Lent 4a – Sunday 3rd April 2011
John 9: 1-41
Since the dawn of time we’ve always had questions on our minds. Plenty as a child. Plenty as adults. From day one we are seekers. Seekers after the truth. Seekers after meaning. We want to know how things work, we want to know why things work.
Life is never simple, but as a rule I try to make things as simple as possible. So I like to divide this topic into two equal parts.
There are two types of questions in life – ones with definitive answers, and ones with debateable answers. The first type I like to call maths questions, because like 2+2, the answer is pretty definitive. The second category is a bit more tricky, what I like to call blue-sky thinking questions, because their answers are not so clear cut. Questions like “What is time?” Or “Why are there so many wars?”
Of course, the boundary between the two areas is blurred to some extent, because our knowledge of the world is growing all the time. For instance, “Is the earth flat?” 500, 1000 years ago, that would have been a debateable question. But now our knowledge and understanding help us to see the picture a lot more clearly. But we still have a long way to go.
Which is a good job we still have children to keep us on our toes, keep us thinking, keep us searching. Apparently, one of the most vexing religious questions that faces a 7 year old child is, “Does God have a beard?” That is closely followed by, “If God is everywhere why do we have to go to church to see him?” – usually asked around 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning. If those first two questions put a smile on your face, the next one does its best to wipe it off: “Who created God?”
I’ve been there, done that and got a t-shirt with that question on it from a class of 10 and 11 year olds, and what you soon learn is they can’t be fobbed off with incomplete or incomprehensible answers. To do justice to any question you need to start with sincerity and honesty.
If I’ve learnt in this life that there are two types of questions, then I’ve also discovered that there are two types of question-askers. There are those who want to ask questions, and there are those who want to discover answers.
The first type is those who want to ask questions but who are not too bothered about the answer. They just want to ask the question. They’re not particularly fussed about learning, growing or understanding. They might be fully paid up members of the flat-earth society, who think their knowledge has reached its limit. Or they just be argumentative or belligerent. As Jeremiah says, “Who will listen when I speak? Their ears are closed, and they cannot hear.” (Jeremiah 6:10 NLT)
Then there are seekers, people who ask questions and want to listen. People who look to see if the provider of the answers is being genuine and truthful. People who use questions like they are ladders, to move onwards and upwards, to reach the next level, to see better. Hey, sometimes you come sliding down the ladder like some terrible decorating accident, but that is the nature of life. They say that when you fall off a bike the best way to learn is to jump straight back on the bike. Seekers know that if they hear an answer they don’t like, or one they don’t understand, that isn’t the end of the quest, it’s just the beginning of listening to a new question.
And why do I share all this valuable information with you? Two reasons.
One is because I have discovered this for myself – both in asking questions and being asked questions, and also in listening to answers and giving answers.
The second reason is this whole topic can be seen so clearly in the Gospel passage for this Sunday’s lectionary reading.
- Can you see those who just wanted to ask questions? Those who thought they had all the answers?
- Can you see the seeker, the listener?
- Can you see those who act with sincerity and honesty?
- And who do you identify with? What sort of person are you?