Monday, May 29, 2017

No Peace but a Sword

Preached at South Salem Friends Church
May 28, 2017

I previously posted a sermon about the Biblical teaching that Jesus took the Law to the cross. It was nailed there with him, and it was not resurrected. We live in grace. Paul taught that the Law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Jesus, and that once we trust Jesus’s character and work on our behalf, we are set free to live in and by the Spirit, focusing our energies on what James calls “the law of liberty,” the necessity of living out love to God and to our neighbors. But this doesn’t mean that life is easier. In fact, we lose the comfort of a network of rules that we can obey in order to remain safe, and life becomes more of an adventure, more listening and obeying in each moment.

The Born Again Life

In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” Being born again means being born “of the Spirit.” And then Jesus adds, “The wind blows where it wills, and you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. The Spirit is like the wind; it breathes or blows where the Spirit wills; you cannot tell where the person who is born of the Spirit comes from or where that person is going.” These are unsettling words; notice that Jesus spoke them to a person already believing in God and interested in God’s kingdom. Jesus calls Nicodemus, and us, to a life of uncertainty about what comes next, of moment to moment listening and obeying, based on our trust in the work and character of Jesus Christ.

When the messenger of God came to Mary and promised her she would give birth to the chosen one, the Messiah, she stepped into a world of trust. And a world of trouble. Simeon prophesied to Mary over the infant Jesus: “This child will cause tumult—falling and rising again—in Israel and many will speak against him, revealing their inner selves. And a sword will pierce your own heart.” This last is usually understood to refer to her grief over Jesus’s death, but we are told that God’s word is a sword that reveals our innermost selves, and remember that Mary was put in her place by Jesus at least once (“who is my mother? Who is my brother or sister? Whoever hears and obeys God”), and that she and the rest of her family thought Jesus might be crazy. Even Mary’s inner self found it hard to trust that this man and the way he ministered and the death he endured were the salvation promised to Israel and to the world. He wasn’t what she expected. Moved by God’s Spirit, he said and did things that worried her, that caused her pain as a mother and as a human being.

And Jesus is not comforting to the rest of us. He says, “Whoever openly agrees with me and publicly aligns with me, I will openly agree with and align myself with before my Father. Whoever openly contradicts me and refuses what I offer, I will contradict and refuse before my Father. Do not get the idea that I bring peace on earth, if peace is the absence of conflict, the ever-present tranquility and harmony. I did not come to send peace on earth but a sword that divides family members from each other, making them enemies to each other. All who love family more than they love me are not worthy of me, are not comparable to me; all who refuse to take up their cross and follow me are not worthy of me. All who work to find their lives will lose them, and all who throw their lives away for my sake will find them.” (Matthew 10:32-39)

“I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”

I think we can put these passages together and understand some of what causes divisions in denominations, in congregations, in families, even when all are Christians who want to do what’s right. God does not promise that the Spirit will move all believers at the same pace and at the same time. So when some are moved differently or faster than others, conflict results.

We can see this repeatedly in the book of Acts, particularly around the new understanding of the kingdom of God that Peter and Paul brought back to the church in Jerusalem, all of whom were Jewish. Were Gentiles to be a part of the universal church? Would they need to become Jews as well? How was this going to work out?

Complicating the problem was the fact that while Jews thought of Gentiles as dogs and idolaters, Gentiles also thought of Jews as less than nothing. Gentiles were winners with rich mythologies, after all, and Jews were a conquered people whose one god had failed to protect them. Two superiority complexes.

Only Jesus brought them together, and the brew was always ready to explode. Thus all of Paul’s letters to Gentile churches that rail against Jewish Christians teaching the necessity of circumcision. Thus Paul’s advice to Gentile Christians to be gentle with Jewish Christians around the eating of meat offered in idol temples.  (In this day, we Gentile Christians can hardly understand the repulsion, the nausea Jews would have felt about eating these idol sacrifices.) Thus Peter’s witness to the Spirit falling on the Gentile Cornelius and his household as a sign of their inclusion in the kingdom of God. And thus Paul’s rebuke of Peter for being two-faced, behaving with freedom around the Gentile Christians but acting like an observant Jew around Jewish Christians.  It just is not easy.

