Sermon for April 7th, 2019
1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Two Preachers and a Trucker: God
JOB: There's an old sayin': "Be careful what you wish for; God just might give it to you." Well, he gave it to me alright. For so long back in those days, I was angry at God and at the world on account of everything I'd lost. All I wanted--leastwise all I *thought* I wanted--was to stand before him, for him to look me in the eye and give me a straight answer to all my questions. Why me? Why this? Why now? Why, God... WHY?
But here's the thing: If you really want God to answer all your questions... You oughta be prepared, 'cause he might have a few questions for you. Questions you might not want to answer. After all, turnabout's fair play, ain't it? Be careful what you wish for; God just might give it to you.
CALVIN: God speaks to us in different ways, at different times, and through different people and circumstances. He...accommodates himself to us, in order to win us. He lowers himself in this way, because we are too crude and unsophisticated to ascend to him. So is it not possible that God was already speaking to you, through the voice of your three friends?
JOB: I didn't care much for anything those three had to say, either.
CALVIN: The words of your friends spoke of the foundations of religion, the providence of God, the justice of God and the sinfulness of God's people. There is nothing in their words that is not pure truth, even if these words were not put to the best possible use, at the best possible time. Sometimes, in our grief and anger, it becomes impossible for us to hear anything God wishes to speak to us. And, because there is too great a pride in our head, we must then experience him as he is, in order that we may learn to fear him and to hear his word in all humility and solicitude. Honestly, Monsieur Joe Bob, was there anything that anyone could have said to adequately console you in your grief?
CALVIN: And did God's words, ultimately, console you either?
JOB: No. God's words changed me, convicted me...but they didn't console me. Only time and distance could do that, and even then, not entirely. Not even now.
NEAL: Wait a minute... So if God's words weren't intended as consolation (and they sure don't sound consoling) then what were they for? I have to admit I have a hard time with the idea that God, after taking everything away from Job, including his children, and after being silent for 37 chapters, would show up all of a sudden just to chastise him?
CALVIN: We do not know what God's intent was. But we also cannot forget that it was Job, and not God, who demanded an audience with God. God granted his request, and this was a kindness to Job. However, no one can stand before God's majesty without consequence, without trembling and reverence.
JOB: That's pretty much what I meant when I said be careful what you wish for.
NEAL: I also can't help but notice that God never answered your questions. He never explained to you what was going on up there in the heavenly council, or why all these things were happening to you. And not only did he not answer your questions, he started asking YOU questions. Lots of questions. Ninety-three of them to be precise (yes, I counted).
JOB: And for the life of me, I couldn't answer a single one of 'em. I'm not even sure I understood all the questions. But I kinda think that was the whole point.
NEAL: What do you mean?
JOB: This life is (and always will be) full of unanswered questions. Even if God showed up in a whirlwind and told you everything you ever wanted to know, there's no guarantee you'd be able to understand any of it. The universe is a lot bigger than your head, or mine. And in any case, all the answers in the world wouldn't make the hurt go away. I thought I wanted answers, but that's not what my heart was lookin' for. That's not what I needed.
NEAL: So what was the point of all that, then? All of your suffering? All of God's questions? All of those 38 chapters of back and forth arguments with your friends?
CALVIN: Ah! That is a much better question. This is the question at the very heart of the Book of Job. And the answer, mon ami... is communion.
NEAL: Well, today IS communion Sunday, so it figures you'd find a way to work that in, right?
CALVIN: Yes, but what is communion?
NEAL: It's one of our two sacraments, along with baptism. The Lord's supper, the Eucharist--where we share bread and wine around the Lord's table.
CALVIN: Oui. But what else? What is this word... "communion?"
NEAL: Well... According to the Oxford English dictionary it's "The sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially on a mental or spiritual level."
CALVIN: Hrrmmmph. English Dictionary! And the French Dictionary says?
NEAL: Communion: C'est le partage des mêmes idées, des mêmes sentiments. Ou, par extension, l'union de plusieurs personnes dans une même foi.
CALVIN: Tres bien! Perhaps there is some hope for you yet, Monsieur Neal!
JOB: Hey Frenchies...You mind translatin' that for the rest of us?
NEAL: Communion: The sharing of ideas and sentiments, or by extension, the uniting of several people together in one faith.
CALVIN: Communion is a coming together, face to face, with with God and with each other. Communion is the sharing of our happiness AND our sorrows, of bread and wine, of our imperfect answers AND our unanswerable questions.
JOB: You know, I wouldn't wish my story on anyone else. But when I was at the end of my rope, God showed up in a powerful way. He didn't answer my questions, and he didn't solve my problems, but he was there. Come to think of it...so were my friends. I didn't understand that back then, but I see it now. That wasn't the end of my story. It was a new beginning. A new community. It was a holy communion.
NEAL: And so we end our story, Job's story, right where it all began. Gathering for holy communion, in the presence of our Lord, with all of our burning questions and the mysteries of a beautiful universe we can only partially comprehend. There is great joy in God's creation, as well as great loss and sorrow. But we share these things--we shoulder these things--together, in conversation and community.
I want to thank my "conversation partners" these past five weeks, Calvin and Job. I hope I have represented their voices well. And I hope that as we gather around this table today, you too may experience God's presence--not in a whirlwind or 93 questions, but in the bread and the wine and the faces of the people who gather with you.
Now let us all bow in humble reverence before the face of our God, at his table.