Sermon: Sunday, July 21, 2013: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:   Amos 8:1-12  +  Psalm 52  +  Colossians 1:15-28  +  Luke 10:38-42

Here’s a topic you’ve not heard me spend much time on: God’s wrath.

So, let’s go there.  It doesn’t take an especially close reading of the bible to uncover the fact that God is quite frequently represented as angry.  And when God is angry, it’s at humanity.  Whatever relationship God has to sharks and redwoods and geological fault lines is really beyond our knowing, but our scriptures are not silent on the point of God’s feelings toward humanity.  God loves us.  God pleads with us.  God forgives us.  And God is angry with us.

It’s hard for me to say that.  Even as I wrote this sermon, I had to stop myself from softening those words.  I wanted to say, “And, sometimes, God is angry with us” or “God is angry with some of us.”  But those are both dodges.  Those both imply that either we are, for the most part, doing the right thing — doing well — and only occasionally breaking God’s heart with our disregard for and neglect of the weakest and most needy, the despised and neglected among us; or that most of us are doing right by one another from the point of view of God, and that the real problems of this world can be laid at the feet of a few wicked evildoers.

These are the sorts of dodges that people make all the time as we deal with our relationships with one another out here in the “real” world: anger can be minimized because we imagine that we are “good” most of the time, or that most of us are good.

These rationalizations, while they may serve to shield us from our own fear of accusation, our discomfort with anger, and our resentment of any authority that asserts itself over us, raise two basic theological conundrums.

The first, our urge to assert that we are each basically good, is so difficult to challenge.  Particularly from a pulpit.  While it may not be the case across the spectrum of Christianities practiced throughout the world, and certainly is not the case for Christianity across time, it is the case that in the global north and west, in the mainline Protestant tradition to which we as Lutherans in the United States belong, there is a great reluctance to speak of God’s judgment.  We don’t want to be affiliated with those other kinds of Christians.  The kind who preach hellfire and brimstone.  The kind who divide the world into us and them, clean and unclean, pure and impure.

So, instead, we join the broader culture in a kind of psychological Christianity, or therapeutic Christianity, that begins with the affirmation that God created the world, looked upon it and called it good; and that ends with the affirmation that God “so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son” without giving much attention to the reality of sin that necessitated a divine intervention in the life of the world in the first place.

When we make that first move, to say that we are mostly good, in a sense we are saying that we mostly didn’t need God’s intervention in Christ.  That we mostly had this under control ourselves, and that we’re mostly able to clean up our own messes.

This kind of logic reminds me of my senior year of college.  I was mostly done with my coursework.  I’d lived abroad in Costa Rica for a summer.  I’d completed a 3-month internship in adolescent mental health.  I was finally living off campus in a grown up apartment.  I was living life on my own terms, taking care of myself.  Except near the end of the semester, when I hadn’t quite budgeted to make my students loans and the paychecks from my part-time job stretch, and I needed to call my folks and see if they could help me just a little bit until the beginning of the month.

We’re mostly good, most of the time, and isn’t that enough — or so we wonder in a question that mostly misses the point.  Because when we aren’t “good,” when we can’t pull ourselves up, when we come up short, when we find ourselves insufficient to the crisis at hand, the question isn’t whether or not we’ll  somehow become better than we’ve ever been before.  It’s whether or not there is a power and a presence beyond our own that can sustain us through the crisis.  It is not, fundamentally, our goodness — our sufficiency — that counts, but God’s.

If, when faced with God’s anger or wrath, our first dodge is to assert that we’re good most of the time, the second is to claim that most of us are good.  That it’s just a few really rotten apples that spoil the bunch.  Week to week our minds turn to different names to populate that list.  We have our favorite politicians to blame.  Then there are the easy targets, the perpetrators of heinous crimes, the public figures whose private scandals come to light.  The constant parade of big news stories in the papers, on the news, across the internet, conspire to make it possible for us to believe that somehow all the responsibility for the world’s brokenness can be laid at the feet of a few mutually agreed upon failures.

This is not how the prophet Amos sees the world.

