Rev. Stacy Swain
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
When I was a kid, my younger brother and I invented a game. It went like this. One of us would be blindfolded and sit down in the middle of the kitchen. The other one would open the refrigerator and with a cup and teaspoon in hand would set up mixing up a concoction taken at random from the often scary looking variety of condiments growing old and crusty on the refrigerator door. Once the person mixing the concoction was done, a teaspoon of the new creation was given to the blind folded one to taste and try to identify what were the ingredients that constituted the mixture that they were now tasting.
It was always startling how poorly we did in guessing. At best we would be able to distinguish maybe one or two of the ingredients. It always amazed us how familiar flavors would become almost completely indistinguishable when combined in new ways.
Being limited in their vision and yet trying to discern what it is they are taking in seems to be very much what the disciples in the Gospel passage from Mark and what Job from the Hebrew Scriptures are doing today. And like my brother and I, they are not particularly successful in identifying what it is God is offering them.
But unlike us, who delighted in trying to confuse and stump each other, Jesus seeks only clarity for the disciples and God’s directness with Job is not to be missed. In both these passages, Jesus and God are working harder than ever in trying to strip off the proverbial “blind fold” to show the disciples and Job more clearly the ingredients of what it is God is creating and how they are to be a part of it.
But before I go any further, let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
In the passage from the Gospel of Mark today, James and John and the rest are on the road going up to Jerusalem. They can see that great city in the distance, the hub of political and religious power in the region. They are excited. This is it they are thinking. This is when all we hoped for becomes real and we get to be a part of it!
Never mind that Jesus had just in the breath before the passage read for us today, told the disciples again for the third time what they can expect from their time in Jerusalem. He has told them quite clearly that when they get to Jerusalem he will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. He will be condemned to death and then be handed over to the Gentiles who will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him. And then, in three days, he will rise again.
Jesus has just spelled out the recipe of what is ahead for them. But the disciples today, when they see Jerusalem on the horizon line, well they see and taste something much different than what Jesus has mixed up. They see and taste instead power, glory, fame and they want it all of it. So great is their certainty that they can see clearly what is before them and so eager are they to have it for themselves, that they have the nerve to tell Jesus “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Being certain and directive is also what Job has been doing in the chapters leading up to the reading today. Job, a just and righteous man, has just lost everything. His family, his wealth, his position in the community, even his own health. He is suffering profoundly and demands to know why. According to how he and his friends understands the moral workings of the universe, the good are to be rewarded and the bad are to be punished. That is how it works. He is a good and righteous man and yet, he suffers. This is completely intolerable, so Job demands that God show up and explain God’s self, that God account for this breach in protocol.
We may from the peace of these pews, shake our heads a bit at James and John and even blanch a bit at Job’s audacity, but the beauty of the Bible is that it tells not just their story but ours as well. For who hasn’t asked God to help us get that promotion, or grade, or whatever it is we really need in the moment to get ahead. I confess, I have even asked God to get me a parking space so that I wouldn’t be late to a meeting. And who among us has not demanded that God account for God’s self when we or those we love suffer. Who has not raised a fist and asked why? I know I have.
But what is amazing in both of these passages is that despite the audacity of the disciples and Job in insisteing that their perspective on things is right, and to make a claim on God to inhabit the reality that they have created; God does not just walk out of the room and leave them blind folded and perhaps slightly nauseous in the middle of the kitchen.
In fact just the opposite seems to be true. The more misdirected the disciples and Job are the greater is the intensity of God’s engagement with and correction of them. For whatever reason, God seems to be very invested in that the disciples and Job know that despite their limited perspective, they are an important part of God’s expansive, world healing presence in and work for the world.
When James and John make their request, Jesus responds, “You don’t know what you are asking.” Jesus is introducing an entirely different way of being in the world to the disciples. A way based not on what is best one but what will best bring about the healing of all creation and the renewal of all that is to the goodness and potential that God intended. A way that is bigger than just the self. A way where self sacrifice is in the service of something higher than the self.
