Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
[Proper 29], rcl yr b, 2021
Job 38:1-7; Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37B; Mark 10:35-45
O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!
“O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness! You are clothed with majesty and splendour.” So we hear in the first verse of Psalm 104.
If there were an emotional register, a dominant spiritual sensibility, a disposition or attitude tp Psalm 104—it would be awe. Awe at the majesty, the glory of the God who made the heavens and the earth. “[H]ow excellent is your greatness!” cries the Psalmist, “you are clothed with majesty and splendour.” The Psalmist is someone filled with wonder, astonishment, and amazement at a God of greatness, glory, and splendour.
But this isn’t any God, but the God who creates. “You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above … You make the winds … You have set the earth upon its foundations … You covered it with the deep as with a mantle … O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”
The Psalmist looks upon the world with wonder, astonishment, and amazement. But also looks at the God who made the heavens and the earth with wonder, astonishment, and amazement: a God who is “clothed with majesty and splendour.”
It’s a receptive posture, and I’m gathering that some of you are in this place despite the trials of the past number months. Or perhaps that this wonder, astonishment, and awe has taken you by surprise. That you’re being drawn to God even in difficulty, that you are increasingly amazed that God continues to be good and true even as we bear the burdens, suffer the slings, and carry the loads that have been put upon us.
I’m quite sure though that others of you are in a different place. That you find feel more like Job than the Psalmist. Which is not without irony, because the subject matter of the Psalm, and our passage from Job, is the same. The subject of the passage from Job is also the greatness of God, the majesty and glory of the God who made the heavens and the earth. Its emotional register, though, couldn’t be more different. Job is voiced with sarcasm, mockery, and derision.
Before we look more closely at this passage from Job, let’s take a look at what has been happening in Job up till now. Job was a man of family, wealth and health; but Job suffers the loss of all of these things, and many other things besides, to the point that Job is now a man sitting in the dust, sick and penniless. Job has lost everything.
Job has “friends” who try to be helpful, and try to explain away Job’s suffering. Perhaps Job deserves the suffering, they say; (he doesn’t really deserve it). Maybe Job has done something wrong, they say; (he hasn’t really done anything wrong). Or maybe Job’s suffering can be explained away, they hope; (it can’t really be explained well at all).
But Job’s suffering is senseless. And as we read last week, he feels as though God has withdrawn from him in his suffering: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” And then, just before our passage, Job cries out to the God he cannot perceive, behold, or see: ‘I was a good man, and you took it all away. I am a good man, and you haven’t restore me.’ Job feels as though his suffering is unfair.
And then we come to our passage from Job, another passage today about the the majesty, splendour, and glory of God. But this time, the words are not the words of the Psalmist in awe, but are rather the words of God to Job. God speaks a truth to Job out of the whirlwind, about God’s own self. And what God thinks Job needs to know is that God’s actions are beyond the rationalizations of his friends, and beyond Job’s own complaint to God about what Job thinks he really deserves: “What do you really know, about me and why I do what I do,” says God. You can hear God’s sarcasm! “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! … who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”
The only answer Job could give to these questions can be: ‘I was not there.’ The implication being that therefore Job does not, and cannot, understand fully the ways of the God who made this world in his incomprehensible majesty.
So on the one hand today, we have Job reaching out to the God he thought he knew—and not feeling like he’s finding God at all. ‘God I thought I knew you! And now you’ve withdrawn from me, now in the time of my suffering God, I remember you differently, you were usually there where I expected you to be. Right there beside me in my favourite pew.’ If that’s you, it might be that God is speaking to you from the whirlwind, speaking to you in your suffering, or maybe speaking to you in your pajamas, and saying: ‘You only thought you knew me, but I am far more than that God you thought you had in your grasp.’
On the other hand today, we have the Psalmist awakened to the glory and majesty of God, someone looking upon the world that God has made in wonder, astonishment, and amazement; perhaps that’s you, in a spirit of newfound openness to God, perceiving God like the Psalmist despite the burdens of the recent past, and a God of greatness, glory, and splendour is being revealed to you.
If today you feel God’s absence, be sure, God will find a way; and if today you perceive God’s glory, magnificence, and splendour, know there is more yet to the God of both Job and the Psalmist.
The disciples in Mark’s Gospel know a God of glory, and they want to be part of that glory. And two of them demand a share in that glory. But Jesus tells them they know not what they say. The cup of glory they wish to share with Jesus is the cup of suffering; the glorious baptism they wish to share with Jesus is one that leads into the wilderness. But it is glory nonetheless. It is the glory of Jesus, “the Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
This is God’s glory, revealed in Christ: that “whoever wishes to become great among [God’s people] must be [a] servant, and whoever wishes to be first among [God’s people] must be slave of all.”
Wait if you must; and I do understand that some of you need to wait. But as you are able, come to this table. Take part in this community, the community of the cross, where we can see, taste, and take part in the glory of the Lord: the glory of the cross, and the glory of the one crucified for us.