Preached Sunday morning August 2, 2015 at Euless First United Methodist Church, at the 11 am service
One of you, last week, asked me if reading the Bible would make God answer prayers faster.
I’d like to try to tackle that with you this morning on our way into today’s Got Theological Questions?
But first, I want you to know something about yourself that you might not know. You are a theologian.
If you have ever wondered how or why or when or where or who about God or gods, you might be a theologian!
If you have more than one translation of the Bible, you might be a theologian!
If you ever pray, and ever wonder exactly how this prayer thing works, you might be a theologian!
If you hear the term “SUV” and wonder if it might be a new version of the bible, you might be a theologian!
If quadrilateral makes you think of Wesley, not geometry.
If you have questions after repeating the Apostles’ Creed, you might be a theologian!
In fact, let’s try that one
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
So: you might be a theologian.
I’m pretty sure you are a theologian. Some of us pursue this more than others, but if you ever wonder, you are a theologian.
And if you are a theologian, you have theological questions.
Like, “does reading the Bible make God answer your prayers faster?”
The simple answer, I’m sorry for this, is “Yes and No.”
Yes, reading the bible will make God answer your prayers faster because reading your bible will almost definitely give you a better understanding of God. Reading your bible will almost definitely deepen your relationship with God, your recognition of God’s love for you, and your desire to allow God to transform you as the bible offers.
People with a deeper relationship with God have their prayers answered faster because their prayers are more in line with God’s will. They find themselves developing an appreciation for the complex ways God interacts with and works in the world, and their prayers are likely to show this difference.
No, reading the bible will NOT make God answer your prayers faster. One of the first things we learn in the Bible is that our God, the god of the Bible, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Moses, David, and Elijah, of Mary, Peter, and Paul, is not a God that can be controlled by formula. You cannot make God answer a prayer by praying in a certain way. You cannot trick God or force God into agreeing with you – or disagreeing with you – based on who you are, what you think, how you act, or whether or not you read the Bible.
So, yes and no.
If you are left with more questions now than you had 3 minutes ago, you are definitely a theologian!
Since we are all theologians, and, I’m going to guess most, if not all of us consider ourselves Christian theologians, then it’s a good thing we are here this morning. Because I am quite sure it is critically important for us to faithfully wrestle and struggle with these things together. After all, Jesus said wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, he’s right there in the midst.
I’m not always good at this. For example, there is a card game that I won’t play with Rachel. I think it is called “Blink.” I don’t remember for sure because we haven’t played it in more than 5 years.
It’s a game we got, I think for Christmas before Eliza was born. We love games. One of us doesn’t love this game.
I don’t like this game for the very simple reason: I never win. We got “Blink” out and played it. once, twice, three times, and I never won. Never even came close.
I’m not so competitive that I can’t take a loss here and there, but I NEVER won!
I hope I’m not the only one to have had this kind of experience. If I am, you can come and shame me after the service.
What does this have to do with theological questions? Everything.
Perhaps the most important thing we bring to theology is our attitude.
How does it make sense to talk about a loving God if most of what comes out of my mouth is bitterness? James 3:11 asks: Both freshwater and saltwater don’t come from the same spring, do they?
I am firmly convinced God welcomes our questions – when we ask with an appropriate attitude.
Theology isn’t just questions; it is questions with an appropriate attitude.
How is your attitude toward God? How is your attitude toward people?
From what the Bible seems to indicate very clearly, your answer to the second question is the honest answer to the first question.
Our attitudes matter! And, to paraphrase 1 John 4:20, if we say we have a good attitude toward God but a lousy, or bad, or bitter, or hateful attitude toward our neighbor, we are liars.
So I’m going to start with the first theological question I received: How do we handle/deal with/understand the idea of “eternity”? (It terrifies me)
First, based on what I’ve just said about attitude, maybe a little terrification is a good thing.
Second, When I was a young fundamentalist planning to be a preacher someday, I really wanted to use this: stand silent for one minute – 60 seconds – and then say something like, “that minute felt like a long time, didn’t it? Just try and imagine how long eternity is – infinity minutes!
But time is not such a statically defined thing as that. You know time isn’t always measured by seconds or minutes or days or years.
Sometimes time slows down. Our honeymoon, which we took on our first anniversary, was a week in Germany. We had such a great time that it felt like it lasted for weeks!
