Mark 4:35-41 and Job 38:1-11
St. Michael and All Angels
June 24, 2012
There is an old story about the scientists of the world taking pride in all they had accomplished and deciding that humans don’t need God any more. They appointed a scientist to go and tell God about their decision.
“God, we don’t need you to care for us or love us or interfere in our lives anymore,” the ambassador stated.
“Really?” asked God.
“Yes,” the scientist proclaimed proudly. Look at what we can do—split the atom, harness the power of mighty rivers—why we can even imitate creation with our cloning process.”
“Before we sever our relationship with one another, let’s have a human-creating contest” suggested God.
“Fine with me,” the scientist agreed. He bent down and scooped up a hefty handful of earth.
“Oh, no, no, no,” God said. “You have to get your own dirt.”
I am struck over and over at our human centric way of viewing things. If we read the creation story, we are reminded that humans weren’t even created until the sixth day – we weren’t exactly at the top of the list. Perhaps we need a larger view of things. The Job story is centered in the human condition and in the end as Job finally gets his “hearing” with God; he finds that he too takes his place in the larger cosmos.
Job is one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible. We don’t talk about him much except to caricature him as a man of patience. He makes a rare appearance in the lectionary and calls to mind all the questions we have about bad things happening to good people. It’s an interesting story. God is talking with the Satan, an appointed member of the divine council to test the faith of God’s people. The Satan is not the one we often refer to as the devil. The Satan is giving a report from a recent walkabout and God proudly says, “How about my servant Job? Impressive isn’t he? So faithful and good.” The Satan says, “With all due respect, duh! He has everything. What’s not to be faithful and good? Take away everything and then see how faithful he is.” The Satan is a prosecutor. He’s doing his job. God agrees to this test and the story begins. Job loses all his possessions and God points out that he is still faithful and good. At this point, the Satan says, “Double duh! He still has his health. It’s easy to be faithful when one is healthy.” Next Job’s health is taken away and he’s covered with terrible sores. His wife jumps to his defense saying, “Curse God and die. Let’s get this over with quickly.” Job stays firm in his faith and refuses to curse God. Then his friends step in to “help”. They sit with him and tell him he must have done something really awful because this can’t be God’s fault. I’d like to refer them to our lay pastors for some lessons on how to be with people who are suffering! Clearly they are trying to help, but they are making a bad situation much worse with their judgment.
At some point, Job tires of hearing how guilty he is and demands his day in court with God so that he can be proven innocent. If his case is heard, he will be vindicated. Obviously this is all a cosmic mistake. At this point in the story it seems that God has left the planet. The drama begins in Chapter 1 and God doesn’t show up to confront Job’s situation until Chapter 38. That’s a lot of suffering and a lot of speeches about whom to blame. Finally, God shows up for the hearing Job requested, only it doesn’t go as he expected.
God says, “So you want to have this conversation? Let’s start at the beginning…where were you when I created the earth? How is it that you know so much about the cosmos? Have you ever made the sun rise, even once? Can you send rain anytime you want?” As God continues, Job gets very quiet. Perhaps you have found yourself here at some point. You are carrying on about something when someone steps in to fill you in a bit and you realize you did not know what you were talking about. It’s very humbling to realize we really don’t have the whole picture.
Barbara Brown Taylor says that as far as she knows this “is the only answer human beings have ever gotten about why things happen the way they do. God only knows. And none of us is God.” (Home by Another Way p. 165) She goes on to use this wonderful image for what has just happened. “It was as if a flea had insisted that the lion upon which it was riding stop—stop right now—and explain why the ride was so bumpy and hot. The flea roared and roared as loud as it could, never expecting to be heard, much less answered, until one day the lion turned around and roared right back so that the flea saw itself reflected in both golden eyes at once. Never mind what the lion said. The lion turned around. The lion roared back. And that is enough for anyone to live on the rest of his life.” (Home by Another Way p. 166)
Things are different after Job’s encounter with God. His possessions are restored even more than before. He is healthy and happy again, but he will never be the same. He has seen God and lived. Seeing God helped him find his place in the larger cosmos and he lives the rest of his life as a man of faith, but a man whose faith is shaped within the big picture, who received a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes. He can never see the same way again.
