You have heard me say more than once that in the course of the gospels, Jesus asks 365 questions but only answers seven of them. Maybe rather than ‘Jesus is the answer’ we might say ‘Jesus is the question,’ if you get my drift. So much is at stake in asking the right question. To get good or deep answers you must ask good or deep questions.
I was thinking of this with regard to our 13 young people confirmed last Sunday. Their faith statements reflected their probing questions, shedding their childhood faith to take on a budding grown-up faith. I was thinking of this with regard to this Sunday, when I will preach a second installment in the sermon series “Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love.” I want to ask what’s behind and underneath our fear. My sense is we won’t get anything like good answers for immigrants or refugees until we can ask questions such as these.
Church is where we ask the hard questions. Even when no clear or satisfying answers sound in reply, it is still worth asking them. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, asked, “Is evil a recompense for good?” (Jeremiah 18.20) Or to put his query more colloquially, “Is that what I get for doing the right thing?” Elsewhere, Jeremiah asks the flip side of that question, “Why do the evil prosper?” Church is where we ask the hard questions.
Questions like these are not low-key or routine inquiries. They are not asked in a neutral tone, as if to say, “Is the food any good there?” or “What station has the cheapest gas?” They are charged. They carry a full freight of feeling: anger, hurt, sadness, confusion, despair, rejection, more anger. Did I mention anger? It is why I want church not merely to be where we put on our “Sunday best”, but where we tell the whole truth of our lives. Otherwise, these deep and confusing truths of our lives might not find voice elsewhere.
To do the right thing and be rejected — or even be attacked — is one of the most disorienting experiences any person can have. Life isn’t supposed to be this way! And yet, it is. It is this way. The lives of the prophets, the story of Jesus in Holy Week, the lives of countless advocates of justice and righteousness throughout history confirm it.
If we don’t have easy or straightforward answers to Jeremiah’s tough questions, we can at least be grateful that we find them in the sacred Scriptures of our faith. In the Bible we hear people telling it like it is. Thank God. This means that when we are in the midst of such an experience, hearing stories of this happening across time, we are less alone. It means we worship a God who can handle questions born of hurt, anger and rejection.
Slowly, it dawns on us there are no easy or obvious correlations between righteousness and reward, between evil and punishment. We live this side of the Promised Land, which is to say, here and now, things aren’t always clear and don’t always make sense.
But as our faith bids us to ask such profound questions, we still hold fast in the belief that ultimately there is moral meaning in the universe. If nothing else, Easter and the resurrection of Jesus means this much. And if we can adorn and garnish that truth to live with the confidence of moral meaning in a world that daily challenges such trust — that is faith and it is a beautiful thing to behold. That is what we are going after, friends.