Year A Proper 25 Matthew 22 2011
The Two Most Important Questions a Christian Can Answer
Isidor Isaac Rabi, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, and one of the developers of the atomic bomb, was once asked how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn't so much interested in what he had learned that day, but how he conducted himself in his studies. She always inquired, "Did you ask a good question today?"
"Asking good questions," Rabi said, "made me become a scientist."
In order to ask a good question I think you need to have noble motives behind the question. You have to want to know the truth. The Pharisees, by contrast, already had the answers to their questions. They felt they already knew the truth. How many times have we had it in for someone, asking a question designed to trap them? We do it to our loved ones all the time. In a moment like this we are not trying to learn; we are trying to injure.
The Pharisees come to Jesus once again with a question designed to do damage to the reputation of Jesus. And once again Jesus proves he is equal to the task. Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Now, even though this question was used to test Jesus, it is nonetheless an important question. Perhaps in the life of Israel at that time it was THE most important question. But Jesus had a question of his own. A question, which signified that the times were changing; a new theological season had come. He put this question to the same Pharisees who had tested him: "What do you think of the Messiah. Whose son is he?"
These were the two most important questions of that era and my friends they are the two most important questions of our time. Let us consider...
- Which Commandment Is the Greatest?
- What Do You Thing of the Messiah?
The Science of Happiness
"The pursuit of happiness."
It's a phrase with which every school child is familiar. But what a phrase . . . a phrase that is foundational to our national identity and part of the introductory insistence of our Founding Fathers' Declaration of Independence.
"Happiness" is an extraordinary "demand" for political revolutionaries. Equality. Democracy. Liberty. Freedom. Those are what we expect from our fiery ancestors. But life, liberty . . . and "the pursuit of happiness?" No matter how intellectually gifted, how democratically on fire, or how socially revolutionary, at some crucial point, at some heart of our humanity, all we want to do, all we want to feel, all we want is to be happy. No wonder Jesus started one of his most famous sermons with a litany of "Happy are those who . . ." (Matthew 5:1-12).
Perhaps the greatest sadness of Martin Luther, the simple monk who brought the hurricane winds of reformation to the entire continent of Europe, was that towards the end of his long and momentous life, he confessed that he could count on the fingers of one hand the days of complete happiness he could remember.
Luther measured "happiness" by the length of days. But happiness does not come neatly packaged in 24 hour increments. Happiness comes in unexpected spurts and momentary bursts. Happiness is woven into the tapestry of our life as an infusion of grace. Happiness is not something we "find." Happiness is something we cultivate on a daily basis, not for itself, but as part of a larger mission, a mission which, joyfully, sometimes gifts us with an unexpected bumper crop of happiness.
In the eighteenth century, when that "pursuit of happiness" phrase was coined, the buzzword "happiness" was loaded with meaning and merit. While Enlightenment figures applauded the pursuit of life, liberty, and the "pursuit of happiness," another Enlightenment figure, the founder of Methodism John Wesley, equated "happiness" with the way to "holiness." His phrase was "holiness is happiness," and over 70 of his sermons referenced and recommended "happiness" as the goal of the Christian life.
But for Wesley "happiness" means more than "feeling good." "Happiness" means "pleasing God." In today's epistle text Paul makes an important distinction. It's a distinction many people never make their whole life long. It's a distinction between living one's life trying to "please people" and living one's life to "please God."
Paul has no interest in living to please people. Paul seeks the stamp of "approval" from none but God. Neither offering flattery to others nor gaining praise for himself is part of Paul's mission. Paul's mission lays out what matters most: Pleasing God...