“The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by… shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again … The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:2b,8,11)

For the prophet Amos, the nation of Israel is not a community of mostly good people who do good most of the time.  It is a community of people who cannot separate themselves one from another.  It is not the king or the people, but the whole nation together that must give an account for the treatment of the needy and the poor among them.  The faithfulness of Israel is not counted by the prophet as a private affair, but as a public witness to a public relationship between God and God’s people.

To the prophet Amos’ way of seeing, the ongoing and persistent presence of poverty in Israel testifies to an economy that values profit over people, such that business owners are trying to squeeze more labor out of the workers, asking “when will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath so that we may offer wheat for sale?” (Amos 8:5a)  It is an economy that offers less and less of value for more and more of people’s savings, “we will make the ephah small and the shekel great and practice deceit with false balances.” (Amos 8:5b)

Amos accuses the entire nation of “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”  The prophet suggests that the greed of Israel’s economy has grown so great that creditors are foreclosing on those who cannot pay their debts for even minor purchases, not just home mortgages but even the sandals on their feet.  The economy has grown so greedy that the ancient tradition of leaving the gleanings of the field for the hungry has been forgotten, and even the most basic of necessities, food, cannot be counted upon.

Amos’ anger is not directed against one leader, or a handful of elites.  Amos brings a word from the Lord to Israel to say that this nation as a whole has forgotten who they are before God.  In response, God’s wrath will take the form of a famine — not of food or water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Again, in my own efforts to understand divine anger and divine punishment, I draw on my experiences of having been a child, and the ways my parents tried to offer me correction.  After many patient explanations, after plenty of warnings, there did come a time, especially as I grew older, when my parents decided that the way I would learn best was to suffer the natural consequences for my decisions and actions.  If I stayed up too late reading under the covers, dawn still came at the same time and I would have to go to school exhausted.  If I spent my money on junk food and diversions, there would be no new clothes for the new school year.  Actions had consequences.

That’s how I hear Amos’ forecasted famine.  If the nation continues to ignore the terms of God’s covenant; if the people continue to enjoy the privileges they reap off the backs of the poor, the needy and the neglected; then they will suffer the natural consequences of a society that has gone bad from the inside out.  Like a bowl of overripe fruit, what had been given them for nourishment will go bad and spoil.  If the people refuse to listen to God’s word, then they will be unable to access the abundant life it brings.  Natural consequences.

My friend Anne Howard, Executive Director of The Beatitudes Society, an ecumenical leadership development program that identifies and nurtures an emerging generation of Progressive church leaders for the sake of the common good, has taken to signing off on all her emails with the phrase, “we’re all in this together.”  It’s the perfect closing for correspondence from an organization that takes its name from Jesus’ most famous sermon, the one in which he said, “blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” and “blessed are those who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.”

Jesus, whose own prophetic ministry drew on the legacy and authority of the prophets of Israel, shared their concern for the poor and the hungry, the grieving and the reviled.  Like the prophets of old, his ministry was an earthy, embodied, political ministry.  He, too, talked about the needs of the sick, the poor, the outcast, the stranger.  In fact, when he spoke of heaven, it was almost always to say that it had drawn near, that it was breaking into this world, and not breaking us out.

In her classic essay on feminist Christian ethics, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” Bev Harrison writes,

“Otherworldliness” in religion has two very different sources in our social world of knowledge.  One sort of otherworldly religion appears among the poor and downtrodden, reflecting a double dynamic in their experience: It reflects a hopelessness about this world that is engendered by living daily with the evil of oppression, but it also fuels and encourages an ongoing struggle against the present order by conjuring a better time and a better place, beyond the oppressive here and now.

However, an entirely different form of otherworldliness appears amongst those of us who have never been marginalized, who have lived well above the daily struggle to survive, when our privileges are threatened. This form of otherworldliness is merely escapist, and its political consequences are entirely reactionary. Its result is to encourage denial of responsibility for the limited power that we do have, and it always results in reinforcing the status quo.”

