Sermon delivered on Trinity 20B, Sunday, October 17, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Lectionary texts: Job 38.1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104.1-10, 26, 27; Hebrews 5.1-10; St. Mark 10.35-45.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are all here this morning, hopefully first and foremost to worship God. But who is the God you worship? Is he the God of the Bible or the god of your own making? This is no small question as worshiping the former leads to salvation and eternal life; whereas worshiping the latter is idolatry—a sad practice of humans over our history—and leads to death. This is what I want us to look at today.
In one way or another, all our readings this morning point to the nature and character of God. In our OT lesson, God finally breaks his silence and answers Job’s complaint. Context is critical for our lesson today and we must remember how the story got to this point. God, you recall, had allowed Satan to bring about catastrophic suffering on Job and Job’s interlocutors had accused Job of bringing on his own suffering through his sins. Job vehemently denied those accusations and increasingly demanded an accounting from the Lord. Today we see that he gets that accounting, but not as he expected. Who are you to tell me how to run my created order, God thunders! Were you there when I created the cosmos? Can you tell me why I created this order the way I did? These rhetorical questions, of course, demand a “no” reply from Job and us. Of course none of us were there when God spoke the cosmos into existence; and while we certainly have a better scientific understanding of how the created order works than Job had, there is still a holy mystery about its operational order and our lives. Why does God allow suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow Evil to operate in his world? Is God ever going to do anything about Sin and Evil, i.e., is God really just? Like Job, these kinds of questions still linger with us and bedevil us, and like Job, God still refuses to give us direct answers to these questions. In the context of this sermon, God’s created order and way of doing things all remind us that God is God and we are not, hard as we try to usurp his role and rightful place as Creator and Lord. Here we see God beginning to answer Job’s questions (and ours) by reminding us we are dealing with things way above our pay grade, things beyond our comprehension and understanding. You want to learn to live in awe and fear of the Lord? Start by looking at his created order and marvel at its beauty and complexity as the psalmist does in Psalm 8. As St. Paul reminds us in Romans 1.20-21, we can begin to learn about God through God’s created order, even if our knowledge is incomplete. And as our OT lesson reminds us in no uncertain terms, our knowledge of God is limited to that which God chooses to reveal to us because God is so much greater and bigger than our finite and mortal minds can comprehend. So the first thing we learn about God is that there is a vastness and beauty to God that defies our best efforts to fully comprehend, try as we might and must. God is God and we are not. If you have God entirely figured out, the God with whom you are dealing is a god of your own making, God-in-a-box, as J.B Philips described in his classic little book, Your God is Too Small.
So while Scripture does not give us direct answers to our burning questions about Evil and Justice, God’s holy word does invite us to see God as he reveals himself to us, first through the created order and supremely in his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Here our epistle and gospel lessons offer some rewarding insights to our questions about God’s nature and dealing with his created order and us. In our gospel lesson, St. Mark reminds us how badly disordered the power of Sin has made us and how terribly separated from God we are without God’s intervention, this despite the fact that we are God’s image-bearing creatures. We see this dynamic at play in the interaction between Christ and James and John. The latter two came to Christ and wanted to sit in positions of authority next to him, indicating how totally clueless their alienation from God had made them. Being products of the world’s thinking, they mistakenly saw power as the ability to lord it over others, presumably for their own benefit. Like most of us, they saw power as the ticket to privilege and the vehicle to get what we want. And by implication they equated power with force. And why wouldn’t they? Isn’t God a God of power? Isn’t he the God who rescued his people from slavery by an awesome demonstration of power at the Red Sea? Isn’t he the God who thundered at Mount Sinai as he gave Moses his Law? Isn’t he the God who destroyed 185,000 Assyrians as they besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 19)? Being good Jews, they would have been familiar with how God had generally dealt with God’s enemies (and by extension theirs). After all, God promised to deal with Evil and evildoers by ultimately destroying them. So surely in their own minds, their request to Christ was not out of line. And of course their request angered the others. Everyone wants to sit in the best seats at the greatest table of all!
