When God Speaks…

You can listen to the sermon right here. Also scroll down to see a few pictures I reference during the sermon.

Narrator: [The Lord said,] Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass?

Side 1: Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord?

Side 2: Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook?

Side 1: Will it make many supplications to you?

Side 2: Will it speak soft words to you?

Side 1: Will it make a covenant with you to be taken as your servant forever?

Side 2: Will you play with it as with a bird, or will you put it on leash for your girls?

Side 1: Will traders bargain over it?

Side 2: Will they divide it up among the merchants?

Side 1: Can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears?

ALL: Lay hands on it; think of the battle; you will not do it again!

Narrator: Then Job answered the Lord: I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Narrator: Stay tuned for the continuing drama that is our story and God’s story.

Thanks be to God.

Do you see what happens when you stop talking about God and instead start talking to God? God answers. And, I am willing to put money on that God answers you in unexpected ways, just as God did Job. Let’s just take a moment and revel in the mystery that God does indeed speak to us, answer our prayers, intervene in our lives. What an astonishing thing, and yet, it is the basis of faith, isn’t it?  Sometimes we believe we’ve got God figured out a little too neatly, thinking God will answer in such a way or won’t respond. Just as Job has some ideas about God, so do we.

I know that I underestimate God all the time. I suppose if I were honest with you, I’d say I underestimate God daily if not minute by minute. It is hard to fathom all that God knows and then to compare that to the limit of what we ever can know. God shatters my expectations and limitations often, for in order for me to grow and to change and to lead, that’s what it takes. I am continually delighted and surprised by leaders of all sizes and shapes (you!) that teach me about faith or about life. I believe God uses us to teach each other about love and life and God in simple and profound ways. Do you know how disappointing and underwhelming and downright boring it would be if God played by my rules?

So we’ve just got to risk communicating with God. Speaking to God, rather than about God, comes with risk. Because God is involved. God is listening. And the miracle is that God speaks to you. God speaks into your life. And it can be a terrifying experience. It can be frustrating as you wait. The silence can be deafening. It can be so hard because so often what God has to say to us or reveal to us is not at all what we imagined or how we imagined.

Job did not imagine his life to be one of misery. Job did not imagine that his children would die and his livelihood and his possessions would be lost. Job did not expect the tragedy that struck and shook apart his life. Yet here we are, deep into the book of Job’s lament and his conversation with his friends, with Job’s cursing God and wishing to die. We even heard Job take a breath a few weeks ago and give praise to God, the God who he had just shaken his fist at.

Isn’t this the stuff that is the substance of our relationship with God! This is a living, breathing, real life relationship God has with humans.

Well, Job dared speak to God. And Job shared his ideas about God directly with God. Job accused God of making a world that was chaotic and disordered in chapter 9. Job accused God of being vindictive and a little too distracted by human sin in chapter 7. And God begins to speak back to Job starting last week and now this week, by taking Job on an overwhelming whirlwind tour of this vast universe and asking Job for details that God knows Job can’t provide.

In today’s reading, God is having a little fun with Job, speaking to him from the midst of a whirlwind. It could be easy to give God a tone of mockery, that God is using God’s vast knowledge of all of creation to beat Job over the head with it. Instead, imagine God having a bit of a sense of humor combined with divine empathy. After all, God created that too.

Are you going to draw the great sea monster from the sea with your little fishing hook? Will it pray to you. Will it speak softly to you? Will it promise you to serve you forever? Will you play with it like a house pet?

God is inviting Job into the deep wonders of the universe because we simply can’t fathom it all. We’re not made that way. And of course, we don’t know how it all works, do we? We can’t know the great mysteries. We can marvel at them, we can wonder, we can even try to recreate new varieties of flowers and new breeds of dogs. But it’s when we think we are the creators and rulers of the universe – that’s where we get into trouble. That’s where we start to talk out of both sides of our mouths, thinking we’ve got it all figured out.

Wow, don’t we think we’ve got it all figured out when it comes to this racial divide thing? We just need body cameras! People just need to obey and respect police officers! We need less guns! We need more guns! We need better training….and on and on and on. How can we have it all figured out when we are just waking up to it?

