Sunday, October 21, 2018

The God up there and down here (A sermon from Job 38:1-7 and Heb. 5:1-10)


Job’s patience gives way to defiance, which in turn leads to the objections and complaints of Job’s three friends. In his defiance Job questions and even curses God. Job’s friends come to God’s defense and urge Job to repent of his sin. They, like Job in the beginning, are entrenched in a theology of reward and retribution. They believe all this is all happening to Job because he has sinned. That’s how they understand life to work. They assume Job’s misfortune is due to God’s punishment. While this dialogue and argument back and forth between Job and his friends is going on, God is silent. Then, after all is said, God shows up. God speaks. The writers says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Do you find that interesting? Out of a whirlwind, out of a tornado God speaks.

Maybe one aspect of God speaking out of a whirlwind is to say that God speaks however God chooses to speak – to anyone and in any way God wants. No one can pin God in or figure God out or claim to know all there is to know about God, because God is full of surprises. There is no way to limit God to our tradition or our religious faith or our creeds and confessions. God is too big and wild.

Perhaps the symbolism of the whirlwind also suggests that God speaks to us amidst destruction and loss. We all know very well the damage powerful storms can do and the suffering they can cause don’t we. God, of course, does not cause these storms. God is not responsible for them. But God can speak to us out of them. God can speak out of the chaos and confusion and destruction of our lives.

When God speaks to Job, God does not respond to a single question Job has agonized over. Instead of answers God responds with more questions. Questions that contrast the greatness and mystery of God with the weakness and limitations of human beings.

Nature poets have a keen sense about the vastness of creation and our place in it. The award winning poet Mary Oliver writes, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on . . . meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.” It’s a poetic way of saying it’s not all about us. We are part of something that is much larger than our individual lives, our families, our communities, and our nation. We have these dazzling images from the Hubble Telescope which show multiple galaxies, each galaxy made up of billions of stars. Can you imagine how vast that is?

William Sloan Coffin in his book, Letters to a Young Doubter, tells about the time he first began to realize this. When he was an undergraduate, three friends coming back late from New York crashed their car and were killed. The driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel. Coffin was angry when he attended the funeral service. It infuriated him when the priest began to intone from the back of the chapel the words from Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Coffin said he sounded nauseatingly pious. Looking around, he could see him coming down the aisle his nose in the prayer book. He thought about putting out his feet and tripping him up. Coffin says, “God doesn’t go around the world with his hands on steering wheels, his fist around knives, his finger on triggers.” God doesn’t take away life. Just as Coffin was about to stick out his leg, a small voice as it were, asked him (He heard God speak out of his own heart), “What part of the phrase, Coffin, are you objecting to?” Coffin thought it was the second part: “the Lord has taken away.” But then it suddenly dawned on him that it was the first part: “the Lord gave.” It finally dawned on him that this was not his world and all of us here are only guests.

Why does it sometimes take a whirlwind? Why does it sometimes take a storm that tosses us all over the place and disrupts our life for us to realize that God’s story is so much bigger than our story, and that we have no unique claim on God? I personally had to weather some storms in my life to come to the place where I finally realized that God was much greater than what I thought. It took some confusion and disruption for me to realize that I could not limit how or to whom God speaks. Why is it hard for us to admit that God doesn’t have favorites? That we are all loved by God.

When I was younger I felt like I had all the answers. I was convinced that I was on God’s side because I had the truth about God. I was in the right church with the right doctrine. My group, my church, my denomination possessed the exclusive knowledge of salvation. I was so self-righteous and didn’t even know it. I was blind to my religious ego and claims of religious superiority. And yet God met me where I was in all my self-righteousness and religious arrogance. God never tossed me aside or gave up on me. God kept speaking even though I wasn’t listening, even though my ego kept me from hearing.

I read a piece of religious news this past week about Jerry Falwell, Jr. that I let get to me. It so frustrated and angered me, that inwardly I was ranting and raving at what I had just read. This is why I have to take periodical Sabbaths from the news cycle. In my frustration, I felt the Spirit speak to me. I thought I heard the Spirit say, “Why are you so angry? You were just like the man you are raging at? You were just as blinded by your religious ego. And yet I loved you and met you right where you were. I did not allow your spiritual arrogance and blindness to turn me away.”

Whenever I start inwardly screaming at people, “Why can’t you see?” I have to remember that God didn’t give up on me when I couldn’t see. And I am still blind in ways that I don’t even know. God loved me then and God loves me now, even though I couldn’t see then, and sometimes can’t see now what God wants to show me.

I was taught that sin separates us from God. That’s not true. Our sin may make us feel like we are separated from God, but God doesn’t go anywhere. It is true that our sin  grieves the Spirit of God within us. Our sin limits and restricts the flow of God’s love through us. The less we can see and the more we are driven by our ego, the more restricted and limited is our experience and expression of God’s love. However, God doesn’t stop loving us. We are connected to God even though we may not be aware of or personally experience that connection.

