TEXTS for 4 Pentecost
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Three years ago today,
on this Sunday,
we had our last Sunday worship
in that big stone neo-gothic sanctuary.
It was a shocker for me when I realized it was three years.
How about you?
Here is another shocker, at least to me.
Many of us do not have deep roots
in that old sanctuary.
By my quick calculation,
44% of our community is new
in the past five years.
Of the 56% who have been around longer,
only half actually worshiped in that building
most of their adult life.
Or put another way,
only 22% of the current Trinity community
has deep longevity in that building,
its history, and its people.
The rest of us
have more history in a community
that has been in transition for five years
and rooted in a former wine bar
on Castle Street.
That is how things change.
Storms come along
and let in the wind
and let in the rain,
and rock the boat
until it takes in water.
And it turns out that the Jesus we know
is more likely to cause the storm
than to miraculously calm it.
there is something Jesus knew
and tried to tell us
that is embedded in the story of Job.
It relates to us
whether we have deep roots
in an abandoned old building,
or have been kept away from our home
because of a pandemic,
or are rocked by any of a gazillion things
that can come along in a life
and rock the boat or tip it over.
If this feels familiar, it should.
Whenever I have the chance to preach on Job
this is what pops up, and truthfully,
it is a core wisdom I preach all the time.
Hopefully you need reminding about it
as much as I do —
and aren’t sick of hearing it.
That excerpt from the Book of Job
is one of the best, if not the best, speech
written onto the lips of God
in all the thousands of pages of the Bible.
It is the coup de gras(ce) of divine utterances.
You see, Job has been pontificating.
He earnestly explains, and at length,
why God has done
so many bad things to happen — to HIM!
Before God’s pronouncement we read today,
Job has been explaining with eloquence
and a degree of plausibility, “why” –
when he is such a good boy —
all the darkness
and suffering of life
has found its way to him.
No one argues with the premise
that Job is a good guy.
He is sweet, trusting,
He has all the qualities of a good friend
and all the characteristics that a just and loving God
would want in a human being.
And yet…he suffers.
That is the back story.
That is the back story of the Book of Job
and the back story of your story
and my story,
and the back story
of that empty building over there.
As good and kind
and sweet as Job is,
he does not have a clue
as to the depth of his own ignorance
or his own unintended arrogance.
and his arrogance
are so deep
they could fill a black hole.
And remember, Job is you and me.
What Job wants most of all
is to have God declare him innocent.
Job wants God
to explain to his family and friends
how all his tragedies came to be,
and how they are God’s providence
not the result of his failures.
That’s what we do too, look for a reason
or someone to blame.
But here is a tip.
As soon as we feel an urge to blame someone else
or to explain the inexplicable,
we can be darn sure we have blinders on.
This is not what the story of Job is primarily about,
just an extra diamond in the rough.
So to get back to the main point,
God has listened for thirty-some chapters
to both well-reasoned
and superstitious explanations
from Job’s family
and his friends
and from Job himself.
Finally, after demonstrating amazing patience,
It says that God speaks out of a whirlwind:
“Who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”
Words without knowledge.
Next time you hear yourself —
and that is the key,
we need to listen to ourselves
rather than just yammering.
But next time you hear yourself pontificating
about something as if from God’s mouth to your lips,
stop and think: “Words without knowledge.”
Allow it to be a mantra
and see if it dials back some of your certainty.
Obviously it is not perfect,
because here I am up here pontificating!
Anyway, after smacking Job
with that opening line, God goes onto say:
“Pull up your pants, boy!
It’s my turn to question you
and your turn to answer me.”
Now, as I like to point out,
in the 21st century we don’t like God talking to us like that.
We might say today, it’s triggering for us.
It seems a little too much like bullying
and we don’t like our god with a hard edge.
We like our god to be serene,
New Agey, and ever-so-gentle and unconditionally kind.
But I am so very glad the Bible was not written
in the 21st century.
Instead, what we have in Job
is a steely-eyed prosecutor.
“Okay Spanky, answer me:
Where were you
when I rolled out the universe?
Where were you?
If you know so much, tell me:
Where did it all begin
and where will it all end?
Does the universe end?
When the morning stars sang
and the heavenly bodies shouted for joy,
did you hear it?
Yo, I’m talking to you.
Have you even heard the stars sing?”
It is a wonderful story.
Job creates dissonance
inside our heads.
If we allow it to
it will create dissonance
inside our lives.
And that is what biblical wisdom does:
it’s not a comfort pillow,
it is a source of dissonance that
creates for us a new vision
or the ability to see something
that has always been in front of us
but from a startling new perspective.