IMG_0058Just before I went on vacation, a group of us traveled to St. Paul to a worship service where Bishop Eaton preached. Bishop Eaton is the bishop of the whole ELCA (she is 2nd from the left in the picture), and so she bears the great burden and the great gift of speaking to us God’s word and truth. And so, she was preaching just on the heels of 2 more African American male deaths at the hands of police, one in St. Paul, one in Louisiana, as well as the deaths of 5 police officers in13606912_10154280866762604_976717636439971184_n Dallas, Texas. And she wondered, to the standing room only crowd, if our eyes had just been opened. If some of us had just been awakened to the fact of racism being alive and well not only in our world but our church. And she said we could not shut our eyes or go back to sleep. We can’t unsee what we’re seeing, what we’ve seen. We just can’t keep killing ourselves. I wonder if this has been an awakening for you that you too have racist tendencies or thoughts.

IMG_0088I know that I do. I know I was nervous to go to the Black Lives Matter rally at the Governor’s mansion after our contained, planned, beautiful worship with ushers and a bulletin, where leadership was clearly defined, the singing beautiful, the praying earnest. Then we went to the elementary school where Philando Castile worked and saw cards and flowers, the flag at half mast. And then we walked.

 

 

 

 

Our large gathering of hundreds now dispersed to small groups of handfuls of people, and we made our IMG_0075way just a few blocks. Past police barackades, to an area with signs and tents, and a black man wielding a megaphone. Gone were the meticulously written prayers. Gone was predictable order. People lined up to speak, no qualifications given. I was nervous. There was anger. Not the Minnesota nice pursed lips but expressed anger with f-bombs and pacing. Frustration and anger and gratitude all mixed up from speaker to speaker.

I suppose there began to be an outer white ring of people filtering in from the worship service, as most of us there had been white. And one of the men speaking looked out and said, “Hey, ya’ll are so far away. Come on, get close.” And then he took a beat and he said something like, “We can’t be afraid of each other. Go on, hug a stranger. Do it. Hug a stranger.”

And then we did. I did too. And it changed the group. And we moved closer. Closer to the chaos and theIMG_0079 unexpected and the unknown. Closer to the reality I am not familiar with in my own bones and body.

I could just hear God speaking to me in my fear: You gonna tame this, Pastor Laura? You gonna catch it on your fishing hook? You gonna domesticate this like a house pet so you can sleep at night? You gonna tame the Black Lives Matter movement? You gonna make racism palatable?

 

IMG_0081And then Erin got up to speak and I learned that prophets come in the size and shape of 11-year-old African American girls. She introduced herself and she began to speak about what this all looks like from her perspective, from a kids’ perspective. And she would stop and cry. And she would lament the America she sees, crying that people who look like her are being killed and being afraid to call the police because maybe they won’t help her. She was thinking out loud, and she did it with all of her might. And she had us all in the palm of her hand, leaning forward, clapping and cheering.

Suddenly, like Job I thought, I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. What Job is saying is he has reconsidered, he has seen something he can’t unsee, and he’s taking it back. He’s lamenting what he said, what he thought, how he underestimated God. Now he sees that he didn’t know. Overwhelmed by his tour of creation with God, Job says, now I see.

What do you think of the ending of the book of Job? Is it a little too neat and tidy? Job and his wife have more children and he names them these wild names, reflective of the creation he toured with God. He regains his wealth. If Hollywood got a hold of it, it might seem that he lived happily ever after.

But I think you know better than Hollywood’s love of tidy endings. Hope is only born in the depths of hard times: in your grief and despair, in your not knowing. And that’s Job. We’ve only really known him as one who has suffered tragedy. And he has gone and done the foolish thing: he is living into the freedom of living a life with God and daring to bring more life into this vast mystery, knowing God did not create a chaotic world to hurt us, but instead God created a mysterious and vast and unknowable creation and invites us into living. And that while God cares and loves us, God is not distracted by our sin so as to lose interest in the rest of all creation.

For those of you that have suffered mightily, you know it’s not about happily ever after. You know it’s living a life in a new way, it’s being changed, it’s living a life where you’ve been transformed. And you know the great risks of loving and how fragile and beautiful and terrible it all is. You know the chaos of the world. And you know that God won’t throw you under the bus on a bet but is faithful to you forever. Is with you in your grief and can even transform it into new life.

 

 

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