The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Do we really understand what we are doing when we gather here and bat words back and forth: “The Lord be with you,” I say. And you respond: “And also with you.” Do we think about what we ask – who it is we invite to come among us when we’re in here – as if the Almighty awaits our invitation?
We chatter about God’s ways as if we have some great wisdom and experience. Speeches end in: “God bless America;” and we all feel warm and safe wrapped in God. I wonder if we are doing that God would want to bless – and what would God want us to change? Ever hear prayers for God to grant a football team a win? I’ve tried it – and my team still loses. Might God have bigger concerns? We pray for heaven’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Do you really want that? What would be different for us? Would we share more so others could enjoy more heaven here? We pray to a God who sends a Savior telling us to forgive enemies. Is that really practical? We could get shot and overrun while we take time to forgive enemies.
Job’s fed up. He shakes his fist at heaven. His friends beat him up with their opinions about what’s wrong. “Repent, Job and God’ll bless you again.” Job doesn’t believe that’s the way God works. But he’s not sure anymore: “So, Almighty One – speak for yourself. Break your silence. The Lord be with me.”
Job gets God – up close, personal, and more. A whirlwind descends – and now a word from the Lord: “Who is this that darkens counsel without knowledge? Answer me. Where were you when the foundations of the world were laid? Who determined its measurements? You must know, Mr. Smart Guy.” The barrage continues: “Who…Can you…Where were you…What do you know?” Wonder if Job is now thinking, “Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut?”
Novelist Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk writes: “On the whole I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear straw hats, velvet hats to church; we should all we wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” Job knows he’s been drawn out and quartered to a point of no return.
Do you think Job feels a lot smaller – maybe wishes he could disappear? You and I know how Job feels. God bombards Job with questions he can’t possibly answer. Who would ever approach such a God again? Well, I’ve met people who are so fed up, like Job, they can’t see straight, want answers. Why – why did I have to get sick? Why – does a teen get beaten to death by kids his age? Why can’t I find a job? Why – why is life unfair? Why – why did she die? Maybe such questions are really cries of pain, fear, and desperation? We don’t need answers. We want to know God cares – God’s in it with us. God won’t let go of us.
“Where were you when I put all this together? Do you possess my wisdom? You speak my name, Job – but do you know me?” And thank goodness God is willing to talk with Job – and Job has sense enough to listen. Job engages God. It’s also called prayer – maybe not the sweet, gentle, silent, contemplative kind we prefer, accompanied by soothing background music.
We are human – and that’s both our bane and blessing. We know some, not all. We suffer, experience injustice – disappointment, failure, broken dreams, excruciating loss in this life. Yet who are we that God is mindful of us? Look around. Little lower than angels? Adorned with glory? God lifts Job and all of us to a higher place – that the chance to gain a different viewpoint. God sits Job down in a rocker on the porch of heaven – and imparts transcendent wisdom that only God can give. Redemption – salvation comes as we let God lift us above the defects and flaws of life to glimpse a larger world, a greater power than ours. Too often we spiral down so deeply in our distress, grief and depression we can’t raise our eyes to see what God is doing. We lose the miracles of awe and gratitude – our God grows too small. Can we trust God to let God lift us, with Job, to a place where we just stand in silence, awe, and wonder?
Some mornings as I drive along Lake Michigan to the church I’m overcome with awe – wonder. The pain of losses, fears I am not enough – my concerns and sufferings are placed in a new light – a bigger place. “Where were you Steve – when I carved these lakes? Can you bring the sun’s beams to glitter across these waters? Why is there something, rather than nothing?” Is this enough to lift me into God – a larger world, than my own little existence? You bet. Can you trust the unseen God who is ever present, even in the most miserable places we feel we’ve been cast? Can you still feel awe, mystery, experience miracle and gratitude? A psychotherapist writing a newspaper column reminds of us of wisdom Job probably learned: “You will not be punished for your anger…you will be punished by your anger.”
The great challenge to faith in God – is to confront the truth that we don’t have the final word. We get in trouble thinking we do. Yet can we still have faith enough to trust God is in our messes, our losses, our suffering with us? That’s the real challenge. Can we trust so deeply we will be reconciled and at peace with God? Do we at least know enough to trust God is really there – and for us? Sometimes God’s words are so deep they don’t even need to be spoken.