Sermon transcript, 21 June 2015

God is not punishing us – He is launching us by Fr. Dana

Job 38:1-11, 16-18, Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, II Corinthians 5:14-21, Mark 4:35-41 (5:1-20)


The Old Testament lesson is from Job, and it’s hard to pick apart because it’s a whole story, but let me give you a quick synopsis.

Chapters 1-28 tell the story of what happened to Job: he had everything and lost everything, and most of those chapters are about him proclaiming his innocence and sinless and his friends saying “No, you’re wrong”.  His friends claimed to speak for God, and their basic position is, “God only punishes the wicked; you were punished; therefore you are wicked.”  Have you ever been told that, either by a human or by a little voice in your ear?  Guess what?  That’s a lie.

After they’ve gone back and forth a number of times, in Chapters 29-30 Job summarises his life, and then he says, “If I walked with falsehood… if my step has turned from the way… if my heart has been enticed by a woman… if I have despised the cause of my male or female servant… if I have kept the poor from their desire… if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing… if I have raised my hand against the fatherless… if I have made gold my hope… if I have rejoiced at the destruction of him who hated me… if I have covered my transgressions as Adam did… and if my land cries out against me… if I have done any of these things, then I deserve this punishment…” (Job 31:5, 7, 9, 13, 16, 19, 21, 24, 29, 33) – “but I haven’t.”  That’s his position.

In the next six chapters (Job 32-37) Elihu, the youngest of his friends, who very wisely kept his mouth shut because he let the older ones speak first, pipes up.  He’s an advocate for God, as the others were, but emphasizes how God is perfect, and so Job must have done something, since Job couldn’t possibly be perfect.

God is quiet through all this: He’ll let them argue, and He’ll even let the friends claim to speak for Him; but finally this has gone on for long enough and He says, “Stop; My turn.”  And when he speaks He essentially says, “Alright, Know-it-all, do you know the design principles of the universe?  Do you know how all creation is designed to work together?  If you do, go ahead and tell Me.” (Job 38-39)  Job is the first to reply, and he wisely says this (read Job 40:4-5): he starts to get the point.  And God in another two chapters really presses the point home, but He does not condemn Job for anything he has done; He never once says, “You know, Job, you’re wrong; you’ve sinned”.  What He does say is, “You presume too much”.  And in the final chapter Job says this (read Job 42:5-6).  Even though he didn’t do anything wrong, he repents of his words, his presumption – not of the sin he didn’t commit.

Things happen that are not God’s punishment

What’s the result of all this forty-two chapters?  God gets on not Job’s case; He gets on the friends’ case, the friends who were claiming to speak for Him.  The reason He does is that they were promulgating this lie that “God only punishes the wicked; you were punished; therefore you are wicked”.  Not all bad things come from God’s punishment; not every bad comes because someone did something wrong.  Some bad things happen just because Creation is fallen: sin is in the world; that’s what gave Satan the right to torment Job.  God had been protecting Job, and He removed His protection, not because Job did anything wrong but because God wanted to show Satan something (Job 1:7-12, 2-6), and He wanted to show Job something, and He wanted to show Job’s friends something.  Even though Job experienced tremendous tribulation and persecution, he was not wicked; and in a lovely twist of irony God tells the friends, “You’d better have Job pray for you, because I’m this close to doing something: you’d better have Job pray for you and offer sacrifices for you so that I’ll forgive you for what you said in My Name.” (Job 42:7-8)  And Job does; and then God blesses Job multiple times more than what he ever had before (Job 42:9-17).

There’s the whole book in a nutshell.  What is this telling us?  Job was not afraid to cry out to the Lord; he was not afraid to communicate his pain and his need; he was honest with God.  He may have been presumptuous, but he was honest: he did not hide it (Why hide it when God knows it anyway?) but he was honest and straightforward with God.  And God was not offended by His honesty; God did not say “Ooh, I can’t take that!”  God showed him where he was wrong, but he was not offended.  He also showed that things happen that we have no clue why; we can’t explain it.  The only reason we know why what happened to Job happened to Job is because it’s recorded in the book of Job.  If we had only the evidence – Job was a great guy and did all these good things; then suddenly calamity hit: he lost his crops, his livestock, his house and his family – we might go through life thinking the same things that his friends did – What did he do?  What was going on in his personal life? – but we know that’s not the case.  Things happen that aren’t God’s punishment.  Things happen that aren’t God’s perfect will; but God’s perfect will was given up when Adam fell.  And we can’t say, “That’s not fair!” because we’re here because of our own sin.  Best of all, we don’t know what the end to all this is.  The end of all Job’s struggle was a new life, a new family, new blessings, because he didn’t complain when he lost the old ones.  And he did not give up his faith in God when his circumstances told him he should have.  His wife told him, “Curse God and die!” and he didn’t (Job 2:9-10); that tells us something.

