Job 38: 1-11, 36-41
1 Corinthians 10: 16-17
It seems fair to say, that for people of faith, one of the most frequently asked questions, is that of God’s presence and purpose in moments of chaos. Of God’s presence and purpose, when things happen in our lives that fail to line up with our beliefs about God… about the God who created the heavens and the earth and all its’ creatures deeming them as “good”… who made covenant after covenant rooted in promise and blessing with the people Israel… and, who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” to be born of a human mother and to die upon a cross, abandoned and betrayed by those closest to him, “that all who believes, may not perish, but may have eternal life.”
In the world of Church… the question of theodicy… the question of why God permits evil to exist in the world… of why God permits bad things to happen to good and faithful people?
Throughout the past 5 weeks we have drawn our attention to our stained glass windows. We have focused on God’s creation of light and darkness, of sky, land, and sea, plants and animals, and of human beings themselves… on God nourishing God’s people through stories of our Old Testament prophets… on how Christ is our anchor and our light… and on how God sustains God’s people in various ways, and calls them to do the same for others….
Today, we focus our attention on our sixth and final window given the description as found in your bulletins, “God’s Continuing Care. The vine and the grapes provide wine for the meal of the Christian family where God comes again and again. As the grapes nourish the birds in flight, God continually feeds his people.”
With this description, I have selected two readings for this morning. Our first, an Old Testament reading, from the 38th chapter of the Book of Job, and the second, just two short verses from Paul’s first letter to the people of Corinth.
For me, the Book of Job is one of the most significant books in all of scripture. I would go as far as to say, our most human book of the Bible.
It tells of Job, a man described from the mouth of God as “upright and blameless”… God’s perfect servant… who, at God’s own suggestion, goes through unimaginable suffering, loosing virtually everything except for his very life…
Within just one day, one thing after another are taken from Job before he can even begin to process the former. His sons and daughters are killed, as are all of his servants… his sheep are burned alive in a field by fire from the sky… his oxen, donkey’s, and camels are taken by various invaders… and then, again with God’s approval, Job, himself, is inflicted with painful sores spanning from the soles of his feet to the top of his head and left sitting on a pile of ashes with nothing to bring him comfort and relief but a broken piece of pottery to scratch his wounds… As if this all wasn’t bad enough, the three friends that come to offer Job support, bring with them their theology… their beliefs about God’s presence and purpose in the world, that Job’s current reality must be the result of something wrong he had done… God’s punishment for sins committed…
For thirty-seven chapters Job pleads for God’s reason and response, begging the question again and again, why? Why?
It isn’t until Job chapter 38, from where we read today, that God responds.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where you halt’?
Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?
For Job, the question… why? Why must I, a faithful servant of God, deemed blameless and upright from the mouth of God, go through such suffering? Why have you, God, allowed such suffering to happen? Why have you remained silent and left my prayers unanswered? Why have you done nothing to stop it? Why? Why?
While none of us gathered here today have been deemed blameless and upright by God the Creator, it’s likely that we have all, at some point in our lives, found ourselves in the position of Job… asking the question why? Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Guilty…
As we heard in our reading, to answer these questions from Job, God essentially responds, that the world and my plan, are far bigger than your problems… Who are you to question me, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that reside within them?
Not exactly the answer Job was looking for…
With this, those who study the book of Job are left to acknowledge and struggle with the difficult reality, that in all of God’s response to Job’s question of why, God avoids the question altogether. God never answers why…
As we can in our moments of suffering, Job feels abandoned by God… By God never answering Job’s question of why, we could say that in some ways God did abandon Job, leaving him with many of the same struggles at the end of the book, as he had from the onset of his suffering… without an answer to his plea…
Yet, what if… what if… God’s deflecting of Job’s question of why, is God’s way of telling Job, and thus us as well, that why is the wrong question altogether… What if, in our moments of suffering, the question isn’t why God allows bad things to happen…. of why evil exists in the world… but rather, how and where God is present throughout…
Back to our sixth and final window description, of “God’s Continuing Care”… The truth is, our world and our lives, do, at times, cause us to be overburdened by life’s challenges, left to wonder about God’s presence and purpose… about God’s continuing care… Yet thanks be to God for the second half of our windows description, for “the vine and the grapes that provide wine for the meal of the Christian family where God comes again and again.”
In our second reading for this morning from 1st Corinthians, Paul writes:
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
In Luther’s Large Catechism, on the Sacrament of the Altar, on Holy Communion, he writes: “Therefore the Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger. 25] For the new life should be one that continually develops and progresses; 26] but it has to suffer a great deal of opposition. For the devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attack the old creature, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and moves about on all sides, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or lose heart and become indifferent or impatient. 27] For times like these, when our heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.”
In our moments of suffering, when we feel like we can hardly even worship, when our faith is at its weakest point and we find ourselves in the position of Job… when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy… God in Christ comes to us in the form of bread and wine that we would obtain new strength and refreshment.
As you come to the table, may you leave transformed. May Christ’s presence be felt within you in real and visible ways. May it remind you that you are never alone in all that you face.
For in the beginning God created humankind in God’s image… in the same way are we, are you created in the image of God… That one in the same, who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” to be born of a human mother and to die upon a cross, abandoned and betrayed, “that all who believes, may not perish, but may have eternal life.”… that in your moments when you feel abandoned and betrayed, you would receive the promise that you are never alone…
God’s continuing care… the meal of the Christian family where God comes again and again… Thanks be to God. Amen.
~Pr Andrew Geib