Proper 24B: Shhh! Why Don’t You Let God Talk?

Waiting for God to talkOLD TESTAMENT: Job 38: 1-7, (34-41)

Read the passage from Job

Just to set the stage…

As Elihu speaks, the sky darkens. Ominous rumblings of thunder sound. Lighting rips open the sky. The cattle huddle together, heads down, tails facing into the wind. Rabbits scamper hurriedly to the deep woods. Birds flutter anxiously, twittering and chattering excitedly. Stillness hovers over the land. Dark clouds race in from the west and black out the sun.

Then lightning zigzags across the blackness and bathes the landscape in eerie whiteness. The thunder swells in volume, its reverberations shaking the earth. And then the heavens open, and the rain pours down. Tall trees bend, their branches sweeping and swishing the rain as it falls in sheets.

Job crouches on the ground. He grasps at his sackcloth, trying to pull it over his head to shield his body from the driving rain. Lightning blazes again. There is a sharp crack, then another sudden clap of thunder. Under his sackcloth, Job breathes heavily. Fear and despair clutch him. Even the brutal, uncontrollable forces of nature have turned against him now. Job cries weakly.

And then suddenly, the storm is over. The writer of Job describes what follows:

And now the light in the sky is dazzling, too bright for us to look at it; and the sky has been swept clean by the wind. A golden glow is seen in the north, and the glory of God fills us with awe. (Job 37: 21, 22)

                God is about to speak. (Mildren Tengbom, Sometimes I Hurt: Reflections on the Book of Job, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 184-185.)


The opening line of Chapter 38, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind,” has been prepared for by Job’s demand to see God. This whirlwind is not to be confused with a tornado or a hurricane or some other natural phenomena. It is instead a sign of God’s own appearing in human affairs—a creative, life-changing force that is undefined, perhaps not understood. You can’t hold this God down, you can’t explain this God. This God is dynamic, in motion, while our definitions are always static, trying to put God in a box, saying God is this or that. But for Job, God is a whirlwind.

            Well, finally God speaks up! (Richard Rohr interprets 38:1 as “Aw, shut up!, Job”) For almost 90% of the book, Job has begged God to intervene, implored God to speak. Now that God has, uncharacteristically chosen to speak, we are reminded of the fact that God has been present through this whole story.

In last week’s reading, Job was anxious to bring his case against God: “I would learn what he would answer me,” Job brashly declared, “and understand what he would say to me.” But God turns the tables on him. “I will question you,” God says, “you shall declare to me.” Job has longed for a sort of “Q and A” with God, but this is going very differently than that for which he hoped. God’s first question is simple. “Were you there?” Were you there when I laid the very foundations of the earth? Well, of course Job’s answer is that he was not. God goes on and ticks off all of the grandeurs of Creation. Can Job do what God does? Can Job care for creatures the way God does? And, of course, Job has to admit that he had nothing to do with any of it. In this questioning, (even beyond what we’ve read), God lists a variety of animals—lion, raven, the wild ass, the wild ox, the ostrich, the hawk and the eagle, to name a few.

The Rabbis long ago noted that, when God boasts of God’s handiwork, of all the animals God offers as evidence of divine creative genius, none of them is of any earthly use to humanity. Humanity is only a small part of the wonder of Creation. The implication is that, regardless of whether or not Job can feel God’s Presence, God is there. And God is God; Job is not. But God still treats Job with respect. There is no demand of apology or repentance. In Job, God doesn’t seem to be bothered with all the earlier rantings and arguments that have gone on. God just wants Job to realize that he is not God. Job doesn’t really receive an answer to his question of why he, or for that matter any human, has to suffer. God instead just reminds Job of the incredible Presence and providence of God. Essentially, God gives no answers. In fact, we are left with more questions! Richard Rohr points out that when the church gave us the impression that there were ready-made answers, it was doing us more harm than good.


After God’s great speech, Job is a changed man, but it is not the content of the speech that heals him. Rather, it is the fact that a God whom he had only heard about has now come to him personally. Theological constructs are not the source of Job’s redemption; rather, it is relationship with God that transforms his profound suffering. Job meets God and sees that the circuitous track of his life has led him through paths of joy and suffering. Best of all, Job realizes that in all things his path was held in the hand of a God who was waiting to take him in God’s arms and wipe his tears away.

