This Sunday began a series of sermons at St. Mark’s as we look at who we are, who is our neighbor and what God is calling us to do. The starting point are lessons from Job and Mark (you can read those texts here).
Job has been speaking for a long while, answering his friends who have posed tough theological questions and asking where God has been. In our reading this morning, God shows up. And when God appears, a whirlwind comes in tow. These words from God are jarring; imagine being Job with God speaking forth from the vortex showing God’s immense power.
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” God asks. “I will question you,” and then this whole litany of questions from God. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding! Who determined its measurements—Surely you know! On what were its bases sunk or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”
Job stands there speechless. Last week he thought God had abandoned him; this week he got way more than he bargained for.
Scientists at NASA tried something with the Hubble telescope in 2004 by having it take pictures of a very small, very dark area in space. In this spot, 5-6 very faint small stars in our own galaxy are present, but nothing else could be seen; it was one of the darkest spots in the night sky. As Hubble snapped photos in this area over the course of some days and then compiled them, something dramatic emerged. Distant sources of light were snatched up by the Hubble’s powerful lens, and all told some 10,000 galaxies appeared on film. Recently, Hubble’s scientists looked deeper into a smaller section of that field with better technology than before, and another 5000 galaxies came into view. These galaxies could never be seen with the human eye or even with the most powerful telescopes here on earth. 15,000 galaxies in a small, completely dark area of our night sky. It’s estimated that we have over 100 billion stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, so imagine how many stars that would be in this very dark area, which is just a tiny spot in the universe.
“Tell me who laid the earth’s cornerstones when the morning stars sang together?”
What God so delicately reminds Job is this: only God is God. Only God knows about the vast workings of our universe and all that happens even on our own planet. One commentator wrote, “In light of such amazing and overwhelming realities, it is possible for us to feel very small. ‘Who are we… that God would take notice of us,’ given the near infinite scope of creation? [Yet] in that context, the voice of the Lord thundering from the whirlwind came addressed to one of us! The Lord speaks about the rest of creation, but to Job. For all our seeming inconsequence, we are the ones to whom God has spoken, the ones to whom God holds out the promise of conversation about the design of creation.” [ref]JS Randolph Harris, “Job 38:1-7 (34-41) Homiletic Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 4. David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Pg 175.[/ref]
God who created some 100 billion galaxies, talks with one of us. God is God, yes, but God created us and engages with us. And God wants us to stop trying to be God and instead be our most authentic selves. To be the people God has created us to be, each with unique gifts and passions in order. God longs for us and share them to bring joy and grace to the world.
I am always amused by James and John and their asking Jesus for special status. I imagine it dawning on them that if Jesus does become a king, then the seats next to him would be up for grabs. So they sidle up to Jesus when they were out on the road when no one else is looking and quietly ask him for the spots before anyone else does. Jesus uses it as a sermon illustration, explaining to all the disciples that if you want to be great, you need to become a servant, for he came not to be served but to serve.
For me these things are inextricably joined, our gifts and talents and Christ’s call to serve. God who created the universe created us and placed inside each of us unique gifts that would bring us immense joy. We know them when we find them, right? Those times in our lives when we are truly present in the moment, and we feel most ourselves. Perhaps you have that sense when you’re playing an instrument or taking photographs. Maybe when you get going in the kitchen whipping up a new recipe. It could be the joy you get knitting a blanket or in giving support to a life-changing charity overseas. Perhaps you’re a gifted teacher or maybe a numbers person who loves finding order or a computer programmer who gets lost solving problems with code.
Each of us has them, those passions in our lives, some of them appeared in our childhoods and some of them were uncovered only recently (and dare I say it, some may be yet untapped). In my own life my love of hiking has only emerged in the past 6 years or so following surgery for a tibial plateau fracture. I spent three months none weight bearing and had to preach and celebrate from a wheelchair. After a couple of months doing PT, I decided that I needed to really start using that leg doing something. I climbed the highest peak in the Colorado Rockies with some friends 8 months after my surgery and I found I have a love of the mountains. I’ve taken others hiking, and found it a place of refreshment and renewal in my life and ministry, a time to explore the beauty of creation.
What about you? What gift or talent or activity makes you feel more present in your own skin? What do you do that makes you “you”? What is that passion in your life, given to you by God, that brings you joy? That’s not to say that it won’t also bring challenges—that hike down for me was awful but I knew I had found something that resonated deep within me.
Discovering, naming and using those passions can lead us to the joy God is inviting us to share. I truly believe that our gifts and passions were given to us by God to bring about redemption, to make this world a better place, to create more delight. God created that vast expanse of interstellar space, and God created the scientists who dreamed up a huge telescope that could take awe-inspiring photos. No, we are not God, but we’ve been given the gift of our lives to create and dream and to spread the love God has for each and every person on this planet.
What are your passions? What feeds your soul? What gifts has God given you that bring joy?