• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Be Careful WHY We Ask

“Yes… And…” A four-week Stewardship sermon series from the book of Matthew

Week 3 of 4, preached October 18, 2020 for the 9:30am Worship


Context

“Yes… And…” In Improv, improvisational comedy, that’s the first rule as the actors and comedians step on stage with one another. No matter what the other person offers, say yes to it, meaning accept it. Now, say AND, meaning add something to it that takes you both forward.


This October, for our Stewardship season, we are looking at four lessons of Jesus from Matthew where we are invited to say YES to God, then to say AND, to say more, to add our extra.


Two weeks ago, Caitlan preached from the beginning of Matthew 22. She showed us how saying YES to God with our intentions, our beliefs, our spirituality is good, but it needs the AND. Yes believe in God, AND show up to the feast, to worship, to study, to serve as a faith community.


Last week, we heard Jesus answer a question, “Is it lawful to pay Caesar the census tax?” Jesus replied, “Yes, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, AND give to God what is God’s.” We heard YES, pay our taxes, support our families, enjoy our lives with the monies we’ve earned by God’s grace, AND faithfully regularly give some of those monies as tithes and offerings to support God’s community the church and God’s coming kingdom.


Today, we keep going into Matthew 22 and hear a third “Yes, And” lesson. Let’s pray and listen for the word of the Lord…


Prayer


Scripture Matthew 22:23-40

23 The same day, some Sadducees came to him, (the ones who say there is no resurrection), and they asked him a question, saying,


24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. 26 The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman herself died. 28 In the… resurrection…, then, whose wife of the seven will she be, for all of them had married her?”


29 Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, and you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection, people are neither take in marriage nor are given in marriage, but they are sent like messengers into heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God IS God, not of the dead, but of the alive.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.


34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 but one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


(This is the word of the Lord… Thanks be to God!)


Sermon

The TV show, “Weakest Link” is back. It first ran 20 years ago now, but NBC has brought it back with the same rules and a different host. In the show, 8 contestants take turns answering questions, and the longer the chain of correct answers they get, the more money they all make. But, one wrong answer, and the chain is broken, and they all start over at the lowest value for that round.


At the end of the round, the host has a bit of fun with the contestants, teasing them about their blank moments or bad answers, and then, they vote off the weakest link in the chain. “You ARE the weakest link. Good bye!”


When we picture Jesus in his teaching, preaching mode, I’m guessing we typically think of him as compassionate, careful, a great listener, sympathetic, and patient. That is how I hope Jesus would treat me, anyway, if I went to him with a question, or attempted to answer one of his questions.


When we read scriptures like today’s though, stories of how Jesus actually engaged the people who brought him questions or who attempted to answer his questions, he's not always a peach.


Last week, the Pharisees and Herodians had a moment with Jesus on that coin/tax question and he dodged and turned it around against them. This week, the Sadducees bring him a question. The Sadducees were a sect of Judaism that didn’t believe in the resurrection, or life of any form beyond death. While the Pharisees did imagine and hope for life extending beyond death, they and the Sadducees argued with one another ferociously from the same scriptures and their different understandings of the same God about resurrection.


I’m guessing the Sadducees had enjoyed watching Jesus make a fool of the Pharisees, and so brought him a question about the resurrection to get Jesus on their side against the Pharisees.


They set the premise. “In the scriptures, Moses said if a couple is married and the man dies before they have children, then the brother of the man who died will have children with her so that the dead brother’s line will continue. Now imagine a woman whose husband dies before they have children. She marries a brother, and he dies before they have children. Seven brothers in all marry her and die without children, then she dies. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?”


Jesus’ response is sharp. (In the Greek) Planasthe… “You’re wrong.” Or maybe, “Yall are heretics.” Or my translation, “Y’all are the weakest link.”


When it comes to talking about God, or Scripture, or God’s Kingdom here or beyond, Jesus seldom has much patience or compassion for those who mispresent God, Scripture, or God’s Kingdom to justify their preferred beliefs, or to defend the way they want God and God’s Kingdom to be instead of teaching how God is and how God’s kingdom will be.


Jesus doesn’t lighten up. He turns the screws a bit. “You obviously don’t know the scriptures very well, nor do you comprehend the true power of God. In the resurrection…”


Notice that. The Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection. Jesus says to them, “In the resurrection…” In other words, he is validating as real and true the very thing they do not believe is real or true.


“In the resurrection, people are not given to one another in marriage, nor are they taken by one another in marriage. Instead they are sent like messengers into heaven.”


Jesus has answered the God and God’s kingdom part of their question. Now Jesus nails them on the God and Scripture part. “Oh, and by the way, have you noticed how God says “I AM the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob even after they have died. Why does God use the present tense? I AM the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob? If they are dead and gone, in the past only, wouldn’t God say, “I WAS the God” of them… But God says in scripture “I AM the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob because they died but are not dead. They are alive and God IS the God of them even now.” Again, my translation, “You really are the weakest link. Good bye!”


Now, let’s not worry. I know I have lots of questions for Jesus about God, Scripture, and God’s kingdom. I’m guessing many of you have some questions too. I have studied God deeply, and studied scripture deeply, and continue to, but I still have a lifetime’s effort to spend learning more. I’m guessing all of you can still grow in your knowledge and understanding of God and scripture.


Jesus publicly scolds and corrects and embarrasses these Saduccees, not because they asked him a question, and not because they didn’t know enough about God or theology or Scripture. Questions of God are always welcome to Jesus. Questions can show our humility and our curiosity. We will never know enough about God, theology, and scripture, and questions are the path to learning more. Questions and not knowing are welcome to this Jesus.


He scolds them for thinking they know more than they do. He scolds them for arrogantly defending the theology they prefer and want to be true, even if God and Scripture don’t support it. He scolds them for selectively forgetting, ignoring, deemphasizing scripture passages that do not support their preferred theology but lift up other semi-truths about God as the most important. Jesus is sharp with them because they don’t ask humbly, to learn and grow, to be changed, but they ask to bind and trap others and to defend their current beliefs.


Two weeks ago, Jesus was furious at those who said yes to the feast but failed to show up. Last week, Jesus was confrontational with the ones who tried to trap him in the give money to Caesar question. This week, he’s sharp with the ones who arrogantly try to defend their way of belief about God and their way of selectively remembering Scripture.


Then, another Pharisee steps forward and asks a question. It says he asked Jesus to test him, but apparently Jesus doesn’t mind being tested. “Teacher, what is the greatest, the most important commandment?” If his question had been asked arrogantly, in defense of his preference, or asked maliciously to get Jesus in trouble, Jesus might have responded sharply and critically again.


But Jesus responds thoughtfully. There is a risk to picking the greatest commandment. But Jesus senses something in this Pharisees’ question, a real hunger, a need to know a little bit more, a request for help to get unstuck on his faith journey. And Jesus answers him honestly, “The greatest is… Love the Lord with all you got. Then, right beside it is this… Love your neighbor and yourself with all you’ve got. Every other commandment of God falls under one of these… love God, love neighbor, love self.”


Yes, let’s ask God our questions, AND let’s do so wide open to what God wants to teach us. Yes, let’s bring to God all our current beliefs and assumptions, confusions and curiosities, AND let’s be ready and willing for God to stretch us and change us to see God and God’s will differently than we did before. Yes, Love God, and give God some of our time, attention, and resources, AND love yourself and love others around you with the same integrity and passion you claim to love God with. Yes, you and I might be the weakest links, AND God loves us and wants to teach us anyway.


To this God be any and all glory and honor, now and forever more. Amen.


Benediction

Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown


About Me
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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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