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Last Sunday's Sermon
October 21, 2018
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Servants and All That Jazz
Rev. Jeffrey Cheifetz
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In the face of many questions directed at him, Job's own questions about
his suffering and divine justice are not answered, but he gets to meet God,
and that is enough for him.
In the face of many questions directed at him, Job's own questions about his suffering and divine justice are not answered, but he gets to meet God, and that is enough for him.
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
38:1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5Who determined its measurements-surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?....34"Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? 35Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, 'Here we are'? 36Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? 37Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, 38when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? 39"Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? 41Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?"
Jesus said that the way to life is found by giving ourselves away as he
did: "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give
his life as a ransom for many." When the "great" people sacrifice
themselves for the sake of all, then we see society as a whole begin to
Jesus said that the way to life is found by giving ourselves away as he did: "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." When the "great" people sacrifice themselves for the sake of all, then we see society as a whole begin to thrive.
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36 And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
We want it our way. Which goes to show that we don't understand the moral core of the universe, nor the relationship between Creator and Created.
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These are not words we like to hear: "Who is this..." "Where were you when...?" "Can you lift up...?" "You do not know what you are asking." They are fighting words. What do you mean, Who are YOU, where were YOU, can YOU, you don't UNDERSTAND!?
Anyone ever been told things like this by teachers; siblings; parents; co-workers?
What is our usual response to put-down words-do they incite us to try harder, to fight back, to defend ourselves: "Why, I'll show you!"? Or, are we defeated by such words? Or might we need to listen because they are, if said so that we can hear them, more true than not?
These words are addressed by God to Job, and by Jesus to the disciples. And these words have the ring of truth, no matter how hard they are to hear.
Job wants to know why he has suffered. So he defends himself against the arguments that his friends bring to him. Finally, God enters the picture and overwhelms with the immensity of God's knowledge and authority.
Such a poetic and awesome picture of creation! What can one say against such divine power? Even today, with all of our scientific prowess and technological advances, from the perspective of the complexity of creation and the vastness of the galactic void, we are as dust motes in a desert.
True, we are mighty, in our own way. We have the power to destroy our little blue marble of a world, if not with nuclear missiles, then incrementally, with our climate-busting ways. We save lives through medical techniques unimaginable a hundred years ago. We build towering structures. We create a web of connection that instantaneously brings together the whole world.
We make connections with people who are not like us, to build friendships and create the possibility of mutual understanding and respect.
Our curiosity and growth is a good thing. We are made to explore, to learn more, to build things that have never been built before. We are intelligent, caring, creative beings who love to climb mountains just because they are there, who take risks, who delve deeply into the mysteries of the universe.
Psalm 8 puts it nicely:
"3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? 5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. 6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.9O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
But we are but as infants in our knowledge and wisdom, in our ethical understanding, in our awareness of the nature of the universe. We have not yet figured out how to house the homeless and cure the mentally ill. We have not yet chosen to prioritize feeding the hungry of this world over weaponizing ourselves to the hilt. We are still prone to demonizing 'the other' when our leaders distract us from our own responsibility to look at ourselves.
And this is where Job ends up, in awe-filled wordless wonder, before the Lord, the Sovereign One. Which is also probably a good place for us busy and distracted moderns to be in our worship and contemplation, because it gives us perspective on our anxious and self-absorbed lives.
This is why we have prayers of confession and declarations of forgiveness in worship. We are wonderfully made, talented, and well-intentioned people. And, we are not yet what God has intended for us to become. We acknowledge, in community, this polarity, this balancing act, this difficult dance.
Well, within this dynamic situation, we want to know that we count for something. We want to be noticed and appreciated. We want to be safe and secure. We want our ideas and opinions to have traction with others, to influence others. We want, we want, we want.
Which is a good thing when what we want adds to the common good for all people. And which is a harmful thing when we take away from others what they need to live healthy and hopeful lives.
We do not always recognize when we are appropriate in our wanting. Jesus calls James and John to task because their self-serving desires go overboard. They want to be favored because they want to be safe in the presence of Jesus' power in the coming uncertain days. But they have no idea what Jesus is about, what it means to "drink the cup that [he drinks], or be baptized with the baptism that [he is] baptized with" . They have chutzpah, to be sure, but not wisdom. They do not see that the way of Jesus is service to others even though it costs him everything. They have no clue that ultimate safetyand security is attainable only through losing their life. Their anxiety clouds their minds and leads them astray. Which is why Jesus says to them, "You do not know what you are asking".
Surely there are times in our lives when we need to hear those words as well: "You do not know what you are asking". They are reminiscent of Jesus' prayer on the cross:"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
When our agendas squeeze out the thoughts and desires of others, and lead us to act inappropriately;
When our hunger for more, whether it be for money, or being noticed, or for validation, or for first place in line, becomes greed;
When our unhappiness over our personal situation becomes toxic for those around us;
When our resentment of others' success or place in life takes the form of bitterness;
When political movements that feed on the ignorance and fear of others arise during times of societal uncertainty and discord;
When a nation is so sure of its own purity of motive and helpfulness of intention that it is blinded to its own desire for dominance;
When our prayers are only about ourselves and our wants, and about those we love and their wants;
When our dislike of others leads us to backbiting and harmful gossip;
That is when we need to hear those words again.
But in the end, our God-given nature and our brokenness co-exist in the same body, just as the weeds and the wheat co-exist in Jesus' parable (Matthew 13:24-13:30); "4 He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' 28 He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29 But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
St. Augustine , who died in 430 CE, pointed out that the invisible distinction between "wheat" and "weeds/tares" also runs through the Church:
O you Christians, whose lives are good, you sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! The harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who can make the separation, and who cannot make mistakes. ... I tell you of a truth, my Beloved, even in these high seats there is both wheat, and tares, and among the laity there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good. Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Tares)
In the end, we are to live with a sense of our own limits, and yes, in awe of the God who created us, and the uttermost depths of the sea, and the endless galaxies.
In the end, we are to live in the spirit of these stories, these words, these arguments. They show that divine love is so deeply and thoroughly committed to humanity because we are worth reclaiming from our wayward paths, from our stubbornness and spiritual deafness and blindness, from our damaging treatment of the created order, and of one another.
Who is this who asks questions? Who is given great responsibility? Who struggles to find the way? Who suffers, and rejoices? Who builds bridges instead of walls?
Just us; and we are created in the image of God; we are a little lower than God; we are stewards of the earth and of our relationships; we are, in Christ, Jesus' hands and eyes and heart and voice. As such, we are called to serve one another. As such, we drink the cup that Jesus drinks, and we are baptized with Jesus' baptism. We are his, and he is ours; and together with him we walk and run and limp and dance along the path of life, lifting our eyes to the wonders of creation and giving thanks to its Maker.
May it be so.