Summary: We believe things because they are true - they are not true because we believe them.
November 17, 2002
Open with the illustration below using jar of M&Ms and favorite food choices (NOTE: adapt this and do it with your own examples among the congregation - it’s an effective "grabber")
A pastor named Stephey Belynskyj, starts each confirmation class with a jar full of beans. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right. Belynskyj then turns to the list of favorite songs. “And which one of these is closest to being right?” he asks. The students protest that there is no “right answer”; a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste. Belynskyj, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame asks, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?” Always, Belynskyj says, from old as well as young, he gets the same answer: Choosing one’s faith is more like choosing a favorite song. When Belynskyj told me this, it took my breath away. “After they say that, do you confirm them?” I asked him. “Well,” smiled Belynskyj, “First I try to argue them out of it.”
Then ask these questions:
- which guess of the number of M&Ms comes closest to being right?
- which one on the list of favorite foods comes closest to being right?
When it comes to your faith, is it more like guessing the number of M&Ms, or is it more like choosing your favorite food? The number or M&Ms is a knowable number, like our God is a knowable God.
Related to this idea, I found many studies revealing similar things, but let me cite just one that illustrates our theme this morning.
An estimated 74% of Americans strongly agree with this statement:
“There is only one true God, who is holy and perfect, and who created the world, and rules it today,"
However, an estimated 65% either strongly agree or somewhat agree with the assertion that "there is no such thing as absolute truth." Only 28% expressed strong belief in absolute truth, and only 23% of born-again, or evangelical Christians, accepted that there is absolute truth. So, three-quarters of those considering themselves Christians say nothing can be known for certain.
That means they may not be convinced Jesus existed, they may not believe Jesus is who He claimed to be, they may not believe God’s Word is authentic.
It’s all relative – nothing is for sure. If that’s true – if we cannot know anything, especially these very significant things, for sure, then we might just as well all go home now, because the time we spend considering what Jesus said is worthless.
All you need do to see the fruits of our theme this morning is read the newspaper. Pretty much any day of the week, pretty much any section of the newspaper.
In fact, it’s even in the comics section of the newspaper, which I’m not in the habit of reading, however, sometimes, someone will get an inspiration from God to send me an item, perhaps even hoping that it’ll end up as a sermon illustration.
Though I doubt that as a motive for Andy Obrochta, who, several weeks ago, sent me an email note telling me about a cartoon he reads called Mallard Fillmore. Andy’s email to me read:
Did you see Mallard Fillmore in yesterday’s comics? Mallard was talking about the current propensity to instill character in public school students without "all that Judeo-Christian stuff" and said it was kind of like trying to teach reading without "all of that alphabet stuff".
When Andy sent me that, I thought it was a wonderful illustration of where we are in the world today...after years of our public schools, in addition to the other “institutions” of our world, - politics – media – universities – literature...but after years of these institutions teaching the philosophy of ethical and moral relativism, that is, the idea that everything is relative to the individual, what’s true or right for you is right for you, and what’s right for me is right for me, we have people, with a straight face, asking questions like these:
What’s wrong with our kids?
Why is business stealing our money, as in Enron?
Why are our kids killing each other in schools?
Why is cheating, lying and stealing such a growing problem?
Mallard Fillmore had it right. These things are all true because we’ve experienced nearly a half-century of teaching ethics, minus all that Judeo-Christian stuff, and it’s just as useless as teaching reading without the alphabet.