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Q & A

Reverend Philip Stringer

Job 38:1-11

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Mark 4:35-41

LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Speak to our hearts with your living word and feed us, that we may live to serve you in faith and love. AMEN


Our first reading today and our gospel text deal with questions. Job has asked questions about God, and God responds with questions in our first reading. In our gospel text, the disciples ask questions of Jesus, and he responds with a question of his own. The text ends with the disciples asking still more questions.


Questions get asked when people are looking for answers. Some people seem to think that a person who is strong in their faith doesn’t have any questions -- and that a good Christian doesn’t ask questions.


As Lutheran Christians, we believe that asking questions and looking for answers is not only O.K. -- It’s important. God wants to be known, and the truth of the gospel is not afraid of being tested. Wrestling with faith is how we come to better understand God in our midst. So, for a God who wants to be known and has nothing to hide, questions are pleasing.


We all have questions -- people always have. And people of every time and culture have tried to find answers to their questions.


PRAYER BLOCKS-- the Chinese do this (demonstrate)


It’s not entirely unique -- we even read about people casting lots in the Bible. All of that ended with the coming of the Holy Spirit.


It’s rather a convenient way of praying, isn’t it? You and I are stuck with the burden of discernment -- searching our hearts for the answer to prayer -- but with this, you get an immediate, black and white answer to all of life’s questions. That’s not a bad deal. Except here’s the thing -- there are many supposed gods they throw these blocks to, and not one of them loves them.


The people make offerings of food and money to the gods, and cower before them in submission, and then they hope that by some unexplained chance the gods will do them a favor. Why would the gods care about you? Only because you pay them with offerings of food and money, and you bow in submission. And maybe -- if you’re lucky -- something good will happen.


Throwing these blocks is a gamble -- a divine crap shoot. And the truly terrible thing is that there is not only the chance of Yes or No. If they land like this, it means the gods are laughing at you! CONSIDER THE IMPLICATIONS OF THAT.


You and I, on the other hand, pray differently. We gather here to worship a God who loves us and who wants only good things for us.


There may be a certain degree of comfort from praying with blocks of wood -- one has a sense of control, it’s tangible, and you get a clear answer. But you can’t get away from the fear with blocks of wood.


Patty and I have a friend in Taipei -- a Presbyterian Pastor who has been there for nearly 30 years. He offered to take us on our first visit to a Chinese Temple and explained many of the practices to us. He said something to me that was simple and profound -- “you won’t find any joy in this place.” And he was right.


The temple is a place of fear. There are red boards at the bottom of the doorways -- red because the evil spirits are afraid of red. The boards are there to trip the evil spirits and keep them from entering the temple and attacking the gods. On the outside, also, are dragons and lions and fearful beasts for scaring away the evil spirits.


The people come there in desperation.


A student comes before exams to give an offering to the god of scholarship.


A woman brings her daughter to pray to the god of marriage so she will get a good husband -- or if she has a husband, that she will become pregnant -- or if she is pregnant, that it will be a boy.


And a multitude of others come to pray and make offerings of food and money.


They draw their fortunes out of a jar.


They cast lots.


During my years in Taiwan I went to many temples -- I saw thousands and thousands of people in these temples and I tell you the truth -- I NEVER saw anyone smile -- not even to return one.

While living in Taiwan, an old friend of ours came for a visit, and I took him to see a temple. Surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of the rituals -- he had a natural reaction. He was depressed. How can he not be while in such a joyless vacuum?


And he was uneasy -- uncomfortable there. Is it an unholy place? Is this evil? Ah, some questions. For a God who has nothing to hide and wants to be known, questions are a good thing. And these are good questions. The temple is not a comfortable place to be.


As we talked later we both agreed that in many ways, the Chinese temple is a tragic place. And yet I asked my friend to consider something good about what he has seen. Something that in a strange way should bring him comfort and hope: First of all, the Chinese are deeply spiritual people, and this spirituality permeates every part of their lives. We can learn a lot from the Chinese about spirituality. And second, these people are worshiping. They are looking for something — ultimately, they are looking for peace and hope. They are searching for answers to their questions and relief from their suffering. They are looking because God has built into them and into every human heart, the desire to know God. What we see in that temple is evidence of the spark of God within them.


Their customs and this religion with its sounds, smells, and rituals are foreign to us -- rituals that have developed over thousands of years that give to them a glimpse of the spiritual. And I say to my friend, “All of this seems strange to you and me. But do you know who these people are and what this place is? They are you and me without Jesus.” The only difference between us and them and that place and this place is simply this: Someone has shared the good news with us, and we know that Jesus loves us.


The difference between that place and our worship here this morning is that we are gathered by love; not by fear. We worship the One who is revealed to us in Jesus. Jesus -- the one who loves us.


When Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth, he encourages them (and us) to make this love our starting point in living life with all of its questions. When our starting point is God’s love for us, then fear and anger can never rule our hearts, or shape the way we live.


Paul knew that life is full of questions -- unknowns about what will happen, and what we should do. We all have these questions -- you have them. What will happen to your health -- your marriage -- your children -- how is your faith journey going? What about your career? Your life as you are living it today -- is it satisfying? Does it have meaning and purpose?


These are life-long questions and there are no easy answers for any of them. If we don’t know what to do with our questions, then we have no choice but to shape our lives by what we don’t know. “What if?” is a question that can haunt us -- and our lives could be shaped by our fears for the future and our anger over the past.


In our first reading, Job is angry and assumes a position of righteousness above God. When he questions God, they are not so much questions as accusations. He speaks from anger rather than faith.


In our gospel reading, the disciples cry out to Jesus in fear -- “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” This is a question motivated by fear, not faith. In both cases, Job and the disciples are defining their relationship with God by their fears and anger -- which are rooted in what they do not know (understand).


Paul points us instead toward what we do know. Jesus loves you.


The truth is -- the disciples cry out, “don’t you care that we are perishing?” Yes, of course, Jesus cares -- but here’s the thing: They aren’t perishing. Jesus is with them. They are not in danger and never were. The love and faithfulness of God weren’t missing. The only thing missing was the disciple’s faith in the love and faithfulness of God.


Paul’s life was shaped by this love -- shaped by the promises of God. He appealed to the Corinthians -- “Open your hearts to love.”


For you and me, faced with the questions of life and threatened constantly by our fears for the future or anger over the past -- his words speak to us too: Have faith in the power of God’s love. Let your life be shaped and driven by love, rather than fear and anger.


There will always be unknowns in life and dangers and the world will always be seeking to define us by what happens to us. But we are people of promise, gathered by love.


The truth is revealed by questions. And the question being asked in the hearts of all people who are encountered by the Good News -- is the same question that is being asked here by us today: “What does it mean for my life that God loves me?”


What does it mean for you in your life? Well, that is a question for each of you. But through the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, we will seek the answers TOGETHER.


I’ll tell you one thing for sure, though. It means you don’t need these. (PRAYER BLOCKS)


No matter what happens -- this one thing you can be sure of: Jesus loves you and will never let you go.

AMEN

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