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You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

100 Questions Jesus Asked

100 Questions Jesus Asked
Mark 4:35-41
June 21, 2015
Jennifer Browne
UUMC

Last summer, almost exactly a year ago, I spent a week on Washington Island off the northern coast of Door County, Wisconsin, for some time of renewal and inspiration.  One of the two speakers for that week-long class was Martin Copenhaver, who had just resigned from his position as Senior Pastor of First Congregational Church of Wellesley, Massachusetts, in order to become the President of Andover Newton Theological Seminary, a seminary of the United Church of Christ, also in Massachusetts.

Copenhaver was working on a book called The 307 Questions Jesus Asked, and we got a preview of some of its chapters. 

Jesus, according to Copenhaver, was not an Answer Man… he was the Great Questioner.  In the four gospels, he asks a total of 307 different questions.  In counterpart, only 183 questions are asked of him…and he gives direct answers to less than 10.  In other words, Jesus is almost 40 times more like to ask a question than to give a direct answer.

Jesus asks all different kinds of questions:

  • Straightforward ones – what were you arguing about along the way?
  • Rhetorical ones that are not meant to be answered – can any of you by worrying add a single moment to you lifespan?
  • Thought-provoking questions- Who do you say that I am?
  • Questions that challenge – Why did you not watch with me one hour?
  • And some questions that seem, well, silly.  In today’s case, “Why are you frightened?”  Isn’t it obvious?  The boat is sinking!  

Jesus does not give us tips or easy answers, instead he asks hard questions.  Copenhaver told us the story of the last lecture of a famous theology professor at Harvard Divinity School.  The final statement of the man’s career was, “Just remember, Jesus is the question to all of your answers.”

Answers present finality, a conclusion.  Questions present chance to grow, they send us on a journey in search of something valuable.  So in that way, they have a lot in common with parables, which we talked about last week: another of Jesus’ teaching tools.

If the goal is to communicate information, then questions and parables may not be the best method.  But if this goal is to elicit new understanding in the listener – not information but transformation -- then parables and questions are exactly the right method.

By asking questions and telling stories that created more questions, Jesus was following the tradition of the rabbis.  Jesus is called “rabbi,” in the gospels, and a good rabbi knows how to ask questions.  Copenhaver said that his Jewish father-in-law always answered questions with a question.  “Max, do you know you always answer questions with a question?” he once asked.  “I do?”

At the First Congregational Church of Wellesley, Copenhaver led a small group in the study of 150 of the 307 questions that Jesus asked.  They studied them simply as questions, without regard to their settings.  Reading them as a shower of questions without context was different, he said.  It was a different way to spend time with Jesus.  The questions were both comforting and challenging.  The study group participants said that it helped them to realize that it can be more important to find the right questions than the right answers. 

Albert Einstein was right.  “Given an hour,” he once said, “I would spend 55 minutes figuring out how to ask the question and 5 minutes answering it.  Once I know the proper question I can solve the problem.” 

We’re going to hear 100 of Jesus’ 307 questions in the same way – as a shower of questions without their contexts.  You have copies in your bulletins, but I want to encourage you not to read along this first time.  Save the list for reading and contemplating later on.  This time just let the questions flow over you.  Which one jumps out at you today?  It might be the question from this week’s reading (#54 – Why are you afraid?  Have you still not faith?), but might be something different.

(Attachment, 100 Questions Jesus Asked)

One Hundred Questions Jesus Asked

1.      What are you looking for?

2.      Whom are you looking for?

3.      Why are you searching for me?

4.      What do you want me to do for you?

5.      Who do people say that I am?

6.      Who do you say that I am?

7.      Why do you ask about what is good?

8.      Why do you call me good?

9.      Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?

10.  What do you think of the messiah? Whose son is he?

11.  Who appointed me a judge over you?

12.  How much longer must I put up with you?

13.  Have I been with you and you still do not know me?

14.  Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?