Harrison connects this observation about our tendency to privatize religion and assign it to some other world with her insights on anger when she writes,

It is my thesis that we Christians have come very close to killing love precisely because we have understood anger to be a deadly sin.  Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to other and it is always a vivid form of caring. To put the point another way: anger is — and it always is — a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the moral quality of the social relations in which we are immersed.

God’s anger, God’s wrath, is not a sign of God’s abandonment.  It is a vivid form of caring that signals God’s resistance to our human desire to pull away from God (“I’m mostly good”) and to pull away from each other (“most of us are good”).

Let me try and wrap this up with an anecdote from my own life over the past week that may illustrate what I’ve been trying to say here.

trayvon-martinThe thing that send me searching my bookshelves for Bev Harrison’s essay, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” in the first place was my abiding anger over the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin.  I was in Atlanta with friends, Black and White, when the verdict was made public, friends I’ve known for over a decade and with whom I’ve engaged in some of the most intense political, ethical and theological conversations in my life. As we shared the news with one another, we barely spoke.  The pain of the wound of racism that is at the heart of the public furor over this verdict is overwhelming.

As the following week wore on, as Kerry and I sat at our dining room table, as you and your families sat at your dining room tables, my anger has only grown.  My anger is so deep on this point that it is difficult to speak.  And I wondered, “is there anything redemptive about this anger?  Can anything good come from these feelings that surface and are submerged over and over again?  Is there any value to this wrath?”

Bev Harrison’s answer is: yes.  The power of anger in the work of love is to give us the visceral evidence we need that the fabric of our relationships is torn, and that action is required.  The power of anger in the work of love is the voice of the prophet Amos, delivering a message from an angry, loving God that the creation, which God looked at and called good, for which God sent God’s only begotten Son, is aching under so much political, economic, and environmental abuse.

The power of anger in the work of love is the sound of the organizer knocking at your door, or the call from the program director looking for volunteers, or the letter that comes to your mailbox asking for a donation.

The power of anger in the work of love is the energy required to pull ourselves out of the hopelessness that is always trying to own us, to convince us that the world as it is is the world as it will always be.

The power of anger in the work of love is that voice that rises up inside each one of us, that voice that comes first from God, that says, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”  It is the voice inside us that has always known that we are all of us in this together and that refuses to be silenced.

The power of anger in the work of love is the end of the famine of hearing the words of the Lord, and when we understand the power of anger in the work of love in this way, then God’s wrath is not to be feared but to be longed for.  For it is God’s anger, spoken through God’s prophets, like Amos and you and me, that sets the spark that starts a revolution.



Sermon: Tuesday, December 25, 2012: Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day

Texts:  Isaiah 52:7-10  +  Psalm 98  +  Hebrews 1:1-12  +  John 1:1-14

The Church seems to have its clocks set perennially about four to six weeks ahead.  Even as we gather this morning, the world is already moving on from its celebration of Christmas and preparing for New Year’s Eve parties and the start of a new year.  In the Church, however, we celebrated our New Year almost a month ago with the beginning of the season of Advent.

For three weeks and two days we were students of hope.  Our scriptures and our songs directed our attention toward a moment when God’s future reign would break into our present reality and transform the world around us.  This year, like every year, we have witnessed horrible evidence that the world as it is cannot be the world as God made it.  Our hope has been stretched to its limits, our patience with business as usual has run out.

As the sun set last night and Christians began gathering in sanctuaries around the world to celebrate the eternal birth of Christ into the world, the Church once again set its clock ahead by about six or seven weeks.  Having already begun our New Year, we are now celebrating the festival of love.  Like the one that falls on the ides of February, this festival is also marked with candles, and presents, and sweets.  The love we celebrate this day, however, is more cosmic than the romances of Valentine’s Day.  Today the Church celebrates the reality of the love of God made real and present to us in Christ Jesus, the baby of Bethlehem.

The holy one has so many names.  As we waited for its arrival we heard its heralds calling to it by its aliases.  John the Baptist called it a purifying fire.  Mary’s song called it justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry.  Isaiah called it Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Perhaps those are your preferred names for the one who has come.  Perhaps the God you yearn for most is purity, justice, might, peace.  Be that as it may, this morning we are given a different name to know the presence of the divine, and that name is love.

