Today's lessons are wonderful -- Job, Psalm 107, 2 Corinthians and Mark. They are all about relationship with God -- listening to God and responding to God -- experiencing God, experiencing the wholeness and fulfillment and gladness that comes from that relationship.
Let's look at Job first. God finally speaks. For page after page, conversation after conversation, Job and his friends have gone back and forth about Job's relationship with God. What's gone wrong that Job is in such a miserable state after having had such an abundance of worldly successes and blessings before his rapid slide into destitution, ill health, and family extinction? Job's friends come up with elaborate and elegant theologies to explain how ultimately Job has been the instrument of his own disaster, while Job insists, also eloquently and intelligently, that he hasn't done anything wrong and at this point only wants God to let him die.
God speaks: You are talking, talking, and you don't know anything, God says. Then he gives Job two orders: one, pull yourself together and act like the human being you are; and two, listen to me and answer the questions I'm going to ask you. Whereupon God goes into a magnificent litany of questions about creation and the ordering of nature, where was Job when all that was going on, and since he, Job, is so smart, surely he knows the answers to all this. God talks with power, beauty, compassion, anger, tenderness, sarcasm, understanding, brilliance. We only have part of God's talking in today's lesson, but enough to get the idea.
What's going on? God hasn't answered one of Job's questions or those of any of his friends. God is talking way out of Job's league -- asking questions about morning stars and the creation of water. And you know what? Job is listening: Job is experiencing God; and that experience of God changes his life. He realizes that he knew a lot about God and even went so far as to be absolutely faithful to the God he knew about; but until now he did not know God, had not listened to God speak in person, and therefore had not responded as a human being to God's voice. Now he can do that; now he has a relationship with God. God can speak, he will hear, he will respond. These responses of Job to God's questions are in Chapter 42, but it seems appropriate to mention them here.
Let's go on to the other lessons, Psalm 107 and today's assigned portions. Here we have a little story: There were sailors who understood that the sea was God's and all that was in it. They understood that God created storms and calm. In a particularly bad storm, they tried everything they could to keep the ship afloat and themselves alive. When their efforts failed they called to God. God calmed the sea and brought them to the harbor they were headed for. They were glad. "Give thanks and praise," says the psalmist.
Whereas in Job the message was about the difference between knowing about God and knowing God, this lesson is about doing everything all by yourself until you've exhausted that, then turning to God to be rescued and brought into safe harbor, then needing a lot of reminding to say thank you.
Next the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. Paul spells out a major point of these lessons, including the Gospel lesson, and that is, once we have a relationship with God in which we are present to God, listen to God and respond to God, we are an entirely new creation. We are substantially different, not at all like the person we were before the relationship, even though we may look the same. Same with Job, same with those sailors whose response to relationship was not so much relief as it was a profound gladness. This same gladness seems to permeate Paul's writing here. He's not fussing, he's not frothing at the mouth, he is peaceful and glad: God has restored us to relationship with God and that reconciliation makes us glad. It is as people living with, listening to and responding to God's voice that we are to walk among fellow human beings. We are ambassadors of relationship, and witness to the wholeness that can come of it.
Let's turn now to the Gospel where we have the wonderful story of the exhausted Jesus being awakened from a deep sleep and accused of not caring for anybody, otherwise he'd be up and helping, not lying there. He gets up, tells the wind to stop and the sea to be still -- which they do, and then turns, and asks his followers on board two questions: "why are you afraid?," "and have you still no faith?" Evidently their relationship with Jesus has called forth a great deal of admiration but not yet an understanding that their relationship with Jesus is simultaneously a relationship with God. The minute they hit a crisis, they return to "Go" and act as if their was no relationship. Panicky, hysterical, Jesus' presence is not yet enough to keep them centered and secure, faithful and unafraid. They have heard him, but they have not recognized his voice as God's voice. The miracle has caught their attention, however, and in time they will hear and respond to the incarnate God and fully live the relationship that is God's gift to us.
So what do all these lessons say about us, and what do they say about God? Lots and lots -- lots about relationship and how we get it wrong, lots about relationship and how we can get it right, and lots about the nature of the God with whom we are created to live in relationship.