But their request showed how badly the power of Sin had corrupted their minds. They saw God, not through God’s lens but through their own muddled and disordered thinking. How do we know that? Because Christ rebuked them and immediately tried to get their minds right about the ways of God. While not denying that God had acted with shock and awe on behalf of his people in the past, Christ instructed them (and us) that this is not what God intends for his image-bearers. No, power is achieved through humility and suffering on behalf of others. Christ would come to rule his Kingdom by way of the cross and he had come to break the power of Sin by dying on behalf of the world to spare us from utter destruction and eternal death, catastrophically separated from God forever. It is a fate we all deserve because all of us are profoundly sin-saturated and broken. Consequently we are all blinded to God’s way of doing business and God’s desires because we are all too busy seeking our own best and often selfish interests, caring very little about the needs of others. God’s chosen method of dealing with the twin powers of Sin and Evil, powers that God mysteriously allows to operate in his good creation to corrupt it and us, was to become human and die for the sake of rebellious humanity, you and me, who time and again reject God’s ways and Way and seek to live life as we see fit. Here is God’s totally unexpected follow-up answer to Job’s “why” questions about Sin and Evil and bad things happening to good people. First we are reminded that there is no such thing in God’s economy as “good people.” All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us are sin-infected and beyond self-help, and this has resulted in us being spiritually blind to the ways and will of God. But here is Christ, telling his disciples and us that God’s chosen method for dealing with us and our sins, as well as with the powers of Sin and Evil that have enslaved us, is to take on our full humanity and die for us to free us from Sin’s tyranny forever. We will not get to see what this looks like in full until our Lord Jesus returns to finish his saving work, but we get to see it imperfectly in Christ’s body, the Church, and the NT promises it is a done deal and calls us to believe it is true and act accordingly as faithful Christians. That the Church cannot get it entirely right after all these centuries is powerful testimony indeed to how profoundly broken and alienated from God the Father we really are. That notwithstanding, we are still invited to the party of Christ’s salvation and we still have work to do on Christ’s behalf. We have his cross, resurrection, and ascension, all inviting us to believe that in his death, we find real forgiveness and the hope of eternal life, all accomplished through humility and weakness, even though Christ is God incarnate as our epistle lesson strongly attests (cf. Phil 2.5-11). It is no small thing that Christ’s very own apostles didn’t get it until after his resurrection. Ironically—and perhaps fittingly because of the human condition—it took a mighty act of God’s power to open their eyes to this truth! They walked and talked with God become human. They ate with him and touched him, and yet they still didn’t understand until God acted in a totally unexpected way by raising Christ from the dead. But there was God in Christ nevertheless, loving them and conquering their sin through humility and weakness. On Calvary we see humans executing God in utter contempt and humiliation, surely the greatest perversion of all! Yet in and through his suffering we find real hope and real life, messy and marred as it is.
So what can we learn here? First, that we must read Scripture together and pay attention to how Scripture has been interpreted over the years, recognizing that even human tradition can become corrupted on occasion. While the Church, or at least minorities within the Church, have misread Scripture on occasion (I am thinking, e.g., about how badly it was misread to justify human slavery during the 19th century), overall the Church has been remarkably consistent in finding consensus in its reading and interpretation of God’s word. This is important for us to remember because of the human proclivity for idolatry and making the Word of God fit our own disordered thinking and desires. We need look no further than woke ideology today, from transgenderism to CRT to everything in between, to see how badly and catastrophically this plays out (a different topic for a different sermon, I’m afraid).
Second, the overarching story of Scripture shows us a God truly worthy of our worship and adoration. Scripture reminds us that God is our good Creator and actively involved in the affairs of his creation and our lives, often in surprising and enigmatic ways. For example, I have no idea why we have been politely asked to leave these premises when we were so close to being able to occupy our new digs. I do not think there are malevolent motives on the part of our hosts. I think we have overstayed our welcome, and by a lot. When I first got the email, I immediately became anxious. Where are we to go? If we go to Zoom will we lose people? How will this affect your financial support? Will it all come unraveled? And then a short time later I was informed that we have a plumber under contract at a reasonable price and the work will begin Monday, paving the way for us to occupy our digs! God is surely in those developments, I reminded myself, working in quiet and unexpected ways, but active nevertheless, and my anxiety disappeared. Or consider our building financials. We need to raise an additional $48K to finish our renovations. How will we raise that kind of money in addition to our regular operating expenses? I don’t know; it seems like an impossible thing. But nothing is too hard for God and I know God works in powerful and unexpected ways in those like you who love him. God has seen us through to this point. He will not abandon us now. We need to do our part, of course, but God will see us through. The initial anxious thoughts I had on these matters came because like the rest of you, I prefer running my own life as opposed to letting God run it on my behalf. And like the rest of you, I have precious little (if any) real control over people and events in my life, and that inevitably produces anxiety. But then I ran across these words from St. Paul in the Daily Office this past week:
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4.4-9, NLT
St. Paul wrote this while he languished in prison. He was addressing a feud between two powerful women in the church at Philippi. He had every reason to be anxious. Yet he wasn’t, and because he wasn’t he found the peace of Christ that passes our understanding, but which is real nevertheless. And why was he not ultimately anxious (he very much worried about his churches)? Because he knew the love of God and God’s ability to work in all things, good and evil, for the good of those who love him (Romans 8.28). That promise remains true for us today, broken as we are, and in it we find our peace, or more precisely God’s peace. God is no absentee or uncaring God and if we have the faith and courage to believe God’s promises contained in Scripture, focusing especially on Jesus Christ his Son, we will find true freedom and peace, thanks be to God!
So what about you? Is your God big enough, awesome enough, just enough, and merciful enough for you to love and give your ultimate allegiance to or is the god you worship one of your own making? In the former, you will find strength and purpose and hope sufficient for all contingencies and with them sweet peace, the peace of Christ who loves you and who died for you so that you could be with him in God’s new world forever. In the latter you will find nothing by incompleteness, disorder, madness, and ultimately death because that is the way of all false gods. Chose the real thing, my beloved, the God and Father made known to us supremely in Jesus Christ mediated by the Holy Spirit and contained in God’s holy Word, the very gift of God himself. Give your life to Christ and choose real freedom, hope, and life, despite the changes and chances of life. That God is big enough for all our problems and fears. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.