God works in storms

What does the Psalm tell us?  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good – even when bad things happen.   It says He has rescued us from all adversity, like Job; it says we cried out in our distress and He rescued us – and He did; and it says this… read Psalm 107:23-30.  Those who sail on the sea of life see the works of the Lord and the wonders in the deep.  On the sea there will be storms, and they were much scarier for them than they are for us nowadays, because their boats were much smaller.  I can’t imagine being on the ocean in some of the ships the size they sailed in.  If we go out on the sea, there will be storms: Creation is fallen, life is going to be that way; but we will see the Lord work in the midst of that.  Those who spend their lives in the harbour don’t experience the storm, and it’s not so bad because the harbour is protected.  They may remain forever calm, but they may never see how much God loves them, how good God is, how great His loving-kindness is, and how great His power is.  If you leave your car in the garage, you’ll never have to wax it – although you might have to dust it.  It probably won’t rust, but you’ll never go anywhere either; you’ll never have the enjoyment of driving, you’ll never experience God saving you from running off the road.  We can’t see Him work if we only stay in the calm places.  I really think that’s where we are as a church; God has brought us to this place through all the twenty or twenty-five years of development, to get us ready to go out on the sea, and it had to be to a certain point so that we wouldn’t panic and jump ship; and that’s where we are.

No one is beyond God’s reach

But as the second reading said, because we have seen God work in a storm, because we have seen God rescue the perishing, we’ve seen God change hearts, we’ve seen God do a lot of things, now “we regard no one according to the flesh” (II Corinthians 5:16).  What that means is that we look at no one and say “You too far gone: God can’t reach you; it can’t happen.”  Personally, I don’t believe Judas was beyond the reach of God, but then he committed suicide, and that ended that story.  No one has gone too far, and if they have we can’t see it: we don’t know; we don’t regard anyone as being beyond hope; we will never consider anyone too far gone for the Lord to redeem.  Read II Corinthians 5:17.  The things that looked horribly terrible, totally unredeemable, are gone; anyone can be renewed if they’re willing to let God do it.  We’ve seen it, we are witnesses, and because we are witnesses we are also as this passage says “ambassadors for Christ”.  Read II Corinthians 5:20: that’s who we’re created to be, and that’s we’re created to do.

In the Gospel reading we have a perfect example of God working in the storm, but you didn’t hear it.  We had an example of there being a storm and of Jesus sleeping in the boat, but you didn’t hear it.  There’s an example in the rest of the reading, which I didn’t include, which is what happened after the storm when they reached the other side.  It’s not a physical storm, but it’s an example of no one being beyond the reach of God. Read Mark 5:1-20.   This wild man, running loose among the tombs, was considered a lost cause; he was unreachable, untouchable, uncontrollable; they didn’t want to have anything to do with him – who knows what he’d do – they couldn’t restrain him, much less reason with him: he was hopeless.  He was the man who by all rights should be beyond the reach of God.  But then he met the God of hope.  Before Jesus did anything to him, before He commanded the demons, before He touched him, when the man saw Jesus from afar, the demons knew who Jesus was, and he didn’t run away: “When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped Him” (Mark 5:6).  With two thousand demons in him, he still ran and worshipped him.  No one is beyond the reach of God.

The man is healed, and so he becomes a good churchgoer; he is sitting quietly in his right mind.  That’s only part of it: he wanted more.  He wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus said, “No, just tell people what happened; be a witness”.  And so this man became an ambassador for Christ.  What a testimony he had.  “I had hair down to my ankles; I had lice living there.  I cut myself.”  He was an ambassador and people marvelled; he became an eye-witness, beseeching and imploring others on Christ’s behalf to be reconciled to God (II Corinthians 5:20)… and you know he was effective.  That’s what we’re made for, to do that: to implore others to be reconciled to God, to love others with the love of Christ and draw them in.  Because there is no one beyond the reach of God’s love and grace: not you, not your husband or wife, not your son or daughter, not your friend, not your enemy, not your boss… no one.

God is launching us

We carry the good news, and we are called to share it.  We are called to love with the love of Christ, to carry the light of Christ into the world; but if we stay in the offices of the Consulate all the time, it won’t happen.  It won’t be risky: we’ll go to work every day, sit behind our computer and get paid; but nothing will happen.  If the ship sits in the harbour, it doesn’t go anywhere.  God has stirred up our nest.  We’ve been comfortable here, and I’m not saying that’s wrong, but that time is coming to an end; and we didn’t do it: God did it.  He says, “You’re not perfect, but we’ve patched the hull in some places, and the masts are strong and the rigging’s up, and the sails don’t have huge holes in them.  It’s time to start heading out to the ocean.  We’ll keep on repairing as we go along, but you’re close enough: we can go.”  We’re leaving the harbour, and we’ll see the works of the Lord.  God is launching us, and we don’t know where the journey will take us, but we know who’s in the boat, we know who’s directing, and we will see the works of the Lord as we do His business.  As we celebrate the Eucharist and pray the Post-Communion prayer, let us commit fully to the words we pray together: “Send us out, Father, to do the works You have given us to do [not that You have given someone else to do, but that You have given us to do]: to love and serve You as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”  In the immortal words of Nike, “Just do it!”