Pastoral Message: September 2017
At a recent family gathering, I witnessed a seven year old grandson sidle up to his grandmother and ask, as nonchalantly as is possible for a seven year old, “Nana, how old do you think you’ll be when you die?” Tucked around that question were obviously a host of other questions, but for the moment something was asked that appeared only to request a straightforward, numerical answer. The grandmother, though, wisely replied, “Oh, my dear, I hope I will be a very old person before my body grows tired and I finally die.” Some negotiations then followed her answer (“Like maybe 100?” “Well, sometimes living is very hard when you’re 100 years old. But a lot older than now.”) and then the boy ran off. At the very least, he was reassured that someone he loved wasn’t leaving or dying or abandoning him any time soon.
Most questions are attempts to get answers to other questions left unspoken. “How old will you be when you die?” is an attempt to understand what it means to grow old and die, and what it means to live today if tomorrow those we love are no longer with us. A seven-year old boy may not be able to articulate a fear of being abandoned by loved ones or put into words an existential dread of dying. So he asks about things he does understand—numbers, simple math, today’s age minus a future terminal age—in order to get an answer to the secondary question of “how long will we be together?”
Questions about God and Christian faith are quite similar to my grand-nephew’s question posed to his grandmother. People will ask, “Who is God?” and “How does Jesus answer prayers?” and their questions appear to request fairly straightforward, descriptive answers. But there are always secondary questions lurking nearby, hoping to be answered at the same time. For example, secondary faith questions could be “Is the world trustworthy?” or “Do things happen blindly or is there an order to the universe?” That is why, instead of talking about God, Jesus, or prayers, a wise response is to try and address some of the unspoken, secondary questions. You can ask the questioner, “Tell me what you believe in, what you trust, what comforts you when you’re afraid or facing a hard decision.” The responses to those questions are like open doors that lead to deeper conversations, where eventually things like God and Jesus and eternity and love can be discussed together.
Jesus was regularly asked “who are you?” to which he seldom, if ever, gave a direct answer. Instead, he responded by healing those who were wounded or telling a parable about the kingdom of God. Through those secondary responses, disciples then and now come to understand the answer to the primary questions. That is why we still study those responses and read those parables, even as we pray and worship and call out to the God who is wondrous, loving, eternal and mysterious.
A new season is now beginning at ELPC. The coming weeks will have Christian Education classes for all ages, ministry information tables at the Church Life Sampler, and fellowship opportunities at the picnic. All of these are great opportunities for you to reach out and invite others to join with us. And all of them are prime opportunities to talk about secondary questions—deeper questions about faith, love, trust and grace. That’s the important stuff on people’s minds—maybe yours as well. So, come join us!