Sermons

Awe and Humility; Rev. Dee Ledger, October 21, 2018

How do you personally define “awe”?

What creates the feeling of awe and wonder within you?

When is the last time that you felt that sense of awe?

Merriam-Webster defines awe as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.”[1]

We might experience awe at the birth (and creation) of a child, at cloud formations or galaxies, the visual vastness of mountains or the soaring spaciousness of certain architectural achievements.  We may gasp in wonder at the human body, which, for all its faults, performs an amazing array of complex functions flawlessly despite our less than thoughtful lack of care, and despite our less-than-ideal diet or exercise.

Periodically, we might even experience awe on our commute (yes, really!) that all of these human beings are moving, moving, moving, mostly peacefully on multiple roads in multiple cities at any given moment.

Or we attend a concert or an art exhibition, see a movie, or even walk in the woods and we wonder at the intricacies of creative process, design, beauty, and the magnificence of transcending our own human lives into something immense, connected, and…well, powerfully moving.

When is the last time that you experienced awe and wonder?

Maya Angelou writes, “If a person is religious, I think it’s good, it helps you a bit. But if you’re not, at least you can have the sense that there is a condition inside you which looks at the stars with amazement and awe.”

In our scripture for today, we are reminded of awe.  The book of Job is a difficult and moving book for many reasons, not the least of which that our Job is an innocent man who suffers deeply.  His experiences cut through our notions of what is fair, right, and just. We are going to spend some time with Job next week as well, so for today, we are going to focus on God’s response to Job.  This occurs after Job questions God and his friends at length for the first 37 chapters or so about the unfairness of his life, which includes the death of his children, his physical ruin and financial ruin.  We do not need to go into detail regarding the specifics of Job’s demise; we only need to remember the last time that we turned to the heavens and wondered tearfully or raging: “Why, God?”

For the most part, Job and his human circle of friends and family are given free rein to question, to rant, to curse, and to challenge both each other and God.  But then God speaks.  And out of a whirlwind, no less, which is symbolic of an emerging theophany.

We listen at the door while God answers Job.  More than 60 questions directed personally to Job flow from the whirlwind of God’s speech.  This is not the God that pats her wayward son’s back and says, “It will be alright.”  This is not the God who shows up as a friend or even an advocate to plead Job’s case.  This is not a meeting of equals or would be equals.  This is the Creator of the Universe speaking from a distance to a human who has spoken for 37 chapters, questioning God’s sense of justice and fair play.

To begin, God wants to know who it is that speaks in ignorance, going on and on without knowledge. God asks: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

It is God’s first question that gives pause in this long couple of chapters containing questions.

Have you ever spoken without knowledge?  I know that I have.  It is hard when we think that we are right.  It is difficult when we believe that our perspective is so valid that it is the only thing that matters in a conversation, or in a consequential decision, or in any matter where we believe that our stake in the conversation is the most important or the most vital.  We may believe that our privilege gives us the key to unlock the door, so we barge in, without knocking or asking whose door it is in the first place.  It is God’s question about whether or not we have spoken in ignorance that we tend to forget when we think that we, alone, are the primary holders of information, power, resources, or what-have-you.  Our perspective, our passion, our tendency to self-absorption can cause us to speak whether without facts or in denial of the facts before us.

It is our ignorance to speak or to argue before we have tended to faltering or floundering relationships—whether they are with the person or groups with whom we are in tension or the entire web of mutuality with other living things.  What comes first: our facts or our relationships?  Indeed, some of us consider all our questions to be primary and our relationships with our opponents secondary or not necessary at all.

Yet our God is a relational God.  And in these passages from Job, God questions Job at least sixty times about whether Job has understood the varied and complicated vastness of the universe, Job’s relationship within this ordered universe, and the way God meets the needs of mountain goats and oxen, not to mention the hawk, horse, and lion.  The point in this passage is NOT to glorify the human being and his or her significance.  The point here in this passage is NOT the questions that humans ask of God, but to shift the focus from humankind to the rest of the Universe—the rising dawn, the expanse of the stars, the “wisdom” within Creation, the giving of rains, the nesting of eagles, the calving of deer, and the subduing of Leviathan (a Jewish sea monster).

