October 14, 2021

Sunday Worship Service 17th October 2021

Passage: Job Chapter 38 verses 1-7, 38-41

A prayer of praise and thanksgiving
Thank you, Lord God, that in your kingdom things are wonderfully topsy turvy, and we are all in this together.
Thank you that to do your will we must become servants,
and we are all in this together.
Thank you that when we follow Jesus, however little we think we have to offer, we can all minister to each other, and we are all in this together.
Thank you that you know what we need.
You came to earth to serve and build up your followers,
and we are all in this together. We thank you for our ministers and church community, all who help us to find our place in your community, and we are all in this together. Amen.
Read Job Chapter 38 verses 1-7, 38-41
Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth
In a world where science has provided answers to the origins and age of the earth (and indeed the Universe) and we are able to see into the structure of matter and to study genetics and so many other things, it is easy to dismiss the creation stories of the Bible as being irrelevant. After all, if a literal interpretation is dismissed by most, have they any value? To me, initially trained as a scientist, their importance comes not from thinking of them as alternatives to the outcome of rigorous scientific research, but rather as expressing a truth much more important – the centrality of God in all creation, whether we take the stories as literal fact or as parables.
For most people, the Bible’s account of creation comes at the beginning of the Bible – in the first chapters of the book of Genesis. However, there is a much more awe-invoking description elsewhere in the Olde Testament. It occurs in the book of Job.
Many people will have observed that the notion that righteous people will inevitably prosper is essentially naïve. The reality is that good people are often hit with horrifying and inexplicable tragedy. There are many instances of this in the Bible and this truth is expressed in such places as Psalm 22 famous for being quoted by Jesus as he hung on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. The writer is being persecuted and mocked. “a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce[e] my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me”. We don’t know the circumstances that beset the writer of that psalm, but we do know something about the eponymous subject of the book of Job, a book seemingly written in order to provide a rebuttal to the conventional wisdom that misfortune was a direct consequence of turning from God. Once a prosperous farmer with a large family and servants, he has systematically lost everything and ends up sitting on a rubbish heap, clad in rags and covered in sores. His friends (known as Job’s comforters) try to convince him that this misfortune is some kind of punishment. Yet Job is unshakable in refusing to renounce God. However, he challenges God who responds in dramatic fashion in a series of dramatic and rhetorical questions. It is rare that God speaks directly to humanity, another occasion is Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. But here God answers his question directly.
The upshot of this answer is the contrast between human wisdom and that of God. God talks of Job “Darkening his counsel” as if to challenge his right to question him. God’s questions in turn remind Job (and we who read the book) of the feats that he cannot possibly match. In the verses that follow that challenge, the poet tries to convey the grandeur of God’s creation and also the creative mind that lies behind it. The reader is left in speechless wonder at the unapproachable splendour and majesty of God as reflected in nature and in God’s handling of the chaotic powers. For me, this section of the book of Job provides the best of the accounts of creation – one that gives the awe that is often lacking as we look at the world through the lens of the 21st Century and is in stark contrast to the rather prosaic accounts in Genesis.
It is interesting that, in the description we have a contrast between the wisdom of God and the foolishness of humanity. It is certainly the case that humanity, despite our attempts at controlling the world seem to have little success. In the last few months alone, there was an earthquake in Haiti on 14th August which cost the lives of 2,248 people and a volcanic eruption on the island of La Palma that caused 10,000 people to be evacuated from their homes. Meanwhile this all takes place against the background of global warming that threatens climate change on an unprecedented scale as well as other threats such as risen sea level. God’s response to Job could easily apply to humanity today.
So where do we fit into all this?
The first thing is to underscore this idea that God has created the world (and indeed the universe) in all its wonder. The mysteries of light and dark, of the foundations of the world, the wonderful diversity of wildlife in all its forms and the temperaments and characteristics therein. The ancient poet has observed that dazzling variety in all its splendour. What kind of mere human logic would have created the lion, the vulture and the wild ass amongst others? Some are efficient, others have beauty, yet more seem to be created just for fun. But at the end of it all, they are all there and we cannot second-guess God’s logic behind their creation. Equally, we measure our own wisdom against God’s at our peril. The recent confirmation of the effects of climate change as a result of global warming caused for the most part by our use of fossil fuels shows that our understanding is at best limited and our wisdom flawed. Our forebears chose the Harvest Festival as a time to give thanks to God for the crops that were produced. With all our knowledge, there is still a sense that things are still precarious. Even if the crops do produce, there is still the fragility of supply chains between the fields and the supermarkets.
But finally, there is good news in the midst of all this. There is a more personal miracle at work. Despite being the creator of all things, possessor of wisdom that humanity cannot begin to fathom, God speaks to Job – a man who is loyal, but still questioning – as an individual. You might thing that this gap in importance, between God and human – a chasm in fact – is altogether too big to be bridged. Yet God does just that. And in a way, the poet who wrote the book of Job was foretelling the future – that there would be a time when God would bridge that gap as he came amongst us in the form of Jesus Christ, his Son.
This tells us that, instead of our God being inscrutable, the creator of a logic higher than we can understand, God reaches out to us. We cannot know why there is suffering in the world but what we do know is that we can find peace with God in the midst of our suffering. We do not possess the wisdom to contest God. But we can trust God to support us through the trials of life and be at peace.
Prayers of intercession
When we seek power and glory for ourselves
and overlook the needs of the humble and weak,
Christ, the servant king:
Help us to follow your example of service
Where there are those who rely on food banks and on benefits,
Christ, the servant king:
Help us to follow your example of service
Where stronger nations ignore the plight of the poor;
where food and medical supplies are stockpiled while others cry out in need.
Christ, the servant king:
Help us to follow your example of service
Where churches focus on their own desires
and fail to see the needy at their gates.
Christ, the servant king:
Help us to follow your example of service
When our neighbours are sick, imprisoned by addiction,
cold through lack of shelter, lonely through isolation
or tearful because of bereavement,
Christ, the servant king:
Help us to follow your example of service
When our personal ease and comfort leads us
to ignore the threats to the future of our planet,
Christ, the servant king:
Help us to follow your example of service
Loving God,
we pray that our society may become characterised
by our desire to serve one another;
to help the weak and seek the common good.
Help each one of us to work out our place
in the community of those who follow Jesus.
In the name of Jesus we pray.
Amen.
Prayers are © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2021. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com

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