A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Job 38:1-11; St. Mark 4:35-41
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calms the tumultuous storms. Amen.
What shall we say about Job? This novella is one of those books in the canon of Scripture we tend to ignore. Sure, we might make passing reference to it, but we often keep it – and its tragic events – at an arm’s length.
Here’s a quick summary to jog your memory:
Job is doing quite well for himself, living the dream life. He’s wealthy, his estate boasting a thriving herd of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. His large family gets along, dining with each other frequently. The prologue tells us “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” To borrow a phrase from social media, he was #blessed.
Cut to the heavenly court, where the Accuser wanders in and strikes up a wager with God: Job is only pious because his life is perfect. But would he remain faithful if his posh life were taken away? What follows is a series of tragedies that in short order leave Job bankrupt, alone, covered in sores, sitting in an ash heap, waiting for death, using a broken vase as a backscratcher, as his wife tells him to just give up.
Sitting alone among the ruin, Job’s “friends” – though I use that term lightly – wander by to tell him it must all be his fault.
And it’s at this point that we all remember why we ignore this depressing section of the Bible. We’re not even at chapter three yet, folks.
After a lengthy debate on innocence and justice, God shows up, which is where our text for today picks up. Speaking through the roaring wind of a tornado God demands to know who Job is to question divine providence. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Who is it that measured the expanses of the cosmos? What master craftsman has built up all that you see? You, who claim to be so smart, “surely you know.” Was it you who spoke, causing the sun to rise? Did you make the stars to shine and put them in their place? Did you calm the primordial seas of chaos? Tell me, with all of your wealth, with your large herd and loving family, with all of your “wisdom” and “might,” tell me what it was like to forge the universe.
The Lord declares God’s own divine majesty for four chapters before Job meekly replies, “No purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
The point of Job is best summarized by Martin Luther’s dying words: “We are beggars. This is true.” All that we have comes from God. Like the farmer in last week’s parable, we sleep and we rise while the world keeps on turning and the seeds bring forth their fruit. We know not how.
But this isn’t the most satisfying conclusion, is it? The Lord may be mighty, but God comes as rather aloof and uncaring. Job, an innocent and honorable person, still went through hell-on-earth. Job and his friends can debate the philosophy of suffering all they want, but something about this book still feels fundamentally unjust. That’s probably why we ignore Job so often, turning our attention to something more familiar – like our Gospel text for today.
During the whirlwind preaching tour that we’ve been reading through in Mark, Jesus tells the disciples to hop in a boat and cross the sea. As they sail during the evening, a storm comes upon them.
Put yourself in their shoes.
It has been a long day, a long couple of weeks. Wandering through the Galilean countryside, your rag-tag group has confronted some of the most desperate people. You’ve seen lepers and people on their death beds. You’ve come face-to-face with demons. You can’t believe your eyes: the sick, the injured, they’ve all been made well. The blind see, and the demons have been cast out. The crowds have grown. Even at meal times, when all you want is a bite to eat and a moment – just a moment, please! – of peace and quiet, the crowds still push in around you. And then there’s the teaching which, to be quite honest, is still confusing, but you know it’s causing a stir. The leaders from the synagogue have been, at times, openly hostile, and even some folks from Jerusalem have come out to investigate. You’re not sure how this is going to end.
As the sun sets, you all pile into the boat. Sailing is hard work, but it’s a pleasant evening and the exhaustion from the prior weeks melts away. The sun is low in the sky, the wind is blowing, the temperature is pleasant. Jesus shuffles to the back of the boat and lays down.
As the evening stretches on, you realize something is off. The wind is picking up, there’s a rumbling in the distance, and it’s getting darker faster than it should.
Before you know it, the sky is pitch black, illuminated only by all-too-frequent bursts of searing light. It’s pouring buckets, and the waves are kicking the small boat to and fro. You feel the sting of water spaying over the hull, soaking you to the bone. As the wind roars, you wonder how much more the sail can take. With every peel of thunder, every steep wave threatening to swamp the boat, you wonder how much more you can take. This tempest is a living hell.
And then you hear Simon Peter praying the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is one.” He’s preparing to die.
Meanwhile, Jesus is still curled up in the back, fast asleep.
Looking over at his brother, Andrew turns towards the back of the boat and shakes Jesus awake. The Lord looks back, almost upset that he’s been disturbed. You can’t hear much of what’s said over the wind, but suddenly and with more than a trace of anger, Andrew’s voice roars over the wind, “Teacher! DO YOU NOT CARE THAT WE ARE PERISHING?”
And here is Job’s lament on new lips. The disciples, who had seen Christ work wonders, had seen him cast out demons, had seen him save countless lives, were faced with their own mortality. Like Job, they weep, “I cry to [God], and [the Lord] does not answer me; I stand, and [God] merely look[s] at me.” That sense of abandonment, of despair. Surely we have all felt that.
A flash of lightning illumines the scene, disciples wearing faces of mortal dread as they work to keep the small boat afloat, while Levi the tax collector clings to the mast, tears and sea spray flowing comingled down his face. You look back, turning to the Lord in your time of need.
You see Jesus climb to his feet, but suddenly a wave crashes into the boat, knocking you down, face first into the water pooling in the hull. Glancing up, you Jesus standing, and you hear his voice – gentle-but-firm, loud and clear over the wind, yet no louder than when he called to you. “Peace,” he says. “Peace. Be still.”
The waves stop almost instantly. The wind is back to a gentle breeze. Within a minute, the rain has ceased, and the clouds give way to the sunset. As the thunder retreats into the distance, the last rays of the day cast everything in a golden glow as though the world had been made anew.
The Lord who calmed the primordial chaos before the creation of the world, who laid down the foundations of the earth, the very God who shut in the seas, stilled the storm. The very Word by which all things were made uttered three simple words and put an end to the tumult.
Dear ones, if Job’s point is that we are beggars dependent upon a mighty God, the point of today’s Gospel is a reminder that God is mighty – but also good. Job leaves us wondering why a good and honorable person is put through such agony, why people like us are put through the chaos of this life. But what we see in Saint Mark is a God who intervenes. When the violence of this world rises up against us, when we are buffeted by many storms, remember: the very God who bid the waves be still has promised to be with us always, even to the ends of the age.
In the tumult of this life, buffeted by the waves, our Lord’s command rings clear: “Peace. Be still.” Within these walls, we are given words of forgiveness, the story told in Scripture, greetings of peace, and the means of grace as a refuge, a very present help in times of trial. Here, the waves are calmed. In these waters, we find the promise of life rather than the threat of violence. Around this table, we find our Lord – the infinite God, creator of the cosmos, contained within the finite meal. In these tangible things, we find a peace which surpasses all understanding.
Be still. Rest in God’s peace.
The waves may crash around outside, and we are going to be sent into the storm. There is still much work to be done, a Kingdom to be proclaimed, peace to be carried out into this world. But when, like Job, it feels as though everything has been ripped away from you, and when like the disciples, it feels as though your little boat is about to be swamped, when you cry out and it feels like the Lord does not answer, when you want to yell at the top of your lungs above the roar of the dangerous winds, screaming “Do you not care that we are perishing,” when the gates of hell threaten to overpower you, remember these words: “Peace. Be still.” Trust in the Lord, whom even the wind and the sea obey.
This chaos does not have the final word. The storm will not last forever. Sin will be vanquished. The grave will not conquer us. We will fear no more but instead trust in Christ.