So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe.” John 10: 24-25

I think it’s safe to say that this has been an incredibly tough week for everyone.  This has been a week when the unthinkable happened, close to home.  This has been a week of grief: a week in which we lost a little bit more of our innocence.  I think that all of us wanted to believe, in those first minutes and hours, that this was an accident, that the manhole covers had blown up, as they had in Harvard Square a couple of years ago.  But the words came up, as they were going to; not as much on Monday but over the course of the week.  This was an act of terror, with all of the baggage that the word now has attached to it, whether or not we ever wanted it to, about race and ethnicity and nationality and motivation.  But this was an act that did, in fact, terrify us; we who live close to Boston, who have ties to the city, many of us who knew people who were at the race.

But by far the most terrifying thing, to me, at any rate, was listening to the rampant, unbridled speculation in which every noise was the next bomb, and every backpack was suspicious, and every nerve was kept on edge for as long as possible.  Over the course of the week every possible motivation was aired, and everyone who looked suspicious was wrongly accused.

We don’t do well with not knowing.  We are vry curious creatures, and there are days when I wonder if God knew what God was doing when adding “curiosity” to the human mix.  I wonder if God realized before we ate the fruit off that tree in Eden just where curiosity would lead us.  BEcause you can’t really blame the snake for that one – human beings would have eaten that fruit eventually because we just had to know what it was that was so cool that we couldn’t have it.  We have to experience things first hand.  We have to touch and grab and taste, and if you don’t believe me, think about this: how many times have you taken a bite or a sip of something and said to the person with you, “Oh, this is so awful, you have to taste it!” And the thing is, we do.

We have to know, we have to experience.

Curiosity isn’t all bad – it isn’t all bad tastes and experiences – it got us this far, for better or for worse.  We are innovative, creative people who build beautiful churches, lighted with electricity, with sound amplification and everything.  We are constantly asking, constantly seeking, constantly striving, and that is not always a bad thing.  But we’re like toddlers, inevitably asking “but why? but why?” I think the reason that the continual toddler questioning drives us so crazy is that we want to be doing the same thing; we’ve just learned how annoying it is. It’s not annoying because we don’t want to know, ourselves, but because we don’t have the answers despite the curiosity.  It reminds us of all the things that we don’t know.  Sometimes the constant asking “why” is a good thing: it allows us to get to know one another better, it allows us to get to know our environment. But sometimes it’s not quite the right question; sometimes it’s that we’re too impatient for an answer; or more likely, that the answer we get does not fit our own worldview.  All too often, we pit our intellect against emotion and experience, weighting one more heavily than the other, as we seek the answer. And inevitably, we do ask why, but equally inevitably, we answer that question within our own minds and our own hearts, and those answers can be very hard to change.

Jesus is in the Temple on Hanukkah.  That’s what the Feast of Dedication is, in case you were wondering, in case that helps you locate this text, within the Gospels.  Hanukkah is the feast in which we celebrate not only the liberation of an occupied city – because Jerusalem was occupied, and the Temple was used to worship gods other than the God of Israel – it was totally desecrated, according to the Jews.  Can you imagine how violating that must have felt?  And then a rebellion, lead by Judas Maccabeus, drove out the occupiers, and they were able to cleanse and rededicate the Temple.  That is what Hanukkah celebrates, that’s what Jesus was in the Temple to celebrate, and that’s the context for the question he was asked. And within all of that is the fear that prompted the question in the first place.  Remembered fear, re-experienced fear, is every but as real as current fear, and we have the same responses to uncertainty and not knowing: this time, shouldn’t we be able to do something?  Shouldn’t we somehow be ready?

That is what was running through the heads of those Jews in Solomon’s portico, face to face with Jesus: these Jews in an occupied Jerusalem, worrying that once again, their Temple might be desecrated, might be destroyed again.  Wondering who might rescue them this time. So: Jesus, tell us plainly, are you the next Judas Maccabeus?  Because we’d really like it if you were.  Could you go on, get a move on, get the Romans out of Jerusalem, maybe before the Temple gets desecrated this time?  They don’t know the answer to their question: they hope, they desire, but they don’t know.  The problem is that there is still a correct answer to their question, even though it wasn’t the one Jesus gave.