On Christmas morning we read from the gospel of John that Jesus, the baby of Bethlehem, the pre-existing Word, was in the beginning with God and, in fact, was God.  John says,

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. (John 1:10-11)

We might wonder why God would choose to wrap the Word of light and life up in something so fragile as flesh, but John’s gospel doesn’t make us wait long for that answer.  Two chapters later Jesus states his reason for being,

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Heaven Kiss The EarthThe words are so familiar I barely notice them anymore.  “For God so loved the world…”  How do you feel about the world?  Because, I’ll admit, I’m pretty ambivalent.  It seems like a hard place to be.  It seems pretty callous toward the majority of its people, and pretty cruel toward those who try to do anything about it.  It’s an exhausting world, where there is always more work to be done.  And, it is a heart-breaking world, where wars and violence are always interrupting our lives, making it impossible to ever really settle in here.  We are sometimes drawn to fantasies about some other world, some next world, because this world, right here, is so painful.

But God, who has every option available, including apocalyptic judgement or complete abandonment, chooses not to leave this world but to enter it.  Because God made it, and God loves it.  And this includes you.

God loves you so much.  You are the most precious thing in God’s good creation, and the fact that this is also true of the person sitting in front of or behind you doesn’t take away from that reality one bit.  No matter what was happening at the moment of your conception, no matter how you were treated in the years that followed, the truest, deepest reality is that God was loving you fiercely even before you came into being.  In the incarnation we see that God, in fact, has been moving heaven and earth to get as close to you as possible.  Closer than light.  Closer than words.  As close as bread and wine and water and skin.

It’s important that you hear this.  It’s important that you know this.  Because, without love, all the other names for the holy of holies are hollow.  Purity, without love, is a brittle self-righteousness.  Justice, without love, becomes callous authority.  Might, without love, quickly turns to violence.  Peace, without love, tends toward either tyranny or isolation.  It is love that makes holiness accessible to flawed, ordinary, struggling people like you and me.  It is love that cares enough to stoop down in time, leaving perfection for eternity and making a home in this fragile, broken, wounded world.

This Christmas morning we can see so much more clearly than we could last night, in the dark, by the soft glow of our little candles, that the world is hurting.  We are hurting, perhaps even wondering if it’s time to move on from this world.  But the light of day is also evidence that all nights come to a end, that darkness always gives way to dawn.  By the light of this Christmas morning, as the days begin to lengthen again, our trust is renewed that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4)

This light has a name.  It is purity.  It is justice.  It is might.  It is peace.  It is Jesus.  It is love.  It is God’s gift to you and to the world, because God loves it all.

Merry Christmas.



Sermon: Sunday, October 21, 2012: The Book of Job, Pt. 3

Texts: Job 38:1-7, (34-41) and Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c  •  Hebrews 5:1-10  •   Mark 10:35-45

If you’ve been watching the political debates like I have, you’ve seen some heated exchanges between the candidates recently as each attempts to describe the state of our nation, and to persuade voters that he has a plan to improve upon it.  As they respond to questions from the moderator and attacks from their opponent, each tries to gain the advantage by framing the terms of the argument. Such has been the case with Job as well.

This morning we come to the final Sunday in our three week study of the book of Job and the themes it raises — particularly the themes of justice and suffering, and how each relates to the other.  In the first week we learned the set up, and heard that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (1:1)  In heaven, God has been in a debate with a member of the heavenly court whose role was to find fault with humanity, who has accused humankind of devotion to God based only on gratitude for God’s blessing and fear of losing it.  To test the merit of the accusation, God has allowed the accuser to afflict Job with every kind of misery.  In a day, all that he had — his livestock, his servants, his children, his health — was taken from him in order to see if he would curse God.

In the second week we listened as Job refuted the wisdom offered by his friends, who attempted to console him by providing rationales for his suffering.  They told him that God, who is good and just, punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous, and suggested that Job look to his own life to understand what he had done to merit this punishment.  Job tears apart their arguments, challenging them to find fault with his conduct, to explain to him what he could possibly have done to deserve such suffering and loss.

