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God is Still Speaking
Progressive Christianity
United Church of Christ
Northern California Nevada   Conference of the UCC

 

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Recent Sermons

God Speaks from the Whirlwind

 

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
March 18, 2018

Finally! God answers Job from on high. We heard only snippets this morning of the 4 1/2 chapters of God's words to Job. Do they work for you? Is this the God of your understanding? Most of us in Bible Study this week said No. How could such grand speech from on high satisfy a man suffering so completely at the hands of his maker? For Job believes and the story makes clear that everything he has endured has been caused by God's will. The Satan, Hebrew for the Accuser, may have put everything in motion, but only God is ultimately in charge in Job's absolutely monotheistic understanding. What kind of God do you believe in? Is this your God?

For Job, this encounter with the Absolute Ruler of the Universe is humbling but also transformative. The changes may not be apparent to us. At the beginning of the story, Job assumes he is blessed because he is good. He fears for his children because he has no control over how good they will be, so he prays constantly for them. His is a transactional understanding of God, a quid-pro-quo view. He thinks he can make God do what he wants by acting the right way. Now he understands that God cannot be manipulated by his actions, that bad things sometimes happen to good people and he cannot judge others by their life circumstances. When good people suffer he knows they don't need to be told they are doing something wrong; they need comfort. He knows they may not deserve their suffering.

He begins to look around at those in his life that he has taken for granted...his daughters in particular. At the beginning of the story they partied at their brothers' homes because in a patriarchy they had to live at home until a man claimed them.
And he names them, a rare honor for women in scripture. Now he gives them an inheritance as well as their brothers. That every child received an inheritance was particularly generous as usually only the oldest son would receive from the father.

God restores Job's fortunes, but to a changed man, a more generous and compassionate man, a man who no longer took for granted that he deserved all his good fortune. It is a fairy tale ending to the problem of evil and suffering in our world. Does it work for you?

God's voice from the whirlwind is the least anthropocentric passage in all of scripture. This is an 8th Century BCE attempt to speak for the creator of the universe, of galaxies beyond galaxies that we are only beginning to explore.
Why do stars explode? We are made of star dust and would not exist if they hadn't, but how would the stars feel about that? Are we the only beings with the consciousness of death? We know more now about how little we know, and our ignorance is a source of exploration and scientific discovery. In the time of Job knowing there was so much we didn't know was simply a source of humility. Job knows that he will return to dust, to the earth, to the humis that is the root of the word humility. For him that is enough -- is it for us? Probably not.

This is the only time in all of scripture that God's voice thunders aloud to all who are there. Job's friends hear the voice and are devastated. In all other Hebrew scriptures God speaks through prophets in a still small voice only they can hear. Even Moses at his burning bush couldn't show the bush to others. And when he came down from Sinai with the Torah his face glowed but no one else had witnessed what he experienced there.

In Bible Study and all week long I have been pondering with folks, how does God speak to you? Some admit nervously that they talk to God and wonder if that means they're crazy. I am always talking with God; Jesus is my best friend. Sometimes I even listen. Do you listen to a still small voice within? Does God sometimes give you vivid dreams and visits in the night that inspire or guide you? Do you feel God's guidance in passages from scripture? Some holy texts in other faith traditions? the writings of the mystics and saints of the past? the Tao Te Ching? Do the teachings of Jesus live within you and help to guide you? Are there foundations of values you learned from your parents, your traditions, that have given you a conscience you can trust?

How do you know you can trust your conscience, your intuition, and that still small voice within? My answer comes from the writings of Paul the apostle: You must test the spirits to see if they are good. Do they reflect the fruits of the Spirit: the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control that is your birthright as a child of God? Is the answer in keeping with your personal truth? Does it challenge you to grow? (Not necessarily, would your mother approve, but that's just me.)

The God of Job is not a comfortable understanding of God. Still seeming too distant, too pontifical and manipulative from on high, this is not an aspect of God I'd like to have a conversation with when I'm at my lowest. In bed with the flu, wishing I could just let go of this body in peace. I connected with our Rev. Thomas Crosby who is chaplain at the VA in Palo Alto this week. He shared with me the pain he and all his colleagues are feeling after the tragic shooting at Yountville Pathways Recovery Center. Pathways was where they sent their most troubled patients, the      veterans too difficult for even the VA to handle. That program was saving lives, and they knew the staff there well. They gathered with one another and shared their grief with the veterans they serve. "We are hurting too!" It brought them all closer together in surprising ways.

In the midst of a world in chaos, full of wars and disasters, some of human design,
some beyond human fault (like earthquake and tsunami). It can be a comfort to know that our bodies are transitory, that we will return to the source of all life, that we will become one with the oneness of the creator of all, that even now we are one in the Spirit of God's love.

If you have ever had a moment of bliss while pondering a magnificent sunset over the ocean; or standing on a mountain top feeling connected with all of life. That moment might reassure you when you remember it, that oneness with the ocean of life is not a terrible thing but a magnificent destiny promised to all of us as we slip the bonds of mortal life and return to the sacred that calls us to moments of peace and joy in the midst of all that life brings our way.

Ken Wilbur in, the forward to 'Living Enlightenment', put it this way:
         "If you can stand the heat, then enter the real kitchen of your own soul, where you will find nothing other than the radiant God of the entire cosmos. For it is radiant Spirit that is looking out from your eyes right now, speaking with your tongue right now.... Your real Self is glorious Spirit in this and   every moment, and it takes a very, very Rude Boy to point that out and to stay in your face until you recognize your own Original Face, shining even here and now."

The God of Job is declaring absolute power. It is intimidating and humbling, but it is also beautiful. Jesus has taught us to dare to love that God, to know that God as Father/Mother of us all, to know that God as friend and guide, to know that God as love. And through the Holy Spirit, we are called to know that God is living within us. "Your real Self is glorious Spirit in this and every moment....It is radiant Spirit that is looking out from your eyes right now." I'm attempting to be a very Rude Girl and point this out to you. May you recognize your own Original Face, shining even here and now! Or as Rob Bell says clearly in the title of his most recent book:
about Heaven and Hell and the fate of every person who ever lived, "Love Wins!"