Texts: Job 38:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Some of the best experiences in my young life were in the Scouts. I started with Brownies and graduated into the Girl Scouts. But after the cooking badge and the embroidery badge I began to lose heart. What about the camping badge or the woodcraft badge? Sadly those were not the gifts of my leaders. I just couldn’t face the sewing badge though so I gave up.
But things changed. The mid 1970s, brought more options. Mini, midi, and maxi skirts were all the rage. Levi blue jeans and waffle stompers. Good times. The best news for me was that girls could join the Explorer Scouts, a part of the Boy Scouts. And so, I joined the Boy Scouts.
All those badges I never earned? I backpacked, climbed, kayaked and even learned to sail when my Explorer Post became a Sea Scout Post as well. We acquired a 30 foot half ton sailboat and raced it on the lakes and all around the Salish Sea. We even raced the Swiftsure Lightship Race out the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In those years I learned many life lessons that helped me grow.
Job gets a life lesson from God after enduring a lot of loss and heartache. His health gone, his business lost, his children killed in an accident; he was in tough shape all around. His friends sounded like a Greek chorus as they recited all the usual explanations for bad times.
Maybe Job had made some poor choices. Maybe it was just the give and take of life. Maybe it was a divine test. Which it sort of was, although the competition was between God and Satan and it was Job’s commitment to God that was really being put to the test. Satan thought Job would break under the pressure, while God thought he’d stay the course.
Naturally Job didn’t know that. He complained but he didn’t break. Finally he went on a rant, asking God to justify the bad stuff that had happened to him, a good man, and so faithful to God.
It’s not that Job isn’t allowed to cry out to God and pray for help. He can. But remember when Jesus was resisting temptation in the wilderness and he said “It is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” It means that God is not to be called to testify. Especially against God’s own self. In chapter 38 Job finds out what happens when you make God the defendant.
Job was lucky in some ways. All he got was a whirlwind and some major blowback. The point seems to be that mortals cannot begin to understand what God is up to, from beginning to end.
The lesson for Job is larger though. Here was this man, so well founded in life. Successful in all his ventures. A trusted business man, loving husband, good father. His hard times came like successive blows, one after another. The thing is, it happens that way equally as much to the most corrupt of people, as to the most gracious people who live to the highest good.
So God’s reply to Job is significant. God calls out all the wonder and beauty of creation. Who authored that? God. Who was honored in the song of morning stars and shouts of heavenly beings? God. Who put boundaries on the things that are wild? God did. And the list goes on for several chapters.
Job was always surrounded by God’s holy gifts and divine support. In the best times and the worst. This puts all loss, hardship, and tragedy into perspective. There will be times and seasons when the song of the cosmos gets lost in the midst of terrible adversity. But God is everlastingly steadfast.
Second Corinthians follows well on the theme of learning a lesson. Paul is at his most persuasive, and frankly, his most irate also in these verses. He’d been away, building up other communities, serving time in jail for doing God’s work. In the meantime the Christian community at Corinth started to go sideways. They questioned Paul’s leadership and struggled with one another for control. This letter means business. Listen up it says.
Do not accept the grace of God in vain. You got rescued. You were on a bad road, doing whatever worked for you, in a city full of invitation to go off the rails without regard for the cost to society or other people. Living without healthy boundaries.
God listened when you needed an advocate. Paul was sent to bring the good news of Jesus Christ. You turned to live a new life. God helped you when you were beyond helping yourself. You were grateful at first. And now? You’re over it.
But you’re not over it. Not really. You are putting your spiritual community in peril over the question of right leadership. Going back to your destructive old ways.
The lesson here is that authentic community takes a wide open heart. Leadership is more about a wide upon heart than about good administration. God is all about the wide open heart. And as we all know, when you put your heart out there, your put your whole self on the line. As Jesus did.
Maybe that’s why Jesus was so exhausted that he fell fast asleep on the boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. It actually sounds as if the disciples had to carry him into the boat. And when a bad storm came, he slept on.
The disciples did their best. They weren’t all fishermen with boat skills. The storm was too much even for the ones who did have experience on the water. There’s no doubt that they, and Mark, who scribed this gospel, believed that this was not a weather event. A malevolent spirit wanted to do battle. After all, they were leaving the safety of the Promised Land west of the Jordan sailing for the eastern side, a place of wilderness and untamed spirits.
The disciples, twelve strong, cried out for Jesus. Waking, he brought the sea to a dead calm. It was a lesson. Men of God, see who has called you. Only God commands nature and overcomes chaos. It was a lesson. God calls us to discipleship knowing we will sometimes lose heart.
Job came back all the way. The Corinthian Christians made it through the bad times. And the disciples learned that God is truly a God of second chances, and more chances even than that. In fact, as long as we breathe we still have time to learn God lessons that will change us for good.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.