(Job 38:1-7, 18; 39:26-27; 40:7-14; 41:11; 42:1-10) – J G White
11 am, Sun, March 1, 2020 – UBC Digby
Brian puts his paragliding wing on his back, a giant backpack, and climbs up a blueberry-carpeted gravel hill of Cumberland County. At the top is ‘launch,’ the clearing at the edge of a steep slope, where a person equipped with a hang-glider, or the parachute wing of a paraglider, can take off into the air, when the wind is just right.
I’ve been there; I’ve seen it. No, they don’t ‘jump off’ a mountain to take flight. When the gentle wind is right, I’ve seen Brian inflate his wing, and walk straight out into thin air. Then, with updrafts, he can soar and float and circle around – perhaps for half an hour – before he gently descends to the landing zone below. Another blueberry field.
We have joked from time to time that Brian climbs mountains just to get away and ‘work out his problems.’ We know better: he simply loves paragliding. But sometimes the wind is never quite right, and he spends a lot of time on a hilltop, watching and waiting.
There is something potent and powerful in such solitary times, out in nature. Long times waiting, watching; or walking, exploring. Hunting. Or finding a pouring waterfall, or pounding surf on the shore. Whatever. Wherever.
Of course, a pastor like me has heard many times, a person who never sits in a pew, say, “I can worship out in the woods.” Yes.
“But do you?” I wonder, and never ask. “Do you worship God out in nature?”
Why do people say the woods is their cathedral? Because it is, and they do worship the Creator there? Because they just like that ‘pat answer’ for a religious person like me? Because they truly can get quiet, and focused, and ‘work out their problems’ there? Does nature give us answers to our biggest problems?
The long conversations of Job and his four friends are over, when the Creator arrives, somehow, and all creation is in God’s talk. God’s questions. God’s non- answers. It is beautiful, and awesome. But how does this work? Does Job, the suffering man, get any of his problems worked out? The problems of pain. Of his physical body wrecked. His children all killed off, when a mighty wind blew down the house they were dining in. His total property of livestock and servants taken away by raiders, or killed and burned.
We, we have our own troubles. Or we are at least surrounded with people who have major problems.
I was surprised, three weeks ago, to read in the obituaries that a 97-year-old woman named Laura had died. I thought she was long dead already! I’d been introduced to her in 2002 on January 15th. She was 79. By then she was already living in a nursing home in Windsor, NS, spending her days rolling around in a wheel-chair. From the first day I met her, she would always look at me, agitated and confused, and say,
“Who are you?
“I’m the Baptist Pastor”
“What’s your name?”
“Jeff. Jeff White.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the new Pastor, from the Church.”
“What’s your name?”
“Who are you?”…
Laura had been a nurse. She was a graduate of the Grace Maternity Hospital, and had got the Proficiency Award in 1945. She married and raised a family: four children. She was a devoted Baptist Christian. She was a gardener, she played the organ and the autoharp, she loved to dance, she drew and painted.
Yet, for at least eighteen years, she was in a state of not knowing what was going on, maybe not knowing who she herself was. ‘How long, O Lord?’
Each week, lately, I think of another woman. Kerri is 25 years old, a mother of three, and lives in California. I know her grandmother and family well, here in NS. I knew Kerri when she was a little kid, growing up in NB and NS.
One early evening, just back in December, before a family gathering to do some Christmas decorating at her brother’s new place, Kerri did a favour for a senior couple she knows. She took their dog out for a walk. Crossing an avenue, a car struck her and the dog. The dog was killed instantly. Kerri suffered serious fractures to her skull. She underwent brain surgery. She was fighting for her life. Prayer was requested from everyone connected with the family, from Canada to the US to Australia.
It’s more than two months later, now. She has made progress, but is still fighting for her life. Her grandmother told me on Friday, when I asked, that Kerri is “aware but not talking. Nor walking.” It’s a long road ahead for a 25-year-old mother of three. ‘How much will she even recover, O Lord?’
We look for God, for our amazing God, in the amazingly bad situations. Like Job did.
The final chapters of Job, that Margo surveyed for us, say some remarkable things. I think it remarkable that God does not answer any of Job’s big questions about suffering. I find Job’s answer to God remarkable, “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.” (J42:5-6) I find it remarkable that Job is justified, and his three friends are not. And how Job prays – with sacrifices – for his friends. Young Elihu we’ve been hearing from for weeks does not even get mentioned. It’s mysterious.
And I find the creation poetry of God remarkable. Job is questioned. It is almost like a science examination. Or a David Attenborough documentary. Hey, I have a B.Sc. in Biology and Chemistry. I might translate it into my own experience this way…
The Word of YHWH: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
Where were you when I laid out the north Mountain, the Neck and Islands, with a volcanic lava flow of basalt? Tell me, if you know.
Or who shut in the tides with doors when it burst out of the womb?– and prescribed the bounds for the bore, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come up the Shubenacadie river, and no farther’?
Have you entered the genetic springs of the orchids, and walked the DNA strands that detail the fragile and variable beauty of their leaves and roots and blossoms?
Is it by your wisdom that the cardinal sings in the morning with a song brighter than its colour? Is it at your command that the ruby-throated hummingbird arrives in the spring from below the equator, and makes its tiny nest hidden in the shrubs?
Tighten your belt, straighten your tie like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me.
Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with perfect wisdom and authority.
Look on all who are rude, and make them polite; tread down the criminals where they hide.
Look at Coronavirus, which I made just as I made you; it takes control of cells from the inside. Its strength is in its reproduction, and its power in its contagion. Can one halt it with a mask, or pierce its RNA and stop it? Who can confront it and be safe? Under the whole heaven, who?
Can you draw out the Right Whale from the net and set it free to breach and dive, never to be harmed by a boat again? Will she speak to you softly, telling where she wants to feed and guide its calves in safe plankton pastures?
Then Jeff answered the LORD: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I know I’m nothing in my understanding, and I make a u-turn, bowing down and shutting up.”
When we have no answers for our problems, does the gigantic glory of creation suffice? Is it enough to meet God in the beauty & awesomeness of the world?
It may indeed be when we wander, when we are alone with our thoughts and prayers, that we seek answers. And there we may meet our Maker.
Even then we still do not get direct answers. So life is not just about ‘answers.’ It is about connection, even friendship, with God. Job discovered the Divine One would still be his friend, not his enemy. And the Big Picture, the whole universe, all creation, is so much bigger than our lives, and even our most intense problems. Our God is that Big. And that Good.
So, when I hike up Beaman’s Mountain, or Mount Shubel, is that ‘my church,’ where I can work out my problems? Yes – in part. I am so glad I don’t have to choose between that and a congregation that meets in a building on Sundays. You. I get to have both! Both nature and religion.
Life is right because the Holy One comes to us, in creation, and in Christ. A few thousand years after Job, we have more. We have the friendship of God in Jesus Christ. We are about to sit down to The Lord’s Supper, our Holy Communion with Christ and one another. This is not mere explaining, it is experiencing. It is not simply retelling a story, it is reimagining life and death. And it is not just individuality, it is community.
The Christ event does answer. It hits us directly where it hurts. Jesus suffers. Jesus dies and gets buried. Then, Jesus lives. And the Crucified One still lives today.
May we each be given the experience, and then the faith, to say, ‘I had heard of Jesus by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You;
therefore I am empty; I bow, and receive.’