St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-03-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-03-2017

No Stupid Questions; But Answers, OMG

Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 26:1-8, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

For over a half a year now I’ve been working with three of our young people in preparation for their Confirmation of faith. In our first meeting, before we even started any study, I encouraged them to feel free to ask questions; I wanted to reassure them that questioning is not only an important part of learning if they don’t understand or fully grasp what we’re studying, but that it is also  acceptable to “question” what they are learning to believe. In fact, one of several things I added to the curriculum that we’re following is that every time we meet they are required to come with a question about anything to do with Christian faith beyond what we are studying that particular day. As I gave them this assignment I reminded them that the only “stupid” question is the one not asked.

We have had 17 classes so far and I am so pleased that they have all been faithful in coming to class prepared with these questions and I am often amazed at the depths of thought they reach in doing so.

Just to give you a few examples: “How can people call themselves Christians when they don’t love everybody”? “How many Christian denominations are there”?  And “Why don’t some Christians believe in science”? These are just three that pop into my head of the 51 received to date.

Sometimes, I was able to give them definitive answers on the spot, like how some people won’t believe in science because they think it contradicts the literal reading of an inerrant Bible. (This accompanied with an explanation of the difference between “truth” and “fact”). Sometimes I had to ask for time to do some research, like finding out how many denominations there are. (Which, by-the-way, is impossible to determine considering all the independent Churches in the world). And sometimes I was not able to give them an answer at all, like I don’t know, I don’t understand how some people can call themselves Christians when they don’t know how to love everyone. The best I can do in these cases is be honest in saying “I don’t know” and encourage discussion that keeps their minds and their hearts open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I freely admit to them, and today I freely admit to you, that I don’t have all the answers: not about the Bible, not about God and Christ, and not about life.

I hope this confession doesn’t upset you because I make it boldly! I admit that there are others, perhaps many others, that have greater understanding than I on some topics, but I also declare that full understanding in matters of God and Christ is absolutely unattainable in the earthly realm. As Paul writes…

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end… For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face; Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corin. 13:9,10,12 NRSV)

Yet, there are those who claim to have full understanding and are eager to prove it to the world. For any question, for any argument, for any topic of earthly or heavenly conversation; they are quick to make their claim and back it up with verses from the Bible; usually pulled out of context and so often with little or no understanding of ancient writing genre. Often, very often, their answers and explanations are so far from the truth they profess that I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

Again, an example: Recently, I was participating in a discussion about the pros and cons of women breastfeeding their children in public places. (Just for background, the discussion developed out of a case where a woman was arrested for “indecent exposure” for nursing her infant in the boarding area in a Texas airport).

One participant in the conversation strongly objected to the practice on religious grounds citing verses from Leviticus 18 that repeats the phrase “You shall not uncover the nakedness of…” 11 times in 11 consecutive verses (7-17). It was obvious to him that, based on these verses, we should not see the bare breasts of any of those mentioned in the text: mothers, brothers, sons, daughters etc.

This “knowledgeable Christian” was so far off, obviously clueless to the well understood fact that the phrase “uncover the nakedness of” has nothing to do with exposed breasts but is a euphemism for ‘having sex with’.

Do I laugh, or do I cry? The commentator’s lack of basic Biblical interpretation is laughable; the fact that even less understanding people will take his word as truth calls for tears.

And then there’s the encounter I had over the last verse in today’s Gospel reading where we read  Christ’s own words, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

As far as we can understand it, Jesus is referring to his second coming. But, also, as far as weunderstand that hasn’t happened yet. So how do we explain this?

We could think that Jesus was wrong. (I’m not endorsing that). Or we could think that Matthew got it wrong. (A little easier to swallow than Jesus being wrong but I’m not endorsing this either). Or, maybe we could just admit that we might have it wrong; that what we expect isn’t what Jesus was trying to tell us. Or, as my know-it-all friend explains; Jesus can’t be wrong, the Bible can’t be wrong, he reads the Bible so he can’t be wrong, and the second coming hasn’t happened yet; so the only answer is “there are 2000 year old men secretly living in the world today”; men who heard Jesus speak these words. [head slap].

Do I laugh or do I cry? His deductions are laughable; but he has taught others to believe this, and that calls for tears.

Now, if you’re eagerly awaiting my explanation of that line in today’s text; guess what; I-don’t-have-one. And I say that just as boldly as when I said “I don’t have all the answers”!


Some of my fellow pastors and other believers have, in a derogatory tone, translated UCC (for United Church of Christ) to mean “utterly confused Christian”. For me, that criticism rolls off my back like water off a duck. For if “utterly confused” means that I am aware of my human limitations of understanding all the mysteries of God and Christ, then, yes, I am “utterly confused”! And if it means I rely on keeping my heart and mind open to the movement of the Holy Spirit to guide me toward yet unknown awareness, then, yes, I am “utterly confused”! And if it means I am still wrestling with questions that others have satisfied themselves with answers for, then, yes, I am “utterly confused”!

Yes, I question. And I will remind you, there are no stupid questions (other than the ones not asked). But O My God there are stupid answers. That is why I am quicker to say “I don’t know” and appear confused than to claim I do have all the answers and lead others into fatal complacency.

Where some are comfortable in their faith and beliefs; easily sitting back in thinking they already have it all figured out; I question my faith and my beliefs everyday! This is not an indication of weakness of faith! It is a requirement of building greater faith; an inspiration to dig deeper, run farther, reach higher; ever seeking more understanding while knowing, knowing, that I will never grasp it all until the day I see my Lord face-to-face! And, oh what a glorious day that will be!



Matthew 16:21-28
16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
16:22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
16:26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.
16:28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”



Exodus 3:1-15
3:1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
3:2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.
3:3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”
3:4 When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
3:5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
3:6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
3:7 Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings,
3:8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
3:9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.
3:10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
3:12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
3:13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
3:14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”
3:15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.


Psalm 26:1-8
26:1 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
26:2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.
26:3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
26:4 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
26:5 I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.
26:6 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,
26:7 singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
26:8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

Romans 12:9-21
12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
12:10 Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
12:11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
12:16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
12:18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
12:20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.