15.  Why do you think evil in your hearts?

16.  Did not the one who made the outside also make the inside?

17.  Why do you notice the speck and not the log?

18.  Are those who suffer worse than all the others?

19.  If you love those who love you what reward do you have?

20.  If you greet your brother and sister, what more are you doing?

21.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?

22.  Which of them will love you more?

23.  Do you want to be made well?

24.  Who touched me?

25.  What is your name?

26.  How long has this been happening to him?

27.  Which is easier – your sins are forgiven or stand up, take your mat and walk?

28.  What do you want me to do for you?

29.  Can you see anything?

30.  Can a blind person guide a blind person?

31.  Do you see this woman?

32.  Which one of these 3 was neighbor to the man in need?

33.  What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

34.  What can they give in return?

35.  Can any of you by worrying add a single hour? 

36.  Why do you worry about the rest?

37.  Is not life more than food?

38.  Are you not of more value than the birds?

39.  Is it lawful to do good or do harm on Sabbath?  To save life or destroy it?

40.  Who is greater, the one at the table or the one who serves?

41.  What is the Kingdom of God like and to what should I compare it?

42.  Do you think I have come to bring peace?

43.  Why do you worry about clothing?

44.  Is there any among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?

45.  How much will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?

46.  How many loaves do you have? 

47.  If God clothes the grass of the field, will he not much more clothe you?

48.  Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones…?

49.  Were not the 10 made clean?  The other 9 where are they?

50.  Where is your faith?

51.  Do you believe in the Son of God?

52.  Do you believe that I am able to do this?

53.  Why did you doubt?

54.  Why are you afraid, have you still no faith?

55.  When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

56.  If you do not believe Moses, how will you believe me?

57.  Why do you make a commotion?

58.  Why does this generation ask for a sign?

59.  What are the people of this generation like?

60.  How can you believe when you do not seek glory from the one who is God?

61.  Did I not tell you that you would see the glory of God?

62.  Do you not believe that I am in the Father?

63.  Why do you not believe me?

64.  Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?

65.  Why do you not understand what I say?

66.  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you not remember?

67.  How can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

68.  Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

69.  Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?

70.  Does this offend you?

71.  Why do you call me Lord and do not do what I tell you?

72.  Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of tradition?

73.  What were you arguing about?

74.  Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?

75.  Who is the faithful manager?

76.  Why are you putting me to the test?

77.  Will you lay down your life for me?

78.  Are you able to drink the cup?

79.  Do you also wish to leave?

80.  Did I not choose you, the 12?

81.  Did you lack anything, when I sent you out?

82.  Do you know what I have done for you?

83.  Would I have told that I go to prepare a place?

84.  Could you not keep awake one hour?

85.  Are you still sleeping?

86.  Why are you sleeping?

87.  Whom are you looking for?

88.  Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?

89.  Why do you ask me?

90.  Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you?

91.  For which of these good works are you going to stone me?

92.  Why do you want to kill me?

93.  What should I say, Father save me?

94.  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

95.  Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?

96.  Do you believe that everyone who lives and believe in me will never die?

97.  Was it not necessary that the messiah should suffer?

98.  Why are you frightened? 

99.  Why do doubts arise?

100. Do you love me more than these? Do you love me?  Do you love me?

 

  • How does Jesus sound?
  • What did you learn?
  • What question jumped out at you?  Take a moment to mark it and plan to revisit it sometime later today.

This morning’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of Mark begins with a call that mirrors Jesus’ call to his first disciples to follow him.  “Let us go across to the other side,” he says, referring to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  His disciples respond obediently, and interestingly the text says, “taking him along with them in the boat”

Then, out of the blue, we read: “And there happens! a great windstorm and the waves began to beat against the boat so that the boat was already filling with water.  Jesus is in the stern (the place where one should be steering the boat) sleeping away peacefully on a pillow, oblivious to the predicament. The disciples wake him up, shouting “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”

Their cry is the cry of fear, of doubt and abandonment. Where is God in the midst of our distress? Has God abandoned us? It is a cry we repeat often today in the midst of the terrors and distresses of our world today.

