Sunday, 21 June 2015

Don’t you care?

Stoke Hammond – 21 June 2015 – Holy Communion

Reading Job 38: 1 - 11

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

2 ‘Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

4 ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone –
7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

8 ‘Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, “This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt”?

Reading 2 Corinthians 6: 1 – 13

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says,

‘In the time of my favour I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.’

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.

Paul’s hardships

3 We put no stumbling-block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13 As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia. I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore. All Alleluia

Gospel Mark 4: 35 - 41

Jesus calms the storm

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’

41 They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’


How often, so it seems to me, are our relations with the divine a mystery, and the questions we want to ask left unresolved? How often does God seem remote, unresponsive, and obscure?

Take this morning’s reading from Job, for example. The book of Job is all about the suffering of the innocent. Job maintains throughout that he is blameless and upright. We might feel that no one is free from sin, and that it is arrogant to maintain otherwise, but in fact at the beginning of the book of Job God says to Satan:

‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’

If, then, Job is an example to all men, why does God allow him to be subjected to the most terrible and prolonged suffering, without any explanation or justification?

Worse than that, God does not answer any of Job’s constant questions about why he is being tortured in this way.

In a blistering sound bite that could have come from any modern newspaper, Job rails against a world in which the wicked succeed, the innocent suffer, “the dying groan, and the throat of the wounded cries for help; yet God pays no attention to their prayer” (Job 24:12).

The beginning of Job chapter 38 represents the dramatic climax of the entire book. At last, God will answer. For 37 chapters, God has kept quiet, but now we have two speeches by God and Job’s responses to what He has to say.

God speaks out of a whirlwind. Does He explain why the innocent suffer? Does he offer any answers to why the world seems to us so unfair, unequal and unjust, where the rich get richer and the poor suffer indignities and want? After all, God is all-powerful, and can make the world however He wants, so how can we avoid believing the world is as God wishes it to be?

What does God say? Disappointingly, God says nothing about the merits of Job’s case, but fires back a barrage of rhetorical questions in which he shows how inadequate is Job’s understanding of creation, and why the world has been laid out and designed the way it was.

The design of the universe is like the building of a great temple. The architect of the cosmos is proud of what he has created. He makes no apology for anything. The forces of nature may seem baffling to us, and the oceans may seem tempestuous and chaotic, but the LORD is in full control of all He has made.

How does all this talk of cosmic architecture help me provide any sort of answer to the problem of suffering in God’s world? We all suffer to one degree or another, especially as we get older, but why should this be? More importantly, why do seemingly ‘innocent’ babies and children sometimes endure long term pain and suffering, and why does the world turn against human beings in the way it sometimes does?

There are no adequate answers I can give, but I found a couple of clues which might start you thinking.

Firstly, God’s speech at the very least sheds light on the unbridgeable gap between divine and human knowledge. While we may dislike our inability to penetrate the mysteries of God, at some point we are better off if we accept the reality of our human limitations.

Secondly, it seems to follow from that acceptance that we place our full trust and hope in God, even though we are not given any clues to help us come to terms with the mystery of it all.

Deep down, Job would never have been satisfied with an intellectual analysis from the creator in response to all his questions. Job’s needs are much more profound. In the end, what Job wants to hear is that God has not abandoned him, and still cares. What sufferers need is the same truth, the certainty that God is there.

All this talk of whirlwinds and the boiling seas leads us very nicely to today’s gospel reading. Some of the disciples are experienced fisher folk, but still they are in fear of their lives. God, in Jesus, is asleep, not being buffeted or thrown around but on a cushion at the back of the boat.

When awoken by the terrified sailors, Jesus offers no explanation for why the waters have suddenly become threatening. “Don’t you care?” the disciples shouted at him, just as Job did. Jesus did not answer by giving his followers chapter and verse of how much he cared for them. He assured them of his presence, and criticised their lack of faith in him.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’

41 They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’

Fast forward in the gospel to the crucifixion, and Jesus himself feels the abandonment of betrayal. He quotes Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

In Jesus, the remote God of the Hebrew scriptures has shown himself more clearly. In him, we can more readily penetrate the mysteries of God. In him, we can more easily place our full trust and hope in God.