The history of Christianity is filled with conflict. Creeds are written to contain change. Some prophets follow the Spirit and then confuse their own spirit with God’s. Some renewal movements are thrown out and become a force for spreading the Gospel in new worlds or among new peoples. Some groups are so offended by others’ views that they go to war with actual swords or guns or bombs in order to enforce their vision of God’s will.

Jesus’s own words about bringing a sword are intensified by his comment that “I came to light a fire on earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” And John the Baptist foretold that one would come who would baptize with the Spirit and with fire.

So what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection was not only our salvation, but the release of the Holy Spirit of God onto the world. This Spirit, the Spirit who breathed God’s word into prophets and poets, is a sword that divides joint from marrow, as the book of Hebrews says, and lays bare our innermost selves, but also divides families and congregations and denominations, and lays bare how much or little we actually love each other, lays bare how much or little we trust the character and work of Jesus in each of us and in all of us. So conflict ought not to surprise us.

Nonetheless, I think we ought to be disappointed in ourselves when we allow differences of understanding about how the Spirit is leading to cause us to take up swords against each other, whether literal or metaphorical. Remember that Jesus also said that whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword, and he told his followers at the moment of his approaching arrest and death to put away their swords. We need to approach each other in our differences without weapons or armor.

Persisting in Community

Jesus told us that we would know people by their fruit—by their words and deeds, both of which come out of their inner selves. Paul contrasted humans’ natural fruit  with that which God’s Spirit brings forth in people. For church conflicts, the most pertinent contrast is between hatred, strife, wrangling, indignation, wrath, factions, divisiveness, hardened opinions—all of which arise out of natural human fear of change, fear of God’s judgment, fear of loss, and the resulting self-protectiveness—and love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control—all of which arise out of God’s grace that draws us to trust in Jesus’s work and character.

So how can we live together in the Spirit when we are not led by the Spirit at the same pace or at the same time?

Paul spends some time on this around the issue of eating meat offered to idols. Remember first that the Council of Jerusalem had issued guidelines for all Christians everywhere, one of which was, “abstain from meats offered to idols” (Acts 15:29). Apparently, this was not taken by Gentile Christians as an absolute prohibition, because we find Paul addressing it as a source of division in Corinth (1 Cor. 8 and 10).

Paul says that all things are lawful for him. This reminds us that Paul has repeatedly taught that the law does not apply to those redeemed by Jesus. He also adds that just because he can doesn’t mean he will. He must decide if an action is helpful, if it is  profitable to his main calling of spreading the Good News. He asks himself not only if he wants to do something, but is that action good for those around him as well. This is right in line with the fruit of God’s Spirit.

So there are two issues to think about. What does my own conscience tell me I am free to do? And will my action harm the person or persons I am with?

My Freedom vs. Another’s Conscience

In 1 Cor. 8, Paul says: “The overarching principle is this: We make nothing of idols, because we have one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ; we belong to and live in our Father and our Lord.

“However, not everyone understands this fully, and thus their consciences worry them about meat offered to idols, whereas we who understand this know that eating meat earns neither approval or disapproval from God. So we are free to eat all meat.

“Nevertheless, suppose someone sees us enjoy this liberty by sitting down to eat meat in an idol’s temple. That someone’s conscience forbids them this freedom, but because they respect or admire us, they go ahead and join in the meal. Then they suffer from having ignored their own consciences, and perhaps this will lead to their destruction. We can’t have that happen.

“So be careful how you use your freedom. Do not use it to harm a weaker fellow believer who doesn’t yet understand how we are free. This is like hurting a child, and it hurts Jesus. Better to give up eating meat than let my freedom come between someone and their efforts to obey, even when those efforts are based on a lack of understanding. “

There is a difference between a person who goes against conscience to copy the one who is enjoying the freedom of living in God’s Spirit and the person who imposes his or her conscience on those who are enjoying the freedom of living in God’s Spirit. It is a question of the use of power. I am not bound by your conscience, nor are you bound by mine, and in God’s Spirit, we are gentle with each other and take care to help each other obey God.

