Mark 4:35-41 and Job 38:1-11
Will you be in a spirit of prayer with me as I pray the words of Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton:
My Lord God:
“I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.”
And so I pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.”
I had hoped that the lectionary would offer up for us on this last Sunday morning service of our program year, some nice, light, consoling Scripture passages. I was hoping we would be given something that would lend itself to a softball (as it were) sermon that would effortlessly send us out into the lazy days of summer.
But that was not the case.
Instead the lectionary gives us Scripture for today that is full of terror. People are in the midst of a crisis. They are on the edge. They are looking death in the eye and are crying out in the midst of storms of biblical proportions.
We hear this cry from Scripture this morning in the midst of so many cries that we have heard all over this country and around the world this week. Cries of our own hearts, and the cries of tender souls who have been placed on our hearts.
Instead of giving us an easy out this morning, Scripture is taking us right into the midst of it all.
But that really is how it ought to be. For religion/our faith is not to be about how to escape from what is hard and challenging, but instead religion/our faith ought to motivate and help capacitate us to enter ever more fully into the challenges we face. That is a big part of what we are doing here Sunday after Sunday.
And this is what people of faith have been doing through the ages, and what is at the heart of the biblical witness. Both of our stories for today were first written down as words of instruction for people who were struggling with how to live faithfully in the midst of the storm and challenge of their time.
Our first reading is from the Book of Job. The book of Job is a fascinating text, we believe written in the 6th century B.C.E. and is part of a genre of biblical texts called wisdom literature. The purpose of the book was to explore and ultimately expose the bad theology of the day.
The book tells the story of a righteous man names Job. God is quite pleased with Job, but Hasatan (the tester in God’s heavenly court) tells God that the only reason Job is righteous is because everything is going great for Job. It is easy to love God, he says, when everything is coming up roses, but if the tables turn on Job and you’ll see how Job will turn on you, God, he says.
And that is what happens. Over the course of the book, the tables are turned on Job. Job loses everything. But things play out not as Hasaton predicts.
And that is where the bad theology of the time kicks gets exposed. Job’s friends try to tell Job that the reason he is suffering is because he must have done something wrong. That is was what was thought. That was the understanding of God and how God worked. If you are good, God gives you good things. If you bad, God give you bad things. So in that time, it was easy to looks around the world and assess who was good and who was bad by the circumstances of a person’s life, or health. So it reasoned that Job’s suffering was proof positive that he did something bad. That is how it went and was justified. Poor people? Bad. Sick people? Bad. Rich people? Good. Powerful people. Good of course.
But Job sees right through this misshapen theology. Job knows he is a good person and that the suffering he is experiencing has nothing to do with his worth. He refuses to buy into the prevailing theology of his peers and time. Instead he insists on going straight to the source and hearing from Godself. Job insists, persists, is dogged in his desire to get closer to God. To interrogate God. To know the mind of God. Instead of throwing up his hands and walking away from his faith, Job walks straight into the heart of it. Through his tenacity and grit, Job dismantles and discards the worn out theology of the day and ultimately, ends up finding himself in the very presence of God.
And when he does, Job finds that instead of answering Job’s question, “why am I suffering and why are not you, God – doing something about it?” God broadens the conversation by, as my Hebrew Bible professor liked to say “taking Job on a magic carpet ride of the universe.” God lifts Job up out of the particularities of his situation and enables Job to catch a glimpse of the vastness, awe and mystery of God. There was just so much more going on than Job could have possibly imagined. He is awestruck at the magnitude and magnificence of God. And in seeing from this vantage point, Job’s suffering diminishes and Job is restored.
It is this same awe at the magnitude and magnificence of God that we see on the faces and in the words of the disciples in the Gospel story for today. This story was written down by the Gospel writer, Mark for a people who were living through a brutal time of oppression and suffering. The year is 60 C.E., about 30 years after Jesus death and resurrection. The followers of Jesus are trying to keep the faith but it is not easy.
