Sermon for May 12th, 2019
I was looking ahead a few weeks on my calendar recently and I noticed that I had scheduled a doctor’s appointment for my physical. I must have booked it months ago and forgotten about it. Well no sooner did I see that appointment then I started thinking to myself: how can I get out of this? Maybe I can double book myself that day. Maybe I will be too busy for one reason or another. I feel reasonably healthy right now, so maybe I should just cancel.
So many reasons not to go.
But of course, even if I do go, I can always find reasons not to trust what the doctor tells me. I can tell myself that his scale needs to be recalibrated, or that my clothes or shoes are particularly heavy that day; or I can tell myself that his tests are faulty or not trustworthy; I can tell myself that his science is flawed; and if none of that works, I can try to pick my doctor apart, saying things like: why should I listen to him? he looks like he could do a few more push ups.
I am looking for reasons not to go; I am looking for reasons not to believe the doctor or to trust him. I feel mostly OK right now. If I wanted to, I could probably convince myself that I’m pretty healthy, that nothing is wrong, nothing is broken. If I let the doctor start poking around, he might tell me something I don’t want to hear. He might try and come between me and my relationship with butter and bacon. He might tell me that I need to change something in my life, and then I am going to be left having to make this decision that I don’t want to make.
If I decide to listen to this man, and trust this man and accept that what he tells me is true, then I am going to be faced with a much worse decision: I will have to decide to actually listen to his advice and possibly change my life, or I will have to decide to knowingly reject what he has to say and accept full responsibility for the consequences. That’s a tough decision. That’s not a decision I want to make. I don’t want to have to change if it is going to interfere with doing something that feels good or eating something that tastes good. And I don’t want to accept the consequences or the responsibility if things start to go badly for me. So what is the easiest way out? Don’t go to the doctor. Plead ignorance. Argue with the data. Question the doctor’s judgment; question his integrity. If I let myself believe that this doctor actually wants to lead me to health and vitality and life and has the power to do it, then I will be forced to make the decision to follow him or not. That may sound like an easy decision to you, but you would be surprised how hard it is for people to make. It is amazing the mental backflips we can put ourselves through to avoid dealing with the truth sometimes.
Humans have always been that way though. We are always looking for a diversion or the escape clause or the loophole that will allow us to avoid facing the truth; to avoid making that tough decision to follow or reject; we look for delaying tactics that will allow us to not make any substantive changes in the way we see the world or in the way we live our lives. We don’t want new information if that new information might require us to respond or change. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. If we can be willfully ignorant, and that is different than plain ignorance; plain ignorance is not knowing something; willful ignorance is not knowing something and not wanting to know it, avoiding it. If we can be willfully ignorant then we don’t have to deal with the truth when it tries to confront us.
Sometimes, believe it or not, sometimes asking questions is a way to avoid dealing with the truth that we have already been confronted with. Sometimes questions are a way of avoiding answers.
Don’t get me wrong, questions are good. Questions are how we find answers. Questions are important to our faith formation. People asked Jesus questions all the time. Jesus asked questions in return. We don’t have to be afraid of questions. But we do need to be aware that sometimes when people asked Jesus questions they were looking for the truth, and sometimes when they questioned him, they were avoiding it.
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” How many times has Jesus heard this kind of a question?
He can’t be the messiah can he?
How can he say I have come down from heaven?
How can he give us his flesh to eat?
Who can accept these teachings?
How does this man have such learning? Where did he go to school?
When the Messiah comes will he do more signs than this man has done?
Surely the Messiah doesn’t come from Galilee does he?
Who are you?
Read through the gospels. How many times was Jesus questioned about who he was? How many times did he answer those questions, not just in words, but also in deeds and actions? So it is no wonder that Jesus gets a bit exasperated at once again being faced with the same questions. He says “I have told you and you do not believe.” The truth is, and Jesus knew this, some people just don’t want to believe. Some people just don’t want to believe.
They keep asking question after question after question, not because they seek the truth, but because the truth is, well the truth is right in front of them and they just aren’t prepared to acknowledge it. It’s scary. It’s risky. Because if they admit that this man is a man unlike any other. If they acknowledge that he has power and wisdom unlike anything they have ever witnessed before. If they accept that he is who he says he is, well that is going to force them to make a decision. Sometimes we come to a point where the question has been answered and we have to decide how we are going to respond to the answer that we have been given. Are we going to follow this man or not? Are we going to listen to his voice or not?
Even today there are plenty of people in the world that don’t want to believe in Jesus. I’m not talking about people that are legitimately struggling with belief, people that have deep questions, I am talking about people that deep down don’t really want to believe, because if they come to believe that this man is who he says he is that is going to force them to make a decision to follow him or not. So people look for reasons not to believe. People try and find a way to unplug Jesus, so they will try and pick apart the scriptures, or they will point to the failures of Jesus’s followers…anything that will give themselves permission to not believe. I get it. It’s an easier path.
Deciding to trust that Jesus actually is the Messiah, the son of God is a scary thing, because if we believe that he actually is who he says he is, then that means that everything that man ever said suddenly is of supreme importance. It means everything he taught, everything he did, now has eternal significance for our lives, so we can’t ignore him anymore. When Jesus is just some Jewish prophet or a good man or a good teacher, then we could ignore him, then making a change in our lives wasn’t such a pressing issue, but once we know that what he says is true…
well at one point Jesus asked his disciples: “Do you wish to go away?”
and Peter answered him “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy one of God.”
If I truly believe that this is the holy one of God and that he has the words of eternal life, then where else can I go? If I recognize his voice to be the voice of the good shepherd, my shepherd, then I am bound to listen when he speaks and follow where he leads and there is a good chance that that is going to mean making some changes in my life. I understand why people don’t want to believe in Jesus, in the same why I understand people that don’t want to go to the doctor. Because there is a good chance he is going to tell you something about yourself that you don’t want to hear, and there is a good chance he is going to ask you to do something that you don’t want to do. But if I want health, then I dare not turn away from the source of health, and if I want life then I dare not turn away from the source of life. Jesus isn’t afraid of my questions, so maybe I shouldn’t be afraid of his answers. Maybe I need to deal with the truth that he wants to show me. Maybe deciding to trust him and follow him, and finally believe that he is who he says he is the best and most critical decision I will ever make.
We can only avoid truth for so long. And one truth that I am painfully aware of, is that no matter how much time I spend at the doctor’s office, how many drugs I take or how much kale I eat, there is one sickness I am never going to avoid and that is death. Sin and death are a disease we humans have never managed to cure. Oh sure, I am going to try and take care of myself because I want health and vitality, but nothing I do is going to help me cheat death and no matter how hard I try, I am never going to overcome my own sinfulness, not completely. In the history of the world only one doctor or healer has ever proven that he has power over death, only one doctor that has the key to eternal life, only one man has the solution to damage caused by sin, only he didn’t call himself a doctor…he called himself a shepherd.