(Modified 2021-10-17: Added audio recording of this sermon)
St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Trinity 20, October 17, 2021 Revd. Canon Claude Schroeder
The story of Job in the Old Testament, from which our first lesson this morning was taken, is the story of man whose life fell apart, and whose happy, orderly existence was plunged into chaos, and subjected to intense suffering, and who was left wondering, “What did I do to deserve this? Where is God in all of this?”
I think it’s a very timely Scripture for us today in light of the chaos of the times in which we live, where so much of life is seems to be spinning out of control, defying and resisting all our attempts to manage and control, and where we find ourselves struggling to keep from drowning if only emotionally in this sea of chaos in which we have been plunged.
Darn this pandemic! Darn those politicians! Darn those “anti-vaxers”, and “anti-maskers!” Darn those… well, you can fill in the blanks, depending on your own view of the matter.
Where is God in all of this?
And what about you? “Where is God in all of this, if, not when bottom falls out of your life?”
You will not doubt be familiar with the argument that says, “How can an all good, powerful, and loving God allow such immense pain and suffering on the face of the earth?”
You perhaps have wondered about this from time to time.
The answer to this question is a foregone conclusion.
In the face is such immense suffering and injustice, either God is not all good and loving, or He is not all powerful. In either case, to hell with faith and trust in God. He isn’t there, or least doesn’t seem to care, or is unable or unwilling to do anything about it.
The Anglican theologian, C.S. Lewis, whom we also know as the writer of The Chronicles of Narnia, in 1940 wrote a book entitled, “The Problem of Pain.”
For C.S. Lewis this was no merely an academic question. It was intensely personal.
Lewis lost his mother at an early age, was sent to boarding school, and saw his dad emotionally abandon him. As a teen-ager he suffered from a respiratory illness, and as a young adult was wounded in World War I, and finally had to bury his beloved wife.
And yet for all the pain of his life, Lewis became and stayed a Christian, someone who believed and trusted in the God who in the person of His Son Jesus Christ had entered into the pain and suffering of human existence. And it was his Christian conviction concerning Jesus Christ that enabled Lewis to write, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
So the question is not, “How can an all good, powerful, and loving God allow such immense pain and suffering on the face of the earth?” but rather, “Who are you Lord?” and, “Where are you”, and, “ What are you saying?”
Here is the thing, as long as our lives are comfortable, and well ordered, and ticking along nicely, the question doesn’t really ever come up.
Why should it?
Certainly in Job’s case it took multiple disaster to get him to ask the question: Who and Where are you Lord, and what are you saying?”
At the beginning of our story, Job we would say, “had it made”, having built up a massive livestock operation, and enjoying the company of his 10 children. But then disaster, catastrophe strikes: 2 successive bands of marauders attack his farm and carry off all 500 of his oxen, all 500 of his donkeys, and all 3,000 of his camels, killing all the farm hands, only to then lose his entire herd of 7,000 sheep in a fire. But then came the news of the collapse of the house in which his 7 sons and 3 daughters were celebrating Thanksgiving, killing them all. To top it all off, Job is afflicted with a terrible skin disease, at which point his wife, advised him to curse God and die.
Isn’t that just like life?
I mean everything seems to going smoothly until it doesn’t. A lay off or a job loss, a cancer diagnosis, or heart attack, an unexpected car accident. Who of us has not been touched by these and similar events, which sometimes seem, as in the case of Job to cascade one after another in the life of a family or a community, leaving its members in stunned silence and the tossed about in the chaos of a sea of meaninglessness.
What Job doesn’t know is that he has been set up. Job’s loss of property and children, his personal health and the collapse of the marriage has come as a consequence of a challenge which Satan presented to the Lord, which is to say that the only reason Job fears God and turns away from evil is because of the blessings God gives Job. Take the blessings away, and watch what happens.
But Job isn’t the only who gets set up by Satan’s challenge. Satan’s proposal puts God in a no-win situation. If God refuses Satan’s challenge, it will look as though He fears there may be a basis to Satan’s claim; if God accepts, He comes out looking cruel and heartless. It is a risk God is willing to take, and so he accepts Satan’s challenge.
Over the course of the next 35 or so chapters, three of Job’s friends come to visit him, and attempt to show how the reason for Job’s sufferings is really very simple. Job has sinned in some way, and God is paying him back. All Job needs to confess and repent, and everything will be fine. But Job will have none of this. He asserts and maintains his innocence and his integrity, besides what he is going through is out of all proportion to any possible sin he has committed. Job simply cannot square the goodness and faithfulness of God with his current experience.
Here in Chapter 38 of the Book of Job, the Lord finally makes an appearance, and speaks directly to Job, His suffering servant.
Before we look at what the Lord said, we need to note from where He said it. It says, “The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” You all know what whirlwinds are. Whirlwind is another word for tornado. The Lord answered Job out of the tornado.
I have seen enough pictures and news reports to know that tornadoes, as a rule, are things to be avoided. Tornadoes destructive. When the tornado comes, it’s time seek shelter. Nobody in their right mind goes walking into a tornado.
But here “the Lord answered Job out of the tornado.”
This is important because what it tells us is that God, creation, human history, are not things to be managed, or even to be explained. We live in a culture that is big on management and big on explanations. But God, creation, human history, the pandemic are beyond human management and control.
What this also tells us that it is precisely in the unmanageable situations in life, it is precisely in the whirlwind, in the tornado that is the of chaos life where God is to be found. If we don’t find Him there, we won’t find Him anywhere.
This brings us to the heart of the Gospel, which is the claim that the Word of God, the Logos, which is the reason for and the meaning behind all things, has, in the person of Jesus Christ, entered into the whirlwind, the tornado, which is the pain and suffering, the chaos and meaningless of human life. The Lord who answered Job out of the whirlwind is the same Lord who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, and on the third day rose again.
And so what did the Lord when he spoke to Job out of the whirlwind?
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”
“Who determined its measurements or stretched the line upon it?”
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood clouds may cover you?
“Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, “Here we are?”
And the answer is, “Of course not!”
As it is was with Job, so it is with us. When the Lord speaks to us out of the whirlwind, we are reduced to silence. We realize that we stand before a great mystery, that is God’s work in creation. What is true of God’s work in creation, is also true of God’s work in redemption and salvation. It reduces us to silence.
In our second reading this morning, from The Letter of the Hebrews, we heard that, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications , with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5. 7-9)
What else is there to say?
Not much, except that in light of Christ’s incarnation all our “cries and tears” have become His cries and tears. All human suffering, including that of Job, has become His suffering. All of our dying has become His dying, so that He might fill all things with Himself. This is why in the face of the whirlwind, and the tornado that is chaos of human existence on this earth, the Church does not seek so much to manage, control and explain, but rather simply proclaim Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.
It’s why in today’s Gospel when James and John came forward and said to Jesus, “Grant us to sit , one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory” Jesus said to them , “You do not know what you are asking….Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
In other words, are you willing to take the pattern of my life, which is a life of suffering love on behalf of others to the point of death, and make it your own? Because that is what is on offer here. It is something that should cause us to think twice about requesting Holy Baptism and even coming forward to receive the Holy Communion. Through baptism we are united to Jesus in His death, which was a death to sin, and are dead men and dead women. in the Holy Communion we encounter and partake of the mystery that is Christ’s Body broken for us, and His Blood poured out for us, the ransom that set us free from the power of death. We do this not in order to become managers and explainers and controllers of the chaos , but rather so that we might become His Body in the world, effective signs of His presence, living His risen life, as the servants of all. Amen.