Bible Reading Romans 9:14-16,19-21, 25-26
... Are we saying that God is unfair? Of course not! He had every right to say to Moses: “I will be merciful to whomever I choose and I will show compassion to whomever I wish.” Again, this proves that God’s choice doesn’t depend on how badly someone wants it or tries to earn it, but it depends on God’s kindness and mercy... Well then, one might ask, “If God is in complete control, how could he blame us? For who can resist whatever he wants done?” But who do you think you are to second-guess God? How could a human being molded out of clay say to the one who molded him, “Why in the world did you make me this way?” Or are you denying the right of the potter to make out of clay whatever he wants? Doesn’t the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay an elegant vase or an ordinary pot?… Remember the prophecy God gave in Hosea: “To those who were rejected and not my people, I will say to them: ‘You are mine.’ And to those who were unloved I will say: ‘You are my [loved ones].’ ” And: “In the place where they were told, ‘You are nobody,’ this will be the very place where they will be renamed ‘Children of the living God.’ ” (TPT)
Message Out of the Storm (1) From Job 23:1-17, 38:1-7ff
From Facebook: “It was a sad and disappointing day when I discovered my Universal Remote Control did not, in fact, control the Universe. (Not even remotely).” This sentiment introduces the dilemma that Job has been facing for quite a few chapters now. Somewhere deep down we expect that good is rewarded and evil is punished. And when that does happens, it gives us a sense of control over our destiny and life makes sense. The problem is, life often does not follow our applied formula of cause and effect (Good -> blessing, bad -> not). And when it doesn’t, naturally, we feel angry and hurt and betrayed, we cry out to God -- sometimes blaming, sometimes seeking comfort, sometimes seeking answers, sometimes all of it all at once.
Job has been crying out for quite a while now. His friend has counseled him to stop --- and surrender to God in peaceful submission. But Job, afflicted by endless torment, does not feel real peace can be found in a relationship by an unquestioning surrender of one person to the other.
We all need to be heard
It is important to be able to express our bottled-up concerns and have them heard by someone who understands and cares. His “friends” had not truly listened. Job’s frustration expands like pumping air into a balloon. If someone doesn’t listen soon he is going to pop. Job says, “I would bring forth my case” (Job 23:4) -- it is the same phrase used of a cow birthing a calf -- you mothers will understand -- the relief of being able to express that baby out of your body and present it to the world. Job is saying, that is what I need. Our spirits need the same kind of release and relief and delivery -- knowing that someone hears our story and lovingly seeks to understand us, and cares, especially when we are hurting. Job craves and searches for an opportunity to march into the heavenly court and defiantly face off with God in a formal legal trial -- where his complaint would be heard -- and he could clearly hear God’s defense.
Job is confident that in a fair trial, he would be found innocent because his way of life has zealously gone above and beyond God’s expectations. But he is also terrified that if he did get a chance for a face to face audience with God, he would be so intimidated and overwhelmed that the chance of persuading God with his practiced arguments would be remote.
I have a friend who experiences often what perhaps many of us experience as well. People see something unfair. They post it on their Facebook wall, they write it in emails, and talk to everyone about it except for where it needs to be said, and she is included in those conversations. Sometimes she agrees, and sometimes the topic comes up in an official setting where something can actually be done about it -- and so she expresses the viewpoint she agrees with and that she has heard over and over again. Some people push back on the topic, (disagree with her) and all the people who had told her one thing in private and elsewhere and are at the meeting -- all of a sudden, their eyes find a spot on the table in front of them and they fixate on it; or even worse, they will start to talk and actually say the opposite of what they previously told my friend in private. Job has been practicing his complaints for chapters and feels a great need for God to hear them, (this is his email, friends. Facebook, and everyone “behind his back”), but he is afraid that if he gets face to
He does anything he wants… God All-Powerful has made me terribly afraid (Job 23:13,16)
face with God he is going to be so overwhelmed that he won’t even be able to speak what he wants to say. His courage will fail. But Job is now at a point where his desperation to be heard is stronger than his terror of a divine encounter.
Meanwhile, Job’s friend argues that if he were wise, he would fear God and know that he is powerful and beyond our reach and beyond our understanding, and not to expect him to appear -- case closed.
