Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sunday's Sermon-"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

This sermon is as written, not as delivered.

When I was in seminary I took a class, which focused primarily on the Book of Job.  For a whole semester, we read the bible story, and we read about it from different perspectives.  One was from a political perspective and another from the perspective of liberation theology.  The book starts with God talking to Satan ( the Adversary or Accuser) about Job, a good and righteous man.  Satan replies that Job is good because he is prosperous.  This leads to a chain of events where this good and prosperous man looses everything; his seven sons, his three daughters; and hundreds of livestock.  It was disaster after disaster.  And the final disaster leaves Job suffering from a painful, chronic and debilitating illness.

All Job had left was his wife and his friends.  But what did they say to him?  Well his wife told him he should “Curse God and die.”  And, because the prevailing attitude was that bad things only happened to bad people, what his friends said wasn’t any better.  On the other hand, Job insists that he was a good and righteous man, while agreeing with one friend that he wasn't perfect.

Job’s story is, of course, our story. What happened to Job is different from ours only in the magnitude of the bad things he endured.  Like the disciples, tossed about in a small boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, our own little boats are tossed about by the waves of change, economic uncertainty, divorce, sickness, and war; and senseless killings by authorities in Iran and by mistake in Afghanistan; and ordinary death. And if we aren’t facing one of these events ourselves, one of our neighbors or our friends in the church is. And every evening we watch the television news with its messages and pictures from around the world that invade our homes. Like the disciples we ask: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Job questioned too.  Asking questions is a part of our human nature. Job kept asking questions until he and his friends were exhausted, and until God had had enough.  To be human and to think about the nature of things means asking question.  And Job asks big questions: "Why do the wicked prosper and the innocent suffer?  Where is God in all this?"

And there are other questions, maybe not as deep: "Does the person I love, love me? What do I need to do with my life in order to be happy and fulfilled? Will I have enough money to live on as I get older?  But mostly we ask: Why do I, and those I love suffer and die?"

Sometimes these questions swirl through our minds like a whirlwind. Job’s questions were like that, too, until finally, one day, God spoke to Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?...., Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”

Job’s questions got answered with more questions. In asking Job these questions, God seemed to be saying that there is no answer to Job’s questions, or at least, there is no answer that Job can understand. The point of the Book of Job appears to be that there are some questions to which there are no answers, at least no answers the human mind can wrap itself around. That’s frustrating, especially to those of us who like to believe that any question can be answered, any problem solved, if we apply reason to it and study it and do research.

So, is the reason for the Book of Job to slap us on the wrist.  Is human reason and  the search for making sense of life and to finding the answer unanswerable questions, unacceptable to God?  I would suspect that in reading Job, we get some relief on those sleepless nights when our mind keeps asking questions?  God’s answer to Job is much more than just saying life’s deep questions are not answerable. Although Job got a scolding; Job also got God.  And so do we. In the middle of  questions, in the middle of whirlwind and turmoil and stormy seas, God is there.  And just as God came to Job, God came to the aid of the disciples and God comes to us.

And this God, who came to Job, and to the disciples and comes to us  hears our questions and speaks to us. God doesn’t always answer our questions.  Maybe we don't even know what questions to ask, much less to understand the answer. But this God who speaks in the midst of the whirlwind  is a God who chose to send his Son to become one of us.

Our God is not just the God who spoke out of a whirlwind and replied to Job’s unanswerable questions with more unanswerable questions. Our God spoke out of a whirlwind on the Sea of Galilee: “Peace! Be still!”

In the swirl of questions and seeming chaos, God comes to speak peace. And when we ask the question the disciples asked, “Who is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” we get an answer: This is Jesus, the Son of God, the one who was crucified and risen, who is with us through the storm and in the calm, on sea and on land, when we have all the answers and when we have nothing but questions.

Not a lot has changed since the time of the disciples. The winds of change and the waters of chaos continue to thump against the worldwide church and people of faith. Here in the United States and in our Anglican Communion, the Church is divided around issues of authority, sexuality, biblical interpretation and transparency of decision making, so that deputies to our General Convention go feeling apprehensive.  Alliances are formed to strengthen their side of the issue and they question the business before them with suspicious eyes. So many words are being written on both sides, especially on the internet that I think we need to ask with God: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? ... Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Today, our prayer for the church should be: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

But Jesus calms the wind and the waves and says to the fearful disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" The opposite of faith is not doubt and it’s not unbelief. Here, Jesus defines the opposite of faith as fear. As humans, we fear the new and the unknown. We fear the felt lump in the breast.  We fear the cough that won't go away. We fear pandemics like swine flu. We fear growing old because we are losing our health. We worry about how the economy will change our lives.  We fear how changes in politics or technology will have an effect on our jobs and the income from our savings and retirement funds. Fear is like storm waves building up to swamp our boats and our faith.

Faith is a way we approach life. Some psychologists say we develop faith very early in life when as a child we learn to expect the people in our lives to be reliable and trustworthy and our environment to be stable. President Obama spoke this week of the important role of fathers in the development of children and you can see in his interactions with his daughters how deeply he loves them. He wrote of the hole in his own life that the absence of his father caused. Those of us whose fathers were absent for the early years of our lives because of serving in wartime know of that hole as well. Today we give thanks for all those who were our fathers or who have served as fathers to us.

According to researchers, children with the least amount of fear were those whose parents were active in the social issues of their communities, or who regularly attended church, or who were deeply involved in global concerns. Rather than feeling helpless at the challenges before them, those parents got involved, asked questions and acted to change the world around them, They maintained a positive attitude and expected that what they did would make a difference. And, no surprise here, the attitudes of the parents rubbed off on their children. The children did not feel helpless. Instead, they saw that their parents and their church and the other involved citizens of their community maintained faith and were doing something toward resolving problems.

Faith is trust that life can be good even though the fact is, life can be quite painful and difficult. "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" Jesus sounds impatient in these words directed to his disciples, just like God was impatient with Job.  It’s not the questions that bring about the impatience. Jesus makes us choose between the opposites of faith and fear. When we stand on the side of faith and face those things that threaten us, managing our fears, it makes a difference.  It makes a difference to our children, to our churches, to our communities and to our world.  Faith is what makes us reach out our hand to our Father in heaven knowing he will reach his hand out to us and say “Peace! Be still!”


Leonardo Ricardo said...

The point of the Book of Job appears to be that there are some questions to which there are no answers, at least no answers the human mind can wrap itself around.¨

Yes, that´s the hard part. The part that you say can be ¨frustrating¨´s exactly at that point of insistance that I realize, ¨yes, it´s all up to God¨ and I don´t know the answers...I´m lost´s the let go and let God place...that´s how I discovered what TRUST means in my everyday life.

motheramelia said...

Leonardo, there will always be questions the human mind can't answer, in spite of what some of my fellow scientists think. I don't think there's a TOE (theory of everything). I've found the let go and let God place also the place where trust plays out in my life.
Well I"m off to do the early service, then put the final stuff in a suitcase and start my wonderful vacation.