Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pentecost 7: Loving the Questions (RCL Proper 15B 12 July 2015)

RCL Proper 15 B
12 July 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

‘Loving the Questions’

         On Tuesday the spacecraft ‘New Horizons’ will end its multi-year journey and fly within tens of thousands of kilometres from Pluto.  As it flies past the planet, it will take hundreds if not thousand of photographs and conduct scientific tests.  During the course of its visit, ‘New Horizons’ will answer many of the questions that scientists of had about this most distant member of our solar system and, no doubt, will provide the waiting audience with many more questions.
         Our species is named Homo sapiens sapiens, the hominid that thinks.  But I think that it would be more appropriate to call us Homo quaerens, the hominid that wonders, that seeks after truth.  My suggestion is not entirely original; almost a thousand years ago the Christian theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, wrote about  fides quaerens intellectum’ or ‘faith seeking understanding’.  His point was that human beings believe that there is truth, there is meaning, in the universe and our lives are devoted to seeking understanding of that truth, of that meaning.
        We are a curious species.  We will travel great distances and brave many dangers simply to know something our universe, to ferret out the secret that lies behind a natural phenomenon or to understand how life came into being.  Any person who has ever spent a length of time with a child will know that asking questions is a fundamental part of growing up --- even when it is annoying to an adult to be asked ‘why’ time after time after time!
         Unfortunately, many of our contemporaries believe that asking questions is not an essential quality of religious faith.  The growth of fundamentalist movements in all the great religions whether Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism or Hinduism has put in doubt the openness of religious believers to doubt and to inquiry.  To many observers outside religious faith we have lost the spirit that led Anselm to write about ‘faith seeking understanding’.  Alan Jones, the former Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, is fond of quoting one of his teachers who said that ‘the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty’.  Faithful people are not afraid to ask questions and to dig ever deeper into the truth we believe lies at the heart of the universe.  Our less faithful sisters and brothers, those who seek certainty, have lost sight of the adventure that is believing in the living God, a God who refuses to reveal the divine name to Moses, who refuses to reveal to Jesus the time of the coming of the kingdom and who refuses to reveal to us why ‘bad things happen to good people’.
         The writer of what we know as the Letter to the Ephesians was not afraid to ask questions and to ponder what God was doing in his own time and place.  The writer describes what God is doing as a ‘mysterion’, a word which we translate as ‘mystery’.  Unfortunately, we do not grasp the full meaning that the word had for its original Greek-speaking audience. 
Originally a Greek military term . . . ‘mysteries’ were plans drawn up by the royal family and kept secret even from the generals before battle.  In Greco-Roman religious practice, ‘mysteries’ were secret information shared with initiates to lead them to immortality.  In the Qumran scrolls, the word is used in connection with God’s wise providence, the mystery of salvation previously hidden in God but revealed to the Teacher.  (The New Interpreter’s Study Bible 2003, 2093)
A ‘mystery’ is not a secret to be discovered by deductive or inductive reasoning; it is something that is revealed, often only partially or over a period of time, by the one who knows the secret and who chooses to reveal it.
         What the writer of Ephesians reveals to us is that it has been God’s plan from the beginning of the universe to unite all people into one great family.  He writes that “(in) former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit:  that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Galatians 3.5-6)  In a world where everything depended upon one’s family of origin, where much depended upon one’s gender and where a great deal depended upon one’s ethnic background, the writer dares to say that these distinctions are no longer important in God’s vision for the future of the human race.  All that counts is the good news of God in Jesus, the good news that all God’s children shall be free and the whole world see the glory of God’s reign of justice and peace.
         Lest anyone think that this mystery is only for the past, we need only look to our own country where many social privileges are still attached to gender and ethnicity.  We need only look beyond our borders where black Christians are killed because they are black and where people who profess to believe in Mohammed’s message of ‘submission to God’ freely persecute and kill those who do not share their peculiar misinterpretation of the teachings of their prophet.
         I dare to say that the mystery revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is only revealed to those who dare to question the unexamined assumptions of their own times and places.  When we dare to question what others call ‘just the way things are’ do we discover the possibility of a different way, often a counter-intuitive way.  Churches such as ours are not immune from the temptation to accept what is and to be unwilling to question some of our oldest working assumptions.  But in order to work for the unity described in Ephesians, to discover that those who are different from ourselves are still ‘flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone’, daring to ask questions is the only way forward.
         When I was Coordinator of Diaconal Formation in this Diocese, I often taught a seminar on the theology expressed in our creeds.  One of the books that I frequently used was entitled Loving the Questions by Marianne Micks.  She described the creeds not as fixed stars in the universe but as examples of our ancestors in the faith asking questions:  Who is Jesus?  What is his relationship with God?  What or who is the Holy Spirit?  Why does creation exist?  The list of questions goes on and on.  But in asking the questions we are drawn more deeply into the mystery that is God, ‘the onion that only gets bigger the more we peel it away’ to use a phrase from C. S. Lewis.

         So tell everyone you know that you belong to a community that loves questions.  Let them know that this is a place where faith does not mean checking one’s mind at the door.  It is true that we believe that when you meet Jesus of Nazareth you meet God.  This is where we begin.  But there is a vast unexplored country that lies before us.  And we love the questions that each step into that country stirs up.

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