Mar 5th, Blessed are the Curious, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Mar 5th: Blessed are the Curious, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
Here I am in what we call the Wonder Room, which is just across the hall from our sanctuary. It’s our children’s space, where we invite children to experience God’s love for them through wonder, imagination, creativity, curiosity, and play. You know, we are created for wonder, and curiosity is a spiritual practice. Abraham Heschel said our goal should be to live life in radical amazement, get up in the morning and look around at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Be curious about everything.
Never treat life casually. To be spiritual, he said, is to be amazed. Does that describe your spiritual life? My absolute favorite favorite television show is Ted Lasso. It’s a really joyful and smart comedy about an American football coach who is hired to manage a soccer team in England.
And Ted ted knows nothing about soccer, but he loves coaching, loves his players, and genuinely seems to love life. He’s curious. He’s not naive. He’s experienced tragedy, suffers panic attacks, yet he still manages to get up in the morning and is curious about everything and takes nothing for granted. My favorite scene is when a bully tries to belittle Ted, and he quotes Walt Whitman be curious, not judgmental.
And the bully challenges Ted to a game of darts in a bar, in a pub, making a substantial wager, assuming Ted’s a novice at darts. Here’s how Ted responds. Guys have underestimated me my entire life, and for years, I never understood why. Then one day, I saw a quote by Walt Whitman be curious, not judgmental. I like that.
And then Ted throws a dart that clearly shows he’s played darts before. And he continues, So it hits me. All them fellas, they used to belittle me, not a single one of them was curious. You know, they thought they had everything figured out, so they so they judged everything, and they judged everyone. If they were curious, they would have asked questions, questions like, have you played a lot of darts, Ted?
And just then, Ted throws another dart with precision, and he continues, to which I would have answered, yes, sir, every Sunday afternoon at a sports bar with my father from the age of ten until the age of 16, when he passed away. And then Ted throws a double bullseye to win the game. Be curious, not judgmental. It’s curiosity that first brought Nicodemus to Jesus in our Bible reading. Now, Nicodemus is a highly respected religious official, and he comes to Jesus at night, not wanting to be seen talking to Jesus, who was thought to be a heretic and a troublemaker by the religious authorities.
And here’s how the gospel writer John describes their meeting. Now, there was a pharisee named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish Ruling Council. He came to Jesus at night and said, rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him. Jesus replied very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
How can someone be born when they’re old? Nicodemus asked. Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born. Jesus answered very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the spirit gives birth to spirit.
You should not be surprised at me saying, you must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear it sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. Now Nicodemus is saying to Jesus, what I see in you, Jesus, is a mystery.
I don’t understand. Tell me your secret. Give me the answers. What’s the formula? We crave answers.
We don’t like not knowing. We like certainty. But when we cling to certainty, we stifle curiosity. We lose our capacity to wonder. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt.
It’s certainty. Judgment comes out of a sense of certainty, because if you’re certain, well, everyone else is wrong. We’re closer to God when we’re curious, when we’re asking questions, than when we think we have all the answers.
Jesus replied to Nicodemus in a rather curious way. Jesus said, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. The phrase born again carries a lot of baggage for many people, and we sometimes associate born again with Christians who have theological certainty. And if you don’t share that same certainty, well, you’re in a lot of trouble. I’m always a little amused when churches advertise themselves as a Bible believing church, which means if you don’t read the Bible the way they read the Bible, believe what they believe about the Bible, well, you’re just wrong.
Judgment judgment always comes out of certainty. But certainty leaves no room for curiosity, no room to learn from others experiences, no room for wonder, no room for mystery. Jesus said to Nicodemus, unless you are born again. The Greek word we translate as born again can also mean born from above, or it can mean born anew.
What if born again means being born anew? Letting go of preconceived ideas and starting fresh, starting all over again with curiosity and wonder. Poor Nicodemus. With all his theological sophistication and his religious status, he seemed to have absolutely no imagination. He couldn’t recognize a metaphor if he tripped over it.
You might call Nicodemus the first fundamentalist. I mean, he’s a he’s a litteralist. Nicodemus asks, well, how can anyone be born after growing old? Can anyone enter a second time into the mother’s womb? That’s the kind of mental gymnastics that are necessary when you take the Bible literally.
Now we at First Presbyterian. Take the Bible seriously. We just don’t take it literally. I mean, you can almost hear Jesus’s enormous sigh. How do you explain the full spectrum of color to someone who’s certain that only black and white exists?
Jesus didn’t say, you must be sure of yourself without any questions or doubts. Certain with ready answers for every question in a Bible verse suitable for every occasion.
No one said, jesus says the most remarkable thing you must be born anew. Which means, I presume, to have the wide eyed wonder and trust of a child. You know, Jesus said something similar to the disciples who asked. That the question that we would probably ask who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
And rather than answer, Jesus welcomes a child into the midst and says, unless you possess the innocence, trust, curiosity, wonder of a child, you will never taste the wonders of heaven.
If I was asked to write a faith statement today, after 35 years of ministry, I mean, when you’re ordained, you have to write a face statement. And I’m suspecting my peace statement today I may not pass my ordination exams, but here’s what I would say today the more I have come to know, the more I realize how little I know. And the more I have come to accept not knowing and approach life with wide eyed wonder and curiosity, the more life changing encounters I have with the love of God that can never be fully known.
Maybe you must be born again means being open to the movement of the Spirit, like the blowing of the wind. Open the growth and change even in your most deeply held convictions. Maybe being born again means moving from judgment to curiosity. Being willing to say I don’t know.
Saying I don’t know is a spiritual practice I encourage for all of us. Saying I don’t know is an act of vulnerability that opens us up to learn and to grow and to be changed, to be transformed, to be made new. Saying I don’t know opens us to love. Because love really is at the heart of curiosity. When certainty says if homeless people would just help themselves, there would be less people who are homeless.
Curiosity asks, I wonder what that person’s life has been like and what would love look like for that person? When certainty says I just don’t get people who use they them as pronouns. That’s just silly. Curiosity ass. I wonder what these pronouns mean for this person.
How can I understand them better? How can I help them feel seen and heard? When certainty says they’re wrong and ignorant, curiosity asks, I wonder how their stories shape their beliefs. I wonder where life hurts for them. I wonder what I can learn from someone who sees the world so differently than I do.
Judgment always comes from a sense of certainty. Curiosity yours judgment and leads to love. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night looking for answers instead of answers. Jesus invited Nicodemus into a whole new way of being a whole new way of seeing. We don’t really know what happened next.
We do know that three years later, when Jesus was crucified, two men with great courage, at great risk, asked for the body of Jesus. And they took his body down from the cross and anointed it with precious oils one of the men had brought along and they buried the body of Jesus in a garden tomb. One of the men was Joseph of Arimathea, and the other, Nicodemus, who was born again. Born anew, because this time it was daylight and Nicodemus was alive as never before, showing the world the fullness of his love for Jesus.
Blessed are the curious, because they can truly be born again.
May it be so.