When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Father, from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit who unites us in faith. Amen.
This time of year the game of basketball is a popular topic throughout our nation, so I thought I’d jump into our discussion about another Half Truth of Christian scripture with a basketball-related story.
One year when I was in high school all the athletes attended an assembly by a sports psychologist. His message was about the power of positive thinking. He told us the story of how he had worked with another high school’s basketball team. This team was having a terrible time at the free-throw line. So he told the team to stand at the stripe and picture the ball going into a giant jar of spaghetti sauce. Not just any spaghetti sauce, mind you, but Prego sauce. Watch this commercial and see if you can make the connection…
Prego, “It’s in there.” Get it? Got it? Good.
The idea was for anyone shooting a free throw to focus on this image and three-word phrase, “It’s in there,” in order to block out all negative thoughts. The sports psychologist said that the high school team ended up winning the state title that year due in part to their incredible free-throw percentage.
I remember going home that night, grabbing my basketball, shooting free-throw after free-throw in my driveway, each time picturing the giant jar of spaghetti sauce, each time saying aloud, “Prego, it’s in there.” And I tell you what…very few went in. Truth be told, I was at that assembly because I was on the tennis team; I’d never been a part of a basketball team, nor been taught correct basketball-shooting form. No matter how confident and positive I was when I shot the ball, my confidence and positivity could not make up for my lack of training and skill.
I tell you that story because it highlights the need for education and humility – two things our world and our religion is in desperate need of right now.
Here’s an image that gets right to the heart of the matter.
This comic strip was my computer wallpaper during seminary. Many of my seminary classmates made it seem as though they were there in order to defend their faith against any new knowledge, insight, or questions posed by the professors. I was amazed at how often seminary students would argue against the professors, without having allowed themselves to contemplate the new insight. It was a very different approach than I had experienced as an undergraduate student, where vigorous debate took place after we had a chance to reflect on the new ideas.
These students would have loved this Peanuts comic strip because they interpreted it as something they would say to a self-righteous professor who was threatening their faith - an accusatory, “You’re wrong. I’m right.”
I, on the other hand, had already endured the painful process of having my adolescent faith transformed as a result of asking tough questions and allowing doubt to ferment my faith. I loved this Peanuts comic strip because it reminded me of the attitude I needed to have in order to continue to learn and grow in my faith. Admitting that I could very well be wrong about a great many things opened me up the entirety of a high-quality seminary experience. And to this day this idea serves as my framework of faith - a faith guided by the pursuit of knowledge born out of a spirit of humility.
In other words, I read this comic and see the complete opposite of the Half Truth, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”
Too often we mistakenly think of faith as believing the right things and having the right answers (or if we don’t have the answers, not even bothering to ask the questions). However, throughout Christian scriptures, history, and liturgy, a great many references are made to the life of faith as a journey or pilgrimage.
In Acts 22, the apostle Paul refers to his past experience persecuting “the Way.” There are other references to early Christ-followers as “People of the Way.” The very reference to “Christ-followers” implies movement. The very notion of repentance has at its root the Hebrew practice of Teshuvah - a joyful return to the path in which God is leading you.
Yes, there are times when we settle in God-ordained places for a while (metaphorically speaking), but God always uproots the settlers and sends them on their way once more. One of the most powerful images of this taking place is the image of Jacob wrestling with the angel and walking away limping. Authentic encounters with God change everything, particularly the direction or way in which we continue on the journey.
I came across this brief film interview with Greg Boyd, a pastor in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In this film, Greg rather succinctly explores implications of raising one’s certainty above one’s capacity to question, doubt, and wrestle with God. I wanted to share this clip with you and I hope it speaks to your heart.