August 22nd, 2013
I may have told you already, but my wife’s favorite author is Pat Conroy. Works of his you may have heard of: The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides. She’s read all his works, save one–The Boo–which she’s currently reading, but mournfully given how she will soon have nothing more of his to read until he publishes another.
I’ve only read (and only in part) his work My Reading Life in which he waxes eloquently on the books that have most shaped him and his writing. Early in that work he argues (as I may have mentioned before in a sermon) that the most beautiful words a person can say are “tell me a story”:
I remember my grandfather, I would ask him those words—’Tell me a story grandaddy.’ And he would tell me one. In the south, especially the rural south, the telling of stories on porches—that passing down of oral history by telling stories is still the reason the South retains its love of story. Retains the mystery of story. And I don’t know any Southerner who does not love to exchange tales, tall tales. And I think the words ‘tell me a story’ has formed the entire basis of my art.
That story, tale, literature, and film so pervade nearly every culture–that my children, without having been taught to, beg for us to tell them stories–prove like no sociological or psychological study can that, no matter our place or moment, humanity is universally drawn to language, image, and melody arranged in a narrative form.
Among the privileges I have as your pastor is that you graciously invite me into your stories. It’s my “job” to listen, reflect, resonate with, and where I can, help make some sense of that story–just as I am needful of others to help me make sense of my own. It’s also my delight to hear you all share your stories with each other, and take note of both the extraordinary diversity of experience as well as the surprising overlap. (I experienced that at our last Sunday Night Fellowship!)
But as I come to know your stories, and you mine, inevitably we hear of the darker–if not darkest–moments of one another’s pilgrimage. Deep sorrows perhaps tempered only by time; or enduring questions to which our trust in God’s goodness offers a real, but gnawingly incomplete answer.
One aspect of our passage last Sunday we didn’t have time for (see, I can leave some material out) involved a profound implication of Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the Cross. We “understand” why He was led to experience that unparalleled sense of abandonment. We know that He was reciting Psalm 22 as an articulation of his experience (was He not appealing to the Psalmist’s Story to grapple with His own in that moment?).
But have you–have I–considered the implications of Jesus’ stricken query of God–that Jesus, himself, asked His Father a “why” question? Frederick Dale Bruner (shocked, aren’t you?) made me pause to recognize that:
When [Jesus] died asking questions, we learn that Jesus not only took on our flesh and blood but also our nervous systems. He came not only to give us answers; he also came asking our questions. . . .Jesus’ why means that even the wisest men and women cannot know why some things happen. . .If Jesus asked, “why,” let us all be extremely cautious in saying, “because.”
You may have been reared in a Christian tradition in which you were discouraged from–if not disciplined for–asking Why of God. Or if you were given permission to do so, you were provided the most platitudinal of answers as an insufficient antidote to your affliction. And while we have the luxury of knowing the answer to why Jesus suffered the forsakenness of God, the fact that Jesus asked the question–as many of the Psalmists did repeatedly–has some significant implications for the questions our respective stories cannot seem to shake.
For one, there is no sin inherent to the why question. The question itself does not necessarily imply an adversarial posture toward the One we ask. It is (or can be) as much a move toward the Lord as any act of praise. Again, how the Psalmists’ couch their why questions exemplifies such a posture. The quest for an answer can very well be a quest for Him–even if the question remains unanswered. Isn’t that Job’s very experience?
Two, when we hear another’s why, as Bruner gently but firmly admonishes, our faith imposes no obligation to provide a specific reason or purpose. Jesus entertaining a “why” smashes our expectations of uninterrupted clarity. If anything, one common obligation upon those in the presence of others asking why is to weep–to weep as Jesus did both for others and for Himself. We’ve heard from Brene Brown before (back during my first laryngeally-compromised Sunday with you). Hear her once more about how weeping is sometimes the only fitting response to the why moments.
Finally, (here I give credit to a book I’ve mentioned several weeks back, The End of our Exploring, by Matt Anderson), to ask God why entails a certain obligation on the part of the one asking. There are why questions whose motivation has more to do with discrediting or denouncing than it does with seeking an understanding that allows one to continue in faith even if no immediate, complete, or satisfying answer emerges. So motives matter as much as the honesty of our questions. Anderson argues we must submit our questions to a question: does the “why” I put to God secretly purpose to impugn, or does it begin with faith? To be sure, the moments that provoke our why questions of God make that necessary implicit trust staggeringly difficult (“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief”), if for no other reason that our emotions trample the peace consonant with faith. But here, too, Bruner offers one more implication from Jesus’ query from the Cross:
Jesus right here, better than perhaps anywhere else, teaches us exactly what faith at its deepest level is: it is believing God even when we do not feel him.
So faith asks, but it asks with faith and often when it does not feel. That’s in part the story of faith.
And when that faith feels only sorrow, there remains one thing–one claim–that, as Brene Brown employed the metaphor above, acts as a midwife through our sorrow–namely, the claim that He was risen.
Which is where we end our study of Mark’s gospel this Sunday. In Mark 15:42-16:8 we’ll find:
An act of courage
A show of love
A word of astonishment
and an unfinished ending
and hopefully we’ll find also what it means to respond to the Resurrection
Church, take note: the negotiations with Fairmeadows Baptist Church proceed apace this week, but we will be BACK AT THE HILTON for worship this Sunday at our regularly scheduled time of 9am. We’d like to devote our 2nd hour Q&A to an update on the process, entertaining subsequent thoughts you may have had last week. So help us pass the word!
And then please pray:
- for the negotiation process: that we as a Session would act without fear but with discernment
- for Nicola Lippert as her family takes her to college this week at Kansas State University!
- for Don and Helen Johnson as they await medical advice to ensure Don’s steady breathing at night
- for those who’ve been visiting of us late: that they would sense a sincere kindness from us and the work of His Spirit among us
and as the Daily Office reading from Ps 131 read this morning, may He
[calm] and [quiet] my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.