Where’s the joy? October 18, 2015

October 18, 2015

Year B, Pentecost 21                                                                         
Job 38: 1-7, 34-41 & Mark 10:35-45                                                             

            When our stewardship chair (Eleanor) and I decided on a date for the ministry fair and the kick off to our Fall stewardship season, I immediately looked at the readings for the day.  Since our theme is joy, I was hoping I could find something related to joy in the readings.  When I saw the Old Testament reading was Job, I knew I was in trouble.   The only thing worse would have been the Book of Lamentations.  But I thought, well this is the end of Job….this is where God finally answers Job’s prayer.  Surely this is the good news we have been waiting for.  As I mentioned last week, the primary question that Job had was not why all these bad things were happening, but where God was in the midst of the pain and suffering. One would hope that when that answer came, there would be relief, possibly even joy.

            Then I read the text and it did not make me joyful.   The text begins with, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind…” First of all, it is almost never good news when God enters the conversation with a storm.  It’s not like the storm was a coincidence. This was God’s storm.  From the storm, God said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”  That is not the tone that I was expecting.  I have read this text many times and every time it comes up, it shocks me.  To begin, God told Job that he knew nothing.  Then there is the “gird up your loins” line which seems a little peculiar.  In biblical times this phrase was used when people were preparing for battle, when great courage was expected.  God was basically saying, get ready because this is going to get uncomfortable.  This is not going to be an easy conversation.

            God proceeded to ask Job over 70 questions…none of which Job could answer…none of which he was expected to answer.  The first question is a good example of what comes, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”  If I was to sum up the questions, it would probably come down to, “Do you have any idea who you are talking to?”  One would think that would be an obvious question.  Job has been questioning God. But what God is saying is that any knowledge that Job may think he has is a tiny tiny fraction of what God knows.  It is a mere drop in the ocean of God’s vast knowledge. And I understand that (as much as my tiny tiny human brain can) but I still find myself disturbed by God’s response.  After all that Job has been through, I would think that it would not be too much to ask for a little compassion on the part of God.  We know that God is a loving God, but that side of God is not evident in this reading.

            I could say, well this is the Old Testament vengeful and wrathful God.  Jesus brought us the softer and gentler side of God.  Yet I do not really believe that.  I believe that the God we meet in the Old Testament is the very same God that we meet in the New Testament.  It’s just different sides to a very complex and incomprehensible God.  At the same time, as Christians we have received some special intel from God.  God came in the form of a man so that we could get to know God.  God wanted to be known.  God also knew that as humans, we needed to know him.  We need a relationship with God. So God with his infinite power and infinite knowledge was born to a peasant in the form of a baby and then lived among real people, people like Job, who wanted to be in the presence of God. 

            This is not to say that once Jesus came in the form of man, we all got with the program.  We can see from the Gospel reading that even the disciples were still having trouble understanding.  Jesus had just told them about his death so they would understand the kind of sacrifice he was making.  They responded by asking him whether they could be in the seat of power when he received glory.  While Job could not understand the God of absolute power, the disciples could not understand a God who acted as a servant.  Not only that, but Jesus expects us all to be servants.

            Where is joy…where is the joy in a God who comes from the storm and makes us uncomfortable?  Where is the joy in a God who asks us to sacrifice and serve?  It’s not a happy or carefree joy, but it is joy.  There is joy because we have a God who is present in our lives.  When God asked Job all of those questions, the questions referenced many of Job’s questions.  God had been listening to all that ranting and raving.  While Jesus has asked us to make sacrifices and serve others, he is only asking what he has already done.  We have a God who listens to us, knows us, wants us to know him, and who wants us to experience joy, not only here but in the life to come.  

            One of the questions that God asked Job was, “Who laid [the earth’s] cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted with joy?”  The joy that God brings is bigger than us.  We have a God to whom the stars sing and the heavenly beings shout with joy.  And that same God who has the power to create the stars– came down from heaven so that he could heal the sick, feed the hungry, give hope to the hopeless, forgive the sins of many and then be insulted, betrayed, abandoned, beaten and killed.  There is nothing we can do, nothing we can say to a thank a God who did all of that. 

There is another hymn that is sung around Christmas that I love.  The last verse is:

 What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.[1]

Our God, the creator of all things, the salvation of all people continues to ask something of us.  God thinks that we have something to give.  There is joy in that.  God thinks that we have something to give.  Who are we to question God?

[1] In the Bleak Midwinter, Christian Rossetti