The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 21 – October 18, 2015
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, 35c
The saga of Job continues with a meditation on the grandeur of God. Job has endured God’s absence, and God has endured Job’s rantings. Finally, out of a whirlwind, God speaks. God’s revealings of the universe in its complexity to Job are multisensory. In this theophany – divine encounter – I believe Job not only hears God’s voice, but catches a glimpse of the world’s beginnings and hears the sounds of an evolving universe.
The revealed God is more than Job can ever imagine. We can only see a portion of God’s handiwork. The tapestry of creation’s unfolding and God’s vision is beyond our comprehension. This doesn’t mean that God is ethically suspect or has a hidden will that includes our destruction as well as salvation. It simply points to our limits experientially and theologically. God’s creativity has a moral element to it. God parents forth a universe of order and beauty, within which pain and suffering can occur. These are inevitable aspects of an evolving, imperfect, and finite universe, in which creatures are often at cross purposes.
Awe inspires praise. The grandeur of the universe evokes a sense of radical amazement. And, all we can do is stammer, “How great thou art?” Cosmology is defined by axiology, or divine wisdom and value – creation reflects God’s aim at beauty and goodness. There is an implicit moral order, giving birth to all things, or as the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead avers, the aim of the universe is toward the production of beauty.
Psalm 104 continues this meditation on divine grandeur, noting that all creation reflects divine wisdom. Amazement and gratitude flood our hearts when we ponder life’s wonder and immensity.
Hebrews 5 points to the moral order at the heart of reality. The vastness of the universe is a reflection of relationship not solitude. We are not alone. God is with us. Christ represents, as high priest, the intimate connection of creator and creation. In Christ, God is so intimate with creation that God feels the pain of the world. God is embedded in Christ in this world, celebrating our joy and empathizing with our pain. God understands because God experiences our lives from the inside, touched by everything. In contrast to the aloof God of Aristotle (the unmoved mover) and much Christina theology, the personal God of Hebrews is, as philosopher Charles Hartshorne, the “most moved mover,” able to heal our wounds because God feels our wounds. The universe is aimed at salvation and wholeness as a result of God’s immanence and empathy.
In the selection from Mark’s Gospel, the disciples foolishly focus on temporal greatness. They see greatness in terms of power and control, and leadership in terms of power over and prestige. Leadership places them on a higher spiritual pedestal, distant not only from their fellow disciples but from ordinary humankind. Jesus takes a different path. His relationship with God connects him with human suffering. His spiritual enlightenment sensitizes him to our pain and suffering. His sinlessness enables him to understand our temptations and failures and bring healing to our brokenness. Greatness is defined in terms of service and willingness to promote others’ well-being and not our own uniqueness or distance. Jesus’ spiritual stature is revealed in his willingness to suffer for our healing and become near to us, embracing our joys and sorrows with God’s healing vision.
Today’s readings join grandeur with relationship. God is ultimate yet intimate. God is beyond yet within. Our quests for greatness, from one perspective, don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but they are important to us and our world and are important to God. God is more than we can imagine but transparent in love for creation.
(For more on Job, see Bruce Epperly, Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job; for reflections on Mark, see Bruce Epperly, Mark’s Holy Adventure: Preaching Mark’s Gospel for Year B)