In 1 Cor. 10, Paul says first, “Just buy meat, don’t ask where it’s from. The whole earth belongs to God.

“Second, if you’re invited to someone’s house, don’t ask where the meat is from. Just eat what is set before you with thankfulness.

“But if the host advises you that it was offered to idols, this reveals something about the host, that the host is afraid it is not acceptable for you to eat it. In that case, don’t eat it so that you will set the host’s mind at ease. Again, remember that the whole earth belongs to God.

“In this you are deferring to another’s conscience. But why should your liberty be infringed on by another’s conscience? Why should your enjoying of grace by eating freely and thankfully be judged as evil?

Ultimately, when you eat and drink, and in all you do, bring glory to God.”  

Enhancing God’s Reputation

So our concern is “How can we enhance God’s reputation in order to draw people to relationship with God?”

Paul says, “Make a smooth road for the Jews, who avoid idol meat, and for the Gentiles, who eat it without scruple, and for the gathered congregation as well as the far-flung universal church,” just as Paul works hard to accommodate himself to all others rather than seeking to please himself or do what is good for himself. He does this so that others may be rescued and healed, saved from danger and destruction.

The long game here is what is ultimately good for others who are presently in danger and are being destroyed. This is why Paul rails against the Judaizing legalists—legalism itself is a danger because it destroys the relationship of trust. Paul wants them not to turn their back on the free gift of God. Paul obviously did not work too hard to please those who promoted the Law from within the church. Nor did he go out of his way to make their lives miserable. He used good judgment and followed the leading of the Spirit.

(Aside about the limits of conscience: It is possible for human beings to have a diseased conscience, one which plagues us with guilt and shame for many things in a day. We live in fear of judgment and cannot enjoy the freedom Jesus died to bring us. Even in the example from Paul, the conscience that forbids eating meat offered to idols is a sign of weakness, not strength.

We can look at the facts of our lives when our conscience torments us. John tells us in 1 John 3:18-23, “Let us not talk about love, but let us live out love in our actions and in our efforts for others’ well-being. This lived-out love assures us that we are acting out of truth, confident that God sees us. If our hearts accuse and condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Though our hearts accuse us, our confidence is in God, and whatever we ask, God gives because we do what God tells us to, those things that we know please God.” It takes courage to live into God’s freedom.)

So how do we move through these tangled times, times when it seems our enemies are those we love, members of our own faith community, perhaps even members of our own household.

1) Keep our eyes on the long game—bringing those heading for destruction to understand the work and character of Jesus in which they can trust.

2) Be unsurprised by conflict: a religion characterized by obedience to a living Spirit of God that moves where the Spirit wills, not where we expect, will unavoidably lead to disagreement.

3) Be tender toward those who have not yet understood the grace of God and the freedom to live out love; don’t put them in positions where they feel they must disobey their consciences.

4) Be careful not to impose your own conscience, which may accuse out of weak faith rather than strong, on someone who is trying to obey the Spirit and live out love.

5) For evidence of belonging to and living in God, evidence that can stand against the accusations of an overactive and fearful conscience, look to your motives and actions in order to live out love yourself.

And don’t be afraid. God is greater than we are, and when we miss the mark, God promises to forgive and clean us up to try again.  Look to the example of Jesus, who gave himself in life and death to rescue those who are perishing.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Law Is Nailed to the Cross

Preached at South Salem Friends Church
May 21, 2017

I’m a missionary kid. My parents went to central Africa, right at the end of WW II. I was born in Kansas, but went back with them at 6 months old. Eventually, they put me in a School for Missionary Children, a boarding school. I was seven.

At boarding school, I had to make my bed, tidy my drawers and surface spaces, dust and sweep my room every morning. While I was in classes, my dorm mother inspected the rooms, and if they were not up to her standards, we came back to find our names in the doghouse. We had to clean it to passing standards right away.

If we got put in the doghouse three successive days, we were confined to our rooms for the time between school and supper. I can’t remember what happened if our tidiness still didn’t meet standards, but I’m guessing it involved more of the same.

