Delivered at Ames UCC
on August 7, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
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HOW CAN WE KNOW?
How do we know what God wants? How can we possibly know from the written word? Hear the different ways just a portion of today’s poem can be read:
Angrily: Who is this who darkens counsel/in words without knowledge?
With care: Who is this who darkens counsel/in words without knowledge?
With curiosity: Who is this who darkens counsel/in words without knowledge?
We know that it takes hubris to make any claim of certainty about the divine. By definition we cannot know the mind of God.
This is clearly expressed in today’s selection about creation and Leviathan. The poet reminds us that God has been, is, and will be at work in ways and realms that we cannot access. Only God can frolic with a monster, command its loyalty and love. So who are we to presume to know what such a power thinks?
Which I think might be one of the reasons we love Jesus so much. Jesus is so much more accessible than God. Setting aside the question of whether or not Jesus was himself divine, Jesus comes to us as a human. We can access the mind of a human. The mind and the body.
Jesus had feet that needed cleaning and hands that cleaned the feet of others. The heat of the Levant got to him and so his temples were cooled with oil, just as we are promised in the 23rd psalm. Jesus ate, he drank, he went to parties.
Yes, miracles are attributed to him, but they still happened within a familiar context, not the birth of the ocean that God describes today. Jesus brings holiness down to scale and acts and speaks in ways that we can imagine hearing and seeing in real time.
But I think that for every way that Jesus is helpful in our search for God, he is also a problem. By being Christ-ians, we may lose track of that which Christ reflects, the eyes of our hearts may be too narrowly focused on the human.
Holiness has a history far longer than Jesus and this Christian era. We need stories like Job’s to set Jesus aside even if it means coming face to face with a turbulent storm that does not seem to care for us and our suffering.
“Seem” is the key word. If God is not responding directly to Job about his losses and sores, does that mean that God does not care about them? Is an absence of speech an absent of concern?
One of my favorite contemporary theologians is Catherine Keller. She uses something called process theology, which essentially states that creation, God, and we are in a constant state of co-creation. Not that we make God, but that God moves or becomes different in response to our own responses. Think of it as a spiral moving through time.
In her book Face of the Deep,1 Keller explores Genesis and the Genesis-like imagery here in Job. She offers a theory for why God does not approach us face to face but from wildness—like today’s whirlwind and Moses’ burning bush—and why God speaks so richly of stars and waters and beasts. It is, she writes, because wildness “resist(s) human dominance” (p. 136).
And by extension, I would argue, they also do not display the arrogance of humans. Elephants and whales may mourn their dead, but do they demand special treatment? Job did. Last week Job was demanding his day in court and for the wrongdoing he experienced to be memorialized in stone.
Keller argues that any special status we may understand we have because we are humans (and our scriptures like to make us think we are special in God’s eyes), is lost to us “when we abuse it” (p. 138). Or demand it, as Job does.
More concisely put, for Keller, the poet places God in nature because God doesn’t get so much trouble from nature. And in doing so, we are reminded that we are but one part of the story and dare not think any differently just because we have, like Job, done our prayers or suffered a grave loss.
None of which feels very good. At all. It does not feel good, in the midst of heartache and bloodshed, to be told to get some perspective.
Or maybe perspective is just what we need, what Job needed. Not perspective that demoralizes, but perspective that strengthens.
Today we were most blessed to take part in the baptism of young Kate. We promised to stand by her side, to be her guides, and her family. We bore witness to her drenching in the waters of life, the same waters that served as our dear Jesus’ entry into faith. The waters mark us as beloved. Not more beloved than anyone else, but visibly so, publicly so.
The waters of baptism also mark us as wild. We are born just as God describes the ocean today, we “gushed forth from the womb.” Even those of us born surgically were still born of the ancient and nutritious sea that is a woman’s body.
This is part of what God is trying to teach Job. No, you are not special in your suffering. But you are connected. You are of water and sky, brother to the beasts and the stars. In the scale of things, you are not much. But look at the scale of the holiness that attends to you in this moment!
Keller writes that, “(i)n a universe of open-ended indeterminacy, in which our most wounded questions rarely yield direct answers, faith will approximate courage” (p. 140).
When surety is rare, and we suffer without reason, faith will serve as courage. A faith bolstered by the wildness of creation. The wildness we were born from and carry in our bones.
We have in us a portion of Leviathan’s wild power and a portion of God’s playful attention. Just because the stars are loved, does not mean we are not. God has–God is–the love of all things.
So in your own effort to know God, read your Bible aloud. Give it life. Play with the tones of voice that God and Jesus and the saints and prophets may have had. Receive its words as products of a faith both on the heap and stirred by a whirlwind.
Remember that even if you were baptized before you can remember or have not been baptized at all, the power of that creation is in you.
Job shows us that even when we are abandoned, and feel treated by others as a scaly, scary monster, we do not lose faith. By virtue of our births, we are always in the presence of God.
1Keller, Catherine. Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming. (New York: Routledge, 2003).