5th Sunday after Pentecost, Sunday 24th of June 2018.
Job 38: 1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; St Mark 4:35-41
Rev Dr John McCulloch,
Minister of St Andrews Jerusalem & Tiberias.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Hearing God in the Whirlwind
About 30 years ago when I was a teenager living in a run-down part of Barcelona, I remember reading Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. It was the set text for the philosophy class. The plot is simple: one morning, the protagonist Joseph K is arrested but never told the reason why. The novel tells of how he tries to prove his innocence. His appeals to the law courts are unsuccessful, and in the end he is executed. The novel deals with themes of innocence and guilt, fear, injustice and suffering.
Kafka was a Jewish Czech writer, living at the turn of the 19th & 20th century, and was brought up in the traditions of Judaism. He knew the OT scriptures well. In fact, one of the main influences on The Trial was the book of Job. The poetry in Job is a cry out from the midst of human suffering.
Kafka died in 1924, but many believe his work foreshadowed the unspeakable horrors that the Jewish people were to face in 1930s and 40s Europe.
The book of Job is different to many ancient writings in an important way. In much ancient literature there was a widespread belief that those who suffered must have done something wrong. Job challenges this world view by showing us how suffering comes to a righteous man.
But anyone reading the book of Job to find easy answers to the question of human suffering will be disappointed, because God does not give a prescribed answer.
Instead, he speaks from out of the whirlwind and asks Job questions: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:3)…. ‘Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band’ ?(38:9-9).
The Jewish theologian Martin Buber writing in 1923, a year before Kafka died, said: ‘Creation happens to us, burns itself into us, recasts us in burning… we tremble and are faint, we submit. We take part in creation, (we) meet the Creator, (we) reach out to Him.’
Buber captures the mystery of human life, with all of its unanswered questions. We are born into a world where suffering is never far away, and yet, it is often in that place where we meet the Creator. Just like Job hears the voice of God in the midst of the whirlwind, we too can find God in our world. Even at his darkest hour, Job is being held in the everlasting arms of God, even though he does not fully know that at the time.
God speaks out from behind the dark clouds of unknowing., He speaks in the whirlwind, drawing us deeper into the mystery of himself.
Ultimately, the only answer God gives us, is himself. This is why centuries later, he would need to incarnate into our world, and be born in human form.
In our gospel reading we encounter a story with strong parallels to the passage in Job. The disciples are in fear of their lives as their boat is buffeted by the winds and the storms, so much so that they cry out: ‘Teacher, do you not care if we perish?’.
There is a sense in which this question echoes the very cry of humanity down through the centuries: ‘do you care if we perish’?
It is the cry of suffering humanity, the cry of Job and Kafka, the cry of Martin Buber and the Jewish people, the cry of the countless millions of human beings who are crushed, oppressed, marginalized, dehumanized and excluded.
In our epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 6:4 the apostle Paul reminds us about the reality of suffering: ‘but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, (…) hunger’.
In the book of Job we catch a glimpse of the creator God, who lives and breathes through the stormy mystery of the created order.
In our gospel reading, we encounter a God incarnated in the world, a God immersed in the storms of life, a God who will ultimately go to the place of death and abandonment, defeating its power, and giving us hope that the swirling seas and dark clouds of death and despair, will not have the final word….
But I want to take you back to the beginning of our gospel reading,
to verse 35 of Mark 4: ‘On that day, when evening had come, he said to them: “Let us go across to the other side”.
Going across to the other side always entails risk. It usually involves suffering.
If the disciples had remained in safety on the shore, if they hadn’t heeded the call of Christ, they would not have been engulfed by the storm. To cross to the other side is to suffer.
In birth, we cross from the security of the womb and are birthed into a world of suffering.
When the disciples were in the midst of the storm, and Christ is not only silent but asleep, I am sure that they must have wished that they had never left the shore.
But Christ always calls us to cross over to the other side.
To cross over to the other side of our comfort zones.
To cross over to the other side and embrace those who are different to us.
To cross over to the other side where we pray for those who oppress and torment us.
To cross over to the other side where we look for the face of God in those we would rather despise.
To cross over the other side and to love our enemies, and bless those who curse us.
To cross over to the other side, where we enter into the suffering of others…
We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Saviour, for we worship a God who crossed over to the other side.
And he is here with us now, wherever we find ourselves. He is with you in the storms of life, he is with you when the clouds of doubt and fear seem to engulf you, he is with you in the midst of all your unanswered questions, and he says to us the same words that he said to his disciples: ‘Peace, be still’. Peace, be still.
Wherever you find yourself on life’s journey, may you know the God of peace. May you know the healing power of his love, who breathes peace over the troubled waters of our lives, and calls us to himself.
God speaks in the whirlwind, he speaks in the storm. He speaks words of peace. May you know his peace this day.
May it be in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, in now, and ever shall be. Amen.