It was embarrassing to be put in the doghouse and have the fact posted in public. But even worse was the consequence for wetting the bed. My roommate was a chronic bed-wetter, and every morning she had to drag her soiled sheets up to the laundry room and wash them out by hand. Again a public event. One night I had a bloody nose and had the same consequence. I told everyone who would listen that it was a bloody nose, not wetting the bed. This public humiliation was hard to bear.

And once in school, still seven years old, I didn’t have my homework done. I was so afraid of the teacher’s response that I wet myself, and the urine ran into a puddle under my chair. But I remember in this case that the teacher scolded the boy who laughed at me and made him clean it up, and she sent me to the dorm to change my clothes without berating me.  After school, she asked me why I was so frightened, and I explained that I had heard her scold a different boy who didn’t do his homework and threaten him with a spanking, and so I expected the same. She said, "He almost never does his homework."

And that same year, I deliberately broke a rule by reading a Nancy Drew mystery under my covers with the flashlight after lights out. My roommate told on me, and I had the book confiscated and was in significant trouble.

This is vivid to me because at seven, I entered a system of law different from what I had previously experienced. I didn’t know before that time that I should make my bed. I doubt if I knew how to make it, even. I didn’t know about homework. Learning to read with my mother had been a game. I was unaware of obligation, to a large extent, though of course my parents had a few rules. And since at home we had to turn off our electricity at 9 p.m. or so, I may have been reading by flashlight without penalty before I went off to boarding school.

Now the apostle Paul has some interesting things to say about sin and law in Romans 5:12-21:

I need to make some things clear, says Paul.

Before a command was given, sin was in the world, but it wasn’t counted against anyone.

(To connect this to my story, my not making my bed was not a disgrace before I went to a school with rules.)

Paul says: Sin is not part of the reckoning without law. However, until God gave the Law to Moses, death had the upper hand even over those who did not directly disobey God’s command as Adam did.

(For me as a little girl, even though I wasn’t penalized for messiness before I went to school, there was in fact messiness, and someone had to clean it up. Messiness does rule if no one cleans. And when there is a rule against messiness, shame arises. And shame is a kind of death.)

In fact, the Law came in so that we humans could see how sinful we are, how prone to error; but where sin increased, grace hyper-increased, grace filled and overflowed the deficit caused by sin.

Adam is a prefiguring of Jesus Christ In his effect on those who came after.

And if Adam involved all humanity in sin and death, how much more does Jesus involve all humanity in the grace of God. Adam’s trespass brought a condemning judgment, but Jesus’s free gift brings many trespasses into favorable judgment.

Just as through one human, sin, error, trespass, disobedience came into the harmony of the cosmos, with sin came death, and death passed through all humans because all sinned—to repeat: if by one man, Adam, death ruled over humanity, how much more will life gain the upper hand, and people will receive abundance of grace and the gift of being set right with God and will reign in life by the one man, Jesus.

Therefore, as by the disobedience of one man all were condemned, so now by the obedience of one man all are set right with God and brought into life.
So just as sin has ruled through death, even more grace rules because grace makes people who they are meant to be even into eternal life.

Paul is very repetitive about how grace through Jesus Christ dominates and dismantles the law and with it shame. But it’s hard to imagine living without rules. So who can we look at to see what that kind of life is like? We can look to Jesus.

Jesus himself said, I have come not to blow up or break apart the law, but to demonstrate what it looks like when someone understands its true intent and fulfills that intent. Matt 5:17-18 (fulfilled = completed, filled up, satisfied, accomplished) Paul, reflecting on the work Jesus did, said, “Christ in his flesh abolished the law” (Eph. 2:15).

This is what it looks like for Jesus to fulfill the Law: Jesus and his disciples were not scrupulous about following the law to wash up before eating. Jesus violated Sabbath restrictions and had the nerve to say that both he and his Father were still working. He said work done to help was holy and not a violation of the Sabbath laws. Jesus said that God had set up Sabbath laws for the welfare of humans, rather than creating humans so they could obey Sabbath laws. You break Sabbath in order to circumcise, to cut a person up; yet you want to kill me for breaking Sabbath to make a person completely whole (John 7:22-23).