Jesus is trying to help the disciples see in a new way, but we know that the blind-fold-removing moment for the disciples, when they will finally see that what Jesus is offering them and inviting them into, will not fully happen until after the resurrection.
But for Job – his moment of clarity comes when God shows up in the whirlwind not to answer the charge Job has brought against God, but instead to completely blow apart Job’s well constructed framing of reality and his place in it. God picks up Job from the particulars of his life and takes him on what my Hebrew bible professor calls a magic carpet ride of the cosmos. Job gets the 35,000 foot level view of expansiveness of creation, the power and attention of God to it things.
Can you imagine what it must have felt like for Job to have such a profound reorientation of one’s view of the world and one’s place in it? To go from the certainty that we are the main character in our lives to a sweeping realization that we have a supporting role to play in a much larger drama of God at work in the world. To see the stage on which we enact our living go from the little square of our familiar routines to the great sweep of all the cosmos?
And when we see the smallness of our lives in the scope of the expansiveness of all that is, the question becomes not “What is it that God can do for us?” but instead “what is it that God is doing and how are we to be a part of it?” For me, it is when we begin to grapple with this bigger question that the life of faith really starts to get interesting. “What is it that God is doing and how am I to be a part of it?” How would you answer that question for yourself?
Greg Mobley, a biblical scholar at ANTS with expertise in the Hebrew Scriptures, reads the these verses from the book of Job and looks around at the world today and answers the question of what God is doing and how we are to be a part of it in this way. Drawing from Jon Levenson,a Jewish biblical scholar and theologian, Mobley sees the work of God to be that of continually monitoring and managing the balance and order of creation so that life can unfold towards the greatest potential and possibility for thriving. But what Mobley and Levenson also see is that chaos, that formless void from which all that is was created is not something that was eradicated on the dawn of creation. The potential for chaos and devolution to formlessness and void continue to be a part of the mix, part of the ingredients that constitute the reality in which we live.
This passage from the Hebrew Scripture today, continues with God showing Job the place where all the wild things are and telling Job “I have a covenant with chaos too. In order for reality to function, there must be space for the random, chaotic and the wild.” But the key here is that chaos has a place. Leviathan (the mythical chaos monster of the sea) and Behemoth (the mythical chaos monster of the land) have not been killed by God on the dawn of creation but instead have been leashed and while still are wild forces, they are tamed and contained under the hand of God. God is at work monitoring the balance and order of creation, working to reign in chaos and set free fullness of life.
If this is what God is doing in the world, and let’s just for the sake of argument entertain the idea that there may be some truth here, then what are we to do? What is our role in that which God is doing? Why does Jesus in the Gospel and God in the book of Job, take the time and make the effort to take off the blind fold and try to teach the disciples and Job what it is that truly constitutes the reality of their living?
Mobley answers that question this way: we have the capacity to help or hurt. “Humanity’s injustice threatens to undo the work of creation, to cause the world to revert to the primordial aquatic state from which it had emerged.” But Mobley writes “all initiatives that augment and support the healthy patterns of God’s very good creation, every note we sing in the tune with that happy chorus begun by the morning stars on the seventh day, is our covenant response, our partnership, our co-creatorship with God. The goal of legging out every detail of Torah, of loving God with all one’s being in sacred and mundane dimensions of existence, is to preserve the fragile boundaries that separate ordered and healthy life from chaos and cosmic disintegration.” “We are to be partners with God in managing chaos and preserving the created order” – that is our work.
That is a pretty tall order. If this is true, no wonder God takes the time to deal with us. No wonder Jesus took so much time in walking with the disciples, in answering their questions and time and time again opening their eyes to what was and what was to be. No wonder God showed up in the whirl wind to change the conversation. It is a scary but pretty compelling idea to think that not only do we need God, but somehow God needs us and all creation to participate with God in continually molding and moving creation and all that is toward the fullness of life and living that can be.
So, may our vision be expansive. May our lives be lived out on the cosmic stage. May we be partners with God in our living so that chaos may be retrained and the fullness of all goodness unfold. Amen