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Archive for June, 2018

Job 38:1-11 and Mark 4:35-41

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Photo by Jon Moore on Unsplash

Chaos in Today’s World

Chaos reigns these days. Chaos reigns in international commerce, with E.U. tariffs on U.S. goods. Chaos reigns in a detention center in Taylor, Texas, at the Mexican border. Chaos embroils most of Washington, D.C. Six weeks after the first eruption, chaos still reigns in Hawaii, with explosive volcanic eruptions. No doubt chaos lies ahead this summer, in the forms of hurricanes, cyclones and tornados.  Noisy chaos fills emergency rooms and trauma centers. Chaos rips families apart with division and estrangements.

What is it about all this chaos? Why does it happen? Why do good people end up in the midst of chaotic storms? Is it some kind of personal punishment for sins committed—whether known or unknown? Is it some kind of cosmic injustice, catapulted through the heavens by way of scatter-shot, sadistic acts?

If you ever wondered where holy scriptures meet real life, look no further today than at the book of Job and the Gospel of Mark.

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Chaos in the Book of Job

In an Old Testament book that likely dates back to the late sixth or early fifth century BCE, the character Job is “blameless and upright” in God’s eyes. Job had ten children: seven sons and three daughters—and in case you didn’t know it, the numbers seven and three were thought to indicate completion in the ancient world. Job had thousands of camels, oxen, donkeys, and many servants. Job was faithful to God. He said his prayers every day. He offered burnt offerings to God every day, because in that time, this was how you asked God’s forgiveness. In fact, Job offered sacrifices for himself and all his children, because he said “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.”

Job wanted to make sure he was right with God.  Yet along comes a heavenly being named “Ha-Satan.” (literal Hebrew translation)  In this instance, it is not the little man we think of with horns and a pitchfork, but the Ha-Satan. The Accuser.  In the book of Job, this is someone in God’s imperial service (you could say he’s a master spy in the process of becoming a hostile agent of God’s.) Because of “the Satan’s” taunt to God, Job finds himself in the midst of a chaotic storm. One rival tribe swoops in, kills all but one of the servants, and steals Job’s oxen and donkeys. Another servant shows up to report that the Chaldeans have raided, killed the rest of the servants and stolen the camels. Then a great wind causes the house to collapse, and all ten of Job’s children are killed. Job’s wife says “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die.” Job calls her foolish. He refuses to curse God for these horrible events.

The Accuser re-appears before God and God brags on Job. Hey, did you see my boy Job? Isn’t he great? He’s so faithful! But the Accuser taunts God: “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” God says, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”[1]

Thus Job finds himself covered with boils, “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”[2] Job doesn’t curse God. Yet Job does curse the day he was born. He rants and rails at God. His three friends show up to sit with him, but none of them prove to be very helpful. Maybe you have all these challenges because you’ve sinned and need to repent. Maybe you’re just full of hot air and speaking foolish words. After all, you reap what you sow.

Through all this chaos, pain, grief and lack of support from people closest to him, Job defends himself—his innocence, his integrity, his right living before God—to these three supposed friends. Then Job acknowledges all the loss he has known, and begs for God’s pity and compassion. He asks his friends, “Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?”[3] In the midst of this storm, we can imagine a sick man rising from the dirt where he sits.

He throws his arms in the air and cries out:

“O that my words were written down!

O that they were inscribed in a book!

O that with an iron pen and with lead

they were engraved on a rock forever!

For I know that my Redeemer lives,

and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

and after my skin has been thus destroyed,

then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side,

and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”[4]

Job shakes his fist at God. Job confronts God. What have I done to deserve this? Where are you, anyway? Haven’t I walked with integrity in my life? I have been faithful to my wife. I have loved my children. I have cared for the poor, the widows, the orphans. I have not cursed others. Yet look at me! Here I am, broken, sick, the laughingstock of the village.

Finally, in the final chapters of Job, God shows up. God answers Job. Yet the answer is no answer.  God never really tells Job why all these bad things have happened. Instead, God responds out of a whirlwind, asking this: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding. . .Who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

God’s answer to Job is to talk about God’s creation, its majesty, its perfection, its awesome constructs. God speaks about light, about darkness, snow, hail, wind, rain, desert, grass. .  the constellations of stars—Pleiades, Orion, the Bear—the clouds, floods of waters, lightning, the seas.  God speaks of mountain goats, deer, the wild ass and oxen, the ostrich, the horse and rider, the hawk, the eagle, the great fish—that Leviathan.

Basically, what God says to Job is this: “I am God, and you are not.”

What Job begins to understand is that no matter what happens in his life, God is there. God has created everything that Job can see. God has created everything Job cannot see, hear, touch or taste.

God is in charge. God is in everything and with everything.

God is with Job, right there in the glorious, splendid cosmos. God is with Job right there in the dust, in the grief, pain, loss and doubts.

