All Our Puny Wisdom

Jun 24, 2018 by

Sermon for June 24, 2018                  Paula Papky for MacNeill Baptist Church


Job 38:1-11                     Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32                    Mark 4:35-41

When the Old Testament God communicates with creation – or with the chaos that was before creation – it’s always in a breath-taking way.  Or maybe I should say, a breath-giving way, for often the Divine acts as powerful breath or wind, the wind that in the beginning sweeps over the face of the waters.  To Moses the Divine speaks in a burning bush.  To the Israelites fleeing Egyptian slavery, God appears as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  To Jacob God is a wrestler who bests him, leaving him limping.

Today’s Old Testament text begins:  Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.  The Divine speaks from a current of air whirling violently upward, spiraling, able to move in any direction.  This is not a God we want to mess with.  And yet, for the sake of our sorry world, we must.  We all must stop and listen and be transformed so that the world might be transformed:  people and other creatures; earth and seas and sky, all restored to their original purpose and beauty.  It’s a lot to ask of us, and the time is short for such restoration, with climate change nipping at our heels.

One writer says:  The world right now needs the most vivid, transformative universe of words that you and I can muster. (Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, p.   It needs us to muster our puny wisdom and to draw upon Divine Wisdom who has created and is, even now, creating.  We need to call upon the wisdom of our five senses; the wisdom of our brains; the wisdom of our hearts; the wisdom of Jesus.  Remember what they said about Jesus when he was twelve years old?  He grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and humanity.  We have it in us to become wise as well, at any age.

Job’s journey toward wisdom is surprisingly physical.  He is stripped of all his creaturely comforts and joys, losing his whole family in one calamity after another, losing also the wealth of camels and donkeys and possessions and servants.  We are told that a great wind comes across the desert, striking the house where his sons and daughters and their families are feasting, pulling the house down and killing all within.

Job’s own body is stricken also, covered in sores so painful that he wishes he had never been born.  And as you read the whole story you feel glad that you yourself have not been forced to endure such grief and pain and loss all at once.  Still, we say, we haven’t done anything to deserve such misfortune!  But neither has Job.  He keeps saying that through 38 chapters, until God confronts him from a whirlwind, saying something like:  Job!  You think you know everything.  You call yourself wise?  Who is this that darkens counsel by words without understanding?…Answer me, Job.  Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding, if you’re so smart!  Give me some of your puny wisdom about Creation.

And really, even in this age of science and technology, who among us knows all there is to know about stars, seas, darkness and light, seedtime and harvest?  And what wisdom have we about how to restore what has been lost from our world?  Joanne Macy, a Buddhist teacher and environmental activist, writes:  for too long we have used the earth as a supply house and a sewer (p. 100)  We see now the error of our ways as resources shrink and our garbage dumps overflow.  The effects of climate change do not yet spell the end of everything but we need all our puny wisdom and the wisdom of many nations to be shared if we want to slow it down, to avert catastrophe.  And as Christians, we need to keep in our hearts and minds the old stories of Divine blessing, the images of earth as paradise, to teach and sustain us.

I hadn’t read the whole book of Job in one sitting for a long time.  It’s worth doing, worth following Job in his despair, listening to him defend himself against his so-called friends who come to say, Job, old buddy, you must have done something sinful or these misfortunes wouldn’t have happened to you.  But Job stubbornly clings to his worthiness, his sinless life.  He’s so sure he’s right!  It’s not until God tells him his wisdom is puny that Job accepts humility as the virtue he lacks.  It’s like I said a few weeks ago, Arrogance R Us.  Humility is hard for us.  With his arrogance stripped away,  Job says to Divine Wisdom:  I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  And Job repents in dust and ashes.  Then, in a sort postscript, we are told Job has restored to him all that he had lost.

