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I Give Up; I Don't Know"


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I Give Up; I Don't Know
The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Matthews

A young American was eager to search for the spiritual truths of the world and had heard of a holy man in the Far East. He journeyed there and climbed up the steep mountain to the cave where the holy man lived. He sat outside the cave for an hour or so waiting for the holy man to come out so that he could speak to him about the wisdom of the spiritual journey.

Finally, the holy man came out and sat across from the young man, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “What is the most important thing that you can do for God?”

The young man sat there, reflected and thought and thought, and after a long silence, pondering everything he could think of, he looked at the holy man and said, “I give up.” The holy man said, “Exactly” and returned to the cave.

I give up. Probably the last time you said that was when somebody asked you a riddle in about the fourth grade. I give up. That is not something we say anymore, is it? We don’t add the “I don’t know” either.

We never like to say, “I don’t know” or “I give up.” We’ll even say something that is not particularly relevant or true just in order to avoid being trapped with an “I don’t know” or “I give up.” Children still do it, but adults don’t do it very easily.

It is almost refreshing once in a while to have somebody look at you straight and say, “You know I just don’t know.” It’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s almost like wisdom coming your way, isn’t it? Actually a person said they didn’t know. ...

At the time Jesus was living and teaching, there were lots of little political parties. We have two. He had a lot of them, but he had mainly four. There were basically four political parties that were the groups that said, “We know. We have the answer.”

One of those groups said it this way, “The answer is to stay unspotted from the world. Get yourself removed from all the wickedness and sin and corruption of human encounters and go off into the desert and become pure.” Those people were called Essenes. They knew Jesus. Jesus knew them. They wanted Him to join, no doubt. He was a very charismatic and popular figure. He didn’t join them.

There was another group. This group was a very disciplined, educated and highly regarded group. They were called the Pharisees. The Pharisees had everything down so carefully disciplined, with the rules and the regulations and what we call the law, that they had turned the Sabbath day into a series of rules and regulations so disciplined that every particular aspect of the Sabbath day was formulated. Jesus offended them over and over again. He said man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for the man.

There was another group called the Zealots. The Zealots said, “Get the sword.” They were the guerilla folks. They said, “We can whip those Romans if we get enough swords, enough disciplined warriors, we can defeat the Romans.” Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek. Do good to them who persecute you.” Can you imagine how that made the Zealots feel? They had the answer. They knew what was right.

And finally the fourth political party might be closer to some of us here in this room, not you, of course, but the person next to you. They were called the Sadducees.The Sadducees were people who maybe used that expression I hear in New York all the time when you're doing a deal. It's called mutuality of interest. What it really means is, “I'll sell out if you'll sell out.”

The Sadducees were very interested in the status quo. They sold out to the Romans whenever it was appropriate. They were the wealthy people, the prominent people. They probably went to the San Hedrin in a limousine. They had wing-tip shoes. They bought their clothes at Saks and Brooks Brothers.

Jesus offended them too because they didn't believe in Heaven. They said, "What would happen,” in kind of a smart-aleck way, “if a man had a wife and he died, and then he had a brother who married the widow, and then he died, and then it went on seven times? When they get to Heaven, Jesus, who's going to be the husband of that widow woman?” Of course, Jesus said there is no such thing as marriage in Heaven.

Political parties all had the right way, all knew what was the correct way. All had worked it out very carefully. All sought to have Jesus, the wonderful charismatic leader be a part of their group, and he didn’t join any group - one of the astounding things about His life - as if there is no single way to find the truth and to truly know.

One of the fundamental truths in Alcoholics Anonymous is to say, “I give up.” That is the beginning, AA says, of sobriety.

You start with, “I give up. I don’t know how to do this thing. I don’t know how to control this thing. I don't have the foggiest idea how to handle this. I give up.”

The members at the AA meeting look at you and smile and say, “Ah, you might be ready. You might be ready.”

It is just like that with Jesus, isn’t it? All the people He seemed to deal with were the people who said, “I give up,” and then He moved right into their world.

And all these other people, the Sadducees, the Zealots, the Essenes, they had it right and He couldn’t seem to get along with them. It seems as though Jesus ministered most effectively to folks who said, “I give up. I don't know. I don't know.”

John Claypool, a friend for many years, is one of the gifted preachers of America.About twenty-five years ago or so, John Claypool’s ten-year-old daughter, Laura, died of Leukemia. John has written a book about it. It's a very powerful, meaningful story.

John said he got hundreds of letters from friends all over the country saying, "I'm thinking about you and praying for you and here is what I think about Laura's death,” et cetera. He said, "Of all the letters I got, the most important one came from a man named Carlyle Marney, a great Southern Baptist divine - one of the great men of our time."

The great Carlyle Marney, teacher, philosopher, preacher, counselor to presidents, wrote a brief letter to John at the death of Laura and said, "Dear John, I don't know why this happened, but the first thing I’ll do when I get to Heaven is to ask that question. Faithfully in Christ, Marney."

John said all the other letters I put away, and I kept that letter out and read it a hundred times. It was on my desk. The great Carlyle Marney says, "I don't know why Laura Lue died." He said all those other letters were saying the Lord was ready for Laura Lue, the Lord called Laura Lue, He needed some children in Heaven.

All those kinds of statements that have come to you, you've gotten them. The grief that you have gone through in your life. You know people mean well, but they never tell you, they never join that journey with you that says, "Lord, I don't know why this happened to me." You need another voice, another soul, another lover of Christ Jesus who says, "I, too, don't know. I don't know."

There is in our culture today a movement called mega-churches. Maybe some of you have been to them. There are probably several in Memphis. But the ones I am tending to talk about are interdenominational mega-churches. Lots of them in California.

They're huge, gigantic places, and the press correctly calls the people who have gone to these new churches - some of them only ten years old with 5,000, 20,000 members - they call the people who attend these churches "seekers." The press writes them up. They've interviewed them. Books have been written about these people.

These people are not people who want answers as much as they want to find someone who will journey with them with their questions. They're people who say, "I give up."

That is not the church I grew up with. I don't know what church you grew up with. I grew up with a church that wanted you to open it, and we'll fill it with the facts, and then we'll close it and you've got it. It's all right there. It's finished - don't need to worry about it anymore. You've got it right there.

No, today we’re looking for people who will be honest enough with us to say, "I'll journey with you. I'll go on the seeking trip with you, because I'm not so sure myself."

And when you look at the scriptures, it looks as if Jesus worked best, had the most success with people who had said, “I give up.”

Next time you sit down with your Bible, just sort of thumb through and say, “With whom did Jesus most often minister?” He didn't do any effective work with these four political parties. What he did his best work with was those people who were willing to admit, as that member of AA is, “I give up.”

Lent is a good time to let go and let God.

Lent is a good time for at least forty days to stop being the general manager of the universe.

Lent is a good time to say, “I don't know. I give up.”

And as the old holy man said, “That's the best thing you can do for God.” Amen.

Copyright ©1999 The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Matthews

Excerpted from a sermon delivred at the Lenten Noonday Preaching Series, Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, February 25, 1999.



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