A Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
October 18, 2015
(Job 38.1-7; Psalm 104.1-10, 26; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:32-45)
Before the onset of the misfortunes that were Job’s, this man was already remarkable. ‘Blameless and upright’, the text claims, ‘one who feared God and turned away from evil’. Blessed with abundant riches, Job is described as ‘the greatest man of all the people of the east’.
When all Job worked for crumbled, however, Job was left with pain, loss, and suffering. His so-called friends were unsympathetic, ultimately preferring to debate his theology rather than offer their comfort.
And added to all this is the deafening silence of God.
That is until God speaks. A voice from within a ‘whirlwind’ calls to Job. There are no answers, however. Rather, God poses a long series of unanswerable questions:
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’
So begins four long chapters attributed this vocal whirlwind punctuated only by Job’s promise of silence. Before God, Job is humbled.
Our psalm captures some of this wonder. God vastly beyond us: commanding creation, overseeing all. Perhaps the opening verse could be considered the most appropriate of responses to this wind-God: ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul!’ This song is one of worship.
Our gospel reading opens with the third time that Jesus speaks openly of his coming suffering, death, and resurrection. It is the mystery of mysteries.
And not unlike Job, the disciples respond with silence. Jesus words sit almost as awkwardly in the gospel as they must have in the air. They are not misheard – but they are far from understood.
The disciple’s complete ignorance of God’s ways is demonstrated by the request of James and John. There is among the disciples a wrestle for rank. Jesus is pointing to his suffering for others. They are imagining their future thrones.
Jesus and his disciples are at cross-purposes.
For the disciples Jesus’ predicted passion remains unexplored. It is anything but central. So much so that when Jesus asks about their ability to embrace his baptism they immediately answer in the affirmative.
The radically other-centred action of God is not – as yet – altering their future hopes. Desire and ambition have found a firm foothold among this community.
Of course, the disciples only display the values that surround them. They mirror the domination and control they hope to overthrow. The repeated positioning word used here is ‘over’. They too seek positions above.
But the values of the Kingdom are vastly different. Here the great will serve while the greatest – or ‘first’ – will be ‘slave of all’. This is not just a good idea. This what God is like.
Perhaps we do well to remember that Jesus is not speaking into an era where the ownership of another finds no place. To the powerful slavery is the irreplaceable economic backbone of their society. They struggle to imagine any other possibility. For the rest it was a harsh, oppressive, and ever-present reality. Everyone was doing their best to avoid becoming entangled in this unforgiving web. For many it was too late. The whole world is fighting for elevation while Jesus dangerously invites his followers to move the other way.
Jesus is asking a lot.
Jesus’ last call invites the disciples back to the events to which he has repeatedly pointed: ‘For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’Jesus asks no more than he is willing to give.
Our Hebrews reading reminds us that Jesus was appointed by God ‘high priest’ – the ultimate mediator between us and God – and there learned a perfect obedience that provided salvation to all who would follow. There is something wonderfully simple about this gospel: Jesus lived, died, rose again, and lovingly invites you – by faith – to move – from a life lived for self to a life lived for God and others.
This gospel could be summarised even further: Follow Jesus.
This is, however, no statement that we have captured or tamed God. God remains wild and free, beyond our theologies and theories, infinitely more than we can possibly imagine.
Yet this God – so far beyond our understanding – invites you today to a life of simple trust, faith, and worship. This is God’s good news.
How will you respond?