The Roman Empire has come down hard on the people, destroying the Temple and killing so many, so brutally that author James Carroll terms this time the first Holocaust. The followers of Jesus are struggling with how to keep the ship of their faith a float, literally. (Christ Actually: Reimagining Faith in the Modern Age by James Carroll)
Mark speaks to them of this story and bids them to remember! Remember, he tells them, when those first disciples thought everything was lost! Remember, he tells them, how those first ones did not realize that so much more was going on than what they perceived! Do you remember, he asks, how Jesus showed them that the storm had no power to hurt them and that the deeper issue at hand was one of their faith? Do you remember?
We may not know what we are going to do, how we are going to face what is in front of us. The misuse and abuse of theology and Scripture to justify the suffering of the innocent continues to be a scourge in our time. The proverbial boat of our faith may be barely afloat as we are tossed about on the ravaging storms of our day.
But let us too, remember the deep truth that these stories hold. And that is that The Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Ground of our Being and Source of all that is Good, has not left us on our own. God has not retreated to some distant corner of the universe leaving us to fend for ourselves in the midst of our suffering. Instead, God is in the midst of our world and our lives, working to heal and redeem all that is.
And because of that, the problem that these texts bid us to see is not so much Job’s suffering or the distress of the disciples in the boat, the problem is not so much even the storm itself. The problem that the texts bid us see is that Job and the disciples do not yet have the capacity to imagine, must less see, the reality of God’s presence at work in the midst of their predicament.
Particularly the disciples but to some degree also Job as well, are caught in a closed hermeneutic, or way of making sense of what they face. They only have the ability to imagine what they have known. Their understanding and perspective is bound by what they think they know to be possible. The limits of their own imagination are limiting not only what they perceive to be possible but is also limiting their understanding of what God is and could possibly be all about.
I know that many are facing really difficult circumstances in our personal lives. And I know that as a nation and as people on this planet we face profound challenges. But I wonder if one of the biggest challenges we too face, is this lack of imagination, a lack of hope, a lack of faith that God could actually be present and at work, healing and redeeming the world.
If we cannot catch a glimpse of this, then it is very hard to find the courage and the stamina to keep leaning into the challenges of our time, let alone find creative solutions to them.
But the Good News in the passages for today, the grace that flows so powerfully from them, is that the disciples’ lack of imagination, their inability to see the scope and magnificence of what God is about, is no impediment to God.
For it turns out that though they may be limited, they do have one critical thing that God needs in order to work in and through and all around them.
And that is a desire for God. The Disciples in our Scripture this morning are not new to this walk of faith. They are people who left their nets and stepped into a boat that was headed into the dark and to the other side, because they wanted to know and to follow this one they called Jesus. And Job was one that loved God, was righteous. The people in our stories this morning have said “Yes” to a journey of faith. Yes – to their desire to know God.
At the very heart of these passages today is the enduring truth that our desire for God is the ground bed for the revelation of God in our lives and in our times. We may have no idea where we are going. We may not be able to see the road ahead or know for certain where it will end. But like them, we too, I believe, want to know God. We too, like them, I believe, have a deep desire to know God — deep desire to do the will of God, to please God.
And it turns out that’s good enough for God. God can work with that!
And so as we continue to lean in to the challenges and sufferings of our day, as we labor to keep our boat afloat and stills the storms that threaten so many, let us go as a people who expect to see and encounter God at work in the world. Let us go with Hope on our hearts, and with our imaginations alive with possibility. Let us go most of all with a deep desire to know God and with a desire that all we do may be pleasing to God.
And in these weeks ahead, when you find yourselves in awe, when you find yourself speechless in the face of your own magic carpet ride of the universe, when you find the storm stilled and fear gone, take a moment, if you would, to jot it down. Tell me about it. Join your story with these stories of long ago that we may all continue to witness to and join with the One who is very much at work within each and every one of us and within the world.
Thanks be to God! Amen