Jesus touched the dead and the lepers. Both made him unclean—unable to participate in temple worship. The same is true for the woman who was bleeding.

Jesus did not condemn a woman taken in adultery, stoning her to death as the law required, but instead told her not to make that mistake again. Jesus called the Pharisees to account for their marriages and the hardness of heart that destroyed their married unions, but when he met the Samaritan woman, he brought her serial marriages into the light but did not scold or condemn or shame her.

Jesus consistently told people to examine their own hearts and behavior before judging how others were being obedient. Did Moses give you the Law, and none of you keep it (John 7:19).

The Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

Whoever loves another fulfills the Law, and love works no harm for another (Romans 13:8-10).

Jesus showed us what it means to love another and thus fulfill, or fill up, or satisfy, the Law.

The Law foreshadowed good things to come but could not bring them about (Heb. 10:1).
Paul says that the Law is useful like a schoolmaster.  The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but now we are children of God by faith, and in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ (Gal 3:24-29).  We are dead to the Law by the body of Christ; we are delivered from the Law (Romans 7:4-6). The earlier commandment has been annulled and replaced by a better hope in Christ as our high priest, through whom we draw near to God (Heb 7:18-19).

The fact that we can’t keep the Law, in other words, creates in us the awareness of ourselves as sinners in need of grace, and the need for grace drives us to trust in the character and work of Jesus Christ. And when we put our trust in what Jesus has accomplished through his death and resurrection, and we trust God’s Holy Spirit to lead us every day, we live in freedom, not under the law.
We are justified by the faith of Christ, we believe in the character and work of Jesus Christ; we are dead to the Law so that we may live to God; we are crucified with Christ, and now Christ lives in us and we live by the faith of Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. We do not reject the grace of God by saying that righteousness comes through the Law (Gal 2:16-21).

Keeping the Law does not justify, but we are justified freely by grace through the redemption accomplished by Jesus; justified by faith in Jesus, not by works of the Law (Romans 3:20-24, 28).

The Hebrew and Greek words we often translate as “sin” have in them a number of pictures that help us understand this theological concept.

Sin is To Miss the Way, to Stumble, to Wander, to Misstep, to Slip, to Stumble.

Sin is To Miss the Mark, to Miss the Goal.

Sin is To Fail at the Assignment, To Avoid, to Neglect, to Overstep.

Sin is To Run the Wrong Way when Terrified, To Lose Oneself.

Sin is To Bend, to Make Crooked, to Distort God’s Truth.

Sin is To Overturn God’s truth, To Trespass, to Rebel, to Break Away From, to Defect.

You can see that “sin”—or trespass, or iniquity, or transgression, or other synonym—is a living word that works on several levels of intentionality. 1) We can try to do right and end up messing things up even if we have given ourselves to God, and 2) we can decide to do wrong, and 3) we can deliberately assert that we belong to ourselves, not to God. All are kinds of sin. The last is most dangerous.

As John says in the first letter, if anyone says she or he is without sin, they lie. But if we confess or own up to how we have messed things up and gone the wrong way and avoided what we know God wants from us, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and clean us up and set us straight. This verse is about how those who want to belong to God can keep themselves moving with rather than against God.

There is a path God wants us to travel through our lives; there is a purpose toward which God wants us to aim; there are things God wants us to do; there are things God wants to make plain to us; there are principles God wants us to live by. What are these?  Jesus said the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. How do we do this? We live out of love as much as we can, we ask God how to live out of love and we do what God puts before us to do, and we try not to harm our neighbor or ourselves. And when we fail, we confess it to God and let God work to help us do better the next time we have an opportunity to show love. We live under the law of liberty and we count on our gracious God to help us use our freedom lovingly.

Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:12).

For in Jesus Christ all that counts is faith working through love (Gal 5:5-9, 13-25).

God chose to birth us through the word of truth; we need to humbly accept that word which is planted in us and which can save us, and obey it, the perfect law of liberty; be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:18-25).

But if we really are living and walking in the Light, as He is the Light, we have true fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ the Son cleanses us from all sin and guilt. If we say we have no sin, we delude and lead ourselves astray, and the Truth is not in us. If we admit we have sinned and confess our sins, He is true to his own nature and promises and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness  (1 John 1:7-9).

