Thursday, October 25, 2018

"Mystery: Silenced" - Sermon, 10/21/2018

Have you ever been in a time or place when you have been left totally speechless?  Perhaps you saw something in nature, something on the news, something happen in front of you in which you just don’t know what to say?  Being someone who loves to talk for the most part, it takes a lot to render me speechless (much to a few folks’ relief when I am), although if you get me out in nature, I’ll often see something in which I am overcome and don’t know what to say, except maybe ‘thank you, God’ or the words of Chris Rice’s song, “Hallelujahs” come to mind, especially the refrain that goes              
O praise Him all His mighty works
There is no language where you can't be heard
Your song goes out to all the Earth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah![i]

            I reflect back to last month’s series, “A Season of Creation” in which I find something in God’s creations around that will leave me silenced, especially when I see how small we are as human beings compared to God’s creation and the cosmos. 
            As we are in the third week of our series, “Mystery,” much of how God works or how we think God works, much like the way that God creates is a mystery, even when the mystery leads to a gazillion more questions that won’t necessarily have easy answers.  Although the mystery of God is in no way easy to embrace, especially in Job’s case because of the suffering he has endured, even when Job did nothing in his eyes to warrant such suffering.  While we have been working through the book of Job, Job has been enduring great loss, grief, suffering, tests by Satan, and platitudes by his friends, which all come to a head in this morning’s reading from chapter 38, as we hear God speak.  While there is a round-robin between Job and his friends in chapters 4-17, Job uses language of the court and asks God for a trial, as Job insists he is innocent and did nothing to deserve the suffering that his friends Eiphaz, Bildad, and Zophar insist he has.  Meanwhile, another character, Elihu comes into the picture and calls Job and his friends out, with Job being called out for being self-righteous and justifying himself instead of God (Job 33, 35) and calls Job’s friends out for their well-meaning, yet unhelpful words (Job 34). 
Amidst Job’s woe-is-me attitude, a good part of the book is the dialogue between him and his friends, with Job ultimately blaming God for all the suffering as he feels disoriented and deserted.  As Job rests his case and his defense and after Elihu calls Job and his friends out, God breaks the silence and speaks in a big way, leaving Job and everyone present silenced.  In many of the Hebrew Bible accounts of direct encounter with God, or theophany as it’s called in ‘stained glass language,’ God speaks in a way that would make anyone pay attention and left in awe, fear, and silence.  When God speaks to Job, God speaks through the thunder, the whirlwind, and the storm just like God spoke to Moses and Elijah respectively.  Instead of consoling Job and reassuring Job, we get a pretty ticked off God, telling Job and his friends to “gird up your loins like a man,” in other words saying ‘buckle up, as you’re in for a rude awakening,’ as God asks Job and his friends a series of rhetorical questions, asking them starting with, “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38: 4) and other forceful questions that we heard when Emily read this morning’s passage for us. 
            As we’ve been pondering God’s mystery, many of us, myself included, struggle with reading the book of Job because it challenges our assumption about how God works or how we think God is supposes to work.  We are challenged because we have been taught that we worship a loving, compassionate God, yet I feel like we get this image of an angry, vengeful God in the book of Job, an image that oftentimes comes up in the Hebrew Bible.  Although we as followers of Christ know God as this mysterious, loving force, this is not the view of God we get in parts of the Hebrew Bible and must own up to it, especially when people come to us with questions which is the mystery of how God works. 
Likewise, this morning’s passage speaks about the power of God and God’s majesty, which Elihu will praise in chapter 36.  God’s reply actually reminds me of the character of family patriarch, Ward Cleaver from the 1950’s sitcom, “Leave it to Beaver,” as Ward Cleaver loved his sons, Wally and Theodore, aka “The Beaver,” yet was also stern, and while I do not believe that God goes out to punish us with destruction and such, I do believe God can be stern and as I’ve encountered in my own journey, God does say no here and there. 
At the same time, God’s reply reminds me of the time in the wilderness in Exodus when Israel was in the desert for forty years and reminded me a lot of children on a long car trip who constantly ask, “are we there yet?”      Unlike the language of the court that we get from Job throughout the book during his defense, we get vivid imagery, particularly in God’s creation and of the cosmos in God’s response to Job, which leaves Job silent.  As Hebrew Bible scholar, W. Dennis Tucker explains, “the rhetorical questions regarding nature are not intended as punitive, but instead as educative.  After all, Job is a wisdom book meant for instruction” as he is “asked to gird up his loins to do the hard work of reorienting his view of God and the world under God’s care.”[ii] I think hearing such words out of God, much less experiencing God in the whirlwind is enough to leave anyone silenced and in awe or even fear of God or the power of God.  At the same time, in the instances where God might say no or leave us silenced is used as an opportunity to show us something, even if it’s like a stern, yet loving father like Ward Cleaver showing tough love here and there. 
            At the same time, it’s still a struggle wrapping our minds around how a loving God could allow the suffering that Job experiences or Job’s loss, or even destruction to happen, as the term we use for this is theodicy, asking why bad things happen to good people.  It reinforces the mystery of God too, which may leave us in silence to ponder.  In the moments when Job feels disoriented, then feels deserted by God, God is now there and there in a big way.  As I shared last week, I sometimes question why I’m doing what I’m doing, only to get a reminder from God, although in a more subtle way, such as seeing the Milky Way Galaxy swirled in among the stars, which appear so much more vividly here than in the Valley, or when I see our town against the backdrop of Claremont Ridge, which leaves me silent for a time.  On Friday, when I was driving through Indian Valley and seeing all the Fall colors on the hillside and cattle grazing in the field, received yet another one of those reminders. 
As God goes on this lengthy speech to Job and his friends, God is giving a detailed outline of how God works, in which “we see an image of God that is meticulous about the details and precise in design of the cosmos, for the heavens, and even humanity.”[iii]  Essentially, we’re getting a better understanding of never underestimating the power of God, even in the moments when we feel disoriented or deserted.  Struggle is a part of life we will deal with at one time or another, and there will be times that we will feel disoriented and distant from God, just as Job has.  There will even be times we might get mad at God from time to time, yet there will be moments when we will see that God is there, even when we are silent.  ---
The late theologian Henri Nouwen in his book, With Open Hands tells of a student who was contemplating what silence means and while this is a long quote, silence can be powerful, especially when we take some time to be silent and listen for God’s voice, even if it may take a while to hear or understand:
                        Silence is night
                        And just as there are nights
                        With no moon and no stars
                        When you’re all alone
                        Totally alone
                        When you’re cursed
                        When you become a nothing
                        Which no one needs –
                        So too are there silences
                        Which are threatening
                        Because there is nothing except the silence.
                        Even if you open your ears
                        And your eyes
                        It keeps going on
                        Without hope or relief.
                        Night with no light, no hope
                        I am alone
                        In my guilt
                        Without forgiveness
                        Without love.
                        Then, desperately, I go looking for friends
                        Then I walk the streets searching for a body
                        A sign
                        A sound
                        Finding nothing.
                        But there are also nights
                        With stars
                        With a full moon
                        With the light from a house in the distance
                        And silences which are peaceful and reflective
                        The noise of a sparrow
                        In a large empty church
                        When my heart wants to sing out with joy
                        When I feel that I’m not alone
                        When I’m expecting friends
                        Or remember a couple words
                        From a poem I read lately
                        When I lose myself in a Hail Mary
                        Or the somber voice of a Psalm when I am me
                        And you are you
                        When we aren’t afraid of each other
                        When we leave all talk to the angel
                        Who brought us the silence
                        And peace.[iv]

