A man walked into a corner shop with a shotgun and demanded all the cash from the till. After the cashier put the cash in a bag, the robber saw a bottle of scotch that he wanted behind the counter on the shelf. He told the cashier to put it in the bag as well, but he refused and said “I don’t believe you are over 18”. The robber said he was, but the cashier still refused to give it to him because he didn’t believe him. At this point the robber took his driving licence out of his wallet and gave it to the cashier. The cashier looked it over, and agreed that the man was in fact over 18 and he put the scotch in the bag. The robber then ran from the shop. The cashier promptly called the police and gave them the name and address of the robber that he taken from the licence. They arrested the robber two hours later.
An older gentleman was driving home from work when his mobile phone rang. His wife was on the line in a panic and said, “Be careful driving home, darling. I just saw on the news that some maniac is driving the wrong way on the A3!” The old man replied, “One? There’s hundreds of them!”
A subscriber to the Theatre Arts magazine called Directory Enquiries for the magazine’s phone number. “Sorry,” said the operator, “but there is nobody listed by the name of Theodore Arts.”
The subscriber insisted, “it’s not a person; it’s a publication. I want Theatre Arts.”
The operator repeated, “I told you, we have no listing for Theodore Arts.”
By now the subscriber was somewhat exasperated, “the word is Theatre: T-H-E-A-T-R-E.”
The operator responded, “that is not the way to spell Theodore.”
Ignorance is bliss, some folk say, but that’s certainly not always the case.
Both our Bible readings today have something to say about overcoming ignorance, and that should be something dear to our hearts in our Reformed tradition.
In Luke’s gospel, just as Jesus had opened the minds of the two he met on the road to Emmaus, in that room in Jerusalem he opens the minds of his friends and explains to them who he is and what his life means for them and for everyone. At the end of that amazing first Easter day many of Jesus’s followers have seen his resurrection. Now, following the women at the tomb, Peter, and the two on the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to all his disciples and their friends. What a few had known is now shared and explained to the whole group, who are then sent out as witnesses to how God’s plan has been fulfilled in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. Their initial reaction is shock and terror: Jesus recognises their concerns and invites them to see and touch his hands and feet, to prove he’s not a ghost, but a real physical presence. Once his friends’ terror has been reduced, Jesus tries to explain what’s happened and what that means for the disciples.
This story, amongst other things, is about the disciples being helped to overcome their ignorance, so they know and understand so much more of what has happened and what it might mean for them.
Similarly, Peter’s sermon in reading from Acts is about overcoming ignorance, to better known and understand the risen Christ and what he means. After Pentecost, the early church meets together, sharing all they have, and they still go to the temple every day. Peter and John encounter and heal a man lame from birth at the temple gate, and a crowd gathers around them as the three men enter the temple together. Today’s reading is Peter addressing the crowd, who are amazed at the healing.
Peter, a Jew, addresses fellow Jews in the Temple, and proclaims Jesus in all his fullness. Peter puts it to them their failure to recognise Jesus was because of their ignorance, and he offers them the opportunity to respond again to God, who offers forgiveness.
Both these passages are about overcoming ignorance, that’s something we should be very familiar with in our Reformed tradition.
The Reformation began, you might recall, with the invention of the printing press, so that everyone could have a Bible, and once it was translated from Latin into the language of the people, then people could read it for themselves, learn of its message and make up their own mind. This was overcoming the ignorance of relying upon what someone else said was in the Bible, as people discovered it for themselves its message and power.
Along with that, of course, was the ability to worship in the language of the people. How much more real and personal God must have seemed once we could address him in our own language. This was overcoming the ignorance of addressing God in a language understood only by the priest.
Closer to home, our own traditions in the United Reformed Church have deeply valued an educated ministry. In the seventeenth century we Dissenters were barred from the universities and we set up our network of learning instead, called Dissenting Academies, which provided as big a part of higher education as the universities did for two hundred years and more. This was our ancestors overcoming ignorance by providing their own education system for those barred from the universities, and there is considerable evidence it was a higher quality alternative.
It was not just a higher level that our Dissenting ancestors made their mark on education. Cheap and accessible education for children was provided from the nineteenth century in what were known as British Schools, run by the British and Foreign Schools Society. They were run by Nonconformists, but they were open to all, and provided a cheap education for everyone, unlike the National Schools, which were strictly for members of the Church of England only. As some of you know, there was a British School here in Farnham, run by our ancestors in the old Independent Chapel.
Down the years, our Reformed tradition has seen overcoming ignorance as so very important, at levels, and both in ourselves and in others. But it isn’t just something in the past, whether that’s in the Bible, or in our revered history, it’s something for us all today – something to which the risen Christ calls us to, as we seek to encounter his living presence in our lives and to offer it to others.
So, what about this time? What are we doing to help the world overcome their ignorance of God today? What are we doing to help us overcome any ignorance of our own?
Both our readings today challenge us to overcome our ignorance,, and to over that to the world.
Are our minds open to God, and to new ways of understanding things we think we know?
What are we looking for when we come to church, when we read the Bible, or when we come to hear preachers?
How do we respond to the challenges we face?
Is faith actually a matter for minds, given how little anyone can understand of God, or for our hearts?