Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
October 21, 2018 –Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”
So begins our meditation this morning, and so we draw close to the end of our time this year thinking about Job, a good, good person who suffered terrible, terrible things.
We can watch and consider. We can arrive at conclusions and base our actions on our beliefs. But in the end we are awe-struck.
In the end, we do not arrive at a conclusion. We accept the fact that God is above us and beyond us…and we are not God. Our life is given to us…in a wild world… without any guarantees.
Again and again, we reach out to grasp happiness or power or meaning as if it were the Holy Grail – the cup Christ used to share the wine with…to pour out his blood for…the disciples – thinking it will make us happy or powerful or significant.
Again and again, we find that happiness is fleeting, that power has us and we do not have it, that meaning comes in a flash of light through the window…but will not stay for supper.
So we are tempted to settle for what we can get…take what we can carry away…grow bitter about our lot…the hand we have been dealt. When we choose this fork in the road we begin to die.
We have a sense of entitlement. We are Americans and the world should look up to us. We are rich and we should be able to buy whatever we need.
We are educated and we should be able to reason our way through this. We have been faithful and our faith should be reckoned to us as righteousness.
But that is not life. That is a sitcom script. That is a dinner party. That is an invitation to turn our back on what comes next.
The nation of Israel found itself in that situation after the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, moved its leaders to another place and sent its own people and their beliefs and culture to live among those who were permitted to stay.
Judah found itself in that situation when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem in 586 BC, exiled their leaders and destroyed the great Temple Solomon had built to show the world that they followed the one true God and that there was no other like him.
It was out of chaos that God created order. “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.”
Or if you prefer the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
Let us personalize this a bit. How did you get here? Your mother and your father begat you, but how did they get here? What if they had never met?
In his autobiography, the one that could not be published until 100 years after his death, Mark Twain tells how his parents came to be married.
His mother wanted to go to a dance with someone who invited someone else. She became angry with the man she loved and married Twain’s father instead.
Twain did not learn about this until much later in his life, after his parents were dead, and wrote about it as if he had been slighted. But if he had not been slighted in this way, he never would have been born.
If your mother had gone to the dance with someone else, or if the bus had been late, or if the bus had not been late, you would not be here. If Truman had not decided to drop the atom bomb on Japan, I would not be here.
If World War II had never occurred, most of us who are Baby Boomers would not be here. If the war had gone on longer, or had not gone on as long, they would not be here. If all that chaos had not occurred, we would have missed the world.
We complain about what we complain about because we have expectations that we have turned into scripts of how our lives are supposed to turn out. It’s just the way things are supposed to be.
When life takes its own course and not ours, we complain bitterly that there is no justice. We turn from our belief in God because we will not honor a deity who behaves like that. How could God let that happen? How could God let us happen?
After the Holocaust of World War II, many descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob abandoned their faith, believing there could be no loving supreme being in a world where things like that happened.
In War and Remembrance, Herman Wouk painted a picture of Aaron Jastrow’s last night, in the death camp at Theresienstadt. He is a professor and he is lecturing to his fellow Jews the night before, he knows, he will be sent to his death. He speaks of our Hebrew Bible reading today.
“My friends, Job has won! Do you understand? God with all his roaring has conceded Job’s main point, that the missing piece is with Him! God claims only that His reason is beyond Job. That, Job is perfectly willing to admit…”
He continues, “Who is it in history who will never admit that there is no God, never admit that the universe makes no sense? Who is it who suffers ordeal after ordeal , plundering after plundering, massacre after massacre, century after century, yet looks up at the sky, sometimes with dying eyes and cries, ‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one’?”
“Who is it who in the end of days will force from God the answer from the storm? Nobody but Job. He is the only answer, if there is one, to the adversary challenge to an Almighty God, if there is one, the stinking Jew.”
Moving from the Holocaust and the Hebrew Bible to our reading from Mark, Jesus is making the same point. James and John want Jesus to let them sit at the place of honor beside him when he enters into his glory.
They presume as we all do: If you are good, good things will happen to you. That’s also the basic assumption of Israel in Moses’ day.
“Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant,” God says to Moses,“you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” And David was promised that someone from his house would rule Israel forever.
That is why the fall of Jerusalem is so bewildering. What did we do? Then the story of the prophets is all about what they have done wrong.
So here comes Jesus, and they think the chosen one of God, who can give sight to the blind and make the lame walk, will certainly make Israel great again. When he does, James and John want the best place.
Jesus has to tell them that’s not the way things work. Abraham had to wait until he was an old man before Isaac was born and there was much strife in his house because of it.
Moses was God’s chosen instrument, but his life had to come apart and he had to wander in the desert 40 years.
Elijah defeated the priests of Baal in Nebuchadnezzar’s day, but he had to run and hide because of it. Jeremiah faithfully counseled the king, but he was punished for it.
We don’t get power. Power gets us and even if we are faithful, life becomes infinitely complicated when power makes an appearance. If we aren’t faithful our lives become a scandal to our friends and a source of joy to those who would scoff at us.
Jesus knows that all power has been put into his hands and while the friends he has gathered around him will be remembered forever because they heeded his call, he also knows that life will be hard…oh, so hard…for them…because of it.
It is a thing that must be done to save the world, though, and it is God’s will. He speaks to them with love in his heart…for them and for God…knowing that he will pay a great price, they will pay a great price, and the world will never be able to understand the gift they have received from God.
We, too, are called to drink from the cup…the Holy Grail…Christ shared on that night. We cannot understand what it will mean to us or the world, but we do know that it will draw us closer to God, closer to Jesus, and closer to those who love us…those we love.
Because we are here, open to the call, the door to grace is also open to all who would come in. Mysterious, but true.
David Burt was the Bishop’s assistant until this last June. He entered into the ministry before me and our mutual friend John Pugh watched over him as he entered the ministry.
When David came to him, John told him what he would have to do to make the transition from secular work to ministry. He protested that he would be 51 years old by the time he finished all that.
John simply told him that he was going to be 51 by then anyway. The only question was whether he had done the work John had just described to him. He is now serving at Longmont United Methodist Church…where his father lived across the street and worshiped.
My first church was where my mother had started Sunday school and I now serve in the most wonderful corner of the world I could ever hope to know.
It is a daunting calling…but someone has to do it.
We drink from the cup Jesus gives us. It takes us away from where we intended to go, but our lives know grace because of it. We are all invited to come along, too. Let us walk together into this wonderful, terrible mystery.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through me this day? Amen.