            Sometimes, the magnitude of God, the power and majesty of God is enough to silence us, just like it has with Job when God speaks from the whirlwind.[v] So anytime you may feel a nudge, or see some kind of a sign that leaves you in awe or in silence, I encourage you to pay attention, pay attention to how God may be speaking to you, even in the midst of struggles, disorientation, because as I said last week, our struggles, our pain, our grief is not the end of the story.  There is hope possible and while Job hears from God in a big way, “God’s presence is undeniable, meaningful, profound.”[vi] As we will see next week, things will return to Job, as Job will be restored, and a little more humble, restored to righteousness even amidst all that he endured.  As Rev. Nathalie Parker concludes,

It is refreshing to know that in spite of all that Job experienced and all the pain he endured, he is not too proud to be silenced.  Job is silenced by the images of the morning stars and heavenly beings rejoicing in God’s glory.  Job is silenced by God’s grace that is uniquely woven into the tapestry of all God’s creation.  Job is silenced by God’s wisdom, knowledge, and love that is unexplainable and uncontainable.  Job is silenced as God reveals the unlimited ability to be present in all things.[vii] 

            Even if we may not get easy, or neat tidy answers, even if we have to ask more questions about how God works or when we consider the mystery of God, God always shows up at some point.  God speaks, whether it’s through another person, a soft whisper in the night, or through the non-human creations we get to see around us, it is important to keep the faith.  While Job might have had questions for God, even blaming God at one time for his suffering, it wasn’t the end of the story.  Job didn’t lose hope, and we should not either, even when we feel disoriented and deserted.  When we have the opportunity to embrace the silence, sometimes God will show up in a way that may leave us in awe, or silenced.  As we begin a new week, how are you listening for the voice of God, or how have you heard the voice of God that has left you silent or in awe? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, AMEN!!   

[i] "Chris Rice – Hallelujahs". 2018. Genius. Accessed October 18 2018.

[ii] W. Dennis Tucker, “Commentary on Job 38: 1-7, [38-41]” in Working Preacher, accessed 18, October 2018,
[iii] Nathalie Nelson Parker, “Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost 2018 – Preaching Notes” in Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, accessed 18, October 2018, 21-twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b/twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost-2018-preaching-notes
[iv] Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Open Hands (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1995), 23-26.
[v] Nathalie Nelson Parker, “Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost 2018 – Preaching Notes”
[vi] Ibid. 
[vii] Ibid. 

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