Freeing God and ourselves from the Box

 Gate Pa – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B

28th October 2012


Hebrew Scripture:     Job 42:1-6, 10-17 
Psalm:                         Ps 34:1-8; (19-22)       
Epistle:                        Hebrews: 7:23-28
Gospel:                        Mark 10:46-52           

What I want to say:

I want to talk about Wisdom literature, which largely comes out of the experience of God seemingly abandoning the believer, or even worse, becoming an enemy. I want to suggest that the result of their observation of life, of the good and the bad leads them to suggest that the key is fear of the Lord. This is not being afraid of God, but being like Job, recognising that God is beyond our understanding, and so is the relationship with God. It cannot be defined and contained. It simply invites us to place God in the centre of our lives and to live from that centre.
It is this the disciples are struggling with in this central section of Mark. They keep wanting Jesus to behave as they expect, as everyone else expects God’s messiah to behave. And they want in on being on the winning side. Their eyes are only fully opened with the crucifixion and resurrection, and the realisation that to be God’s loyal and fruitful follower’s means walking the same path.
So why does Mark focus so much on the failure of the disciples? Because too many in his community were getting stuck on their expectations of God. Because we too are like the disciples and get stuck in our expectations. So what is it we need to discard? What “profit” do we expect of God, that we need to be rid of?

What I want to happen:

To reflect on what “profit” we expect of God, that we need to be rid of?

The Sermon

    1.      Introduction:

today heard last piece from Job,
And since we leave wisdom literature for awhile
I thought spend a little time talking about this important part of biblical canon
Wisdom literature comes out of the experience of life turning to custard
when all the things based life on no longer hold true
all falls apart
written out of experience of seemingly being deserted by God
        ð  No longer trust who we understand God to be
        ð  Who we are relation to God
comes out of the darkest times
and I think is really helpful in those time.
James Crenshaw wrote:
"One of the most perplexing features of the Hebrew Bible is the believers conviction that God has become an enemy, wielding extraordinary power to frustrate the cause of truth and righteousness. A sense of personal betrayal and outrage accompanies the recognition that God has trifled with deep affections and treated solemn promises with complete indifference. Nothing within the believer’s inner thoughts or public conduct justifies such abandoning of prior relationships. Rather, a change in God seems to have occurred:  Human constancy is met with divine inconsistency, faithfulness with fickleness. Faced with this new situation, the believer struggles to grasp the meaning of the new face of God and to recapture the previous relationship of mutual trust. This religious quest to understand the experience of God-forsakenness gave rise to a significant body of literature in which the agony and ecstasy of faith find poignant expression."2
based on writers’ observation of life rather than divine revelation (prophets)
particularly their observation of  when old answers no longer work
when evil and misfortune occurs with no apparent cause
ð  a range books
-          Proverbs – seem hold easy answers
-          Ecclesiastes –
"Utterly meaningless,
everything is utterly meaningless"  Ecclesiastes 1:2
"But I came to realise,
That the same fate overtakes them both.
Then I thought in my heart,
'The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?'
I said in my heart
"This too is meaningless'
For the wise man like the fool will not long be remembered in the days to come, both will be forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise man too must die:” Ecclesiastes 2:14b-16
        ð  Lamentations
        ð  Job – listening to last few weeks
Another common thread is “the fear of Yahweh, or the Fear of Lord”
concept we meet so well in
retell story
>        feared God as righteous God  righteous judge rewards righteous and punishes sinner
>        all characters holding fast to understanding God as
2 weeks ago Gods response to all of this
"Who is it that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the Earths foundation?
Tell me if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions?
Surely you know?’
Who stretched a measure line across it?”                    Job 38:1--5
To which Job responds, as we heard last week
"Surely I spoke of things I did not understand
Things too wonderful for me to know" Job 42:3
for the wisdom writers this is fear of the lord. not being afraid of God the punisher, but in awe of God beyond our understanding.
ð  Job’s sin and sin friends was their blind insistence old answers, working so hard to make them fit
ð  hold fast to  traditional theological viewpoint – righteous rewarded long life, health, wealth, sons, name remembered
-          in the face all evidence
ð  Job’s sin wasn’t that questioned old formularies – but that he still used them define own life and therefore relationship with God
ð  Instead revelation of Job in chapter 42 is that God is mystery, beyond understanding, and so our relationship with God is mystery.
ð  It cannot be nicely tied down and described safe comfortable terms, even if those terms are biblical
Fear of Lord is realisation that God is beyond understanding
in the end any answer, any understanding we have about God, and God and us is deficient, and while they might be helpful, need to be held very lightly.
Fear of Lord not about being afraid but being in awe of God
for me – really freeing
Don’t have try get all this nicely sorted out
Because can’t
When Job called God to account because God did not live up to what Job thought was his side of the bargain – he was placing God in a box, and complaining God did not fit
How often do we do that?
what boxes are we trying to squeeze God into
and what is it like when God refuses to fit?
I understand for a lot that is a very terrifying idea
that in the end God cannot be described, and cannot be confined by our understanding.
In the end God is simply God and will act in whatever way God sees fit. I can’t control that or prescribe it.
Simply put, what writers of wisdom tradition were saying is
 life is way more complicated than any easy answer can hope to explain
Fear of Yahweh,  Fear of the Lord  simply acknowledges that God is the one who described God’s self to Moses as “I am who I am”
and face human tragedy suggests that “if being God is no bed of roses, then neither is being God’s loyal and fruitful follower”
So why we would want to be a follower of God?