It is on the heels of this that God honors Job with a personal visit, coming to him out of a storm, yet he seems willing to hold a fair trial. But he doesn’t address all of Job’s complaints. He offers no verdict on whether Job was innocent or not, (his friends were ad nauseum about that) and no explanation on why earthly life does not seem to be fair. Suffering happens. If there is a fault or a cause, it often remains shrouded in mystery. God answers only one charge.
See Job cc 9,10,12
Job had berated God of being a merciless hunter, an insidious spy, a capricious destroyer, and a sinister ruler who employed his "wisdom" to design a chaotic, disordered, purposelessness in nature and society, forcing us to lead meaningless lives. That one, God wants to defend. In defense, God asks Job many questions, the essence of which are summed up in three key questions. Each question has a surface rhetorical obvious answer, (doesn’t really need answering). But also, they are asked ironically - which means that while they have this obvious surface answer, there is also a deeper meaning, and if we look beyond the obvious, it provides for
us a new way of thinking about God the Creator, his creation, and our role within it.
1) Who are you?
The first question "Who is this, darkening my plans [my purposes, my design], with his ignorant words?” (Job 38:2 (CJB)) Well that is a good start, isn’t it? In this question, God is formally inviting Job to the trial, to have the conversation he has been begging to have. But it also immediately moves into the heart of the lawsuit.
I) Who am I?
H) Created in the
R) I am no one
I always thought I was bad with my little sayings like “¯Life is a booger, pick it, pick it, life is a booger all day long ¯” and “every silver lining has a cloud” and other things I like to say to myself and no one else once in a while. But in chapter 12 (esp. v 22), Job takes it to a whole other level. We take God’s creative work of “Let there be light” as good news and something wonderful, right? [Right]. Job flips it on its head -- saying God lit up the world just to show us dark and awful it is. A darkness he has personally experienced through serious suffering-inducing setbacks in his life despite being loyal to his covenant God. Job accused God as using divine wisdom to frustrate human needs and aspirations. God demands Job stand tall in his battle-ready heroic vigor -- all the strength that he can muster -- and demonstrate his superior creative know-how. Who are you? As a rhetorical question, the answer is obvious. We aren’t anyone in the face of who we are talking to -- a dust of a speck of the Universe. Who are we to call God to court? Who are we to know better than God how the world should have been ordered? But if we take the question ironically, God is asking, “Who -- are -- you ?” Who am I? He wants us to seriously consider and reconsider who we are in relationship to him, and to others, and to creation, and even to ourselves. A hint that gets us moving in the right direction is that we are created in the diving image.
2) Where were you?
(Job 38:4 ff)
The second question continues to address Job’s arrogant presumption (on the basis that the “why” of his suffering has not been explained) He presumes that he could have built a better world order than God did. How often do we try to instruct God? “This is the way you should have done that, God!”, “Why didn’t you do this? of not do that, God?”
God asks Job through a series of questions where Job was when he acquired this superior creative wisdom. Where was he when God envisioned, designed, surveyed, engineered, and constructed creation like a master artist, architect, builder and gardener. Where was he when the angels sang praises for his wonderful works? And as the text goes on, God goes through the earth, the sea, the sky and the underworld -- all through all of nature. “Where were you when I did all that?”
I) Where do I fit in to
H) We stand between
Creator and creation
R) I was nowhere
And the obvious rhetorical answer is, “I wasn’t anywhere!” And it seems like God is putting Job in his place. We stand before the One who created all and wonder how we could possibly think we could have done better than he did? -- when we should be joining the angels and confess that “light is indeed good” as well as all creation. But put it on a deeper level: Where are you? Where were you? Where are you? The question asks us to reconsider where and how we fit in to this big picture that God has created. He has a plan for us. A hint is found in Psalm 8:4 where we are made a little lower than the angels and in Genesis where we are given dominion/ stewardship over the earth - an important idea in this dialogue.
3) Are you able?
(Job 38:33 ff)
For the third question now moves on to sustaining if this creation. Since Job thinks and says he can do so much better -- God now asks him if he can he establish the laws that will keep the earth in perfect balance? Can he even call the clouds and bring rain and lightning bolts? Even more to the point, can he feed the lion and her cubs? and I am jumping through a lot of verses and just pulling out a few samples of them -- he goes on and on, question after question after question. Can you provide food for the raven and their young? Job had accused God of hunting him down like a lion, God says he hunts for/with the lion (and its cubs) Job said God doesn’t hear his cry for litigation, but God says he hears even the baby
R) We are not able
ravens cry for food. The surface rhetorical answer is if we think we could run the Universe, (or even our own part of our world), better than God -- we cannot.
