Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

You Don’t Know What You Are Asking

Job 38:1-7; Hebrews 5:7-10; Mark 10:35-45
October 21, 2012
© 2012


I.                Last Sunday we listened to Job’s cry for God to show up and acknowledge Job’s righteous suffering, and we heard God tell Job’s friends that he had spoken rightly about God. This morning we have heard the beginning of what God said when God did show up for Job. Job got what he asked for but not at all what he expected.

A.           Every Sunday we open with a prayer of invocation, inviting God to show up to receive our worship and to accompany us through the coming week. Every morning after my workout, I pray facing the four directions of the compass. I start facing east where the sun will rise and invite God into the new day. At breakfast I think through my schedule for the day and invite God to participate. When challenges come, such as meeting someone at the emergency room, I invite God to guide me. When my concern for our parents or children overwhelms me, I invite God to solve the problems. You may have a slightly different pattern, but I’m sure all of you have invited God into your day’s experiences one way or another. What we have read from Job today asks, “What if God shows up?”

B.            In her 1988 book Teaching a Stone to Talk Annie Dillard pushes us beyond our comfortable expectations, just as Job does.

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

C.            God answers our deepest prayers by turning us from asking what God is doing in our lives to asking how we fit in with God.

II.            Job had been crying out for God to show up and acknowledge his righteous suffering. God did show up, but it was not a command performance. God spoke, but not to answer Job’s questions. Job asked God to notice him, but God turned the tables and said to Job, “No, you notice me!” Except for one brief interjection from Job in 40:3-5, God spoke uninterrupted through chapters 38, 39, 40 and 41.

A.           I wish we had time to have a good dramatic reader perform God’s monolog for us. The vivid imagery reminds me of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. At once irresistibly fascinating and frightening. Like Aslan the Christ figure lion in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the God who showed up for Job is not tame but wild and free, not safe but oh so good.

B.            God questioned Job about his grasp of the mysteries of creation: nature and the cosmos. We might feel that we get some answers to God’s questions by watching Nova or Nature on Public TV. I know they do not come from the theological perspective, but clearly the more we can explain, the deeper the awe and mysteries of the universe. Perhaps you saw this week that a new planet has been discovered that revolves around two stars, not one as in our solar system, and has two other stars revolving around it. A planet with four suns all going in different directions. The astronomers said they don’t understand why all of this gravitational activity didn’t just tear the planet to shreds. I’m sure a scientific explanation is possible, but it still doesn’t answer: why is all of this here at all instead of just nothing? God’s monolog doesn’t even answer that, except to imply that God delights to create.

C.            After God showed up, Job asked no more questions. As we shall see next week, Job was more satisfied by God’s encounter with him than he would have been by having God directly answer his questions. Instead of asking God about his suffering, Job was compelled to ask where he fit in God’s wild and wonderful cosmos. God answers our deepest prayers by turning us from asking what God is doing in our lives to asking how we fit in with God.

III.       In Mark 10:35-45 Jesus and his disciples had almost finished their journey to Jerusalem. Jesus led his disciples up the climb into the Holy City. On the way he told them one more time that he would be rejected, killed and rise again. Even the inner core of disciples still didn’t get it.

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.”36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”38But 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?” 39They 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; 40but 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.”

41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.42So 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.43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

A.           James and John apparently expected Jesus was going to set up the glorious eternal kingdom when he arrived in Jerusalem. They wanted to be at the center of the action. Much the same way God turned the tables on Job, Jesus turned the tables on James and John. They would have to drink Jesus’ cup and share Jesus’ baptism. Cup and baptism do not have sacramental significance here. Drinking the cup was draining the bitter dregs. Baptism was an overwhelming flood of suffering.

B.            Hebrews 5:7, reminds us that Jesus had already been there himself. Undoubtedly referring to his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup of crucifixion pass from him, he offered up prayers with loud cries and tears. Yes, the Father was able to save him from death, but in reverent submission, Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours.” Jesus took his place in the Father’s plan.

C.            In response to the ten other disciples’ anger with James and John, Jesus taught them, and us, that the path to glory is suffering, service and redemption. When James and John said they were able to share Jesus’ cup and baptism they had no idea what they were saying. Yet, in a way they could never have imagined, they did it and wouldn’t have had it any other way. And they do share in the glory of Jesus’ Kingdom, perhaps sitting on his left and right. God answers our deepest prayers by turning us from asking what God is doing in our lives to asking how we fit in with God.

IV.      On the last night of a high school mission trip several years ago, 4 or 5 small groups each did a skit summarizing the week’s experience. The last one reenacted Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Then they went around the circle and washed everyone’s feet. This was the first mission trip for one of the boys who sometimes seemed to have an “I’m too cool for youth group” attitude. When they washed his feet, he exclaimed, “Wow! God really is here!”

A.           The wild, free, dangerous and good God doesn’t always show up as dramatically as in Job. More often than not God shows up in subtle, ordinary interactions with people. When you ache with someone who is suffering, pay attention, God is there. When you have opportunity to serve with humility and insignificance, pay attention, God is there. When you participate as the Holy Spirit draws someone to trust Jesus for a new life, pay attention, God is there. When you come to worship and realize that you are not getting something out of it but giving something to God and those around you, pay attention, God is there.

B.            God answers our deepest prayers by turning us from asking what God is doing in our lives to asking how we fit in with God.

C.            My friend Christopher was 35 years old and had struggled with brain cancer for several years. After everything possible had been done, he was finally told he had about 6 weeks left. The first Sunday of Advent he came to a prayer service we had for relinquishing whatever put us out of sync with the season. People expressed their concerns and lit a candle. With his coordination and speech impaired, Christopher struggled to the front, lit a candle and said, “I’ve just been told I have 6 weeks left to breathe. Whether it is 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 more years, I want them to be for Jesus.” No one else spoke. God had showed up. After this divine silence, we sang a hymn of hope and began our journey to Christmas having been invited by God to glance into the Kingdom. On January 9, at the invitation of Christopher and his family, a group of us surrounded him as he passed into Jesus’ presence.

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