Last summer I traveled to France, and visited the great cathedral at Chartres. I had heard that there was a labyrinth laid into the cathedral floor. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims would journey to the cathedral and walk the labyrinth in meditative fashion–acting out a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They would enter the labyrinth at the outside of the circle and follow the path as it weaves in and out, around and around to the center of the circle. There are no wrong turns and no dead ends: the path always leads back to the center.

When I arrived at Chartres, I could not walk the path because chairs were set up across the floor, so I spent time praying at the entrance of the labyrinth. Soon I moved into the center of the circle. I was struck by the power of the labyrinth as an image of my life. I had journeyed 40 years to stand in the center. As I looked back over my life, I thought of all the losses, failures, mistakes and brokenness I had experienced. I thought also of the joys, gifts and treasures of my life. Through it all, the path led to the center, to a meeting place with a God who was there all along.

Is this word of hope enough for those who suffer–that in the end, wherever the path leads, it is the presence of God that heals our grief? Probably not. For the rumor of God is rarely enough to satisfy. But the meeting . . . the meeting is sweet balm for the one on an ever-circling journey to the heart of God.

The other night I dreamed that I was in Chartres: As my eyes adjust to the dim light of the cathedral, I see people walking the ancient labyrinth and join them. The circuitous path leads me through the terror and shadow of my worst fears, as well as through my most poignant joys. I reach the center, the pulsing heart of it all. Suddenly, an arm is around my waist, a hand light upon my shoulder. I look into the eyes of God. The dance begins, and we whirl and twirl in a dance of laughter and glee. How was I to know, as I moved around and around this labyrinth path, that I was fumbling toward this sweet ecstasy? We dance, God and I, a whirlwind of light. And all round us dance the daughters of Job, the sweet, beautiful daughters of Job. (Margaret B. Hess, “The Labyrinth of Life, (The Christian Century, June 4, 1997), available at, accessed 12 October, 2009.)

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does this say about God?
  3. What does this say about humanity?
  4. How do you feel about there really being no answer given? Is that always bad?

NEW TESTAMENT: Hebrews 5: 1-10

Read the passage from Hebrews

In this passage, the writer depicts an image of Jesus as a priest who we can grasp on to. Essentially, Jesus is a priest in solidarity with humanity at its most vulnerable. Our great high priest chooses to stand with the people, not above them, and from their midst renew the church and teach it once again to know God. We are reminded of God’s action in Christ and that Jesus has been exalted above all the cosmic powers.

In this culture, high priests were always appointed. Here, Jesus is portrayed as part of the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is mentioned twice in the Hebrew Scriptures—in Genesis and then again in Psalm 110. He was a priest of the Most High in the time of Abraham who received tithes from him. His name literally means “righteous king”. Some have claimed that these passages refer to a literal human; others claims insist that it refers to a theophany, a righteous ruler superior to the Levitical priests. This is not what we think of as an apostolic priesthood. But it is an eternal designation. So Jesus is part of this same so-called “order”. But the ministries of a priest like this must be with the people, not removed from them.

God does not want compensation; God desires one’s very life. Jesus was fully human and suffered as humans suffered. But Jesus was fully human, the very epitome of humanity. This is the way to perfection. The passage depicts Jesus as learning obedience through suffering. This is not just “doing what God says”, so to speak. It’s deeper than that. Obedience has to do with the transformation of the will such that all of life, every action, every choice, every relationship, every priority, every conversation, every work decision, everything reflects the will and values of God. God does not will us to suffer. God wills us to get through it.


  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does the image of Jesus in solidarity with humans mean for you?
  3. What does this say about faith?
  4. How does this speak to you about obedience?

GOSPEL: Mark 10: 35-45

Read the Gospel passage

This passage comes as Jesus is preparing to enter Jerusalem and confront the controversy that awaits him there.  For the Markan Gospel writer, this passage plays a key role in explaining Jesus’ death.  James and John request privileged places of authority in seats at Jesus’ right and left.  In doing this, they appear to have missed everything that Jesus has said and done.  They recognize that glorification awaits Jesus and they conspire to capitalize on that high honor.

Jesus’ response to them foreshadows the violence and death that await him in Jerusalem. Mark’s Gospel emphasizes that such rejection and death are inevitable and required, because of who Jesus is, because of the boundary-breaking character of his ministry, and because those who wield power in the world will do all they can to protect themselves and their agendas from what is essentially his subversive ministry. But James and John have a need for human power (ironically the same kind of power that will ultimately end Jesus’ life.) In contrast, greatness among Jesus’ followers is measured by their ability to live as servants, even if that means suffering oppression at the hands of those who wield earthly power.

