Here I am, Lord!

Here I am, Lord!

November 10, 2019

Stewardship Sunday.  2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 and Luke 20:27-38

Here I am, Lord!

          Theologians and church leaders over the centuries have asked some really strange questions?  Thomas Aquinas in 1270 posed the question: “Can an angel be in several places at once? Can several angels be at the same place?” Legend has it that during the fall of Constantinople in 1453, theologians were debating the question “How many angels can dance on the tip of a pin?”.

          Another question that theologians discussed was called the omnipotence paradox: “Could God create a stone so heavy that even God could not lift it?”  Another interesting question was: “Is it possible for God to “deny himself”?  The Bible actually may have known a version of such a question for in 2 Tim 2:13 the Apostle Paul writes: “if we deny God, God will also deny us; if we are faithless, God remains faithful -for God cannot deny himself.”

       Now in all fairness, theologians don’t have a monopoly on asking strange questions: Here are a few examples of strange question according to Google searches:

How long does it take to drown an ant?

Is there going to be a bacon shortage in 2020? Can cow saliva cure baldness? What is a magical way to gain weight? How many people have dropped their cell phone in the toilet? Strange questions indeed. By the way, according to Microsoft, about one in five, or 20 percent of us have at some time dropped their cellphone in the toilet.

          There are strange questions. But there are also good questions. And asking the right question is a wise skill. As a matter of fact, it is a time-tested Rabbinic way of getting to the truth. The Torah emphasizes the fact that children must ask questions.

Exodus 12:26-27: “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.” And in Deuteronomy 6:20-21: “When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”  

It has been recognized that Judaism is a faith based on asking questions, sometimes deep and difficult ones that seem to shake the very foundations of faith itself.  Isadore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize in physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied, “My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother used to ask: ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’ That made the difference. Asking good questions”, he said, “made me a scientist.

       There are strange questions and there are good questions. And then there are questions that are asked, not to learn anything but simply to avoid taking action. Luke’s Gospel introduces such a question during a conversation between the Sadducees and Jesus “In the resurrection whose wife will the woman, who lost 7 husbands, be?”

          As you perhaps know the two main disagreements between the Sadducees and the Pharisees were 1) whether the dead would be raised at the end of time and 2) whether angels existed or not. The Pharisees believed in both the resurrection and in the existence of Angels. The Sadducees did not. The Sadducees approached Jesus to hear his opinion. By way of a somewhat ridiculous hypothetical example, they set the stage for the showdown.

          They presented their argument in a way that would make it kind of hard, almost irrational to disagree with them. One wife, seven husbands. Who would be her husband when the dead are raised? Jesus of course saw right through their effort to trick him. His answer shows that the Sadducees were not only wrong about the future, it also shows us that God in fact is the God of the living and not the dead. His answer reminds us somewhat of Job’s affirmation during his testing times when he said: “I know my Redeemer lives!”

          The Sadducees instead of focusing on theology, in other words, on questions relating to God and how to know and serve God better, they asked hypothetical questions to avoid a commitment, to avoid action. Instead of saying: “Here I am Lord” they asked trivial questions. They pretended that they were serious about God, serious enough to ask frivolous questions but not serious enough to say: “Here I am Lord.” One could even say that they were so busy thinking about God and formulating questions about God that they did not have time or focus to actually serve God.

          But before we point finger at these folks who had such a difficult time to commit, let’s admit: it still is a good strategy. We too have questions about God, and the mysteries of life and death that distract us or prevent us from saying: “Here I am Lord.”  

          Over the centuries people have, instead of focusing on the heart of the Gospel, asked trivial questions. When Gentiles first became Christians, Jewish Christians asked: “What about them? Should they first become Jews before they can become Christians? Should they first be circumcised before they can be Christians?” Instead of rejoicing that Gentiles came to faith and that Gentiles are saying: “Here I am Lord” some Jewish Christians asked questions to make it harder for Gentiles to follow Christ.

          Even the strong-willed Apostle Peter was distracted at times. Galatians 2 described an incident. For a while Peter ate with gentile Christians but then some Jewish people visited them. So Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles. Why? Because they were not Jews! Paul had to point out to him: “No Peter, Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace not by works of the law!”  Keep your focus on what really matters! 

          Another example is something that happened in Corinth. It was very common those days that local people sacrificed food for idols. Then the fresh meat was resold on the market. Some Christians asked the question: “Are we allowed to eat mat sacrificed to idols?” Some said no and placed a burden on those who did not see anything wrong to buy the meat and enjoy it. Paul had to intervene and he gave them wise advice. It is not about eating or not eating. “Food will not bring us close to God, or we won’t be better off if we ate the food.” Main thing is: “Don’t judge others. Don’t be a stumbling block for others!” It is better to focus on saying: “Here I am Lord!”

You see God is a God of living people and God wants a response from them.

          God wants us to live our lives in such a way that people will notice that God is good, God is holy, God is love. In other words, God wants us to live our lives in such a way that or lives reflect God’s commitment and patience, God’s love and compassion, God’s forgiveness and God’s justice and care for all people. We could say it in a somewhat different way too: We should live as ambassadors of God, representatives of God so that we world may look at us and come to the conclusion: “God is alive and God loves the world!” And we do so not by asking frivolous questions but by committing ourselves to God and God’s plan for the world by saying: “Here I am Lord.”

The Apostle Paul writes:  “We must give thanks to God for you brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you as first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

          The Apostle Paul writes about the challenges of Christian people at the time. He urges them not to be shaken in mind or alarmed. He says: “let no one deceive you in any way.” Then he continues to give reasons: “people will be misled and tempted to follow the temptations of the day.” And then he says: “But we must give always thanks to God for you for God has chosen you as first fruits for salvation.”

 There are times when people say: I am not ready to commit. I cannot say “Here I am Lord” for I am busy. I have other priorities. But I will – later.

          When Paul says that we are first-fruits it means that a new season has arrived. And this new season is the time to say: “Here I am Lord.” .   The new season that has arrived is an invitation to become part of God’s plan for this world. Let’s be honest: the world is caught up in anxiety uncertainty and fear-it is time for us who are called to show that God is in control of the creation. We are called to show that peace is possible. The world is anxious –we are called to bring a calmness. God gives direction when the world has lost direction, and God provides when we feel that we are on our own.

It is the time to say: Here I am lord!

          We are about to enter the season of Advent. A new season with new expectations and new hope! And we are the first fruits. It is our task to proclaim this new season! It is our calling to go into this world to live lives in such a way that people can sense our peace and calm in God. It is our task to be present in this world in such a way that people who do not know God or believe in God, can sense that we have an assurance that everything will be fine. That we have a comfort knowing that our lives are in good hands! That is what we need to do! That is why we are called the body of Christ. And that is why we support the ministries of this church! We are God’s first fruits! “Here I am Lord”.

Amen.