Unable to answer

Unable to Answer

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17, Matthew 22:34-46 and Excerpts from The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for and Believe by Richard Rohr


Good morning to you however you are connecting to us, on this cold and perfect Colorado Sunday morning. Thank you for being here and for showing up for yourself and for one another as we continue to keep the lights of our hearts burning bright in this hard time.

As we bring ourselves once again to hear beyond the surface, I invite you to take a deep breath and let yourself arrive more fully. And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

It is a season of debates and it isn’t entirely clear how things will turn out. There is a lot on the line. And in some ways it feels like history hinges on the days and weeks ahead. With all that has been said and all that has been undone and with all that we know about what happened and where, what, which of these matters the most?

These are the conversations being had on the radio and on Cable News and in Zoom rooms and in our thoughts and prayers- with all that is at stake, what matters the most?

And this is something like what Jesus is being asked here in the Gospel of Matthew, surrounded yet again in another web of questions, where at the end, he answers the first part by quoting the Torah and then in the second part, he answers the question with another question. Jesus is quite fond of questions.

I have shared with some of you before how central questions are to Jesus’s ministry, in fact one could make a case that they are the heart, the core of his teachings. It turns out that he asked over 300 questions, 307 to be exact. And he is asked 183, but he only answers 3 of them.[1]

So with this encounter in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked questions, and he asks questions back and then the scripture tells us that the group gathered around, that not one of them was able to answer.

This is exactly how many of us have felt a lot lately- unable to answer, unable to say much of anything with clarity, with certainty, with hope, on some days about what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know the answers to most of the questions that hang over us right now, some of them with grief and the heaviness of the urgency of which this moment speaks. But we are accustomed to knowing more than we do, about what next month or even next year will be like.

We are unable to answer.

The season is changing and it isn’t entirely clear how things will turn out, with so much on the line and history hinging on the days and weeks ahead.

The vast majority of the usual places and people we have looked to for guidance are as lost as we are. There is no handbook for this hard time- there seem to be mostly questions we are unable to answer.

And yet, this doesn’t mean it can’t be lovely! I had to say this to myself out loud this week. We still must laugh! We still must notice the gift of being alive!

This week during Breathing Space, Judi Kleinman shared these words from Thich Nhat Hanh that stopped me and brought me tears of joy, “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.”

I will make it my duty to give thanks for the chance to be alive here with all of you for this weird and wonderful experiment together that God has offered us. Somehow that gave me peace this week. It has set me right to find a way to remember that it is a miracle any of us, any of this are here in the first place.

There seem to be mostly questions we are unable to answer right now, but still we have twenty-four brand new hours before us, to be lived as fully as we can. If the pandemic forced me to find that posture each day at least once a day, that will be forever change us.

And here is the other part, being unable to answer questions, doesn’t mean we are without the guidance we need for this day and the next.

I say this because sometimes in circles of intellectuals and academics, rationalists, scientists and pragmatists, we might lose sight of the insight given to us at birth- that we are participating in something magnificent and there are signs to be noticed, people whom God is using to be followed and sending us, life to be soaked up. So maybe we are here not to figure out the answers, but to let ourselves be unsure and to let ourselves dream and live and give thanks for this messy marvelous day anyway.

What I mean is that what if Jesus’s life isn’t meant to show us about being able to come to the right answers? What if Jesus’s life isn’t about believing rightly? What if he was inviting us to show up in a certain way, to participate in something we can’t always see or understand?

As Richard Rohr writes, “Our full “Christ Option” and it is indeed a free choice to jump on board- offers us so much that is both good and new- a God who is in total solidarity with all of us at every stage of the journey, and who will get us all to our destination together in love. It is no longer about being correct. It is about being connected. Being in right relationship is much, much better than just trying to be “right.” [2]

And at least for me this feels like a weight is lifted- as if a shift can be made from needing to uncover something that is beyond us, or figure out something that is impossible, to connecting to and loving this and us and whatever is before us- participating in this field of Divine possibility.

After my message last week, some of you asked about how we can seek understanding and connection with people who see things really differently and perhaps this is part of the response- Loving the way discipleship demands isn’t getting people to come to your answer. I know that is radical. I have learned that if our goal isn’t about an agreed upon right answer, new connections, understandings and possibilities emerge.

Loving is often unlearning and getting where we need to go requires us to follow new questions, maybe even ones we haven’t heard before, instead of tired answers. As Andrew Prior writes, we might find that we are “like the Pharisees that day, suddenly knowing more than we knew we knew, and face the task of working out what this new knowledge means for us. That's the task where we sit down with our sudden new insights and work out just how they fit into things, and what they mean for our future living of the Faith. And it might be that for some of us the cost will be too great… and we will join those Pharisees of the Faith for whom the old orthodoxy is too precious to abandon, or for whom the cost of rethinking, of unlearning, of beginning again, is too great or too dangerous at this moment.”

He goes on, “But hopefully, for some of us, there will be a humbling. A bowing to a new Lord who helps us unlearn love and learn it again, more deeply. Some grace will mean that after walking away, silent because we could not yet give him an answer, we will discover that he himself has given us the answer.”

With the cold of winter upon us and chill of uncertainty, some of life on the line, with history hinging on the days and weeks ahead- with all that has been said, and all that has been undone, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' And 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'

As Tim Beach-Verhey writes, “In quoting the Shema, (the precious and powerful Jewish prayer) Jesus points out that the aim of the law is to orient one’s entire life toward God. However, one cannot love God without loving what God loves. One cannot love God and oppress or exclude any of God’s creatures- even one’s enemies.”

Maybe Jesus is telling us that we cannot wait until we share the same answers to share the circle of life and to strive for a shared vision on planet earth. And perhaps what we are a part of here, needs all of us to strive for a love so deep that we accompany one another even when we are unable to hold any answers in common. Loving the way discipleship demands isn’t waiting until others come to our answer. We must remain humble with any certainties, all while we hold on tight to our dream, even with this smoke and this sting of cold.

It is a season of debates where it isn’t entirely clear how things will turn out. There is a lot on the line and in some ways it feels like history hinges on the days and weeks ahead. With all that has been said and all that has been undone and all that we know about what has happened, what if Jesus’s life isn’t meant to show us about being able to come to the right answers? What if Jesus’s life isn’t about believing rightly? What if he was inviting us to show up in a certain way, to participate in something we can’t always see or understand? What if he was pointing us forever toward love which is always both a question and an answer?

I believe we are participating in something magnificent and there are signs to be noticed, people whom God is sending us to be followed, life to be soaked up. So we can breathe deeply knowing, even in this hard time, we need not wait until very much of anything is figured out before we let ourselves be unsure and to let ourselves dream and let ourselves live and give thanks for this messy and marvelous day anyway. We have twenty-four brand new hours before us, with the chance to be lived fully with loved shared lavishly, so the question for us today is not what is the right answer, the question is how will we participate? May it be so.

[1] Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin B. Copenhaver [2] The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for and Believe by Richard Rohr p. 168

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