Being a servant or slave is not about being subservient to Jesus, though. It is about joining with him, partnering in the ongoing act of God’s creative activity in the world. Jesus was powerful. His call to leadership was not to be without power but, rather, to redefine what power and leadership is. He came not to be served but to serve.

In the culture in which this was written, slavery was a normal thing. It was part of the social fabric and no one viewed it as necessarily a bad thing like we would today. In fact, it was considered a close relationship, so using this imagery to depict one’s relationship with God was not out of the question. And yet, James and John didn’t get this. They came essentially asking Jesus a favor. “Jesus, what can you do for me?” You will notice that, contrary to what many think Jesus represents for them, Jesus did NOT answer with “Sure, guys, anything you need…” Instead, his response was, “Well, what exactly do you want me to do for you?”

This is not unlike Job’s expectation of God. Perhaps Jesus response was more like, “Really, guys, were you there….?” We probably need to cut James and John some slack, though. After all, how much of what they are doing do we do? Perhaps they really did get it and were afraid. Perhaps, rather than seeking power, they were just seeking security. Give them credit—at least they were honest. They want badly to be like God. God is powerful. God is in control. God is there. Barbara Brown Taylor refers to it as trying to secure cabinet positions before the election is finalized. The problem is that they are assuming that the new world—the coming Kingdom—will be set up with the same rules as the old one. And one more time, Jesus tells them, “Sorry guys…that’s not the way it works.”


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. Who do you think that Jesus is addressing here—those in power or those who long for power? Is one worse than the other?
  3. What definitions of “power” exist? How does that differ with Jesus’ depiction of “power”?
  4. What “powers” do we need to let go of in our own lives in order to follow Christ?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there. (Ann Lamott, Traveling Mercies)

Our disappointments, our lonelinesses and our defeats do not separate us from Christ; they draw us more deeply into communion with him.  And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in [Christ’s] death cry and await with [Christ] the resurrection.  This is what faith really is:  believing, not with the head or the lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life.  It means seeking community with the human Christ in every situation in life, and in every situation experiencing his own history. (Jurgen Moltmann, 1926-    )

If you read the Bible and it does not challenge you, then you are reading yourself and not the Bible. (Ernesto Tinajero, 21st century)


Give me a pure heart—that I may see Thee,

A humble heart—that I may hear Thee,

A heart of love—that I may serve Thee,

A heart of faith—that I may abide in Thee.  Amen

Dag Hammarskjold


Proper 23B: When Life Goes Without Answers

PotholesOLD TESTAMENT: Job 23: 1-9, 16-17

To read the text from Job

Once again we read from the Book of Job. Remember that the writer is unknown as well as the time in which it was written. This part of Job is probably the hardest to read. Our friend Job seems to be giving up. He wants desperately to talk to God and to know that God is hearing him. Now keep in mind that we’ve missed a lot of the book as our Lectionary readings jump from Chapter 1 to Chapter 23. We have missed most of the poetic account of the visits and dialogue between Job and his three well-meaning, if not bothersome, friends.

Job seems to move from apparent acceptance to what is happening to him to an out and out challenge of God and God’s power in his life. He demands answers now and sees justice as due to him. We identify with Job here. We want answers. Answers would make life easier. And we want answers NOW. But Job doesn’t even seem to be able to find God in order to register his complaint.

His complaint is not that he is suffering—he seems to have resolved himself to that. He doesn’t even seem to be questioning why God would do such a thing. Perhaps he is more comfortable with some of that mystery that is God than many of us. Job’s biggest complaint is that he feels God has deserted him. He feels that God is absent in his life. And yet he still holds his integrity, unwilling to sin before God. And then, jumping to verse 16, his tune changes a bit. He admits that he is a little afraid of God, afraid of what God will do. He wants desperately to vanish into darkness and away from God. His image of God is falling into one that could quash him, could crush him. He almost sees God as an enemy and, yet, is not willing to sin before God.

To understand how Job got here, we sort of have to look at what he’s been dealing with from his friends: First is his friend Eliphaz, who apparently sees God as “The Fixer”…”Come on, Job, if you just submit to God, if you have faith in God, God will fix it.” Then there’s Bildad, who sees God as “The Judge”…”Well, Job, you must have done SOMETHING wrong. After all, God is fair and just. God only gives you what you deserve.” And finally, we have Zophar. Zophar seems to see God as saying whatever it is that he’s saying…Job must be wrong, I must be right. We’ve all known these friends. Wouldn’t you rather just sit in the silence?

