe seems to be ‘fake news’ or at the very least questionable? Accusations abound – from all perspectives. Denials are a daily occurrence – again for many points of view. What can we believe when words can be taken out of context, when even pictures, recordings or videos can be faked? What can we believe when Christians differ on political or even theological matters? These Christian differences, by the way, are also not a new phenomenon. Just read the book of Acts or any of Paul’s letters!

   So what are we to do? We start by questioning any source of information in this way: Why would someone/some group say such a thing, ask such a question, or deny an activity? What have they to gain? The answers may range from ‘because it is true and important’ to ‘they are trying to stir up trouble or get some advantage’ or a variety of explanations between. Until we assess the motivation behind a statement, question, or accusation, we cannot know what weight to give to it. The motivation might not prove information is true or false, but it helps us in our assessment of the content. Like the Thessalonians, we may never know who wrote the letter, but we need to question. Too often, we allow our own assumptions and prejudices to color what we accept as true.

   Why do we believe or disbelieve information? Are we afraid what might happen if it is true – or false? Does the information reinforce what I already believe so I am inclined to agree or disagree, even if I am wrong? What would it do to my beliefs if what I am hearing, reading, seeing, is true? Could it be true?

     Because all human analyses is subject to human fallibility, ultimately we need to ask, ‘What is God’s take on this?’ We can’t assume that what we think is necessarily God’s response. Think how often Jesus surprised, even stunned, the religious authorities, the people, even his own disciples! We enter into prayer with God, listen to God, read the Scriptures. We consider the whole of the Scriptures, not just a sentence or two here and there. We respond following Jesus’ example. Jesus responds – not always with offended vehemence, though sometimes with harsh words. In this confrontation, Jesus responded by addressing the root difference, not just the example offered. We need to be willing to hear what another says – and to be open to the possibility that someone else might be hearing God better than we are. Most importantly, we need to open ourselves to God’s Holy Spirit, and to its leading, even if that leading takes us into unfamiliar, even difficult, places.

     The Thessalonians reacted out of fear. Paul reminded them, and us, of the love of God which allows us to respond rather than react. God’s grace enables us to trust in God’s promise that we do not need to be driven by fear. The Sadducees acted out of excessive self-confidence. Jesus undermined that confidence by addressing them with their own beliefs and challenging them to entertain new thoughts and ideas.

     Christ calls us to question all our assumptions and biases, in the light of the new life which is given to us in the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. This is the lens through which we assess all information – political, theological, cultural or any other sort.

     As Paul states, the evilness of this world is quite happy to cause dissension and division, and this evil comes in many different forms and faces. However, this division and dissension will not ultimately prevail. When we honestly seek the truth, and rest in God’s direction toward truth through the unconventional life, love and grace of Jesus Christ, we need not fear. ‘May our Lord Jesus Christ, even Christ’s own very Self, and God our Father, who loved us and by divine grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good deed and word.’ May we never withhold good deeds and words because we are afraid. Amen.

      

© 2019 Nottingham Presbyterian Church
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