Now My Eye Sees You

(Job 42:1-10; Mark 10:46-52) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Oct 28, 2018 – UBC Digby

Have you seen?  
Have you seen God lately?

We finish the story of Job today with some of the final chapter.  After God comes to meet Job the suffering man, and the Creator presents all the glories of creation, Job briefly answers.  In the end, he says,
“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.” or
“therefore I yield,
   and repent in dust and ashes.”
(Apparently this is a challenge to translate.)

To repent is to turn around.  Job has a turnaround. Without an answer to why he suffered so.  He is satisfied by meeting and Answerer, the Creator, his God.  Job goes on to worship God with the customary burnt offerings, and by praying for his friends, whose conversation had not been good.  God accepts Job’s prayer for them, we read here.

And Job gets blessed.  He gets healed, gets a new wife and family, gets a new life of successful farming, so to speak.

When things were at their worst, the man, Job, saw God in a way he had never seen God before.

Have you had such experience? Do tell.

A dear man died in Windsor more than a year ago, whom I had known well, since 2001.  He had actually chaired the committee that recruited me to become the Pastor of the Windsor Church.  

Eric was a wonderful, delightful, thoughtful Christian.  He had become a Baptist believer in 1988, when one of his three sons died.  His son was a young, married man, with a couple children. He became ill. Eventually he was a dying young man.  Eric and his wife remembered that sad, terrible time well, including the poignant care they received from the Baptist Pastor in those hospital days.  There was a moment, when their son was dying, that stood out to them. One of those suffering moments, when God showed up so gently but so brightly.

In disaster, there are Holy moments.  Moments when the Eternal One comes seeking those who are in trouble.  Thank God!

There many moments when people seek hope earnestly, and with determination.  Like the man we heard about in Mark’s Gospel, Bartimaeus. He was a blind man who really persevered when this Jesus came near.  Again, it is a story of not seeing, and then seeing. But this time it is physical seeing; a bodily ailment is resolved.

Beggar Bartimaeus calls out to this traveling new prophet.  Jesus asks him what he wants done. Jesus simply tells him to get going and get seeing.  Bartimaeus does, and actually follows Jesus as a new disciple.

Can you tell of a time when you saw God at work, and then you started to follow Christ more?  

Our life together, as a Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, is to make God known.  Do our part as ambassadors of Christ here, where we have been deployed. We follow, as Bartimaeus did.  We are saved and given grace to do good work.  We are to speak good news.  We are to pray good prayers for others, as Job did, and worship.

All this is still what we are about. How wonderful this is!  How challenging too! Can you see what we are already doing? And what we might yet do?

We need not fear, when we join the Master.  

Let me end with a commercial, a trailer for the six-week study called “Fearless.”

https://vimeo.com/290268486?fbclid=IwAR3OlkLPSiGYfL3DbB6RVOXf7CU4yLNcagoDVlVJP3HWE1ooquBl-sZJzwU

 

You Do Not Know

(Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Mark 10:35-45) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Oct 21, 2018 – UBC Digby

In Frederick Beuchner’s delightful book, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, he gives us a little religious dictionary, of sorts.  The very first word he talks about, on page one, is AGNOSTIC.  

An agnostic is somebody who doesn’t know for sure whether there really is a God.  That is some people all of the time and all people some of the time.
There are some agnostics who don’t know simply because they’ve never taken pains to find out — like the bear who didn’t know what was on the other side of the mountain.
There are other agnostics who have taken many pains.  They have climbed over the mountain, and what do you think they saw?  Only the other side of the mountain. 

We are together in one room here, this special room, because we have done some seeking and some finding of God.  Along with all that we do know, from our experience, there is still plenty we do not know.

This month we are just peeking into the saga of Job, the good, suffering person of ancient Israel. After more than twenty pages of fine print Holy Bible, wherein Job and his four ‘friends’ debated why Job’s life had been destroyed, God the Holy One arrives and speaks. Out of a whirlwind. Joyce read just a bit of God’s speeches, that are in chapters 38, 39 and 40.

What is the divine message?  No answers. No reasons why. No verdict on if Job did wrong or not, was deserving or not. No judgement on which humans got it right: Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar or Elihu.  God presents the magnificent creation, and presents Godself to Job. Asking, rhetorically, “Where you there?  Do you know all this?”

16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
   or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
   or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
   Declare, if you know all this. (Job 38)

19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
   and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
   and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 Surely you know, for you were born then,
   and the number of your days is great!

