27th Week of Common Time, Year C

Job 19:23-27a

‘O that my words were written down!

O that they were inscribed in a book!
24 O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

With many thanks to Nicole Mullen’s “Redeemer,” i’ll try to say a few words about what this passage is saying to me at the moment.  Job is one of those great teachable moments in scripture, where lessons abound.  There is the silent vigil as well as the eponymous comforts that his friends afford him.  There is the questioning, and the open ended rebuke.  For the textual critic, there are additions and emendations to pour over.  Working with the received text, there is a great deal of layer and back and forth to deal with.

What i’m finding fascinating today, however, is the way that words preface this great declaration.  Pens of iron, letters set in lead on stone…these are fantastic things to be thinking about.  what does the certainty of knowledge have to do with redemption?

plenty, of course.  it seems obvious to us, especially those in the church dedicated to apologetics.  we talk about luther’s anxiety over salvation, wesley’s method, and the carefully chosen rhetoric of the revivalist.  whatever your particular approach to salvation is…you had better know where you stand.  entering the second millenia of the church, we’ve lost any sense that salvation in christ is surprising.  it is a fact.  the means are debated endlessly, the borders of grace are fought over, and the interpretations split the church.  each one holds their truth to be written in iron.

perhaps the missing piece here is that salvation, is of course the ultimate surprise. the person being saved does not have expectations.  they are brought out of the shock of their peril and into the shock of the rescue.  they sputter for breath, they act as though they were still in danger, they still hold the same fear.  some time later,they come to their senses.  but if we are being saved by grace, we should scarcely claim we’re taking it better than a drowning man does being dragged back to shore.

job’s certainty doesn’t come from abstraction.  his knowledge comes out of trauma.  it comes out of dramatic reversals and unimaginable pain.  it foreshadows a resolution that hardly seems to answer the questions of good and evil that are raised.  much to himself as anyone, he cries for certainty to cover over the wrenching loss he’s gone through.

feel the certainty of grace.  but feel it as the surprise that it is, the gift of salvation come into a world that cannot ever preserve that moment.  not in iron.


26th Week of Common Time, Year C

perhaps i shall back track a bit from my previous post.  saying one thing, then saying the opposite is in fact a delicately christian art.  we call it tension.  it is often muddy and confusing.  but living in this tension is pretty well what we’ve got.  to live in dying, and to glory in the cross.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls…

If you think about all of these things as the output of a semi-organized agrarian economy, then it pretty well lines up with the consumer goods of our day.  Perhaps Coke, a Disney movie, and a BMW.  There is not much use in offering up directly the work of our hands.  It is hard to imagine then, that shareholder rights are really high up on God’s list of things to accomplish.  Why then, should they receive more than a passing thought from me?

We some how imagine that the commands we hear shall be accomplished when we have more to give, are stronger to that we might help the weak.  This is a particularly difficult imaginative frame to break.  It seems borne out in some ways.  The doctor who does not protect herself will soon find herself of no help against a plague.  But there is something insidious about the new buildings full of well-fed aid workers that stands over the refugee tents.  I wish I had answers here, but sadly, all i’ve got is a question here.  There must be purpose to that work of our hands, so that it becomes set apart.

When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

The passage then ends with some hope.  God tells Isaiah that they shall argue it out…and the sins of the people will be cleansed.  But it takes that argument to get there.    In celebration of all God’s Saints, and in hope for all souls…

Let us argue it out.  Let us learn how do as we are commanded.

Oh, I’m late. Very late. I can’t keep hoping for perfect. I have learn to just let them go.

I think I’m going to just link to the readings, to keep things shorter on the page. I really do suggest going and reading them, however, since these aren’t so much free standing sermons as short form reactions to the text. My nasty little habit of preaching is to unlink the topic from the text, and this blog experiment is about trying to cure that. Today’s writing is mostly about the passage in Matthew 2.

Jesus and his family will go down to Egypt. The murder of children hangs in the air. The salvation of the people of Israel is playing in a surreal reverse gear. Jesus is being placed into history, one story at a time. He will wander in the desert for 40 days, he will bring forth water, and finally, re-image the sign of the serpent raised above the people, and go to the cross. The stories of the exodus play out again before our eyes.

It seems hard to read this year.

I wish to pray, once again, for peace in our time. Israel’s incursions into Gaza have compounded an increasingly unconscionable occupation and strangulation of an entire population. I recall watching the removal of settlers from Gaza with such great hope…and find only bitter disappointment at what has happened since.

In Hebrew, Egypt is called “the narrow place,” or mitzrayim. God calls the people out from there, out from narrowness, slavery and death.

By this, we do not mean a modern nation or people. We are talking about God’s Chosen people, who are always identified by their need for God’s restoration (no matter what creed they approach God by). And we are talking about a memory and history of slavery, a narrow place.

And that is precisely where Jesus goes. In fact, this time, Egypt is the refuge, a place of safety when Judea is about to be wracked with the murder of children. It is not the place. It is the idea. God is not brought low by narrow places. God is present there, not locked up, but as the lighthouse, the key for the door, the voice that tells us that we are not alone.

I watch the news, I see that thin strip of land, between Israel and Egypt. And I see a narrow place.

It is a narrow place. It has become a mitzrayim. Not the land itself, which would bloom if allowed. Not the people, who have been displaced and scarred by war. The walls are narrow. The commitment to violence, and “disproportionate response.” The helplessness that those in power proclaim. The true helplessness into which children and their parents are forced into. The hunger. The death.

It is a mitzrayim, and we cannot abide it. Who will God send to preach against it? Whose voice will tear down the walls? Whose hands will build a lasting peace?

Christ enters Israel’s history, goes down to Egypt, and comes back. Christ enters our history, goes down to death, and comes back. And this is all we need to know. No matter what the narrow place is, God shall go there to find us. There is no place that we can be confined, or shut ourselves away in that God With Us will not go.

The fears of depression, the pain of rape, the denial of the closet, the separations of racism, the terrors of war. From Darfur to Guantanamo to Gaza, here and there, all earth is full of narrow places. And they are being broken. For God wills us to life, and life abundantly. God will always go. Going forth into the world, going to create, going to redeem, going always in love.

Let us give thanks. Our narrow places cannot hold us anymore. And when we are healed, what is beyond us? To know that we are free?

We can turn to our neighbor. We can go forth into the world. And we can love.

Blessed be the God of redemption.