I started out talking about the shame of finding myself in the doghouse because I couldn’t measure up, and about being humiliated for my human frailty. I added in the fact that sometimes I deliberately broke a rule. However, I did not want to own myself rather than to belong to God. This kind of active rebellion can occur in church-goers and in atheists, and it prevents the rebels from knowing that God is Love.

The Law helps us realize we have missed the mark and are sinners in need of grace. However, when the Law brings us to the point of trusting Jesus, it has done its work and has no more to say to us. We know that Jesus is the answer to our frailty, our imperfect attempts to do the right thing, our mistakes, and even our deliberate wrong-doing. We know that when we come to Jesus, he does not condemn, even when he does instruct. Sadly, we can also turn our backs on God and insist on owning ourselves, of earning our own way, and when we do this, we cannot grow in grace and we rely on keeping rules rather than obeying the Holy Spirit of God.

Let us give ourselves to God, accept the grace Jesus gives, and live guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us embrace our freedom to live out love for God and neighbor.


Monday, April 24, 2017

The Mystery of Creation

Preached at Newberg Friends Church
April 23, 2017

I went to see Beauty and the Beast with grandkids recently; this is the third movie version I’ve seen. The first, a surreal black and white directed by Jean Cocteau, had Belle say sadly after the beast is transformed into a ordinary handsome prince, “Where is my beast?  Ou est ma bête?” Today I want us to think about the creation we are part of without the sentimentality of turning the beast into a prince, without the need to attribute the aspects we fear to the Fall depicted in Genesis, without the need to prioritize comfort so that we cannot glorify God for what inspires discomfort, awe, disgust, and even terror. Even as we never want to lose sight of the love of God that knows us intimately and cares to make us whole, we want to remember that we are a small part of the astonishing creation that God loves and has called good.

The God we know personally is also infinite, and thus unknowable to finite beings, which we are. We can infer this by looking around us at creation. We are still learning about creation; thus we are still learning about the Creator. This is a cause of hope, not despair.

Even when God became human, we could not understand or contain Jesus; we could just a bit better understand how God loves us. We are now companioned by the Spirit who lives within us but who also sweeps us off our feet and blows down some of the things we cherish. Our recommended posture before our Creator, our Sustainer, and our Redeemer is humility and meekness—accepting that we are who we are, and God is who God is. No matter what we try, we cannot bring God down to our size. 

Some of the verses that underlie our understanding of the relationship between creation and our Creator:

And God saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:31)

You wove me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you for I am astonishingly and individually made. (Psalm 139:13-14)

All creation waits expectantly, longing for God’s children to be revealed; for the creation was subjected to frailty, not because it willed itself to be so, but because God so willed it, with the hope that creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and be included in the glorious freedom of God’s children. (Romans 8:19-21)

Blessed are the meek, the humble and gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. (Psalm 37:11, Matt. 5:5)

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. (Rev. 21:1)

These verses celebrate the creation: both the creation that has been completed and the creating that is going on right now. God is Creator not once but always. And God is creating good out of the materials to hand, even as we speak. All good gifts come to us from the Father of lights (James 1:17).

We can ask the question, how can God be good and call creation good, and yet humans—and other parts of creation--suffer pain and terror. This may be a question we can ask without being able to understand and contain the answer. The question “why” always takes us back to our belief structures if asked repeatedly, and we must admit to ourselves that we take God on faith—God’s goodness, God’s love for us and creation, God’s work to redeem us and make us whole, God’s long-term purposes. Some of the most powerful words about creation are placed in God’s personal conversation with Job:

Job—why am I suffering?
God—look at the world around you
This is not an immediately helpful answer, particularly since God makes it clear that creation is far more than the humans who are part of it. Its processes operate independently of humans, much of it cares not a whit for humans, humans cannot inhabit much of it, and some of it is hostile to humans.

God asks Job what he knows about the beginning of the universe: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Who determined the measures of the earth, if you know? Or who stretched the measuring line upon it? Upon what were the foundations of it fastened, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors when it broke forth and issued out of the womb?—When I made the clouds its garment, and swaddled it in thick darkness, and marked its appointed boundary and set bars and doors, and said, Thus far shall you come and no farther; and here shall your proud waves be stayed?