Holy God speaks of earth and seas, clouds and weather, stars and sun and moon, lions and mountain goats and wild donkeys and oxen, ostriches and horses and hawks and eagles, the fearless hippopotamus and the dreaded crocodile.

Job, of course, does not know, nor has any say over any of this.  This vast, beautiful, terrifying, unknown creation on earth and in the heavens.   Today, we might think that we people know so much about so much.  Science has studied and explained life and astronomy and atomic physics and time.  

But the more we have learned, the more we realize we do not know, and cannot yet explain. And the BIGGER is the awe and wonder at all there is in nature and the cosmos.  

Our gasp at utter beauty, the smallness we feel in a giant landscape, the amazement we have at what is out there, are spiritual experiences. Like the spiritual experience of Job, meeting God in a whirlwind, and pondering all the creatures and all creation.

Other Bible words celebrate the creation that shows the Creator.  Such as Psalm 19.
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
   and night to night declares knowledge.

The apostle Paul got at this in his short sermon written down in Acts 17.
26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

God says to Job, “you don’t know, do you.” He does not, & it’s OK for Job not to know everything.  About creation, about his own predicament, about God.  

All the deep questions Job and his friends asked, all the personal problems they wonder about, are not answered here.  Not getting things right is OK. God comes and meets them, and that is what matters most.

Like Job and his companions, we learn from the embarrassing questions we ask of God, the not-so-sensible prayers we prayed, our actions that were not obedience to what God wanted.

Philip Yancey has been a popular and insightful Christian author, who had a very strict religious upbringing.  He has written of his father, who suffered from polio. Not long after Philip was born, his father ended up in an iron lung so he could still breathe and live.  Church leaders urged Mr. Yancey to take himself off the iron lung machine, assuring him he would be healed. This was their church’s fervent prayer; this is what was done.  Mr. Yancey died, one week later, when son Philip was only one year old.

People of faith do not always know what they are asking.  Think of today’s story from Mark, with James and John asking for prominent leadership in a kingdom they expected from Jesus.  “You do not know what you are asking,” said Jesus to them.

They also said “we are able” to drink the cup Jesus was about to take.  They still did not understand. They could no see that He was about to suffer completely, and die.  In time, they too did understand, & sacrificed their lives for the gospel.

It might be quite often that we “do not know what we are asking.”  We are looking for answers we will not get.  Yet, even wanting the answers to the wrong questions can lead us closer to Christ.

It is OK not to know.  Not to know everything.  And to be mistaken. We learn from mistakes.  We are humbled. We are limited. We do go astray.  We are given the grace of God when we think we know what we don’t understand.  Grace is to live beyond our foolishness, and be greater. Last week we heard Job crying out about God. And kept trusting the goodness of the Almighty, the good plan for him. (Job 23)

9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
   I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
10 But he knows the way that I take;
   when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

The ways we goof up can make us greater, by the grace of God.  We need to know this; and we should let other people know this too.  By how we treat them, by how we explain our God.
What each person seeks is different.

This morning, Joyce sang a modern song that I have never heard before.  
It Is the Cry of My Heart to follow You.
It is the cry of my heart to be close to You.

It’s a good song for me. It is the cry of my heart to follow Him.  I am a natural born follower, actually.  And I have sought to be a pilgrim on a Christian journey, a disciple of the Master, a follower of Jesus.  But many people are not going after such things.

What are the heart cries of others around us?  Not necessarily the same as ours. Nor what we think they should be crying out for or needing.
Some cry out, like Job, to ask why there is such suffering, such injustice.  Why? And what can be done about it?
Others cry out: Are You there or are You not?  The existence of God. The agnostic wanting to know.
Cry out: Who am I to be? Where do I belong?
Cry out: Are the things that seem good to me really wrong?  (God and cannabis?)
Cry out: Why is religion so harmful? Why doesn’t it work?  Where is authentic spirituality / humanity?

Hemorrhaging Faith is a 2011 Canadian study of young adults who left the Christian Church. In it, the voices of young people are heard. Sandi said, “I am at the age where you question everything and you start wondering why, and why me, and all that stuff.”  

Lois said, “I like the style of preaching where they don’t just preach to you, they pose questions to you, don’t just tell you how you are supposed to live your life and these are the reasons: bang, bang, bang, because it says in the Bible.”  

