Grace and peace and the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ… Amen
I suspect that those of you for whom Douglas Adams is a familiar name, you might already have some idea of where I’m going with this sermon. However, it my hope that this sermon doesn’t so much provide you with any answers, but instead prompts you to ask further questions. I love to ask and wrestle with questions of our faith.
I invite any and all of you to stop by and see me, call me, email me, and maybe even just sit down with a cup of coffee sometime and lets talk about the questions of our faith that we wrestle with; those that keep us up at night and those that keep us taking step after step on this road following Christ. After all, it is only in fellowship with each other that we really and truly become the body of Christ.
Anyone who has spent much time around me knows that I am a big fan of science fiction. I love Star Wars, Star Trek, and so on. I love to read science fiction as well; especially the short stories from the early days of space exploration when the realities of computers and the infinite wonder of space caused our imaginations to expand and think of ourselves in ways that would change the way we live and think forever.
I also like to read satirical works; so it is no wonder that one of my favorite series of books is a satirical piece of science fiction named, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
While in the Star Trek universe the tag line is “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the main character, Arthur Dent, instead goes cowardly and sarcastically where no man has before; on a series of misadventures through space and the scary unknown guided by a book which is the compendium of all knowledge in the galaxy. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, the most important piece of information within the entire book is actually printed on the back in big bold letters; the words “DON’T PANIC.”
In the story, a super computer was built to come up with the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything. Much to the dismay of all those involved, the computer comes up with an answer. The answer was simply the number 42. This computer, named Deep Thought, assures them that this is, in fact, the ultimate answer, but they will only understand the significance of this answer when they discover the right question; the ultimate question. What is the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?
The significance of the answer only is truly understood in light of the appropriate question. We ask lots of questions of ourselves, of others, and of God. The ability to ask questions to those around us and those with whom we are in relationship with is one of the big things that separate us from all other forms of life. Our intellectual and creative capacities are what it truly means to be made in the image of God.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus asks a question of the disciples. He asks, “What are you looking for?” How do they respond? They respond by asking him a seemingly completely unrelated question. They answer, “Where are you staying?” Answering a question with a question. What is this, Jeopardy? I’ll take puzzling responses for 1000 please Alex…
I always thought this response showed some ineptitude of these disciples in their understanding of the reality of who Jesus is. However, a professor of mine at seminary, Dr. Brooks Schramm, told us in the first class I had with him, that he could and would judge our understanding of the content based on the questions we asked as opposed to the answers we gave. Something I did not truly understand at the time, but it is a concept that goes back to Rabbinic teachings. Something that Pr. Sarah reminded me of just a few days ago.
When Jesus was a young boy in the temple, he amazed the priests because of the questions that he asked; questions that showed an understanding far beyond that of a twelve year-old boy.
This seemingly unrelated question of those two disciples is not unrelated at all, but instead shows a level of understanding; understanding that their role will be to serve instead of being served.
In this moment, they ask Christ “Where are you staying.” Hospitality was a huge deal during this time period; in fact, a lack of hospitality was considered a heinous crime because it could be the difference between life and death for those involved. At the moment when the long awaited Messiah asks them what they are looking for, they could have asked him any self-serving question, but instead they ask him where he is staying. Insuring that he has shelter and looking to see if there is someway they can serve him. In a way, asking, “Christ, can we serve you? Can we care for your most basic needs in some way?”
Which Christ responds, “Come and see.” Come and see what it truly means to serve God.
They have met God face to face; the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is standing before them. If Christ is the answer to the ultimate question… what is the ultimate question? They are embarking on an adventure going where no man has gone before. Sometimes they will be bold, and sometimes they will be cowardly as they seek to learn that question.
Likewise, sometimes we feel as though we are wandering through this life; sometimes boldly, and other times cowardly going where we think no man has gone before… feeling lost and alone.
We ask many questions of God, and get frustrated sometimes by the apparent silence we receive in response. We know that Jesus is the answer, but we have trouble understanding why the questions we try to apply Jesus to in our life, do not always result in ways we think they should. Are we are asking the wrong questions?
I like the thought that perhaps, even Christ, asked the wrong question once. When Christ was on the cross, in his most human moment, he cries out to God in agony and asked, perhaps the most human question of all. He cries out, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Christ had not been forsaken by God; none of us have. In fact, quite the opposite. In that moment, God was showing ultimate love for all humankind. However, that feeling of being forsaken is a very human question. I find the fact that Christ was human enough, despite also being divine, that he also felt forsaken in that moment, and perhaps, asked the wrong question. I find that extremely comforting.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes:
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
We are not capable of truly understanding; and God knows this. God calls us to be at peace, “Don’t Panic” if you will, and merely trust in God and follow the example of Christ.
However, it is our human nature to question things; to question our reality and our relationships with one another and especially our relationship with God.
In these days, when we will inaugurate a new president of these United States of America, one of the most famous quotes from any president in the history of this country comes to mind.
In John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address on, January 20, 1961, he states, “…my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
If we must ask a question of God, perhaps even if it is not the ultimate question, perhaps we should ask ourselves and God, not what God can do for us, but what can we do for God? How can we be in service to God and how can we think and act in loving response to the amazing gift of Christ and be the instruments of God’s will here on Earth.
The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, is most definitely not 42, as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy suggests. The answer is Christ. In this life, we may never truly understand what that means; however, what we can do is seek and strive to follow Christ’s example of what it means to truly serve God and be servants to each other.
Like in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we have book to guide us as well. We have the Bible. It may not be the compendium of all knowledge in the galaxy, but in regards to truth; the truth of God and the truth of Christ therein is beyond comparison.
And perhaps we would all benefit in some way, if on the back of the Bible, there printed in large bold letters were the words, “DON’T PANIC.” Because there is no reason to panic because God has us in a loving embrace that is also beyond our understanding. There is no need to panic because when we fall, and we all shall, God is there to pick us up, or should I say, raise us… up.
And for that I say thanks be to God and…