Fortune Telling and Asking Bigger Questions

The Gospel according to John, the 18th chapter.

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not Jewish, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Judean authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

 

In my email inbox this week was a link sent by a friend to something called “Google Fortune Telling.”  The message read, “With our latest addition to Google, we are experimenting with fortune telling. Based on your previous search results and your profile, we try to make a good prediction of your future.”

“Wow! That’s creepy,” I thought. “Big Data is really getting sophisticated.” Then again, who doesn’t want to know about their future, right? So I clicked on the link and was taken to a page with the familiar Google logo and a text box in the center with the instruction, “Type your questions about your future.”

Ah, what to type? I went through a mental list. “How old will I be when I die?” “Where will my kids go to school?” “Will I win the lottery?” “Will the Vikings beat the Packers?” The options are endless, but I decided to start simple: “What will I eat for dinner?”

I typed a W, but as soon as I did, other letters started to appear across that text box, spelling out a different question: “Where can I find a safe place?”

Then a drop down menu appeared with other questions:

Will I be reunited with my family?

Will humans ever stop fighting war?

Is there a place where they will accept me?

Is there a place where I can give my children a safe future?

I was confused until a new page popped up that said:

OF COURSE WE CAN’T PREDICT YOUR FUTURE!

But 60 million refugees ask themselves every day if they have a future at all. So we used a fake Google-site to get your attention because apparently you were interested in your own future. Please take a moment to think of their future.

It was a powerful approach to get me thinking differently about the refugee crisis in our world today, to help me connect on a human level with the individuals and the families who have very real questions about what’s next for them. It expanded my perspective. It reminded me of the larger world and the larger, shared future that we are creating together. It helped me to ask a bigger question, which I’m sure we all need help with once in a while.

Those of us who worship and serve in the Christian Church know that Jesus also has a way of getting us to ask bigger questions. Our reading of the Gospels week after week, day after day, broadens our understanding and resets priorities in our lives. One theologian has said that the eternal Christ, present at creation and revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus, is the image of “creative transformation” at work in the universe. John Nunes, who was here last week, might call it instead “creative disruption” because no transformation comes without disruption, after all. Jesus has a way of disrupting assumptions, creatively challenging the status quo, in order to bring about something bigger, something new and life-giving for all.

So when Jesus stood in front of Pilate, he sought to creatively disrupt Pilate’s way of thinking, too. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews.” That is, are you someone I need to be afraid of because of what you could do to lead a rebellion against Rome’s control here in Jerusalem? Jesus’ answer was a kind of “yes and no.” Jesus says, “Your position is by no means secure, but the things I have been talking about with my followers and with those in power is not of human origin. My purpose does not come out of worldly concerns, though it certainly affects the realities and empires of this world. My purpose, Jesus says, is about the reign of God which is so much greater than any government, so much more powerful than any human system of domination.” Jesus is at work again to creatively disrupt dominant worldviews.

Sadly, Pilate was not able to receive it, but there is a glimmer of hope for him. There’s a bit of evidence that he was beginning to think bigger, beginning to ask better questions when he ends the conversation by asking, “What is truth?”

I love that this encounter between Jesus and Pilate ends that way. It’s so open-ended. And so is life. We cannot know the future, regardless of Google’s data and how great our technology might be. But in faith, we can embrace the future because we know we will not be left alone.

After the resurrection of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, an angel says to the women at the empty tomb, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. Galilee, which is a way of saying out in the world, the real world of hurt and sorrow and fear. There you will find him. Jesus goes ahead of us to the streets of Galilee and into every place in need of healing and reconciliation, into every future moment. Even if it ever seems that we’re stuck in a dead end, even when violence and terrorism try to strip away our hope, Christ opens up for us a new way. This is the other side of that creative transformation. It’s disruptive, yes. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins. But that wine is the wine of abundant life. Christ promises to meet us with grace and hope.

Today is traditionally known as the last Sunday of the church year. Next week begins Advent and a brand new year of the church’s life. A time of transition such as this can be an occasion both to look back on the past and also consider where Christ might meet us in the new year.

I want to invite you prayerfully reflect on this transition. What comes to mind for you as you think about the past year? Are there specific events? What feelings are associated with them? What was good, what was hard? Where did you feel fear? Where did you feel hope? Perhaps there are moments that you wish to pray about today even here in our worship. God is listening. Maybe God is also speaking to you through these reflections and feelings. How, in the past year, have you lived the Gospel message of peace, healing, and perhaps even bold, disruptive love? I hope each of you will take some time this week to reflect on these questions. Then, after reflecting and praying about all of this, what gift or learning can you take into a new year of service in God’s world?

This kind of reflective prayer practice is appropriate at the transition into a new year and really, at any time during the year. In faith, our perspective is broadened to see in every ending a new beginning because Christ goes ahead of us. We can’t see the future, but we listen to the voice of the One we follow.

This day is an opportunity for us as a congregation, too, to reflect both on the past and the approach of a new beginning. What will be different for us as we head into Advent and 2016? What will we bring with us from the past 12 months to preserve and continue to strengthen? Together, we need to pray about these things for our congregation’s ministry, too.

There’s so much that we share in this church’s ministry; it’s really exciting for me to think about it all. On the other hand, there are no doubt things that we need to leave behind, too—regrets and moments that we can learn from. Perhaps the church has let you down in some way this past year. I am certain that as one of your pastors here, I have disappointed you at some point, and for that I apologize. Still, I trust that as a church, the end of a year of worship and service together can be a time to be renewed in hope for the beginning of a new year. Christ goes ahead of us and will meet us in whatever the future holds.

After worship today, many of us will gather in the gym downstairs for the annual stewardship lunch. Members and nonmembers and guests are all welcome to join us. We will consider our intentions for the new year. We’ll hear about specific volunteer opportunities for serving through the church. If you’re a member, we’ll discuss with you individual giving through the church, too. If you can’t join us for the lunch, then you’re invited to turn a pledge card in through the offering today. Will this be a year when you can increase the amount you pledge to give? Whatever you decide, this congregation will continue its commitment to being generous to support Christ’s work through Holy Trinity. What practices of generosity will you bring with you into the coming year?

One thing that generosity does for us is help us get new, larger perspective on things, especially in times of fear. You may have felt some fears during the past year. Wars and attacks throughout the world and the displacement of so many of our global neighbors have got a lot of people feeling especially afraid this week. Yet the good news of Christ, in its creative and disruptive way, invites us to root ourselves in gratitude and generosity. No fear is stronger than our hope. Nothing can stand in the way of God’s grace. We can’t see the future, but we can trust in the steadfast, abiding grace of Christ.

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