God asks Job what he knows about the reasons for day and night: “Have you commanded the morning since your days began and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it may get hold of the corners of the earth and shake the wicked out of it? The earth is changed like clay into which a seal is pressed; and things stand out like a many-colored garment. …

God asks Job what he knows about the oceans, what he knows about light and dark: “Have you explored the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell Me if you know it all. Where is the way where light dwells? And as for darkness, where is its abode, that you may conduct it to its home, and may know the paths to its house? … By what way is the light distributed, or the east wind spread over the earth?

God asks Job if he can control (or even predict) the weather: “Who has prepared a channel for the torrents of rain, or a path for the thunderbolt, to cause it to rain on the desert, where no human lives, to satisfy the waste and desolate ground and to cause the tender grass to spring forth? Has the rain a father? Or who has begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth? The waters are congealed like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen. Have you entered the treasuries of the snow, or have you seen the treasuries of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of waters may cover you? Can you send lightnings, that they may go and say to you, Here we are? Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can pour out the bottles of the heavens when the dust has run into a mass and the clods have hardened together?

God asks Job if he can organize the constellations: “Can you bind the chains of Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the signs of the zodiac in their season? Or can you guide the Great Bear with her young? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule upon the earth?

God asks Job if he can provide food for predators: “Can you hunt the prey for the lion? Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions when they couch in their dens or lie in wait in their hiding place? Who provides prey for the raven when its young ones cry to God and wander about for lack of food?

God asks Job if he knows the life cycle of prey animals: “Do you know the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? Do you observe when the deer are giving birth? Can you number the months that they carry their offspring? Or do you know the time when they are delivered, when they bow themselves, bring forth their young ones, and cast out their pains? Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open field; they go forth and return not to them.

God points out that not all animals exist to serve humans, and asks Job if he can control the untamable wild donkey: “Who has sent out the wild donkey, giving him his freedom? Or who has loosed the bands of the swift donkey, whose home I have made in the wilderness, who dwells in the salt land? He scorns the tumult of the city and does not obey the shoutings of the taskmaster. The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searches after every green thing.

God asks Job if he can tame the wild ox: “Will the wild ox be willing to serve you, or remain beside your manger? Can you bind the wild ox with a harness to the plow in the furrow? Or will he harrow the furrows for you? Will you trust him because his strength is great, or will you leave your labor to him? Will you depend upon him to bring home your seed and gather the grain of your threshing floor?

God points out to Job that not all of nature cares well for its young, but it nonetheless has its own beauty: “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly; are they the pinions and plumage of love? The ostrich leaves her eggs on the ground and warms them in the dust, forgetting that a foot may crush them or that the wild beast may trample them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers; her labor is in vain because she has no sense of danger, for God has deprived her of wisdom, neither has he imparted to her understanding. Yet when she lifts herself up to run, she can laugh to scorn the horse and his rider.

God points out that horses, even tamed, are combative: “Have you given the horse his might? Have you clothed his neck with quivering and a shaking mane? Was it you who made him to leap like a locust? The majesty of his nostrils is terrible. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He mocks at fear and is not dismayed or terrified; neither does he turn back from the sword. The quiver rattles upon him, as do the glittering spear and the lance. He devours the ground with fierceness and rage; neither can he stand still at the sound of the trumpet. As often as the trumpet sounds he says, Ha, ha! And he smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

God asks Job if he understands how the hawk flies: “Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars and stretches her wings toward the south?

God points out to Job how amazingly the eagle sees prey: “Does the eagle mount up at your command and make his nest on high? On the cliff he dwells and remains securely…. From there he spies out the prey; and his eyes see it afar off. His young ones suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is he.