I said a little earlier how enthralled I was by this story.  Most of it is poetry and it’s filled with original metaphors and images – that’s the wisdom I yearn for:  sentence after sentence to delight, to create mystery, to reveal, even to make us chuckle.  But there’s more than gorgeous language.  What I experienced reading the story was a sense of relief that I have not been visited by the calamities of Job:  the loss of my whole family, loss of a house over my head, loss of hope, even.  But then I remembered  there are millions of people right now in our sorry old world who have suffered exactly these losses.  Will those sobbing children, torn from their parents’ arms as they enter the USA illegally, have their trust be restored?  And their parents!  How long will their arms be empty?  And why have they come in the first place?  Apparently, for most, their long journey did not begin in Mexico but even farther away, in Honduras or El Salvador or Guatemala, all very dangerous countries ruled by brutal regimes.  Life is desperate there.  No wonder they seek sanctuary in a democracy that functions on law.

If it is true that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing, then we must use what wisdom we have in our communities and countries to learn what can be done.  Neither the earth nor its people are throw-aways.  We need to use wisdom to find more equitable ways of sharing earth’s resources and ending wars and violent social upheaval.  As one writer puts it:  It’s time to dare to act more bravely and more lovingly.  To dare learning together how love can be practical, creative, and sustained as a social good, not merely a private good. (p. 10)  The writer goes on to say, we  don’t need to be stalled by the immensity of the world’s ills.  We begin with the world to which we have proximity.  That is, with the world nearest us.

In my own world, I’m trying not to buy more plastic or buy so much plastic packaging; trying to eat less meat that requires huge tracts of land and produces so much carbon dioxide.  I’m trying to be content with what I have and refrain from acquiring more.  You might wonder how this is going and I have to tell you, not very well.  I really need a community – or several communities – to help by conversation and companionship.  We are so fortunate to have found each other in this MacNeill community.  How much wisdom there is here!  There’s way more than my individual puny wisdom about how to live life as a Christian.  And just an aside:  in the fall your preaching team will be focusing on what we call “the season of creation”.  Some of us might want to go further than sermons, to gather in groups to study and exchange ideas and encourage each other.

It’s officially summer:  that time of year when people go out on the water in their pleasure boats, their canoes and kayaks and fishing boats.  I’ve never been any good in boats on rough waters.  I’m not sure what gets me.  Is it the up and down, the to and fro, or the back and forth?  Anyway, I can readily identify with those disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and that improbable picture of Jesus sound asleep.  He’s unaware of the windstorm and the waves that beat into the boat, threatening to swamp it.  There he is resting, his head on a pillow, his eyes closed.  He’s snoring lightly.  And his terrified friends wake him up:  Teacher!  Do you not care that we are perishing?  And so Jesus speaks.  He rebukes the wind.  He says to the sea:  Peace!  Be still! Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm, the story says.  And the disciples are filled with great awe, as are so many of those who meet Jesus and follow him.  Fear and awe are common among those who sense the Divine Presence.  And the disciples say to one another:  Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Who other than the One who spoke to Job:  I shut in the sea with doors…and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, “This far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped.”  Clearly this Jesus is none other than the Divine voice that ordered creation, the One who spoke to Job, the One who speaks in earthquake, wind and fire…and in the still small voice of calm.

That’s who this is.  It is the One we need with us when the waves of grief threaten to overwhelm us; when our doctor gives us the news that we aren’t in complete control of our bodies after all and we must come to some sort of peace.  There are storms ahead for all of us and I don’t just mean hurricanes, but the tempests that shake the heart and soul, shake our faith.  And so we cling to what anchors us, what stills the waves, what comforts.  And what we learn is that we can never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We have these few precious weeks of summer to remember we are not separated from the earth either.  We can be out in the earth’s beauty, really taking in creation, really trying to learn how best to care for it – not just because we love to eat and drink and to breathe, but because that beauty speaks of the Divine Wisdom at work in all things.  Amen.

**All quotations are from a book by Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise:  An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.

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