10/21/18 – Who’s In Charge?

WHO’S IN CHARGE?

October 21, 2018
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Job 38:1-7; Psalm 104; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:35-45
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

One piece of career advice given to company workers is: to build up your job security, make yourself indispensable. If you are the only person that knows how to do tasks that are critical to the organization, it is unlikely you will be let go and you have leverage for salary increases. But, if you are the leader of an organization, it is unwise to let this situation happen. A smart leader keeps the whole team aware of how the operation works. Not only does that safeguard the company if a valued employee leaves, but a well-informed staff can also prevent the collapse of the business if the leader leaves.

Jesus was trying to train his disciples to take over his mission when he would no longer be with them. It had been rough going. In Mark, more so than the other gospel accounts of the end of Jesus’ time on earth, the disciples appeared almost comically dense. The disciples had observed their teacher’s humility and service to the most marginalized and powerless people in society. Yet, in our gospel reading for today, James and John have the foolishness and audacity to ask Jesus if they could have the highest positions when he “came into his glory” as the head honcho in God’s Kingdom. Just making the request demonstrated their lack of readiness to take on any kind of leadership role in Jesus’ organization. Service to the highest in the divine realm was to be accomplished by service to the lowest of humanity on earth.

Our epistle reading from Hebrews expounds on this theme of Christ’s leadership.  Using the familiar Jewish role of the high priest to describe Jesus’ divine leadership over humanity, the author of Hebrews claims Jesus can be our salvation from our sins because he understood the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of humanity. Jesus himself had experienced suffering and temptation; he knew how they affected our ability to be faithful and obedient to God. And, with an admonition appropriate for a response to James and John’s request to sit at Christ’s left and right in God’s Kingdom, Hebrews’ author describes Jesus’ acceptance of his role: “And one does not presume to take this honor but takes it only when called by God.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it, James and John.

On the other hand, out reading from Job looks at leadership from the perspective of the divine – the divine leader of the cosmos. We began our fast track through the book of Job on the first Sunday of this month. In Chapters one and two we meet the two main characters, God and Job. Satan, God’s operational manager, not the personification of evil found in the New Testament, sets up a test for Job. Job had been extraordinarily faithful, and Satan felt God needed to be sure that faithfulness was true, not just a quid pro quo for the abundance of blessings God had given him.  Satan convinces God to take away Job’s land, livestock, his children, and even his health so that he could see whether Job’s faithfulness and obedience was genuine. After the plot is set in the first two chapters, God goes silent and Job takes the stage.

According to Job’s worldview, this calamity makes no sense. If you are good, you are blessed. If you sin, you are cursed. Job is completely innocent. Therefore, God must have left the room. Job’s life is in chaos and God has let the world descend into chaos by his absence. Job’s three friends sit with him in silence for seven days, which is exactly what he needs. He needs to have his friends acknowledge the depth of his grief and be present with him. But, then these friends blow it by opening their mouths to give foolish justifications for God’s actions. Job is not swayed by their arguments that he must have sinned without being aware. No, roars Job. I did nothing wrong. If God will just appear I will plead my case before him and win. In the chapters prior to our reading today, Job prepares his arguments. It is not God that has convicted him; Job is putting God on trial. The vocabulary comes straight out of a courtroom drama.

Finally, God makes a dramatic appearance in a whirlwind and takes charge, God delivers the opening shot with a rhetorical question designed to put Job on the defensive: putting Job on the defensive with a series of questions. 2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. In other words, ‘Man up Job.’ For Job, it is now the time to do the hard work of re-orienting his mistaken worldview.

 

Then God assails Job with a series of questions. Gone are the legal metaphors; God now speaks through poetry with images from nature:

 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Who determined its measurements—?
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?
“Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

In other words: Can you create a world? Do you have the wisdom to understand how all the intricate pieces of the cosmos fit together? Can you control how creation operates and set boundaries? “When God demands of Job: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” the word counsel refers to planning. Job has repeatedly charged God with not sticking with the plan, as Job understood it.

Following our reading, God goes on chapter after chapter giving examples of the amazing diversity of creation from the heavens to deep within the earth and asking Job each time: “Where were you when this was created or when that action was initiated? God sets Job straight: “I always had a plan, son; but, it’s just too complicated for you to figure it all out.’

Nature is often the setting for experiencing the wonder of God. There are times and places in nature that take our breath away. As we have seen recently with the natural disasters – hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and flooding – nature plays by its own rules, not ours. I am reminded of a time I spend two summer weeks in southeastern Alaska. I hiked with companions through the largest temperate rainforest in the world. One member of the group cried out with wonder at the sight of a bald eagle feeding her young in a giant nest in a giant tree. After watching for a while, we proceeded along the trail to a lake. Again, we were gifted with the sight of a mother tending her young. This time it was a mother duck leading her ducklings in a swim. Suddenly, a bald eagle swooped down and swooped up one of those cute little ducklings with its powerful talons. One mother’s gain was another mother’s loss. Within God’s plans for the universe, there is freedom to ensure the survival of all of creation, created on a scale beyond our comprehension.

So, alas, God does not give Job the answer he sought, nor does God attempt to explain why there is suffering in the world.  God does not even dispute Job’s accusations. How does God respond? These are the words of one biblical commentator:

“God responds with beauty. Job cast a vision of a world overshadowed by pain and suffering. God responds by showing him the beauty and hope of the same world… God doesn’t respond with beauty to cancel out or disregard Job’s suffering. I think that’s why God doesn’t exactly answer Job’s question about suffering. Because no answer — even one from God — is ever satisfactory during our pain and grief. Nothing solves suffering. Nothing answers it. But neither is suffering and grief the whole story of our lives and of the world. There is beauty, and grace, and hope in the world, too, existing simultaneously, in paradox, side-by-side…I can’t help but wonder if there is wisdom in responding to suffering with an invitation to see the beauty around us, to allow beauty to interrupt despair and grief.”

We need to develop both an attentiveness to human suffering and to the beauty of life and creation. I hold that the most beautiful experience in the world is love – both giving it and receiving it.

Notice that God did not promise Job chaos would never break out, in the creation or in individual human lives. All of creation has vulnerabilities. The reassurance God gave Job was that the Creator is greater and wiser than the creation. It is through God’s power and will that we be given the opportunity to have our awareness deepened and our perceptions sharpened.

Hebrews affirms that God calls those who have experienced suffering to demonstrate compassion to others who battle with pain and suffering. Jesus explains to James and John that they cannot share in his glory if they are not able to share in his suffering. In this sharing of humanity, relationships are formed, hope and renewal are offered.

It is at this intersection of suffering and beauty that we see what Jesus’ cross and resurrection mean for us. The profound love exhibited in Christ’s suffering meets the height, depth, and breadth of God’s glory. We cannot explain it, we can only experience it and share that experience with those that are vulnerable to make each of us stronger… to share in what makes life beautiful.

All power, honor and glory to our Triune God.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
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