ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS[1]

LUKE 10:25-28

JUNE 14, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

Play Audio

 

            A number of years ago Jane Goodsell in a Readers Digest article made a list of what she calls The Worlds Worse Questions. Here are my favorites

 

            Will you promise not to get mad if I ask you something?

            You dont remember me, do you?

            Have I kept you waiting?

            Are you asleep?

 

            Speaking of questions, a friend asked Isaac Isidor Rabi, a Nobel prize winner in science, how he became a scientist.

            Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. In so doing she always inquired, Did you ask a good question today?

            Asking good questions, Rabi said, made me become a scientist.

            Another Nobel winner said, You can tell whether a person is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a person is wise by his questions.

            And the philosopher Voltaire said: Judge a person by his questions rather than by his answers.

            The past two Sundays in our Five Great Loves sermon series, we have looked at Jesus answer to the same question, What is the greatest commandment? Two Sundays ago we looked at Matthews account of the question, and last Sunday we looked at Marks account of the question.  This morning we once again look at the greatest commandment account, but this time, Lukes version of it. And let me tell you, his version is much different than the previous accounts.  So take out your bible, turn Luke 10:25, and listen as he tells the story.

 

            Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.

 

            By the way, we hear this word and we think of Perry Mason or Ben Matlock or Arnie Becker from  LA Law or Denny Crane from Boston Legal.  Well, its not that type of lawyer.  This is a person who was an expert in Jewish law.  It would be closer to a bible scholar today. Maybe it would be more appropriate to understand it as, Just then a bible scholar stood up to test Jesus.

           

            Teacher, he said, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

 

            Remember the words of Voltaire, Judge a person by his questions rather than by his answers. Now, if we were to judge this expert in the law by his question, how would we judge him? After all, most of us here at one time or another in our lives wrestled with that question.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?

            We, too, want to make sure we meet the minimum standards. Believe in Jesus? Check. Been baptized? Check. Show up in worship at least on Christmas and Easter? Check. Jesus, however, sees through the lawyers question.  He sees it for what it is. You see, the lawyer asked this question, not because he did not know the answer. He did know the answer.  He was an expert in Jewish law.  He had asked the question in order to trip Jesus up, hoping Jesus would give some unorthodox answer to the question, and he would thus unmask Jesus as a heretic, a fake.  Instead, Jesus turns the tables on him.  He answers the lawyers question with a question.

 

            He said to him, What is written in the law? What do you read there?

 

            Thats a great question because everywhere this expert of the law went, he carried with him a little leather box called a phylactery.  Several passages of Scripture were in his phylactery, including the lawyers answer to Jesus question.

 

            He answered, You shall love the the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. And he said to him, You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.

 

            For those of you who may have missed the past couple of Sundays, we come to the midpoint of our sermon series called Five Great Loves.  We have been looking at the love directives Jesus gives us in the gospels, and we began two weeks ago by looking at loving God, and last week we looked at loving our neighbor, and this week we turn our attention to loving ourselves. To quote Jesus, Love your neighbor as yourself. In so doing, I want to make a couple of statements.

            First, its OK to love ourselves. In fact, where did we ever get the idea that to affirm ourselves, to appreciate ourselves is wrong? We certainly didnt get that from Jesus. When we read the gospels we discover that Jesus went around day after day looking for the good in people, pointing it out to them, and asking them to celebrate it. And, in the scripture for today, as well as the similar accounts in Matthews and Marks Gospels, Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Notice that Jesus does not say we are to love our neighbors instead of ourselves.

            Unfortunately, far too many followers of Jesus have come to believe its not OK to love ourselves.  I think of the beautiful Scandinavian teen who came to the German author, missionary and pastor Dr. Walter Trobisch for counseling.  As they talked about her struggles, one basic issue kept coming up, a problem that seemed to be at the root at all her problems. She could not love herself! In fact, she hated herself so much that she was only a step away suicide.

            Turns out she had been raised in a very religious home. Her parents were sincere, no doubt, but they had given her a terribly distorted understanding of the Christian life. Because of what her parents had taught her, she was afraid of affirming any good thing about herself. She was afraid that self appreciation would lead to pride, and pride would lead to alienation from God. So, for her, the life of faith required self-depreciation putting herself down! She believed that rejection of the self was the only way to God!

            During the counseling session Dr. Trobisch led her to a mirror where he asked her to look carefully at her image. She turned away, unable to look at herself. He held her head gently but firmly and made her look into her own eyes. The experience was painful for her emotionally. Dr. Trobisch asked her to repeat after him: I am a beautiful person loved and valued by God I am a beautiful person loved and valued by God. But she couldnt do it. She couldnt do it because in her eyes that was sinful.

            Its OK to love ourselves. 

            Statement number two: there is a big difference between self-love and self-centeredness. 

            Pastor James McCormick made a bold statement in a sermon.  Ready for it?  He said, Its impossible to love yourself too much!  Did you hear that? Its impossible to love yourself too much! Now, I may not go that far, but I understand the point he was trying to make.

            He then went on to explain.  He said authentic self-love is always healthy and life-giving. He says the problem is self-centeredness and not self-love. Self-centeredness, he says, is claiming a place for ourselves which belongs only to God. It is placing ourselves at the center of life and pushing God and others out to the periphery.

            I think hes on to something. For all the problems in the world caused by conceit, there are just as many, if not more, problems caused by a low self image, by inadequate self-love. Think about it. How much of our daily discontent comes from the fact that most of us are more aware of our weaknesses than our strengths, more aware of our failures than our successes? Think of all the problems that may cause!

            Remember the beautiful Scandinavian teen I mentioned earlier? During the counseling session, she confessed that she had difficulty getting along with anyone. She was full of criticism, and anger, and hostility. She thought that the problem messing up her life was that she loved herself too much. Turns out the opposite was true. She could not love others because she had never learned to love herself. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  If we dont love ourselves, we are going to have a difficult time loving our neighbor.

            One more thing to say, and then Im done for the day.  Third, lets not insult God by saying we dont matter.

          Each of us is a unique, unrepeatable miracle of Gods creative power. There is no one in all the world exactly like you and no one in the world exactly like me. And, its good to be who we are. So, lets never say something like,Im not important. My life doesnt count for much. I cant make any contribution. I dont have any talent.

            Think of how insulting that is to God. As long as we remember that all good gifts come from God, we celebrate the good things about ourselves without falling into pride. Besides, most of us have a long way to go to catch up with the lofty opinion of us revealed in the Bible. The Psalmist wrote: When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have created, what is man that You are mindful of him? And yet, You have made him a little less than God, and have crowned him with glory and honor.

            Thats what the Bible thinks of you … “a little less than God."  Lets not insult God by saying we dont matter!

           

            And the more we act like individuals created a little less than God, the more we will like the person we see in the mirror at the end of the day. And the more we like that person we see in the mirror, the easier it will be to love others. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Amen.


[1] Adapted from a sermon by King Duncan titled The Two Ultimate Questions of Life.