October 17th, 2021      

Mark 10:32-45; Job 38:1-7

Job:        Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.  Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!  Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

OR The Message Version:

And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm.  He said: “Why do you confuse the issue?  Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about?  Pull yourself together, Job!  Up on your feet!  Stand tall!  I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.  Where were you when I created the earth?  Tell me, since you know so much!  Who decided on its size?  Certainly you’ll know that!  Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?  How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise?

Mark:    Jesus and the disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.  He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’  And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’  And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’  But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’  They replied, ‘We are able.’  Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.  So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”        

Sermon: I want to begin our conversation today with the reading from the Gospel of Mark.  The behavior of James and John in this scripture lesson ought to remind us that the life of faith is rarely neat and tidy, smooth and trouble-free.  James and John, the Zebedee Boys, were trying to sort out their lives by making sure that Jesus would hold a place for them on each side of him in glory.  I like to talk about that scene as the argument about who was going to get to ride shot-gun with Jesus.  For those of you who don’t know, riders, usually kids and teens, as they run toward the car when they’re going somewhere, will call shot-gun, which means they want to sit in the front seat by the driver.

                It was really pretty cheeky of them, wasn’t it?  The first thing that James and John did after Jesus poured his heart out to them in the third and last Passion Prediction in Mark’s Gospel about his coming fate was to demand of Jesus to do for them whatever they asked.  Jesus asked what that might be, and they called shot-gun.  “Let us sit,” they said, “one on your right hand and the other on your left.”

                Now Jesus had just told the disciples that he would suffer and be killed and in three days be raised.  This would be like a parent just having a very serious conversation with a teen like, “Your grandmother is dying.”  And what is the kid’s response?  “I call shot-gun!”  For us good Christians who love the Lord, this is pretty shocking that two of our own would act like this.  …So, hold that thought.

                Now…I want to turn to our reading from the book of Job.  I think most everyone knows the basic story.  Job, a good man with a good life, suddenly starts to lose everything—everything!  Today’s lesson is God’s word to Job after things had gone so very wrong for him, after he had been begging God for answers, as he is trying to make some sense out of all this bad fortune, all this misery. 

God’s voice comes out of the whirlwind.  You can think of these words to Job as a reality check for times when we, like James and John, begin to think that the universe revolves around us; for times when we are so sure that we can manage the universe; for times when we think it’s all about us. 

“Pull yourself together,” says God to Job.  “I will question you, and I want some straight answers.  Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Tell me since you know so much.  Who determined its measurements?  …who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

                Well, the whirlwind tour of the cosmos goes on from there, even more than you heard read.  And in it, God doesn’t do what we necessarily want God to do.  We may have hoped for an explanation or at least an apology for all that Job has suffered.  Some comfort would have been nice.  Instead, it’s as if God shows up in a T-shirt that says, “Because I’m God, That’s Why.”

                In his words to Job, God takes him on this amazing tour of the universe, and the stark reminder is that the world is not centered on human beings, contrary to popular opinion.  It is also not always safe or predictable.  Yet, it can be a beautiful and adventurous ride.

                Of course James and John…and Job, for that matter, wanted things to be structured, predictable and successful as the world defines it.  Can anyone blame them?  The disciples have given up a lot to follow Jesus—the comforts of home, a stable income, family, friends.  It’s no surprise that they were not pleased to hear about what was going to happen to Jesus.  They may even have wondered about their own well-being in the short run.

                Clearly, James and John were confident about the long-run promise of Jesus.  They assumed that he would be glorified and heading straight to heaven (that’s where they hoped to be sitting with him).  But they seem to be having some doubts about the short-term payoff for their efforts.  Who could blame them for getting a plan in place for the future glory and their place in it?

                I found some good comments on the Mark text from a commentary for preachers.  The writer says, “I DO believe in resurrection.  I look forward with hope to the future glory of Jesus.  I don’t worry about the long run, but I DO sometimes wonder whether my labor today is part of a glorious work in progress or is it just any other bucket of water poured down a hole.  I sometimes wish I knew that there was a seat next to Jesus with my name on it: a soft, leather-upholstered confirmation that my efforts to be faithful on this earth will not go unnoticed and unrewarded by the Lord in heaven.  I can’t very well criticize James and John for asking Jesus for something that I, had I more courage, would ask for myself.” 

Now, in our hypocritical shock at the Zebedee Boys’ cheekiness toward Jesus, we must confess to the truth that we all want recognition for being such good people, right?

                Of course, Jesus’ response to James and John is a reminder of why we get fearful about following Jesus along the way.  “You do not know what you’re asking,” he told them.  “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  Or, specifically, can we walk down this long, dark road that Jesus has been called to travel?  Then we hear James and John arrogantly reply.  “Oh yeah, of course we’re able.” 

                So be it…but I have more than a little trouble believing that is possible for any one of us to be that arrogantly certain.  Following Jesus and living through the days of this human life is not going to be a walk in the park.  Many of us don’t get a nice, tidy, ducks-in-a-row, perfectly planned trajectory of a life.  We may labor faithfully today but not ever get to see the positive results of that labor.  Things we haven’t necessarily enjoyed doing (in fact, maybe we had to dragged into it kicking and screaming) may turn out to be something holy and bold, if not praised by the world.  The question will always be, “Were we faithful in answering God’s call upon our lives?”  And it may be less about what we do and more about who God is creating us to be. 

I gotta tell you that it helps me to know the stories of Job AND of James and John because I think we all struggle now and again with questions of what we deserve and how unfair life can be sometimes.  These texts are reminders that the realm of God’s concern is much more expansive than our little lives here in this time and place.

…Visiting the Green Mountains of Vermont over the years has brought a special treat in addition to visiting dear friends.  On a clear new-moon-night-sky we could look up and see a display that was breath-taking.  I have never seen so many stars!  They were visible right down to the tree line.  Across the top of the sky we could see this glorious veil stretched out before us.  It was the Milky Way, our own galaxy.  When we are in a place without light clutter, the Milky Way is visible, and, obviously, we see it from inside the galaxy, and it is magnificent.  There are billions of stars within it, and, believe it or not, the Milky Way is one of God knows how many galaxies in God’s universe.  It really is beyond human comprehension.

Seeing it is almost like God speaking to Job when Job was invited to see the world from a God’s-eye point of view.  It’s a chance to delight in the beauty as God might.  When we see something so unfathomable to our human minds, all we can do is stand in awe and, for a moment, give ourselves over to the heart-stopping beauty of God’s universe.

We are given that chance to rise above our own struggles and upset and even heartbreak.  We can forget worrying about our individual legacies, how we might be remembered or what’s happening this very day that is making us worried or miserable.  Then, miraculously, we can see the world through God’s eyes….  And we can live into the Gospel message of Jesus Christ who, simply, came not to be served but simply to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.