I wonder if that’s what faith looks like. We do everything we can to see the world through God’s eyes. We remove the blinders that we wear to protect us from discomfort and fear and we walk through the world with open hearts. What does the world look like when we are not at the center? What does God see?
It is easy to romanticize this sweet life of faith. But we don’t have to live long to lose the romance. One day, the disciples find themselves on a boat with the one they trusted and the biggest storm imaginable blows in while he takes a nap. They thought Jesus would protect them from danger, but clearly he is oblivious to their plight. In their desperation, they wake him so that he can save them from certain death.
I read these two stories today and think about much of my energy is directed toward me and what I want and need. It’s just so easy to live our lives as if we were at the center of things. Granted Job and the disciples on the turbulent waters are extreme examples, but in both cases their perspective shifts from what God should be doing for them, to seeing the vastness of God. Jo Bailey Wells says that we have a habit of “replacing the confession that our chief end is to glorify God with the assumption that God’s chief end is to be concerned with mortals.” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 3, p. 148)
It is interesting that the gospel lesson ends with the question “Who is this?” It is as if the scales have fallen from their eyes and they are seeing Jesus for the first time. Yes, they committed to following him before, but now they are glimpsing who he is. I’m not sure what brought you here this morning, but it seems only fair to warn you that the word nave comes from the Latin meaning ship. We sit in this nave, this church sanctuary, this ship, and remember the disciples in the storm. Perhaps like the disciples, you came to church clear about your commitment to following the one who may lead us into turbulent waters and then appear to sleep through our misery. Perhaps you came because a particular thirst drew you here, but are suddenly aware that you don’t have a life jacket and now you wonder if you shouldn’t have stayed home where all appears to be safe. Perhaps you have no idea why you are here, but you are suddenly looking for the exits and trying to figure out how to get out before God troubles the water. If you are afraid right now, you are in good company. The number one greeting in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.” Clearly others have walked in our shoes.
When I spend my days thinking it’s all about me, I am reminded over and over again that God’s world is so much bigger and my task as a person of faith is to move behind the wide angle lens for a larger view. In recent weeks we have had the opportunity to view a spectacular eclipse and the transit of Venus. Both times, I put on the funny glasses and saw something magnificent. Doesn’t God ask us to do that over and over? Can we take the time to stop what we are doing no matter how important it seems and glimpse the world through God’s eyes?
I was struck at our first Who is My Neighbor? gathering at the depth of need in our zip code alone. It’s rather staggering. I’m not sure where these conversations will take us, but I know that we are seeking to be faithful to the world outside our walls. That means being willing to set our own agenda aside and tune into what God sees every day.
We think that life will go a certain way, but one day we wake to a cancer diagnosis, to the death of someone we love, or find our world rocked by a terrible accident. In the aftermath of events that leave us spinning, one thing remains. God is with us. God is greater than we can fathom. We are in this boat together. We cannot predict what will happen as we set out onto the water, but we know that God will not abandon us. We have story after story to remind us – Abraham and Sarah left the world they knew and traveled with God to a new homeland. Moses and his followers walked with God through the wilderness with enough manna for each day. Esther discovered God’s faithfulness as she stuck her neck out for her people. God comes to Job in his suffering and shows him a world larger than he ever dreamed. The disciples were blown away as Jesus calmed the storm that seemed likely to kill them. They were stunned by the one they thought they knew and asked, “Who is this that we follow?”
Look around this nave, this ship, at the others traveling with us. Notice that we are not traveling alone. Now close your eyes and try and imagine what is beyond our ship. Can you see what God sees? Can you see God in the vastness of the cosmos we inhabit? Perhaps it’s time that we all put on our funny glasses and see what God is calling us to see.