  • Disasters, natural and human-caused;
  • tragic illnesses and injuries;
  • endless wars and bombings,
  • violence that seems to come out of the blue;
  • 9 people shot as they studied the Bible together in the basement of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.

If God is so great and powerful a creator, if God really cares about this world, then why do events in the world and in our lives go so badly? The answer appears to be that either God has no power, or God does not care for us.

The cry amounts to a prayer for deliverance. And it is immediately and directly answered. Jesus does not chastise or reason with the fears of the disciples. He does not seek to correct their poor theology or remind them of the whole tradition of God’s deliverance and care for the people of Israel. Instead he immediately “woke up” and rebuked the winds forcefully with his double command: “Be silent! Be still! The response of the winds is immediate. The wind ceased and there came a “great calm.” The description of this “great calm” exactly matches the “great storm” which began the problem.

Then, once the rescue is accomplished and the sea is calm, there is time for some conversation. Jesus doesn’t question their lack of faith and then still the storm; he stills the storm and then asks --

Why are you afraid, have you still no faith? (NRSV)

“Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” (CEB)

Which leads one to wonder what the fear reflected on the faces of the disciples is the fear of?  The storm? Or the power of the one who has stilled the storm?  Both?

James Boyce says that this story calls to see the gulf between two vastly different worlds that face us.

  • The world of fear and chaos, where we feel orphaned and alone without the power of God.
  • Or the world of the Kingdom of God, where we can live in the presence and rule of God in our midst. 
  • We can feel ourselves at the mercy of the storm and the wind and the waves.
  • Or we can be open to hearing the message and promise of this Jesus who now offers a whole new future for our world and for our lives. 

It is true that the second world can be just as frightening as the first, but it is a different kind of fear.  In the first world, we fear death and violence and by doing so we give them power.  In the second world, the fear we feel is better understood as “awe”: fear that denies the rule of death and violence and embraces the ever-challenging and sometimes-frightening way and lordship of Jesus.

“Who then is this?” the disciples ask at the end of our passage. Literally the text reads, “they feared a great fear.” It is the same words that Luke uses to describe the shepherds response to the angel at Jesus’ birth, or as our translation reads, “great awe.”

Did you hear the voices of the relatives of those who were slain on Wednesday night at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston?  When I read the caption on the video I thought “this can’t be genuine.”  Then I listened to their voices…

  • You took something very precious from me, I will never talk with her ever again.  I will never hold her again.  But I forgive you. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people, but God forgive you. And I forgive you.
  • I would like him to know that… I forgive you , my family forgives you  We would like you to take this opportunity to repent, repent, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change it, he can change your ways no matter what happened to you, do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.
  • We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible Study with open arms.  You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll never be the same.  Tywanza Sanders is my son; Tywanza Sanders was my hero.  But as we said in Bible Study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on your soul.
  • Although my grandfather and the others died at the hands of hate, this is proof – everyone’s prayers for your soul is proof – that they lived in loved and their legacies will live in love.  So hate won’t win.
  • I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I am very angry.  But one thing DePayne and our family taught me: we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate, so we have to forgive.

We can continue to live in the world of fear and chaos, or, like these brave sisters and brothers, we can live in the world infused by the presence of the Kingdom of God. We can feel ourselves at the mercy of the storm and the wind and the waves, or we can be open to hearing the message and promise of this Jesus who now offers a whole new future for our world and for our lives.

The line between these two worlds is thin and risky. But in between them stands the gift and power of the good news of God’s Messiah, Jesus.

At the end of the story, the disciples ask one another “Who then is this?”  They ask us, as well.  The great question of this “parable” of discipleship is placed in our laps.

In the text, no answer is given to that question.  It is left open. The answer will develop as the rest of the story is told.  The answer will take shape in our lives as well. As we turn from fear to faith, by God’s grace, we will become the answer: the power and presence of the good news of God’s kingdom.  

 

 


 

References

James Boyce. Commentary on Mark 4:35-41. June 21, 2015. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2470

Martin Copenhaver.  Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered. Abingdon Press, 2014.