“Tell me,” God declares to Job, “If you have understanding.”

As valid as Job’s questions of God are – about justice, suffering, and the like—this chapter is about those times when we, human beings, are challenged, convicted, nudged, humbled, and stunned into silence so that we might create a space to listen to God’s questions of us.  The Lord says to Job, “Shall a faultfinder content with the Almighty?  Anyone who argues with God must respond.”

Last week, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a sobering and convicting report on our climate’s status.  The report says the planet will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.[2]  As The New Yorker reports, “To keep warming at 1.5 degrees, governments and private businesses must make unprecedented changes—on a sweeping global scale—in energy systems, land management, building efficiency, industrial operations, shipping and aviation, and city-wide design. Within the next decade, human-caused carbon-dioxide emissions need to fall forty-five per cent below 2010 levels. By 2050, net carbon-dioxide emissions must equal zero. [3]

Why is this part of a Sunday-morning discussion about Job?  Well, for one thing, human beings have placed themselves at the center of Creation for a very long time and we are now reaping the harmful consequences of our anthropocentric way of life.  So many times this past week I thought about Copernicus and his then-revolutionary idea that the center of the earth was not the center of the universe.  The Church did not respond well to those facts.  Popes, priests, church leaders, and the faithful did not attend well to the church’s relationship with science.  We have a chance to do better and a chance to partner with science for the survival of our planet.

We have become accustomed to hurling our questions of human suffering upon God, without listening deeply and reverently for the questions that God may have of us.  We have spent 37 chapters of our lifetime or more arguing about who should take the lead in this and by how much, who is responsible and why, and gathering research and facts about whether or not climate change is real.  We have been less inclined to build the necessary relationships with one another that will help us to move this planet to sustainability and survival for everyone—plants, animals, and yes, humans.   We have allowed ourselves and others to speak without knowledge about human suffering in general without tending to specific global suffering with a sense of urgency.  We can and must do better.

In Chapter 38, God asks “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?  Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?  Declare, if you know all this.”

While there are things that we don’t yet know about this Universe and the earth on which we live, the knowledge we do have should guide us to a saving place, a place of sustainability, a place of healing, and a place of life.  When Job is convinced of all that he still does not know, he repents in dust and ashes, yet he acts.  He tells God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”  This “seeing” leads to his repentance, restoration of his losses, and a changed relationship with his friends, his neighbors, and his God.

Will our “seeing” do the same?

The poet and minister, Todd Jenkins writes:

Mother Earth hopes,
at the core
of her molten magma,
that we will soon wake up

to the divine declaration,
proclaimed at the universe’s dawning,
that we are all connected,

and our purpose is
to pull together,
instead of apart,

so we all experience
a full unfolding
of dignity, worth, and respect.

Otherwise, we’ll become
little more than momentary fireworks
in a recalculation
of global proportions.[4]

We do not have to be the architects of our own human Armageddon.  It is not too late for human beings to reverse course, despite dire predictions of our current harmful behavior.  It is not too late for necessary partnerships, flooding our representatives with the voice of Creation crying out to us, or for listening to God through the whirlwinds, warming, flooding, and erosion of our shared planet, our shared lives, and in the laws that ignore Creation at our peril.  It is not too late to build coalitions, to educate, and to reverse law and policy from “how much we can get away with” to “how much we want to save.”  It is not too late to give priority to the non-human and human “Jobs” who are struggling to survive and on whom we depend.

We began with awe and wonder.

Let us end with humility and hope.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awe

[2] https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/07/world/climate-change-new-ipcc-report-wxc/index.html

[3] Kormann, Carolyn. “The Dire Warnings of the United Nations’ Latest Climate-Change Report,” October 8, 2018,

www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-dire-warnings-of-the-united-nations-latest-climate-change-report

[4] Todd Jenkins, “A Mom’s Dream,” used with permission from the writer.  Please see the author’s blog:  http://TuesdaysMuse.wordpress.com