Gary said, “I fundamentally believe you can’t understand an infinite God if you are willing to accept answers and stop questioning … you need to be asking questions.” (p. 67)

There may be no simple answer – even from God – for such questions. That’s OK. I have often thought, that when we do get to heaven, some big questions we want answered here will not even matter to us anymore.  Once we are united to Christ, the big problems we want solved will be so tiny compared with what we become and what God is.

1 John 3:2 says, Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Where I Might Find God

(Job 23:1-10; Heb 4:14-16) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Oct 14, 2018 – UBC Digby
Masonic Lodge Church Visit

You heard about the boys who kept getting into trouble at the church’s mid-week children’s program? The first boy was brought in by a leader to see the Pastor, who started with a theological question.  “Where is God?” The boy never answered, and finally ran out of the room. He met his friend, who was waiting to meet with the Minister, and said, “We are in big trouble now. God is missing, and they think we took him!”

Where is God?  In the old Bible story of the suffering man named Job, he says about God, “Oh that I knew where I might find him!”  And a bit later,
“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.

Our world is set up in such a way that God – great and amazing as God is – can be missed, hidden, unseen, or unknown.  The great Baptist author Dallas Willard called this The Divine Conspiracy – the hidden, secrecy of spirituality in and around us.

We pause to consider today, Where I Might Find God.  Surely many people believe that God can be found anywhere, everywhere.  But it is possible that some people who feel strongly this way are not really interested in seeking and knowing God; they simply want to deny that religions or churches are needed to find God.  “I don’t need that; I can worship God anywhere.” Yes, of course, but does that person ever actually worship God out in the woods?  Maybe not. I mean, I love worship services, and I love a hike in the woods, but I almost never worship God or pray when I am in the great outdoors.  I wish it were otherwise, for me.

Where might we find God?  Worship.  Well, you expect me to say this.  “Come to Church to draw close to God.”  Since this is a goal of our Sunday morning gatherings, we had better make the most of our opportunities.  And pay attention to how God meets us.

The story is told of a small child who could not sleep one night due to a terrible storm and asked her mother to sleep with her.  Her mother replied and reminded her that God was with her and would protect her. The little girl thought about it for a moment and responded, “But, Mommy – I need someone with skin on them.”

Dennis Bickers claims, People are no longer interested in merely hearing about God – they want to experience God.  (Dennis Bickers, The Healthy Small Church, 2005, p. 44)  Our experience of the Holy One is supposed to happen when people gather, as we do now, for worship of God. We meet the Master in the lives of those around us – skin and bones people.  And we honour the Saviour who was God in the flesh here.

So we find God in Togetherness with others.  Everywhere and everyway we meet people.  Yes, there is a lot to be said for alone time – and the praying or meditating or doing things on our own with God.  But when we converse, when we do something together, God also appears.

This happens for groups too.  One church, for instance, in Cooperation with others.  Each group, each congregation needs to live this way.  Our Baptist leadership points out that one mark of a local church that is on the edge of its mission is this: we are seeking to understand and partner with our local and global COMMUNITY.

There are a large number of local groups and agencies meeting together, lately, to look at how to help people in our Town and area get enough food.  Food security, it gets called, today. We will host the next meeting right here in our hall, with representatives of churches, service groups, government agencies, and so forth.  A spiritual group – a local church – needs to work with the non-religious groups – to get good things done.

In doing this good work, we’ll find we are joining God in what the Spirit’s already working to do in our neighbourhood. The visit here today of local Masons is a reminder that we are not all separate groups. We are teammates, we are partners.  Some of you are not only Lodge members, you are at the same time Christians and members of this congregation.

Well, none of this comes out of our particular scripture from the book of Job.  The problem in this Bible wisdom is Suffering and pain.  Where is God when it hurts?  God is there, God is here. That’s the message.   The One we call God also gets found by people in Suffering, in the pain and troubles we face.  This is what happens to the man named Job.  We will actually read about this next week here.

But I will give you a preview.  And this takes us back to how we are with the Holy One when we are in the great outdoors, in the quiet woods, looking up at the stars, marveling at the mighty ocean.  

God – Creator – is know in Creation… Job, a man who lost everything – his work and his wealth, his children and family, and his own health – Job asks a lot of questions and has a lot of complaints for the Almighty.  God does not give answers in this book. What does happen? God comes and meets Job. And all the amazing things of creation speak of the greatness of the Creator, who is there for Job.  The stars, the mountains, the mountain goats, the fish, the eagles, the clouds and storms: all remind us of the Divine presence.

