October 18, 2015

Pentecost 21 October 18, 2015 Psalm 104; Job 38:1-13, 16-21, 24-39:10, 41:1-5; Hebrews 1:1-4   (Job and Hebrews, week 3)

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Job has been suffering greatly – and arguing, hollering, and shouting to God for a long time. Asking, begging, demanding answers from God. Petitioning persistently to see God face-to-face and make his case directly to God. (All while arguing with his infamous friends, who think they have all the answers.)

Now God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. Answering his questions at great length…

And how does God answer Job? – who has, remember, suffered the loss of his children, his wealth, his health – suffered the loss, most painfully, of all he thought he knew about God… Job has been a model of faith and virtue, but having lost so much and suffering greatly, now he is questioning God’s justice, God’s mercy, God’s fairness; even as he stubbornly continues to believe in God… And if we didn’t know it was God who has allowed Job to be put to the test, we too might be there with Job’s friends, telling Job his suffering must be because of the wrongs he’s done that he needs to repent of.

But now here comes God in person, answering Job’s questions… With questions back to the questioner. God asks Job at least 70 questions…Starting with “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth…When the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”… ‘Can you manage the Pleiades and Orion and all the constellations of stars in the heavens above?’… ‘Are you the father of the frost?’ ‘Are you the mother of the oceans? Did the seas burst forth from your womb? Did you establish the limits that bind the oceans to their shores?’

‘Do you manage the weather?…Do you instruct the birds in wisdom? Do you feed all the wild animals of the forest, the jungle, the valleys and mountains?’

‘Do you make the rain fall even where no one’s there to notice? Can you supervise the care and feeding of creatures so strange and wild that only God and maybe their mothers can love them?’

And by the end of chapter 40, God’s talking with Job about Behemoth and Leviathan, legendary creatures known to us only through the sanctified imaginations of poets and artists, but, listening to God, Behemoth sounds like an oversized hippopotamus-shaped dinosaur; Leviathan sounds like a cross between a crocodile on steroids and a fire-breathing dragon… And God asks Job ‘Are you able to catch Leviathan with a fish-hook?’ (I do like to picture God catching a sea monster on light tackle – a tiny fly-hook and two-pound-test…) Then God asks: ‘Having caught the wild dragon-sea-monster, can you tame it and make a pet of it? Can you teach it to speak softly, and put it on a leash for your daughters to play with?’

God’s questions go on like this for four whole chapters, with only one brief pause for Job to speak a sentence or two… (God’s response to Job is actually the longest continuous direct speech by God to humans we hear anywhere in the bible.) And soon we notice – God has been listening to Job all along. Job, remember, cursed the day of his birth (in chapter 3), using language that implies he wishes the world had never been made. Now God questions Job – ‘how well do you really know the world that I have made, brother Job?’

Job said to God (remember again, back in chapter 13) “…call, and I will answer; and let me speak, and you reply to me.” Now God says to Job “I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”

And on one level, God’s questions remind us of the movie, Bruce Almighty, where God responds to a tv reporter’s God-blaming tirade by letting him share in some of God’s powers for a while. Reporter Bruce then soon begs to be relieved of this power, realizing the job is way too big for him. (Job’s story can be heard as this kind of a story… But… )

On a deeper level, God’s questions to Job are all part of one long and very serious tutorial lesson in divine ecology. In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth, and all that fills them – field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea… And God sees all that he has made and it is all good and very good… And God blesses all creation and rests.

Now God says to Job and to all who hear: ‘I still love, cherish, and care passionately for this vast creation I have made…And yes, I do care for you, Job, immensely…. I also care for all the wildest of your fellow creatures…And as much as I truly love you – you need to know – you are not the center of the universe…’ (and…)

I love the old hymn – I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. His Eye is on the Sparrow, I know he watches me…I love the little sparrows… and I love God watching me.