     2.      Mark

of course God is not complete mystery
we believe that in person Jesus we can know the unknowable God
which is why for us Anglicans gospels play such an important part in our liturgy
in these stories we meet crucified and risen Christ
in doing so meet unknowable God
but it would be fair to say that based on stories hearing Mark
that is only partly helpful
even disciples struggling to work out what Jesus was on about
and if they were struggling, that does not bode well for us.
if we were to apply some thinking of wisdom literature we have just been talking about
we might say that
disciples clearly operating out of some pretty redundant boxes
and Jesus working really hard to help them get out of those boxes
This whole central section is about them putting Jesus into a “messiah box”
with all the expectations that go with that box
and seeing themselves and their lives in terms of that box
which was all about end roman occupation,
an end tyranny Judean elite
all about restoring reign of God as they understood it
which was all about them being in the new “in group” and at the top of that group.
In short, seem very concerned about what Jesus could do for them as his followers
“what is in it for me?”
we might say that they seem to be loving God like a cow
they are like first blind man who saw giants.
Today we have healing blind Bartimaues
cries out determinedly when all tell him to be silent
who then throws off his cloak – his security, his warmth during cold days and nights – what keeps him alive
I am going to make way too much of this
Interesting detail story –
why does Mark emphasise this throwing cloak to one side
in a sense it represents throwing old life with the old all securities involved in that to one side
            security of being a beggar     
            knowing place in society
            knowing where stood with God and people of God
knowing where he stands with his family and this community        
he casts all that to one side
when asked by Jesus “what do you want me to do for you?”
asks to see again
once healed – can see clearly, unlike the man at the beginning of this central section
and in seeing, follows Jesus on the way
the way is
            the way to Jerusalem
            the way to cross
            the way to the end of all disciples hope for
they still can’t see it, but he can

     3.      Bad Disciples?!

I am left with a questions
so why does Mark keep emphasising the disciples blindness
three chapters – whole central section is about the disciples getting wrong
having go at them?
or is it that significant number of his community we not getting it
still trying understand Jesus using old understandings about God, and humanity, and what it means to be a faithful follower
still loving God for what God could do for them – outward wealth or inward comfort?
were too many were like disciples, like Job, stuck in how it had been
was he desperately trying to free them
desperately help them see that old answers no longer work, - it is time to let them go
more disturbing question is: is he is writing for us?
we sit in our churches today smuggley listening to these stories thinking
these disciples- they are so thick
I keep on saying it
but I suspect that Mark is saying to us
you still don’t get it either do you
saying to us
let go of your past ways of understanding God
I wonder
where are we in this story?
how are we with the disciples asking “what is in it for me?
treating God like a cow

I wonder
what would it mean if we were to be with the blind man throwing aside all that keeps us warm and safe
Following Jesus on the way?

I think Meister Eckhart, fourteenth century mystic helps when he said,
“Some people want to see God with their eyes like they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow. They love their cow for the milk and cheese and profit it makes them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort. They do not rightly love God when they love him for their own advantage. Indeed, I tell you the truth, any object you have on your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inner most truth. God, rid me of God. “