But the truth is, Job still desires God. He wants to connect with God, to know that God is there. Richard Rohr says it like this: But somehow, Job says, I can’t get through to him. “God has made my heart sink. Shaddai has filled me with fear. For darkness hides me from him, and the gloom veils his presence from me.” I can no longer “think God” or think it out at all. Job is being led beyond ideas and concepts to mere desire. He has been simplified by suffering, which is what suffering always does. He is reduced to pure desire. What we desire enough, we are likely to get. The all-important thing is to desire, and to desire deeply. What we desire is what we will become. What we have already desired is who we are right now. We must ask God to fill us with right desire. It’s our profound and long-lasting desires that will finally explain our lives, and will soon explain Job’s.(From Job and the Mystery of Suffering, by Richard Rohr, 123)

I know I don’t have a chance, Job is saying, I know God is right somehow; I just don’t understand in this instance how he’s right. But I’m willing to wait.

That’s the difference. He’s willing to wait in that space of nonanswer. That’s the space in which God creates faith. The counselors are not willing to live in that space where there is no answer, no conclusions. To this day, many people equate “religious answers” with “faith”. But faith does not mean having answers; it means being willing to live without answers. Cultural faith and civil religion tend to define faith poorly and narrowly as having certitudes and being able to hold religious formulas.

Such common religion is often an excuse for not having faith. Strange, isn’t it? Faith is having the security to be insecure, the security to live in another identity than our own and to find our value and significance in that larger union. (Rohr, 74.)


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. Why do we struggle with these seemed “silences” of God?
  3. What is it about us that needs to have answers so desperately?
  4. What does that say about our faith?



NEW TESTAMENT: Hebrews 4: 12-16

To read the text from Hebrews

The beginning verse of this passage is familiar and is often quoted. It is actually a way of the author making the point that whatever it was that he just said, it is important. It is something to which we should listen. What it boils down to, is that faith is not easy. Entering a life of faith, a life of following Christ, will not give you answers or guarantee that your life will be filled with wealth and ease. It’s hard. So, here, we are admonished to pay attention to what we have heard and to avoid drifting away.

We know what God has done. We’ve seen it. We’ve heard it. But we must allow the double-edged sword of God’s living Word to cut through our illusions that are part of our lives. We are called to live differently. We are called to live with a different view of life.

Believing in God means believing in truth. It also means a certain nakedness, the willing to face up to who we really are and to stop pretending. When someone loves us as we are, it can be very challenging, because it means we need to face ourselves as we are. People who love like that are liable to get killed, metaphorically or literally – Jesus himself being a prime example. Love which goes along with pretence is no love at all.

At the heart of God’s calling to us, though, is grace. What may seem foolishness, weakness, and debasement in the world’s eyes is our true hope—God’s wisdom, power, and mercy. Before God we become fully known and we should enter that with boldness—because that is where we will come to know God. There will be an aspect of God that remains hidden from us. After all, if we fully knew God, we would BE God. No one ever promised us that! The writer of Hebrews, though, reminds us that Jesus as the Incarnation of the Living God lets us know that we are never hidden from God. In that Incarnation, in that way that God truly walked where we walk, we find something more than God pretending to be human. We find God experiencing everything about humanity that we do—even the very hiddenness and forsakenness of God. God has entered and continues to enter our experience to find us even when we cannot seem to find God in our lives.

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does the image of the two-edged sword mean for you?
  3. What makes this passage difficult for us?
  4. What does it mean to you to “know God”?
  5. What is the difference between knowing God and knowing about God?

GOSPEL: Mark 10: 17-31

To read the Gospel text

All of us are thinking the same thing…there has got to be a way out of this one.  Surely Jesus didn’t mean ALL the man’s money.  How would he live?  What would he do?  More than that, what would WE do?  (Couldn’t resist…J) Princess Diana once said that “they say it’s better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable but what about compromising by being moderately wealthy and a little moody?”