But I’m not quite so sure I love the thought that maybe God’s attention isn’t always on me and the sparrow…Because God’s also watching a whole lot of other species… Not to mention tucking stars into bed and hugging sea monsters good-night at the end of the day… (So maybe–) God’s questions back to Job can be a bit troublesome to my conventional wisdom and understanding of how God works…

Even though I think of myself as a serious nature-lover and fishing nut…And I’m glad to know God loves the little caddis fly, the crawling stone fly, the caterpillars, crawfish and all those delicacies trout like to eat…Even though I’m also glad God’s eye is on the green crabs, clams, sand eels, herring and bunker and all that striped bass delight in…Even though I’m fine in theory with all the species God has made… Still I confess I sure do hope God loves me more than the coyote, caddisfly, and caterpillar… (and– )

‘Where are you going with all these questions, Lord?’ I find myself asking God… Are you just trying to make Job and me feel very small?

And yes, I am and we are very small…. But…having lingered in the story for awhile now… I’m sure God’s questions are not meant to humiliate Job or drive him into repenting of sins he hasn’t committed. (That’s just not the way the story ends… And…) Reading all the bible we know God is not a sadist. God is good, all the time. And Job is indeed humbled by God’s questions – but again, having read on, and remembering how the story ends… I hear God speaking to Job mostly to build him up, not take him down… Speaking words of deep hope and invitation… Inviting Job to take up God’s challenge…Gird up, as God says, and join in holy conversation with God…Join with God in taking care of creation…

Isn’t this exactly what God told us to do in the beginning? God made us, we remember, in the image and likeness of God, and said be fruitful, multiply, have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all living creatures…

And as the language and tone of God’s questions make clear – dominion, according to God, means loving, nurturing, taking good care of creation… and considering the effects of everything we do on all the rest of the planet…

And I hear God asking us now – are we willing, with Job, to change our minds, adjust our viewpoints, and be humble enough to let God be Center of the universe?

Are we willing to learn, along with Job – willing to give up cherished ideas, as we hear God’s Word? Are we willing to admit we sometimes act as if we think God’s on vacation, and we’ve been left in charge? (We are made in the image of God… But that’s not the same as being God.)

Are we willing to step back, slow down, look and listen, re-learn how to observe God’s boundaries? Ask God’s help with cleaning up all the messes and catastrophes we humans have made on earth, in the seas, in the skies, that make life problematic for future generations of all species?

When God tells Job “gird up your loins and act like a human” – isn’t God saying ‘act like a human made in the image of God?’ Isn’t God saying ‘Show the same care for creation I have shown you, here, in all my questions from the whirlwind?’

God is probably not planning on explaining all the mystery of human suffering… at least not any time soon. But the questions God asks of Job remind us – How seldom we remember all God’s instructions… When everything’s fine… and we’re feeling no pain.

Job’s questions to God are about ‘Where are you when I’m suffering? Where are you when the unrighteous flourish and the righteous suffer?’

And it may seem as if God is changing the subject – if we hear God’s questions too quickly, without listening closely enough. Having been there and done that too often… now I’m starting to notice (with prayer, slow reading and listening)… that in all his questions God is patiently trying to expand our view –

of who it is who is suffering…

And now I’m starting to notice – God really does address all Job’s questions. God really does let Job (and all of us) know – God has been listening to our questions… And God does promise… justice, mercy, grace and peace…. in God’s time.

And as we listen well we also hear –

God’s Word still celebrating creation…

God’s promises, still, proclaimed –

As the sea roars and all that fills it –

As floods clap hands, hills sing together for joy –

As we listen with Job, and all creation to God’s questions anew –

and see again, God at work in stars and seas, frost and forest…

Now we see also –

How deep this intimacy… of God’s speaking with Job… (and through Job with us)

Reminding us we are all together part of God’s wondrous creation. And best of all, He is with us, always… and we are His.

And He is ours… in the bonds of his unceasing love.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.