Look at Job. How many of us are just like that. How many of us let knowing about God substitute for knowing God. It's like hearing for years about a wonderful person, but never taking the trouble to meet or be with that person even though he or she lives next door. Sometimes we've heard so much about that person and even gone so far as to take that person's advice, second hand, that we think we do know the person. But, like God tells Job, we don't. Like Job, God calls us to be present to God the way God is present to us. Knowing about God is okay, but it is not the same as being in relationship and listening and responding to a loved one. Job realizes this after God breaks into his life and speaks, and we realize the same thing when we let God break into our own lives and speak while we listen, then respond. We must be open to relationship even if it seems unknown and scary; but we must remember that we have a God who wants us to live and be whole, not crippled and destroyed.
What do we learn about God from the Job story? We learn that God has many voices -- sometimes angry, sometimes loving, always compassionate -- even when tough, always with us. We have no monochromatic God, always the same; we have a God who is involved in our lives the many different ways that we are involved with other lives. A many-voiced God, as each of us is a many-voiced human being.
And from Psalm 107? We see ourselves again -- try it by ourselves first, then when that doesn't work and we are about dead from trying, call on God. It's bit like not asking directions even though there are people standing around who know the way. Only when we're thoroughly lost do we ask for help, which is immediately and simply given. We need to remember that getting to the harbor we are bound for is the goal, and that there is no humiliation in asking someone who knows the way and is going there also, in this case the Christ, to be with us and enable us to make a safe arrival at our destination.
And what do we learn about God in Psalm 107? That God listens to us and will take us home. And more, we learn that God is glad when we are pleased in the relationship together, and is happy to hear our thank- you's and our praise.
2nd Corinthians. We have a mini-review of what God accomplished in Jesus. Our relationship with God is more accessible than ever because of Jesus' life among us, his dying, his rising again, his ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Human beings can now live in relationship to God by living in relationship to a human being who is God, and that should be easier for us. And, living in that relationship, committed to it, hearing God, seeing with God's eyes, we become entirely new -- not human beings alone, but human beings in relationship with God. We become witness to new life, to a new and available wholeness that before seemed far away.
What we learn about God is that God cares passionately for us, God's children. God has made it possible for us to become whole, to develop in every way so that we become Christ, God's life among us. God has committed to relationship with us forever and made that relationship accessible; it is our privilege to commit also, and to be as accessible to Christ as Christ is to us. A privilege, and honor, and opportunity to be the completed persons we were meant to be.
And the Gospel. Here we are again: learned a lot, been with God, enjoyed the association, and have thrown it all overboard the minute a crisis enters our lives. Working hard all by ourselves, getting mad at God for not helping, accusing God of not caring. What we learn about us is that if we honor and have confidence in our relationship with God rather than dumping it when things get bad, we will be okay -- we will have no fear and our faith in that relationship will sustain us and keep us whole.
What we learn about God is several. We learn that even if God is exhausted, God is present. We learn that even if God gets annoyed, God is still present and still hears us. In terms of relationship, we learn that even if we get annoyed at God we should still be present and still listen, just like God. Finally, we learn the honor with which Jesus addresses God's creation. He quietly rebukes the wind, then says to the sea, "Peace, be still." And the sea responds. This is the "Peace, be still," with which Jesus addresses all those he lives with. It is the "Peace, be still," with which he asks us to greet each other, friend or foe. It is the "Peace, be still," that is with us every step as we learn to live in relationship with God and become God's new creation.
We have a great God. A God who listens to us, who speaks to us, who brings us into relationship, who loves us and cares for us and rejoices in our presence and companionship. From today's lessons, we see that we have a God who knows our principal handicaps to relationship: relying on knowledge about God rather than experience of God, waiting until all is lost before honoring the relationship with God, dumping God at the first sign of hard times, accusing God of not caring, even though God is right there.
Perhaps it is time for us to get healed from those handicaps. Perhaps it is time for us to enter or renew our relationship with God. Scary, fearful, new? Maybe so. But listen: Hear the voice in the whirlwind saying "Peace, be still!" Hear God's voice, know it, respond to it. Live the new life of relationship with God. "Peace, be still: I am with you always to the end of the age."