Not content merely to justify himself to his friends, Job takes his debate directly to God, imagining a trial in which God would answer Job’s accusations of injustice and malicious neglect.  Job imagines a debate more dramatic than any we’ve seen so far in this season of campaigning.  He imagines a debate on a cosmic scale, in which God would be forced to answer Job’s questions about why bad things happen to good people, and where justice is to be found.

Finally, today, God speaks.

Before we consider the content of what God says when God finally enters the debate, let’s consider what is at stake.  Though the original test was designed by the accuser to prove the transience of human devotion, Job — through his profound wrestling with God in faith — has set up a test of his own, and it is we, the listeners, like the audiences that fill the halls or tune in on their televisions, who will decide who has won this debate.  Carol Newsom, my professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University, describes the situation like this,

No longer is the question simply whether unconditional piety exists; one needs to know how such a stance could be meaningful.  From the perspective of Job, who makes justice the central value, the notion of radically unconditional piety is at best meaningless and at worst monstrous, for it would appear to sanction divine arbitrariness and cruelty.  The task God faces is to articulate a theological vision that will make such a stance not only meaningful, but also profound.”

What Dr. Newsom points out is that, while the book of Job begins with a story about a test for humanity, over the course of our engagement as readers and listeners a different test has also been established.  It is a test for God.  Having heard, along with Job, the feeble rationalizations offered by his friends, the limits of their proverbs, we want to know if God can offer a defense for the reality of so much unmerited suffering.  We, like Job, want to know if we can continue to offer our praise and worship to the God who allows things to be as they are, painful and unjust, without in essence endorsing this state of affairs, the state of creation.  As we, with Job, wait for God to speak we realize that God is now being tested every bit as much as Job.

I think this is a tremendous victory for Job.

God speaks, but when God speaks it is not to answer Job’s questions, but to pose an entirely different set of questions.  God begins,

“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.” (38:2-4)

Though it sounds callous, God’s opening statement signals that God will not be delivering the same speech as Job’s friends.  God does not defend God’s honor by questioning Job’s.  Instead, God signals that the very terms of the debate are about to change, and that Job will need to pay attention and keep up.

It’s also just funny, and I think we have to acknowledge this, when God says “gird up your loins like a man.”  It sounds like the biblical equivalent of “pull up your diapers” or “put on your big boy pants.”  We might be tempted to hear this as a bit of divine mockery or condescendence.  Instead, Dr. Newsom suggests that to “gird up your loins” was to tuck the ends of your robes up into your belt so that you could move quickly without tripping over yourself.  In essence, God isn’t saying “grow up” as much as God is saying “keep up.”  God is about to cover a lot of ground, rhetorically, and Job will be challenged to follow where God is going with this.

Throughout the book so far, Job has been charging God with a failure of justice.  Here, God replies that Job suffers from a failure of knowledge, that Job’s arguments are based on his assumptions about how the world is ordered, how it has been created.  Job, in his anger and grief at the chaos and loss that go hand in hand with being alive, has questioned the very nature of being.  In response, God asks, “where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”  And then, with a heavy dose of sarcasm, God continues, “who determined its measurements — surely you know!” (38:5)

We get only a few verses of what follows in the passage read in worship this morning.  We hear God ask, “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?” (38:34) and “Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?  Or who can tilt the waterskin of the heavens, when the dust turns into a mass and the clods cling together?” (38:37-38)  Of all the verses in God’s reply to Job, we couldn’t have picked better on a day when two of our sisters and brothers are being baptized into the body of Christ.  We are reminded that God is the creator, that God provides the rains we need for life, waters that transform the dust of the earth into clods of clay molded into the shape of humanity; and that, in baptism, God recreates us, providing new birth into a new life, taking the dust of our fragile natures and molding us into vessels for God’s holy spirit to be poured into and through for the sake of the world.

