This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, November 10, 2013.
27 Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked,28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.”
34 Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children since they share in the resurrection. 37 Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”
Luke 20:27-38, Common English Bible
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
Questions are important.
They are the primary means through which we learn. Asking questions is essential for our development and growth as human beings. Asking questions is the way in which we find meaning.
Carl Sagan, a pre-eminent American astronomer and Pulitzer Prize winner, in his New York Times bestseller entitled Cosmos, wrote,
If we long for our [world] to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.
Questions are important; and, we need to find the courage to ask “bigger questions” so that we can make our world more significant, living the future as God intends instead of the future we get when left to our own broken (sinful) devices.
We need to learn to ask “bigger questions:” questions that will help us grow closer to God and others; questions that—when answered—will make a significant impact, transforming the world for Christ’s sake and the glory of God.
Luke’s passage opens with intrigue as the Sadducees, who have a clear understanding that there is no resurrection, are asking Jesus questions about the resurrection. Questions have many functions in conversations. Questions are posed to gain knowledge and comprehension, analyze and assess a situation, challenge authority, shame an opponent, or win an argument or debate. Questions often give an opponent the advantage, as the question sets or reframes the conversation. The one who asks the questions has the power. The Sadducees are questioning Jesus about a mystery that they have already considered and rejected.
They are offering small questions that they’ve already got answered. They’re only asking the question to potentially shame Jesus or validate their own understandings.
Now before we’re quick to judge the Sadducees, let’s be honest. We can sometimes act like that too. We ask God questions assuming the answers that validate our own understandings. How often do we really stand before God, ask a question, and expect an answer that is contrary to our natural inclinations? Our prayers and searching for God all too often seem to mirror our own desires rather than that of God. We ask Jesus small questions that we think we already have figured out. We ask hoping that he will either agree or concede our point. And, we forget that:
8 My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans.
Isaiah 55:8-9, Common English Bible
The ways of God are beyond our immediate comprehension. “God’s judgments are not our judgments. Things do not work in heaven the way they work on earth—thank God!”
We need to stop orienting our lives around answers to the small questions; rather, we need to start asking…
Let’s define some terms. Small questions are those questions for which you are already certain of the answer. Our answer might be wrong—think the Sadducees from our lesson—but we are nonetheless certain of the answer. Small questions are dangerous because they limit the possibility for change. They often validate our own broken attitudes and justify our broken relationships. Small questions—more often than not—seek to reinforce the status quo.
Bigger questions on the other hand are challenging. They are questions that we don’t always have the answers to, or if we do the answers seem near impossible. Bigger questions force us to do things that align us with the higher purposes (will) of God instead of justifying our own brokenness (sinfulness). It takes courage to hear God’s answer to our bigger questions. And, living into those answers can only happen by trusting in the Holy Spirit’s power to guide, comfort, and provide strength to do what on our own would seem impossible.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus pleads with the disciples to ask bigger questions. He says,
“Don’t you know me…even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. 12 I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. 14 When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
John 14:9-14, Common English Bible (emphasis added)
Ask me anything, begs Jesus, that will continue my work and I will do it for you. Ask the big questions and the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you and empower you
to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
From Jesus’ “Personal Mission Statement,” Luke 4:18-19, Common English Bible
Ask the big questions, be open to the way in which the God’s Spirit might lead you, and you will make a significant difference in the world God so loved and came to save.
So what are some of the bigger questions we need to be asking God? I’ve come up with three that I think every person who seeks to follow in Christ’s footsteps should be asking as they read Scripture, pray, and go about their daily routines living for Christ’s sake.
1. God, what is your will (desire) for my life?
What is it, Lord that you’d have me do and be? There’s a great prayer in our hymnal (No. 607), written originally by John Wesley, called “A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition.” It’s a great prayer that asks for contentment in accepting God’s will for our lives:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen
2. Where do you need me, O God?
Note: the question is not; send me where I want to go. But, God, send me where you need me: where you, O God, can use the gifts, passion, and resources you have blessed me with.
3. How can I love and serve You, O God, and my neighbors more fully?
Jesus said that that the entirety of Scripture depends upon these two commands: love God and love your neighbor as yourself (see Matthew 22:34-40). Searching for ways to live these two commandments must be a primary concern for the followers of Jesus. In fact, Jesus commands us to be complete in showing to everyone, just as God is complete in showing love to all (Matthew 5:48). And so, we’ve got to ask God, what does that look like in our lives?
These three questions are by no means the only three bigger questions we should be asking. But, they are, I believe, a good place to start the questioning. These questions will lead to other questions. And, the answers to them all will, if we’ll listen for God’s answer, transform our lives and the world around us.
We’ve got to ask bigger questions so that God’s reign might be established in each of our lives and transform the world around us for Christ’s sake and the glory of God.
Gracious God, you are ready to answer all our questions. Help us, O God, not to anticipate your answers by asking small questions. But, rather, help us to ask bigger questions that will transform our hearts and lives into the image of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Make us receptive to your answers so that your Kingdom might come in our lives, our community, and our world just as it is in heaven.
Help us, O God to ask bigger questions; and, give us the courage we need to hear and implement your answers. You are a big God—bigger than anything—help us to listen and rely on you. It’s through the power of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
 Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), p141 found at <http://www.proyecto2501.com.ar/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Carl%20Sagan%20-%20Cosmos%20(Random%20House,%20New%20Edition,%201980,%202002).pdf> Accessed November 8, 2013. Emphasis added.
 “Luke 20:27-38: Pastoral Perspective,” by Nancy Lynne Westfield in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p284.