At the end of the book of Job, Job prays for his faithless friends, and at that point, God restores Job’s fortunes. Job gets twice what he had lost. His brothers and sisters and all the friends who had deserted him return. Each friend gives Job a piece of money and a gold ring— significant gifts in that time. Job becomes prosperous again. He acquires thousands of sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys. He has seven more sons, and three more daughters. (Note: Job not only names these three daughters—which is in itself significant—he also leaves an inheritance for them as he does for their brothers. This is the only time in the Hebrew scriptures that this happens.)  Job lives to be a very old man, blessed to see four generations before his death.

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Photo by Luke Paris on Unsplash

Chaos in Mark’s Gospel

Chaos also touches real life in Mark’s gospel today. In this story, Jesus and his disciples board a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee–headed to “the other side.” (That expression doesn’t just refer to a geographical border of a lake. It means that Jesus’ ministry is getting broader—beyond his own people.)

On their way to the other side, a great windstorm arises, and waves beat mercilessly against the boat. The storm is fierce. The disciples panic. Where is Jesus? Have you seen him? Oh. There he is! Jesus is back in the stern of the boat. Peacefully asleep on a cushion. What good is he in a storm? How in the world can you sleep through such chaos?  So they shake him awake. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus stands up. He hears the roaring wind. He sees the waves spilling over the edges of the fishing boat. He sees the terrified faces of fishermen who know the sea, and know they are about to die if something doesn’t happen—and fast. We can imagine that “Jesus [rises] to his full height on the stern of the boat in direct confrontation with the raging sea.”[5] Jesus stretches out his arm in a commanding position. Jesus rebukes the storm—using the same word for rebuke that he used when he rebuked unclean spirits in people. “Peace! Be still!” he commands the wind and waters. In this moment, Jesus reveals his true identity to these disciples: Emmanuel. God with us. God is in the boat. The Creator of Heaven and Earth is standing, full height, arms outstretched over the seas that he has created. The created obeys the Creator. The wind ceases. A dead calm turns the raging sea to smooth glass.  The boat stops tossing and turning wildly. In seconds, all you hear is the sound of gentle waves that lap against the boat.

The disciples’ response? Literally, “they feared with a great fear.” Jesus’ disciples are in awe of what they have just witnessed. And why not? We do not ever expect the God of heaven and earth to be standing in the boat with us. Yet that is where God always is. Always.

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In the chaos of our lives. . . in our pain and grief and loss and illness. . .In the chaos of family divisions. . .In the chaos of illness, pain and Emergency Room cubicles. . .      In the chaos of moments when we must confront our own demons in order to hold friends up in their time of need. . .God is in the boat in the dark nights of our souls, when we rant and rail and shake our fist at God, demanding to know why? Why? Why did this happen? Where were you, God, when I needed you?”

God is there. God is always there. You may not hear God or see God or touch God. You may not feel God’s presence at all in the valley of the shadow of death. Yet God is there. The bottom holds, and on the bottom, there is God. I promise you that. [Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash]

God is in the boat. God holds the boat. God is the boat.

God will carry you and me across the stormy sea, out in the darkness, in our small boats on a wide ocean. God is in the boat with us. So chaos will never reign, because God is in the boat. And it is God who will help us find our way back home. . .to God.

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives

and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.

After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God.

I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend, and not a stranger.”[6] Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

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Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

NOTE: After preaching this sermon, I played a piece entitled “Movement V: Grace” from a CD entitled The Prayer Cycle by Jonathan Elias. The faces of people in the congregation—thoughtful, pensive, prayerful—was an image I will never forget. It was deeply moving.

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Movement V: Grace

From The Prayer Cycle, by Jonathan Elias

Father won’t you carry me

For the ocean is wide

Father, won’t you carry me

For my boat is small

 

Father on the moonless night

Help me cross the stormy sea

Out here in the darkness

Help me find my way back home

 

Father won’t you carry me

For the ocean is wide

Father won’t you carry me

For my boat is small

 

Father, in the season of dying

Let me sleep in your arms

And come watch over me

Someone watching over me, over me

 

Father won’t you carry me

Father won’t you carry me

Father won’t you carry me

 

James Taylor (English)

John Williams, Guitar

The English Chamber Chorus (Italian)

Vocal Melody by Michael Sherwood

Guitar Arrangement: Bill Kannengiser

Note: This album/CD is a choral symphony in nine movements, or what Elias refers to as “a set of nine adagio prayers.” He included musicians and artists from all over the world, including Alanis Morissette, Salif Keita, the English Chamber Orchestra, Liz Constantine, the American Boychoir, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Martin Tillman and others. It was released in 1999, and included Elias’ dark visions of where we are headed globally, and of the need for hope as expressed through prayer.

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You can listen to this piece here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE7x129N9TE

[1] Job 2:4-6.

[2] Job 2:7b.

[3] Job 19:22

[4] Job 19:23-27.

[5] John R. Donahue & Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville, MD: Liturgical Press, 2002), 158 as quoted in Thomas D. Stegman’s “Exegetical Perspective” on Mark 4:35-41 in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, Cynthia A. Jarvis & E. Elizabeth Johnson, Editors, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 143.

[6] From “The Burial of the Dead, Rite Two” in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

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