But it’s a shame that we don’t get to hear the fullness of God’s response to Job, which reads like poetry, because it is the way that God speaks just as much as the content of what God says, that finally moves Job.  God’s response to Job’s questions about the justice of creation washes over Job, wave after wave, as God asks:

Have you commanded the morning since your days began? (38:12)  Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? (38:16) Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail? (38:22) Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? (39:1) Is the wild ox willing to serve you? (39:9)  Do you give the horse its might? (39:19)  Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads it wings… (39:26)

For us, who live in cities and visit animals in their cages at the zoo, this might sound like a romantic call to consider the wild beauty of creation and to find our place in it.  But to people who lived in smaller settlements, close to the land and surrounded by the dangers of the wilderness, these images are less romantic and more menacing.  We might hear God as saying, “look around you at the world I have created, it is filled with powerful creatures that do not submit to your will.”

In our day and age, we might be less frightened and amazed by creation as it exists outside our bodies, and more frightened and amazed by creation as it exists inside our bodies.  I wonder if we might hear an extension of God’s reply to Job suited to our day and age that sounds something like,

Do you know when a cell becomes a life?

Can you tell when the division of cells will proceed along its course

to renew your inward parts as they slowly slough off their deadened layers day by day;

or, can you control when their multiplication will surge past their normal process, blossoming into masses that will burden your limbs, cloud your minds and stop your breath?

Job makes his case against God on the basis of justice.  God’s defense is given on the basis of creation.  The world as God has created it is filled with wonders.  The powers of creation are awesome.  The earth quakes.  The skies storm.  The seas rage.  The rivers overflow their beds.  The animals devour and are devoured in turn.

Perhaps it is even harder for us than it was for Job because we, with all our knowledge and technology, have shielded ourselves from so much of the chaos of creation.  We have come to imagine that someday we will engineer a way to shield ourselves from death.  To live forever.  We suppose that God’s creation will, finally, be supplanted by our own.  That someday we will write the rules, the terms that come with the precious gift of life.  That, in our hands, creation’s wilds would bend to our order.  That, under our management, there would finally be justice.

We need only hear ourselves speak these dreams out loud to know how false they are.  In our hands the creation groans.  In our hands death comes too quickly and too soon for too many people and places upon the earth.  Justice, in our hands, is life for those we know and love, and the devil take the rest.

As harsh as they may sound to our ears, and perhaps to Job as well, God’s response is not intended to put Job in his place in any kind of humiliating way, but to remind him of the lessons we were learning throughout the season of creation that preceded this series on Job — that we are a part of creation, not apart from it.  That we live and we die by the same laws that govern all of life.  That death is a part of living, and suffering too.

At its core, God’s speech refuses to answer Job’s question about the causes of unmerited suffering, because to do so would suggest that there is still some method or device that lies within our grasp, that we still might hope to evade the fate that comes for each of us.  God never says, “this is the ways things are so that some greater plan of mine can be fulfilled.”  We are never asked to accept that the sufferings of life play some part in a mystery that will someday be revealed.  God’s answer, such as it is, is simply “This is life.  Not centered around you, always responding to your actions, rewarding or punishing you.  Not responding to your wishes.  Not bowing to your will.  Creation is always being recreated, and you are a part of that, along with the rest of creation.  The process is chaotic and it is painful, of that you can be sure.”

Job, finally, accepts this.  Having pleaded that God would hear his case, Job finally acknowledges, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:5-6)  In the end, Job’s words become as enigmatic as God’s answer, suggesting as the book draws to a close, that any work left to be done will have to be done by each of us.  Does Job, in the end despise himself?  Is he signaling that he has withdrawn his case against God?  Has his mind been changed concerning his place in God’s creation?  It’s all, purposefully I think, left unclear.  Throughout, Job has not been comforted by the easy answers of his friends, and so — consistent with that theme — Job refuses to provide easy answers for its readers and listeners.  Whatever peace Job has found in the end has come through passionate engagement with his own life and adamant engagement with the God who created him, suggesting that the same may be required of each of us as well.

In praise of the God who created the world, who set the boundaries for the waters of earth and sky, whose floods have drowned us and whose hand has saved us and made us one with each other and with the whole creation.