I) What is my role
active in creation?
H) loving stewards to all
But when it is viewed with irony, the deeper question asks us to re-examine our role in creation, concluding with, as an example, how do we fit with this idea of dominion over God’s world that God has placed us in. In the days of Job, dominion over the animal kingdom meant humanity domesticated them or eliminated them -- because wild animals were feared as a dangerous threat, or their different behaviors created anxiety in them, so they tried to get rid of them if they couldn’t train them or tame them. Dominion meant contain and control. Eliminate threats and prosper yourself. Love us and hate them. Bless us and curse them. Prosper us at their expense. Give sweet agricultural rains to the just and flood the unjust. How do you do that with rain?
Yet God makes it clear that his compassion and grace flows not just to those domesticated animals but to all the animals, in fact all the animals he named were wild except for the horse. He loves all the animals, both wild and weird (he threw the ostrich in there just to give us the “weird” idea. In parallel themes in Isaiah, the new way of looking at man’s dominion results in a restored world where animals were no longer driven, but they were led -- and by a child! And what we called natural enemies would lay down together - with humanity - in peace. (See Isaiah 11:6 ff) Poetic and idealized -- perhaps… but the principle is clear. We think our world makes no sense when the blessing seems to go to others beside me and mine. Our world only makes sense when mine and ours are blessed, and we work to secure and increase that blessing. We tend not to see the bigger picture as God sees it.
This was Paul’s theme in our pre-sermon reading. Jewish Christians were excited and blessed and privileged to join the faith in Christ -- “Wow! Look at us!” And that is exactly what they started to think like -- “Look at us p powerful and important!” But they weren’t so excited when Gentiles wanted to join. Gentiles were wild, dangerous and weird. They lived a whole different kind of life. They needed to be domesticated, controlled by Jewish Law -- or not allowed to join. Thanks to Peter, Paul, and others, the church survived that hurdle. But now the Gentile Christians were feeling blessed -- and superior, looking with fear and anxiety at people who were not (yet) called to faith in Christ: the Jews who were still Jews and others like themselves who hadn’t yet come to Christ. And Paul, using the metaphor of gardening rather than the animal kingdom -- warns them not to take their “victorious dominion” as a sign that once again we must exercise control, contain, or eliminate the wild and the weird. “You can be grafted out as easily as you were grafted in”, he tells the Gentiles, if you don’t start loving like God loves. For God loves all in his animal kingdom, he cares for all in his human kingdom too. Don’t tell God how he should run his world. The clay doesn’t tell the potter how to make or what to make out of the clay. And if you are confused about who the Potter is and who the clay is, then you are already in a bad place. God loves all. Variables in gender, social, economic, ethnic or other backgrounds and other separating statuses make no difference. We can all be one in Christ…
Job is silenced. Shamed and overwhelmed by God’s majestic presentation in the court. (See Job 40:2-4) But as you recall when we started the sermon, Job had to express himself -- this is a relationship! You can’t have it just one way and be submissive -- or it is not a relationship. began this complaint with a desire to be heard and understood. And so next week, God does what Job can’t. He makes Job to speak -- so that the relationship can be forged. He wants us to talk to him. There is a time to talk, and there is a time -- for now, to listen, in silence. Silence is what we do when we need to listen. It is a way of putting ourselves in God’s hands an allowing him to work in us and strengthen us so that we can better realize who we are, where we are, and what God has planned for us to do.
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Lord, we are often silenced by your magnitude. But we are learning that while your hands are big and rough enough to carve out creation, they are still small and intimate enough to comfort us when life doesn’t make sense and we are worn out. As far as science has come, we cannot pretend to know everything much less know a better way than you. Therefore, we place our lives, our time, our resources, our actions, our words, and our love into your expert hands -- to shape us into the kind of people you want us to be, crafting us according to your plans for our role in your creation.
Closing Blessing Now we leave our sanctuary to enter a world that is often broken, fearful, cynical, and empty. Bring them God’s story of hope, of peace, of freedom, and of full life. Amen.
Closing Music Take My Life and Let it Be