At the centre of the Christian story is Jesus, with His own deep pain and suffering.  He even dies. God comes to humanity to suffer and die. God with us. The Bible reading from the book of Hebrews puts it this way, calling Jesus our High Priest: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.  Jesus even felt abandoned by God – like Job did – and spoke words of Psalm 22 when he was being crucified:  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

When we suffer pain, God shows up.
When we work for justice and peace, God is there.
When we look for beauty, God is found.
When we love and worship God, God is known.
When we step out into creation, God is present.
When we walk together, & work together, God is found.
This is good news we share with our world.  Amen.

Give Thanks Whatever Happens

(Job 1:1, 2:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18) – J G White
11 am, Thanksgiving Sun, Oct 7, 2018 – UBC Digby

On a weekend in Canada for gratitude, we start the Bible story of the man named Job.  Known for his suffering, and the long debates he had with four friends, Job’s story is a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit when everything falls apart.  Job’s livestock and riches, his children and whole family, and then his healthy body are all destroyed. Nothing left, nothing left but pain and grief, and a few friends, his so-called ‘comforters.’

‘Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ Job told his wife.  And Job did not say a wrong thing, though she’d told him he might as well curse God and die.

That is one of the big questions we people have.  How to receive the good and the bad in life.  And what to do with God through it all.  Some of you have had a lot more suffering in your lives than others, and you know more from experience “where is God when it hurts.”

Six or seven years ago I preached a sermon one spring Sunday that upset a retired pastor in my pews.  He took time to talk with me about it, which I appreciated. He was not my favourite person in the world, but a man I respect and can appreciate.

From the Netherlands, he was young when his family had to survive the Second World War in ways I can but imagine.  When still a young man, he and his wife came to Canada, without any benefactors to sponsor them – with their own hard work they got themselves here – and started farming in New Brunswick.  Later, he went into the ministry, studying at university as a ‘mature student.’

When he sat down with me, upset about the sermon I’d preached, we talked of many things.  He talked of suffering – as a person, and as a Christian.  And he said, basically, that I had not suffered much. And he was right.  I think he implied I had a lot to learn – that could be learned only by suffering.  I can’t deny that.

‘Give thanks whatever happens.’  One small phrase in the Bible, a lessons that rings true.  The saga of Job we will explore for a few Sundays here. Like him and his friends, we want to see reasons for all the troubles that come our way.  

As we read the story and poetry of Job, we find a man feeling separated from God.  Even the pictures of God and angels and satan in the heavens, and Job far away on earth, make the experience clear.  ‘Where are you, God? Why is this happening, to me?’

During WWII, Betsie and Corrie ten Boom spent time in notorious Ravensbrück Concentration Camp north of Berlin for hiding Jews in their home during the Nazi occupation of Holland.  Here is Corrie ten Boom’s famous story of Betsie and the fleas, from the bestselling book, The Hiding Place:

We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw.   
..Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.  “‘Fleas!’ I cried. ’Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’ ‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’
“‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying.

1 Thessalonians inspired Betsy:  “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”

So they prayed – giving thanks for many things. And then: “‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–’
“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

The sisters, Betsie and Corrie, who had smuggled a Bible with them into the concentration camp, started to hold servies, Bible studies, in their crowded dormitory.  “They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28.
There on the Lagerstrasse [they] were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. [They] did not understand it.

Then, one day, Betsie discovered the answer. “‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’ Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas!”

‘Give thanks whatever happens.’

This Thanksgiving weekend we are sharing in the ‘great thanksgiving,’ what we call the Lord’s Supper.  With believers next door, and around the globe, we remember in a very special way the suffering of God – of Jesus.  There are many ways that Christians celebrate this ceremony, and different ways of understanding this. But we share with millions today, who take some form of bread and of wine.  Brought together by a God who meets us right at the heart of pain and suffering and grief.  A human body broken; blood spilled out so that He died.

Along with our joyful blessings: family and food and freedom and all, let us give thanks for the fleas of our lives.  The random problems.  The painful disasters we have suffered.  And let us find the attitude of gratitude because of our God, who knows what real suffering is.  And who comes to us wherever there is pain and disaster.  When we look upon the cross of Jesus, we discover that God knows what our suffering is all about.  

I trace the rainbow through the rain
and know the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

Thanks be to God!