The gospel writers love these stories—stories where Jesus gets the better of those who seek to outsmart him appear in all the gospels. But a key to the stories is that Jesus always engages. He could have simply dismissed the questioners, the scoffers, and sarcastic accusers, but he doesn’t. He takes on all comers. And he hopes to crowbar open their closed minds. He has high standards for the leaders of his people and shows his disappointment in how they are leading on more than one occasion. But he never gives up, never refuses to engage.
So, emboldened by this truth, worship could be a time of bringing our questions to Jesus. Whether out loud, or more properly silently or written in a moment of reflection, all could be encouraged to ask the questions that have been tugging away in the back of the mind. Unlike those in the story, these aren’t questions to trip up Jesus, but rather the things we’ve been afraid to ask. It is a way of drawing closer to the one we worship.
It could also be a time to celebrate those who teach us, who share wisdom or new ways of looking at the world and ourselves. We could say thank you to teachers and leaders during worship this week. Those who, like Jesus, open us up to new possibilities. It could be a celebration of small-group leaders and Sunday school teachers. And of course, it could be accompanied by an invitation to join a group, learning together with clear instructions on how to do so.
As discussed in the Preaching Notes, we aren’t out to find adversaries; we aren’t here to point fingers at those who don’t get it. Instead, we are always looking to invite and to include and to understand what it means to live a life of faith in the world as it is today. So let us pray for openness to others, for an awareness of the needs of our community so that we can more effectively witness and serve. Let us pray for a willingness to respond to the questions and doubts that some might have about our faith. We’re all on a journey and we’re all learning. Letting folks know that a perfectly acceptable answer to a puzzling question from a friend or neighbor is, “I don’t know but let me find out.” We need to be willing to engage.
Maybe there could be some time for conversation or question and answer, if not during worship, then following. How do we express our willingness to be challenged, to be questioned, to be approached about our faith? Let worship be open to all, which means paying attention to the things we take for granted. How do we make sure that those unfamiliar with our practices can feel at home and welcomed in our midst? Maybe someone is coming with a puzzle to trick us, or maybe they just want to know what it is we know. That is always our hope.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.