This text was very much stuck in my head all week.  It’s not a totally uncommon thing to have happen, I do read the texts through several times during my sermon preparation, and during Bible Study… but I think it goes deeper than that.  Because it resonated, this week, as I followed the news cycle, as I listened to the press conferences, and to what people were saying about what happened this week, and as time and time and time again people asked, “Why?” And it occurred to me that when we ask “why”, when we ask questions like that, we’re not really asking questions.  What we’re saying when we ask “Why”, is “Well, isn’t it because…”; we’re suggesting answers, and giving leading questions that only really serve to display our own biases for all the world to see.  And we become angry when we don’t hear what we expect, when we don’t have our own biases and opinions confirmed.  Every press conference, all week long.  Every interaction on social media, all week long.  And it shouldn’t surprise us.  This is not a new, human reaction to the events of this one, past week.  We’ve been hearing these same, leading questions; these same, expected answers, for the past several years around climate change.  All those climate scientists who have been questioned, and poked, and prodded, and held up to ridicule and scorn among those who want human ingenuity and human innovation to be always good and never bad – we didn’t mean any harm, after all.  Among those who do not want to give up the comfort and convenience that this modern life can offer us, for the responsibility that might be involved in actually hearing those scientists.  It’s the same thing we heard from those who questioned Jesus; when his own answer didn’t satisfy them, in the next verse – the part we didn’t read – they took him out to stone him.  It’s a pretty gruesome, horrible scanario: “we didn’t like your answer, we’re going to kill you now.”  It sounds like overkill, but how many stones have we cast upon climate scientists?  And how many stones have we cast upon the media, when we, ourselves, have forced them in to a rapid-fire, twenty-four-hour news cycle, where being first is far more important than being accurate; where the reporting is fraught with cynicism, with biases showing from every which way, where rumors are what are reported until they are proven entirely false. And heaven forbid we do not hear what we want or expect to hear.

So what do we hear?

What do we hear in those moments when we actually sit, quietly, and listen?  What do we hear in Jesus’ response to those who would have him be the next Maccabeus?  What do we hear, but the still, small voice of God who is still speaking, calling us to open our hearts and our minds to the movement of God right here and right now.  We hear a reminder that God is present among us, right here and right now; that God is always present among us.  That when we don’t know, when we don’t understand – which is frequent – that it might be because we are asking the wrong question, and that we are more intent upon ourselves than upon God.

Maybe the question isn’t whether the climate is changing, but whether we are treating the Earth as we would treat God incarnate.  Maybe the question isn’t whether the climate is changing, but whether we are honoring our relationships with one another, humans and non-humans, really holding those and honoring those relationships, and only using that which we really need, rather than that which we simply desire.

Maybe the question to be asked is not “So, where were you on Monday anyway, God?”  although that is one being asked.  Maybe the question is what it is that God requires of us, on a day like Monday.  Because I think that we’ve all come to the point now where we are learning to see God present in moments like that, to see God in the flashing lights and the first responders and the many, many people who ran towards the danger. To see God present in those who finished a 26.2 mile marathon and then kept on running to the hospital to give blood.  But if we’re all affected, and I think we all were, this week, doesn’t that make each and every one of us first responders?  And doens’t htat call into question where we see God?

Maybe the question isn’t, actually, “Why?”  Maybe the question isn’t, actually, “Why would anyone do this?” But the question is how any one person could get to such a deep place of pain and isolation.  The desire to inflict pain can only come out of a place of pain and fear.  It is easier to dehumanize the perpetrators; it is easier to see them as monsters, to see them only as they currently are.  But I defy any one among you to look into the eyes of a baby, and to claim that they are a monster and born that way.  I defy any one among you, sitting here with Christ as our head and cornerstone, and say that any one human being is irredeemable.  Because that’s what you would be saying, if you said that these men were nothing but monsters.

It is a lot easier to create a category of “other” – of “not like us” – by virtue of race or ethnicity or immigration status.  To make these people different.  It is far easier to do that than it is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  To weep for their fear and their pain as we would for our own, even when we don’t understand it.  But let’s face it: who else really does understand our fear, or our pain?

It is easier to say that they don’t deserve our love; that they don’t deserve our prayers, that they don’t deserve even our system of justice.  All of that has been said this week.  But God doesn’t see things the way we do.  God doesn’t act on merit.  If God did, we would not be sitting here right now.  We would not be Christians; there would be no Christians, because there would have been no Christ, sent to a people who we cannot say deserved to have love incarnate walk among them.

Maybe the question is not, now, how we keep ourselves or our own cities safe.  But it is the same question that it has always been: how do we love our neighbors.

Maybe the question is not, now, about national security – that’s not our job, after all.  It is not about how we intercept the next plot.  Because maybe the question is not about this realm at all, and never has been.  Maybe the question is about bringing God’s realm – that is our call, that is our discipleship.  Maybe the question is about how we fill the next broken heart, how we soothe the next wounded spirit.  Perhaps it is the one sitting next to you, today.

Maybe the question we should be asking is the one for which our scriptures give the same answer over, and over, and over, and over, until you’re sick of hearing it preached from the pulpit every single Sunday.  But maybe it’s the answer to the question that we should be asking.  And if we listen, then the Kingdom might be a whole lot closer than any of us know.

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