God celebrates the monsters of the dry land: “Behold now the behemoth, which I created as I did you; he eats grass like an ox. See now, his strength is in his loins, and his power is in the sinews of his belly. He moves his tail like a cedar tree; the tendons of his thighs are twisted together like a rope. His bones are like tubes of bronze; his limbs or ribs are like bars of iron. Behemoth is first of the works of God. God who made him provides him with his tusks; only God can master him. Surely the mountains bring him food, where all the wild animals play. He lies under the lotus trees, in the covert of the reeds in the marsh. The lotus trees cover him with their shade; the willows of the brook compass him about. Behold, if a river is violent and overflows, he does not tremble; he is confident, though the Jordan swells and rushes against his mouth. Can any take him when he is on the watch, or pierce through his nose with a snare?

God celebrates the monsters of the ocean: “Can you draw out the leviathan with a fishhook? Or press down his tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope into his nose? Or pierce his jaw through with a hook or a spike? Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak soft words to you? Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant forever? Will you play with leviathan as with a bird? Or will you put him on a leash for your maidens? Will traders bargain over him? Will they divide him up among the merchants? Can you fill his skin with harpoons? Or his head with fishing spears? Lay your hand upon him! Remember your battle with him; you will not do it again! … No one is so fierce that he dares to stir up leviathan. Who then is he who can stand before Me?

“I will not keep silent concerning leviathan’s limbs, nor his mighty strength, nor his goodly frame. Who can strip off his outer garment? Who shall come within his jaws? Who can open the doors of his mouth? His teeth are terrible round about. His scales are his pride, shut up together with a tight seal; one is so near to another that no air can come between them. … His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go burning torches, sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goes forth smoke, … his breath kindles coals, and a flame goes forth from his mouth. In his neck abides strength, and terror dances before him. … His heart is as firm as a stone, indeed…. When he raises himself up, the mighty are afraid; because of terror and the crashing they are beside themselves. Even if one strikes at him with the sword, it cannot get any hold, nor does the dart, nor the javelin.

“He counts iron as straw and bronze as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make leviathan flee; he treats slingstones and clubs as stubble; he laughs at the rushing and the rattling of the javelin. His underparts are like sharp pieces of broken pottery; he stirs up the mire. He makes the deep boil like a pot….. He makes a shining track behind him… Upon earth there is not leviathan’s equal, a creature made without fear, fearless. He looks all might in the face; he is monarch over all the sons of pride.

And then God asks Job what he knows about himself: “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who has given understanding to the mind? Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heavens is Mine.”

Then Job said: “I know that You can do all things, and that no thought or purpose of Yours can be restrained or thwarted….I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

So we can now know who created our reality. The whole Trinity: God, God’s Spirit, and the Word of God—Jesus. The Spirit brooded over the waters at the beginning, there was nothing created apart from Jesus, the Word, and God pronounced it good. We also know who continues to create—God has begun a good work in us, we are the dwelling place of God’s Spirit, and God will continue this good work  until the day of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that God is still working, that he does only what his Father says and what he sees his Father doing. Even as life continues to be generated on the ocean floor, God continues to generate spiritual life in humanity and in individual human beings. Please be patient; God is not finished yet.  

We also have faith that from God’s perspective, God who sees beginning and end and exists outside time, God’s works of creation, redemption and reconciliation are completed.  When we share God’s perspective, we may well see Komodo dragons and frilled sharks as beautiful and good. Creation will be reconciled with itself as well as with God.

As part of creation, we humans live and move and have our being in God, who holds all things together. AND God makes space for our freedom to exist.

Human free will is responsible: we are responsible to our neighbors and to God for what we choose—human history and the way God moves through time are a mystery. It is scandalous to justify human atrocities to each other by saying they are the will of God.

And God exercises God’s free will toward us by loving us while we are yet in error, entering our experience of creation, receiving the actions of human free will, and in every sense rising above it, bringing us along. God exercises free will in taking what we have broken and weaving it together into something useful and good.

God’s perspective is bigger than humans, bigger than planet earth, bigger than the solar system, bigger than the Milky Way galaxy, bigger than our universe, and also includes mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, cells, atoms, chemical reactions, electricity, fractals, time. Let’s work to appreciate God’s perspective that values both the leviathan and the individual human being.

Let’s be humble in the face of what we do not know, humble before the God whose love we do know in part, and gentle with each other, so that we can be the blessed meek, who inherit the earth.