I remember a popular Christian song years ago that kept repeating the stanza, “God lives in a big, big house.” It is true. God does live in a big house – at least as big as our universe, and may even include multiple universes. The God who occupies such a big house can be referenced by many names. God is amazingly adaptable and can meet us wherever we are. God is as big as the universe, and God is as small as the human soul. Even though God is the great, infinite, transcendent One, God is not the distant one. God is the intimate One. The spirituality of Jesus and his early followers make that clear. The God who is the mysterious source of all that is, is also that mysterious source who sustains our very existence. In writing to the Colossians, Paul or a disciple of Paul says that God called him to make known the mystery that for ages had been hidden, namely, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The cosmic Christ who speaks out of the whirlwind, dwells within each community and each person, and can speak directly to the human heart. As the old hymn puts it, “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.”

Our text last week from the book of Hebrews began with, “The Word of God is living and active.” The writer was not talking about words on a page. He was talking about the Christ, before whom, he says, we are all exposed and naked, and to whom we will all give an account. In our text today, the writer identifies the Christ as the high priest chosen by God to make God known to us. The writer says that Christ is able to “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness.” He says that Jesus, our high priest, “In the days of his flesh, offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death.” He was human in every way we are. He drank from that cup of suffering, as we all must drink. The writer says, “He learned obedience through what he suffered.” His suffering taught him how to be faithful, how to stay the course, how to endure. He was made complete, made whole, through his sufferings, and because of what he learned and endured he has become for us, his followers, “the source of eternal salvation.” That is, he is the means by which we, too, learn to be faithful through our suffering, and through that journey find liberation, healing, and wholeness.  

The great miracle and mystery is that the God who is the source of all that is, and who speaks out of the whirlwind, is the God who dwells in human flesh. God is both the transcendent Other who is up there and everywhere, and God is the Divine Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who is down here in you and in me. God speaks to humanity through humanity. God reveals God’s will for humanity through humanity. I should clarify here.  God reveals God’s will for humanity through humanity that is filled and empowered by the Spirit of Christ. Humanity at our best is a revelation of what God is like. Humanity at our worst is an expression of what God is not like.

I love to tell the story about the Jewish fugitive who, fleeing for his life In Nazi Germany, came to a small town. He sought out the house of the Christian pastor, hoping to find refuge. He knocked on the door and when the pastor opened it, he told his story and asked if he could stay a few days until it was safe to travel again. The pastor invited him to step inside and wait. The pastor knew that if this young man was caught hiding there the whole town would be held accountable and suffer greatly. So immediately he withdrew to his prayer room and closed the door. He asked God for guidance and then opened his Bible. He happened to come upon the verse in John’s Gospel that says, “It is better for one man to die, than for the whole people to parish.” He just knew he had his answer. So he sent the man away. Later that night an angel appeared and asked, “Where is the fugitive?” The pastor said, “I sent him away as the Holy Book instructed me.” The angel said, “Did you not know that he was the Christ? If you would have looked into his eyes, instead of first running to the Book, you would have known.”

Why would he have known? Because God is revealed in human beings. We were created to reflect the image of God. Naturally, we Christians look to Jesus as our representative model. This is why we call him Lord. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, Jesus functions as the definitive human disclosure of God. Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation. Jesus leads the way. But whenever a human being is filled with the Spirit of Christ, that human being is a revelation of God. This is why we are called by Paul the body of Christ. We who embody the values and love of Christ continue to incarnate the Christ in the world. Incarnation in an ongoing process. We who manifest the fruit of the Spirit continue to reveal and make known God in the world. The best of our humanity is Christ living in us and through us, which is nothing less than a disclosure and revelation of what God is like.

So let me ask you? Is your life a disclosure (a revelation and reflection) of what God is like? Can others get a sense of what God is like by getting to know you, by being around you, by becoming friends with you? That’s are calling sisters and brothers. You are a son of God or daughter of God just like Jesus. Jesus is your Lord, but Jesus is also your brother. The Divine Spirit dwells in you just like the Spirit dwelt in Jesus of Nazareth. Just as Jesus learned and grew through his suffering, we learn and grow through our suffering. We are called to be revelations of the divine because Christ lives in us. As C.S. Lewis put it, we are called to be “little Christs.” Never think you are a nobody. You are a member of the body of Christ. You are a stone in God’s living temple. You are an heir of God’s eternal world. You are capable of being and called by God to be an incarnation of the living Christ. We are called to be, both individually and as a church, little mirrors, little fleshly embodiments of the living Christ

Our good God, I don’t know why it takes some of us so long to see that you love all of us, wherever we are and no matter how blind we are to the ways you work in the world and in our lives. Help us to remove the blinders from our eyes. And help us individually and as a church community to better reflect what you are like – that we might express your inclusive love and grace, your passion for justice and compassion for those who are downtrodden, and your patience and willingness to meet us wherever we are. Help us to be the body of Christ. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your comments on Job. I also was influenced by Thomas Edward Frank's perspective in "Feasting on the Word." I did go to the library and get Mary Oliver's poetry and find her a very spiritual read.
    One thought that has gone with me on the series in Job is that Job was a theologian of the cross. Job suffered not because of sin, but because he was a believer. Not for his faith, but because of his faith. Jesus died the death of a criminal not because he was a sinner, but because he committed himself to the one that judges righteously.
    Job is a message we need in our consumer driven, "fix all my problems but let me live life my own way" modern church.

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