Sunday, October 18, 2015

Our Servant God

God is love and service....

Proper 24b - SJF - Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?

Two questions, among others, are asked in today’s Scripture readings: Who is this that darkens counsel with ignorant talk? and What do you want me to do for you? Thinking about these questions can help us answer the Big Question: Why are we here? and help us to understand what it means to be made in the image of God.

The first question comes from the latter parts of the book of Job. God finally speaks after a long silence. God has listened to Job’s three friends as they try to get him to admit he’s a wicked sinner — he must be, or why would he be suffering? God has heard Job claim his righteousness. And God has heard a young man try to defend God — as if God needed a defense.

So finally God speaks, to settle the argument. But when God speaks, it is not to provide a comforting answer to the question, Why do the innocent, and even worse, the righteous, suffer? There is no question that Job is righteous, yet suffer he does — but God doesn’t so much as address that question. When God speaks it is to reveal a deeper truth, to help Job — and us — see our place in the universe.
Job and his companions have been debating the meaning of life, the universe, and everything — just as we do. Finally God confronts Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel with ignorant words? Pull yourself together, and let me ask you questions.” And, of course, the questions God asks are beyond Job’s or any human being’s skill to answer. That is the whole point. God is saying, in a not-so-subtle way, Just who do you think you are, anyway?

Human pride is such that we often put ourselves at the center of the universe, and sometimes act as if we were in control. People have very powerful control needs. We are haunted by the fear that if we aren’t in charge, then no one is. Think for a moment what that means: the fear that no one is in charge if we aren’t. Isn’t this just a kind of faithlessness, that doubts the loving providence of God? And doesn’t it also paint God in our image rather than us in God’s — seeing God as a tyrant superman, controlling the world? Is that what God shows us to be the true nature of God whom we know in Jesus? When we think of God in terms of control, we forget that God assigned us — made as we are in God’s image — as the stewards in service to, not in control of creation.

Human need for control led to the human fall — thinking we should take charge “as if we were gods.” As if “being in charge” was the main truth of God — which it isn’t. The pagans see God as power: Zeus the storm-god armed with thunderbolts, Neptune ruling the sea with an iron trident. But we who know God in Christ know that God came to serve, not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many. As John the Beloved Disciple reminded us, God is love, and those who love — not those who rule — are most like God.

But human mistrust of the costly extent of God’s love was the gap through which the serpent wiggled, in his wily tempting: “Oh, you will not die... are you sure God is telling you the whole story? maybe God doesn’t want you to touch the fruit because you might become all-powerful like him?” The serpent led humans to forget that we were placed in the garden to tend it, to care for it — as servants, not owners. And they, instead of doing as God said, decided, “We’d better take the fruit and become gods ourselves, because who knows if God can be trusted to take care of us. It’s every man and woman for him or herself, and the devil take the hindmost.” And the devil did, and has been doing so ever since, nip- nip- nipping at our heels until we summon the strength to crush his head. (For our strength isn’t in our heads or hearts, where we resemble God, but in our very human heels!)
The tragedy was that we were already like God — made in God’s image and likeness. It was as God’s images that we are called to serve — so that should tell us something about God. And what is worse, we still forget that God is one who loves and tends and cares for the created world, the world God loved so much that he gave his son so that we might not perish. We forget the Gospel truth and project our fears about lack of control onto our beliefs about God, and so put God into the position of being a tyrant, a control freak whose primary interest is in forcing everything to his will — even though God tries again and again to show us that he is the source of all care and love and concern.
Listen to that language from the Job: God is concerned to provide rain for the plants, food for the young lions and the raven. As Jesus reminds us, and as the old song says, his eye is on the sparrow! God is the ultimate care-giver.

Jesus brings the point home in warning the disciples not to be like earthly monarchs who rule with an iron fist — surely in their lifetimes they had seen a few of those, from the Caesars to the Herods — the rulers of this world who could, at a whim, literally say, “Off with his head” and off the head would come! Jesus wants his disciples to be like him, like his loving Father in heaven: the God who serves and cares,the Lord who serves and saves, the God who is Love. If we can learn to live and love and serve in the manner of Jesus and his heavenly Father — and we can, for we are made in his image — perhaps we can understand what it means to be stewards.
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So what kind of a Lord is Jesus? First, Jesus is the original: “the firstborn over all creation.” He is the answer to God’s persistent question to Job, Who, who, who? The answer: Jesus the Christ, following in his Father’s footsteps! He is the one who was there at the beginning, as our Creed affirms: God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Through him all things were made, and without him nothing came into being.

He is also the answer to the disciples’ demand for thrones in the kingdom. He was there when the foundations of that kingdom were established! But look — he doesn’t work like a manager, sitting back and ordering the angels around, even though they are his ministers. The creator gets his hands dirty, at the beginning kneeling down by the riverbank to take the dust and mold us in his image, and at the Last Supper kneeling to wash the feet of his disciples -- and that is dirty work in a day when people walked around all the time without socks on! This is fitting for one who plied an earthly trade as a carpenter. But at the beginning of creation, it is he who sets a compass on the face of the deep, stretches forth the line upon it, shuts in the seas with hand-made doors, and lays the cornerstone of the earth while all the morning stars sing together for joy. Christ’s stewardship and service is from before time: he is the original worker.

Second, Christ’s stewardship is loving. His word to the disciples reflects his own loving service — they are to serve as they have seen him serve. This is particularly manifest in the ministry of healing, so it is appropriate that today is the feast of Saint Luke, the beloved physician.

For few ministries are more aligned with the image of God in humanity than the ministry of healing. I give thanks that many members of St James work in the healing professions. You nurses, nurses aides, caregivers, technicians — you are realizing the image of God in one of the most powerful ways one can: in service that gives life and saves life.

Finally, the stewardship of Christ is self-giving, not self-preserving. His stewardship challenges others to be as generous as he is himself: not to lord it over others, but to give and serve as the real Lord himself gives and serves.
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So what about us? Can we be like Christ, who is original, loving, and self-giving? Can we serve in the manner of the Lord? All we need is the faith to follow the example of our Lord himself: Christ the healer, Christ the worker. All we need is faith in him, and if we have even a tiny faith, even as tiny as a mustard seed, we can be like that seed that unexpectedly grows not into a mustard plant but into a mighty tree that also serves to provide a home for the birds of the air, and shade for the creatures of the field. Through this blessing of servant oneness in Christ, we can take our part in the loving stewardship which embraces and holds creation together, caring for it with the skills God gives, in self-giving love and charity.

The whole creation is waiting for us to accept our destiny, our true identity as children and servants of God who loves and serves. All God’s creatures are waiting: the birds flock and circle around us; the cats and dogs look up at us expectantly, waiting for the door to be opened; the horses stamp their hooves and snort; the fish and whales are gathering in schools; the spirits of the blessed wait in hope, while the devils in hell tremble in fear; and far out in the endless reaches of space the morning stars are holding their breath, waiting to burst into joyous song once more, when the whole creation is reborn — and we become all that we are meant to be — through the original blessing of the Father, the loving stewardship of the Son, and the outpoured gift of the Holy Spirit.+

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