A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the Second Sunday in Lent are here.

When was the last time you were curious? Not just “I’ve got to figure such and such out so that I can solve the problem in front of me” but a child-like wonder, a “I just want to discover what ‘this’ is for the sake of it” curiosity. When was the last time you showed real curiosity about someone else, asking questions about how they experience the world, where they find hope or joy?

I’m going to offer up a quote and then ask you who you think said it: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” Do you know who said this? If you had to guess, who would you say?

Does guessing cause you stress? Are you worried about getting ‘it’ – whatever it may be – wrong? Concerned others might judge you badly if you don’t know everything? Our culture values certainty over curiosity. We see curiosity as simply a prompt, an temporary lack of knowledge with an end goal of knowing for certain because being certain must mean we are are right, regardless of what anyone else may think or any contradictory facts that may be presented.

In our need for certainty, we look backwards into the biblical stories with our Western, post-Enlightenment way of thinking and instead of seeking an understanding within the context in which these stories were written, we place our evolved meaning of words such as belief and faith onto them and are certain about what they mean.

We ask ‘what’ others believe and make it about definable doctrine. Yet, faith and belief in the ancient writings we call the Bible are more about trusting and relating than they were about facts. They are life words – referring to a whole way of being, a world-view, and the life and actions that stemmed from WHO they believe and have faith in, not what.

And we don’t often use ‘certain to describe relationships. I can know you well enough to make predictions about your behavior, but this is about trust rather than knowing for certain. Only preprogrammed robots behave the exact same way in every situation. If I attempt to force you into a certain way of behaving or a certain category, I’ve reduced you to a label or an idea and have taken away your human agency. If I am continuously curious about you, even if we’ve known each other a very long time, asking questions like ‘how are you’ and waiting to receive your authentic answer, our relationship will continue to grow. Healthy relationships require continuous curiosity.

Curiosity is a mental capacity we all have; it isn’t a personality trait of only some; it isn’t something we outgrow as adults, even if some of us set it aside as ‘childish’. Monica Guzman, journalist and author of the book “I Never Thought of it That Way” defines curiosity as “The attention you pay to the gap between what you know and what you don’t know.” Curiosity isn’t the gap between not knowing and knowing but the attention we pay to the gap, our ability to notice this ever present gap.

Certainty and judgement divert our attention away from the gap. Certainty is easy. Curiosity is a challenging, ongoing journey. And it is only through curiosity that we move from knowledge to wisdom.

Our friend Nicodemus from today’s gospel reading is paying attention to this gap. Nick was a Pharisee, one who is supposed to have all the answers. His job was to ensure that everyone else followed God’s law to the letter and to point out when they didn’t. But he’d heard this man Jesus talk and witnessed his healing and Nick became aware of this gap between the letter of God’s law and the spirit of it. And, so, not to put his hard earned reputation at risk, he comes to Jesus under cover of darkness and instead of asking what he wants to know, he poses a statement: “We KNOW that you are a teacher from God …” Nick is seeking to confirm his certainty rather than unleash his curiosity.

Jesus responds with what would seem an impossibility and Nick fights to hold onto the certainty. Jesus gently invites him into the gap and distinguishes between physical birth and being renewed by the Spirit of God to be who God created and intends us to be.

When Jesus asks Nick, “Are you a teacher of Isreal and don’t know these things?” He is inviting Nicodemus to let go of the need for certainty and employ holy curiosity; look for God at work in and around us. Let yourself experience the freedom of the Spirit; don’t’ try to stop it or contain it. It’s better to ask questions than to be the one who thinks they have to have all the answers. Curiosity is the wind that keeps us flowing between knowing and wisdom.

Our faith definitely doesn’t give us all the answers; yet it offers us the invitation to trust in God’s love and way. The suffering and pain in this world is because we humans tried to choose another path besides the one God gave us. We chose the way of self-centered personal gain instead of the Way of other-focused Love.

When we hold too tightly to our need to be certain, to be right, we become blinded to the image of God in others. We stop seeking relationship and insist that everyone be just like us and the irony is when we stop seeing the image of God in others, we also stop living from that image within us and create a god of our own making who looks just like us. We craft rules and laws that insist everyone conform or else we exclude them. We shrink our faith and belief to a god who we can define by what makes us comfortable, completely contrary to all that Jesus shows us.

Jesus ends his conversation with Nick with a statement: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus isn’t talking about a measurable degree of God’s love but the pattern and shape of it. God loves the world in this way: God wants everyone to choose to be in relationship with him and to live the life we are created for – to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves with holy curiosity that always leads us into deeper relationships. God invites us and Jesus shows us in flesh and blood the path to being saved from being estranged from God to being in relationship with God.

We have the choice to follow Jesus or not. God doesn’t want us to follow blindly but to use our God-given intellect and reasoning skills to discover that when we live other-focused rather than self-centered, we thrive and flourish as God intends for us. This is being born from above, letting God’s Way shape us, letting God’s image in each of us, guide our way of being. God calls us to believe not in a what but in who.

This journey we are invited to join in on is a balance of knowing who God is and Whose we are and remaining curious, teachable, always ready to grow. In our creed, we confess specific “knowings,” pieces of knowledge that help us stay centered on who God is and Whose we are. But we can never lose sight of the WHO of our faith, the relationship that is the center of our belief; Who it is we trust to show us the way of life we are created for. Who it is we love with all of our heart, mind, and strength. Who it is we follow. Whose kingdom it is we participate in here and now. Who journeys with us in this life.

Oh, and to go back to who actually said “never lose holy curiosity” – do you know who said it? it was Albert Einstein. With his intellectual magnitude he was certain about the continuous need to remain curious. Pay attention to the gap between what you know and what you don’t; feel the Spirit moving and drawing you deeper in relationship with God, your neighbor, and yourself. Amen.

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