In my younger and well-intended-but-ignorant-conservative-evangelicalism-slipping-into- fundamentalism Christian days, I used to love listening to the Bible Answer Man. It was a call-in radio program where Hank, the Bible Answer Man, would answer any and all questions about Christianity, the Bible, and faith.
Hank knew it all. He had all the right answers. He shot down certain beliefs and religious traditions, pointed out fallacies, proved Christianity to be true, and knew the Bible better than the back of his hand. He was what every Evangelical wished they could be. Thus, why I listened regularly to Hank. I, too, wanted to know all the answers.
Entering seminary, I assumed I’d learn enough to answer any question. Early on, however, I learned that I don’t have all the answers and probably never will have them. Seminary taught me just how little I actually knew. And, it didn't’ give me all the answers. Instead, it taught me to ask questions; about the text, about the context, about the original languages, about textual variants, about ministry models. Rather than avoiding difficult texts or topics, we were challenged to dig in deeper. But, it didn’t mean we always found an answer. Sometimes it was a theory or two while other times we discovered more questions.
The longer I have been a pastor the more I have realized I still don’t have all the answers. In fact, I think I have a lot more questions. As I study the text, explore spiritual practices, and listen to people’s experiences in life, I find myself with fewer answers and the realization that maybe I often ask the wrong questions.
Maybe I’m not supposed to have all the answers and knowledge, and maybe you’re not supposed to either. Maybe the more we contemplate the Infinite One, the more questions we find ourselves asking. Maybe exploring the Infinite One is more important than having answers about the Infinite One.
Recently, I was listening to a podcast of a former pastor who was sharing feedback he had received after a presentation he had given. The audience member came up to him and said, “I didn’t come to get answers. I came to watch you explore in public.”
“I didn’t come to get answers. I came to watch you explore in public.”
It got me thinking, exploring, and asking questions: What if this was how we understood a sermon? What if preaching wasn’t a way to give congregants answers, but instead a way to communally watch someone explore the spiritual life in public?
Instead of treating preachers and pastors as the ones with all the answers, the defenders of dogma and doctrine, the protectors of a particular faith, the gatekeepers of the godly, spewers of spiritual cliches and tweetable truisms, chaperones for the sacred, or judges of the heretics, what if we viewed them as people who were asking deeper and more human questions and allowed them to do that in public?
What if preachers, instead of being known for wearing expensive sneakers in public, were known to explore the spiritual life in public? What if they explored the character and dimensions of the Divine and, as congregants, we simply got to participate in that act?
What if pastors and preachers were never supposed to have the answers in the first place? What if they were simply to be people, like you and me, who ask the honest questions we are also asking, get us thinking together, and create the space so we can open ourselves up to the Divine?
What if a sermon wasn’t supposed to be simply an affirmation of what you already believe, but a chance for you to ask the questions and voice what you hope to someday believe?
I have a sneaking suspicion such preaching could move sermons away from simply giving spoon fed answers to an inclusive and participatory spiritual experience and event. I also think preachers would be less concerned about saying something that might offend and more able to say what congregants have been too afraid to actually voice. And, maybe such preaching would allow us to open ourselves up to the transforming Presence of the One always present to us.
I think that’s what I need in a sermon. And, I think that’s what I want to do in writing a sermon.
But again, I don’t have the answers, I just want to ask the questions and explore the spiritual life together in public.