Last week one of our families spent several days in the hospital. One of our members had a stroke – a blood clot in the brain – then bleeding in the brain. It didn’t look good from Sunday afternoon until late Monday night when, after 2 ½ hour brain surgery, he awoke with better than expected reaction and movement.
But that 36 hours from Sunday through Monday evening felt like a month and a half to the family.
Gretchen Rubin has put it this way: “the days are long but the years are short”
So, time is relative. But what does this have to do with eternity?
30 years ago I was convinced eternity was about forever – and that this meant a long, long time.
In the 90s, though, in youth ministry, I was confronted with the fact that not everyone wants to live forever. In other words, people would look around them, take stock of their lives, and say, “If this is what life is, I don’t want it to go on for ever!”
So, the answer to the question: the way I deal with eternity, and this is energized first and foremost by John 17:3 where Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God, that eternity is the kind of life that one would want to go on forever, and that this is exactly what God wants for us: the kind of life that one would want to go on forever!
In the same Gospel where Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God, he also says that he came so that we could have life—indeed, so that [we] could live life to the fullest.
The more I pursue God and a relationship with God – loving God and loving my neighbors, the more I find myself moving toward this kind of life – eternal life.
Which leads to this question, that one of you asked and many of us ask from time to time: Why does God allow/let such terrible things happen in the world to good people?
We could spend a year on this question and not satisfy everyone. Books have been written – every year! – about this.
Here’s where my brain takes this question: We want to have our cake and eat it, too.
When we ask the “question of evil” or “why bad things happen to good people?” most of us include ourselves, generally, in that category of “good people.”
But, when someone starts talking about holiness, or living as God called us to live, or accepting or seeking the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, most of us whip out, “but we’re all sinners!”
Well, which is it?
Are we good people who expect, or wish, God would protect us from all evil and malady, or are we miserable sinners, unable ever even to do one thing good?
Further, sometimes we say we want a God who would protect all us “good people” from harm and evil, yet we want free will. Do you and I always make choices that protect us from harm and evil? Don’t we sometimes make choices that put others in harms’ way? Are you now or have you ever worn clothes produced in some sweatshop in south Asia?
We live in a world where evil exists. It exists on our actions as individuals and as societies – as nations, and as a whole.
These next two questions I’m going to tackle together:
How does creationism reconcile the laws of thermodynamics? For example 6,000 years is not long enough to evaporate 26,000 ft. of water over the entire globe.
If humans were on earth before animals, how do we explain the science of pre-historic life?
Maybe I should have taken these last week, as my answer depends upon a crucial point about the Bible. The Bible, as contained in the Old and New Testaments, contains the word of God as far as is necessary for our salvation.
The Bible is concerned about our salvation. It is not so much concerned with current debates about science or history. No part of the bible was written to be a science or history textbook.
The Bible IS all about truth, but the truth that the Bible is about is not the kind of truth that science or history seek.
Now, it’s time for your questions:
Finally, I want to share this question with you: If there is sufficient grace for all, is there grace for Judas?
I cannot help but believe that, yes, there is sufficient grace for all, and that all means all. Even Judas. Even Hitler.
At Annual Conference Juanita Rasmus told us this beautiful story of a vision she had of this all-sufficient love and grace of God. In her vision, she imagined even seeing the likes of Hitler in the afterlife – she imagined God’s love and grace being that strong, that powerful, that sufficient.
Can you believe in a God whose grace is sufficient for anyone? Wouldn’t you like to know a God whose grace is sufficient for everyone?
Here’s the rub – it comes back to that pesky free will and eternity.
If God’s grace is sufficient for anyone and everyone; even Judas, even Hitler, even Paul ( “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9), the question remaining is “Will God’s grace overcome your free will?” or “Will God allow you, or me, or anyone, to choose to remain outside of God’s grace?”
That’s a great theological question, and one that isn’t settled in the scriptures or in the nearly 2,000 years of debate, reflection, wrestling, and arguing since.
But you know what? While I’ll still ask the question, and love to discuss the possibilities, I’m with Joshua on this one: “as for me and my house, we’ll serve the Lord.”
I will pursue this God whose grace is sufficient. I will seek to follow the example and teachings of Jesus, and I will learn to trust that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.
Would you join me?