For example, the story of Job was told to a people
who could not understand why God
had abandoned them.
Israel had been a people
and a religion
based upon the promise of land.
For over a thousand years
Israel had defined itself by the land.
God had promised they would be in covenant –
in a special relationship with each other –
and that the land
was the physical evidence of that relationship.
The land was a wedding ring
that symbolized the intimacy
between Creator and created.
But suddenly, the people of Israel
were in exile without the land
and with no foreseeable way to ever get it back.
To them, it was as if the ring
had been ripped off their finger
and given to someone else –
someone they hated,
someone they feared,
someone they thought was beneath them.
When we experience that kind of dissonance
between what we believe
and what we see and hear,
it slaps us in the face.
When that happens, we have a choice to make.
When our view of reality
does not match up with the reality we are living,
then we can either
go on pretending – which means
denying our actual experience –
or we can open ourselves up
for a new discovery
and a new perspective.
is what a great deal of religious history
has not dealt with very well.
Galileo, for example,
was told by the pope to put the genie back in the bottle,
which he pretended to do for a little while.
But human history is rife with many such examples
of church or mosque
or synagogue or temple
being presented with new insights
that jar or crack open,
what religion has declared as orthodox (“right belief”).
And when that cognitive dissonance arrives
and our worldview
and our values
and our ideas and our assumptions
by new information,
or new understanding,
we can openly consider the possibilities
OR we can snap shut
and insist that things are the way we say they are.
Obviously religion is not the only human endeavor
to resist openness.
It is pretty evident in our politics
and a whole bunch of conspiracy theories
claiming to be one of those.
We have a propensity toward dogmatism
while becoming open seems a stretch for us.
When the old answers have not had the intended effect,
but they keep getting declared louder
and with more vehemence anyway;
and still more resources are thrown at the problem
in hopes of making the old answers work
even though it has little impact;
then we know we are at that place
of cognitive dissonance.
In those moments, we can fiercely defend and blame
or we can open and listen.
Defend and blame or open and listen.
To all of Job’s questions
and in response to his very sincere
and eager desire to have answers,
God offers nothing.
All God does
is show Job how small he is.
God gave Job no answers.
God said simply:
“I am God and you are not.”
Job, to his credit,
did not turn around and create dogmatic answers
in order to fill his ignorance.
Instead, Job said,
“Huh, it turns out I am really very small.”
He did not stop believing
or knowing God
simply because he received no answers.
Instead, Job learned to hold that place of silence.
This is of course the place I keep coming back to
in sermons, and always in sermons about Job.
He learned to hold that place of silence
in which wisdom is not composed of beliefs,
and words without knowledge
are not spoken.
We live in a cloud of unknowing
that swaddles the thick darkness,
and if we can hold that place of accepting our ignorance
it will lead us to an encounter
with the mystical presence of God;
a presence that is always and everywhere
in our midst.
When we encounter tragedy,
when we smack up against a universe that seems
to prefer injustice to balance,
when we sit in the shadow of death
grieving for those we just want to hold again,
when we do everything we are supposed to do
and still things do not work out right —
we would do well not to reach for old answers
that have yellowed and cracked
and been made brittle by our dissonant experiences.
Instead, it is the better part of wisdom
to hold the silence.
Hold the silence and listen.
Hold the silence
and open up.
Hold the silence
and open up
to the mystery of a God that is present
here and now –
and even here, even now…
even in a tent stationed outside an empty sanctuary.
Present even here, even now
in bread and wine
individually wrapped and hermetically sealed.
Present even here, even now
when we do not yet know the fullness of the future
but we know for darn sure,
it does not look like or feel like our past.
Present even here, even now
when most of those who were here are gone
and most of those who are here
weren’t here back then.
Present even here, even now
when the size and texture and character and rituals
of Church are changing
but we do not know how
and we do not even know exactly how they should.
God present here, and present now
for any situation in our lives
that rocks the boat or even tips it over,
and tests our ability to remain open
to see and hear and learn
how God is present.
If my memory is correct,
three years ago we left this old building
after having only one worship experience
at Trinity Place: a celebration of new ministry
with the bishop on a Saturday morning.
Now, three years and a pandemic later,
the seas seem a little calmer
and we may have recognized
that there is not another shore we are going toward.
Rather, we are in a boat we row
in calm seas and storms
with the wisdom of an ancient, itinerant rabbi
in the boat with us.
That is what matters —
not the building,
not even the particular people,
but the wisdom
and the presence of God.