In the passage, a rich man approaches Jesus with considerable reverence.  He did all the right things.  He asked all the right questions.  (He was righteous and blameless and upright.  Where have we heard that before?)  Even his question about eternal life displays a modicum of awareness that eternal life was what God promised.  He just wanted to know how to do it.  Jesus’ reply is a little abrupt.  In true Jesus fashion, he deflects attention from himself to God.  In essence, he is saying that there is no answer to that question.  God is God…Look at God…God alone.  As Jesus says, the man knows all that he needs to know.  Now just look and listen…

Then he challenges the man.  He tells him to do three things:  Keep the Commandments. Sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.  Follow me.  The truth was, the man had missed the point.  He knew what the commandments were but he really didn’t understand the commandments.  He needed to get rid of the illusions that he had created and follow Jesus, which meant living in a different way.  Jesus was not saying that wealth was bad.  It was the fact that the man’s faith understanding was a little misdirected:  What can I gain?  How can I gain?  How can I get my reward?  He was missing the spirit of compassion for others that Jesus embodied.  His wealth and his own needs and wants had blinded him to it. Following Jesus is not the usual reward-punishment system.  The norms are subverted.  The first will be last and the last will be first.

The truth is that he wasn’t demeaning the man.  He loved him enough to be truthful.  He wasn’t calling him to an out and out abandonment of the physical world—just a new way of looking at it, with eyes that do not search for a way to buy ourselves in or buy ourselves out, with eyes that see love and compassion and grace as ways of life, and with a heart and a mind that is open to whatever God is saying or not saying.  Life is a gift.  Just see it that way.  It is more of that two-edged sword.  What does living your faith call you to abandon?

In 1981, I sat in the Riverside Church and listened to the Rev. Will Campbell preach. He is a white Baptist preacher who had been active in the Civil Rights movement. (Brother to a Dragonfly is his autobiography and memoir of some of that time.) I don’t remember the text Will was preaching; it might have been this week’s gospel (Mark 10:17-31). I was 19 years old and passionately interested in changing the world for the better.  I took a bus and the subway every week from my dorm room in Brooklyn to the Riverside Church because William Sloane Coffin’s preaching indicated to me that these people were interested in changing the world for the better too.

This is what I remember of Will Campbell’s sermon that Sunday. He looked out on that Upper West Side congregation dressed so well and sitting in the gothic cathedral that Rockefeller money built, and he said, “You have invited me here today to talk to you about ending racism, but I think what you actually want me to tell you is how you can end racism and keep all of this. [He gestured to the sanctuary and everything around him.] I am afraid I don’t have an answer for you.”

I remember nothing else of the sermon. Did the preacher get out of that corner he had painted himself into? Within the allotted time for the sermon, did he leave us with hope for “incremental change,” or something? I don’t remember, but I have never forgotten that lone comment from the sermon.  It seemed to me that he was saying, “You all want something you can’t have: justice not rolling down like waters, but justice practiced ‘in moderation.'”

“Seek me and live.” (Mary Hinkle, “Seeking”, available at, accessed 6 October, 2009.)

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What is your reaction to this passage and your own life?
  3. What other things do we need to rid ourselves of to truly follow Christ?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


In his poetic eulogy “The World of Silence”, the French philosopher Max Picard says that silence is the central place of faith, where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it. Surrendering the Word, we surrender the medium of our creation. We unsay ourselves, voluntarily returning to the source of our being, where we must trust God to say us once again. In silence, we travel back in time to the day before the first day of Creation, when all being was still part of God’s body. It had not yet been said, and silence was the womb in which it slept. (Barbara Brown Taylor, When God is Silent)

If we live our spiritual lives only in fear of punishment or in hope of reward, rather than in the awareness of the One because of whom all life is worthwhile, we can be religious people, but we will never be holy people.  Then life is simply a series of tests and trials and scores, not the moment-by-moment revelation of God who is present in everything that happens to us, in everything we do…God is present in everything around us, in everything we do, wherever we are, and in whatever situations we find ourselves.  It is coming to a sense of the Presence of God that changes our attitude toward life.   (Joan Chittister, Becoming Fully Human)

To believe you can approach transcendence without drawing nearer in compassion to suffering humanity is to fool yourself.  There can be no genuine personal religious conversion without a change in social attitude. (William Sloane Coffin)




“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”  We are no strangers to the falling apart; We perpetrate against the center of our lives, and on some days it feels like an endless falling, like a deep threat, like rising water, like ruthless wind.  But you…you in the midst, you back in play, you rebuking and silencing and ordering, you creatingrestfulness in the very eyes of the storm.  You…be our center:  cause us not to lie about the danger, cause us not to resist your good order.  Be our God.  Be the God you promised, and we will be among those surely peaceable in your order.  We pray in the name of the one through whom all things hold together.  Amen.


From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, 26.