Ask, Don’t Tell

Summer 2018, Year B / Psalm 107; Job 38:1–11; Mark 4:35–41

Hebrew Scripture Reading: Job 38:1-11

Job 38:1–11 ESV

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Dress for action like a man;

I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!

Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,

or who laid its cornerstone,

when the morning stars sang together

and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors

when it burst out from the womb,

when I made clouds its garment

and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed limits for it

and set bars and doors,

and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,

and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

Gospel Reading: Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35–41 ESV

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

We like answers. Answers make us feel in control. When someone answers a question, they are saying, “I know about this because I care about it.” Answering a question makes someone an automatic leader of sorts. Or if nothing else, it puts the answerer a rung or two above the asker.

Questions are often seen as weak – especially in the church. They are a confession of sorts. They are a confession that we don’t have all the answers. Asking a question is tantamount to saying, “I don’t know all there is to know about the things that matter to me.”

Questions – or rather the question askers – are also misunderstood. We tend to assume that if we have questions, we don’t have enough faith or our faith isn’t complete or it’s baby faith. The ones asking are seen as having less faith than the ones answering.

As a church, we want answers, not questions. When we are trying to figure out where we fit in as the world changes around us and when we are trying to sort out how to survive and continue to share God’s good news in an increasingly divisive and hostile culture, we don’t want someone to come in and ask us questions about our faith and motives, we want someone to come in and give us the answers – a neat little list of the things to do that will fix the chaos. We want a 10 step plan to returning things to how they were before all this happened.

But this is dangerous and even sinful thinking because we see questions all over scripture. Both of our passages today are full of them. Scripture tells us time and time again to be humble and always seek after God – admit that you don’t know everything and continue the search. Always be suspicious of easy answers to complicated problems.

One of scripture’s most well known – or perhaps notorious – questioners is Job. Job was a faithful man who had a good relationship with God . . . until terrible things started happening to him. His livestock all died. His servants all died. His children all died. Through these things, Job held on to his unwavering faith. But then he got sick. He still didn’t curse God – he didn’t entirely turn away like his wife suggested, but he got mad and sad and all the completely appropriate and human emotions that someone would get when everything they love is being taken away.

In Job 3:3 Job curses the day he was born.

Enter Job’s friends. These guys have answers for Job’s questions about why. Eliphaz tells him he must have some unresolved sin in his life.

Job 4:7 ESV

“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?

Or where were the upright cut off?

He tells him to stop asking questions and repent more. He’s even so bold to say, “If I were you, I would seek God better because God is awesome.” Job 5:8-15 Thanks for trying Eliphaz, but that’s not particularly helpful, buddy.

So Job tells Eliphaz off, basically. I can’t blame him. Then Job’s “friend” Zophar tells him he’s such a hot mess, he should be lucky he got off so easy. Again – not helpful. And again, Job tells off his so-called friend for being pretty rotten company and being a know-it-all. Eliphaz chimes in again that Job’s faith isn’t strong, he should trust God more. Job tells him off again. Then another guy named Bildad pops in and says this is all just punishment. Job tells off Bildad. Zophar tries to get another jab in by saying, “bad people suffer.” And Job reminds him that there are plenty of terrible people in the world who are doing quite well for themselves. This goes on for more than 30 chapters until finally God cuts in with the passage we just read. God doesn’t cut in with an answer. God asks a question: “Where were you when I made all of this?”

In Job 38, God asks Job’s friends, “Who is this that’s talking without knowing what they are talking about?” and “Where were you when I put all this together?” God’s questions are more rhetorical – they are asked to get Job and his misinformed buddies thinking. That’s what questions do – they encourage thinking. Answers shut it down.

Job and his friends didn’t need more rote answers. They needed to see that things were bigger than they were assuming.

Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B, Volume 3 Homiletical Perspective

Job cannot see beyond his narrow worldview. All he can perceive in his situation is injustice. He still thinks of the world in legal terms of right and wrong, even though this legal theory has failed him. Job’s framework has proven inadequate, but it is the only thing left standing between him and the chaos of the world. Job is desperate for justice, not chaos, to prevail. So when this legal framework fails him, Job seeks a legal solution—a trial. In desperation, Job challenges God to a legal hearing, convinced that if only he has a chance to plead his case in court, then surely he will be vindicated. Surely justice will prevail and the chaos will be tamed. Job demands to know why he must suffer despite his innocence: “Let the Almighty answer me!” (31:35).

Our Gospel passage this morning is full of questions. We see four key questions in the passage from Mark 4. The disciples ask the very pragmatic and fearful question:

Don’t you care that we’re about to die?

If you think about it, this question from the disciples is really pretty bold and it’s a great deal like Job’s lament that he wishes he had never been born. They aren’t willing to completely curse Jesus, but they were happy to accuse Jesus of not caring enough about them. They – like Job – forget that it’s not God who has to answer to us. It’s we who have to answer to God. After all, were were we when God created the earth?

Jesus is right there in the boat with them. Jesus – God in flesh. Jesus – God in just as much physical danger from the storm as they were. Jesus – God in the flesh and ruler of all chaos, creator of the very sea they rocked on.

Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B, Volume 3 Theological Perspective

“We think and worship as if the only question was whether God loves us, instead of whether His love has absolute power to give itself eternal and righteous effect.”2

Jesus then asks the disciples a question in return, after calming the raging storm around them. This one, like the questions God asks in Job, is primarily a rhetorical question to get the disciples thinking:

Why are you so afraid?

In Hebrew mythology, the sea represented chaos – the things we can’t control or we feel like we can’t control. When we feel out of control, we blow things out of proportion. We let fear rule our hearts.

And yes, the sea represents chaos, but in Job God lays out that God is the master of the sea, of chaos. God puts boundaries even on the chaos. In Mark, Jesus binds the chaos of the water they are sailing on.

When we see chaos around us and we feel helpless and scared, the first question we must ask is, “Why am I so afraid?” Because fear comes from a place of discomfort with not having all the answers. Sure, we might not understand all the things that are happening in the world around us, but are we the masters of it all? Are we the ones who can calm the wind and the sea? Where were you when God created it all?

Jesus’ asks a second rhetorical question before the disciples have a chance to answer the first:

Have you still no faith?

Jesus was asleep when the storm came. He did not let the fear and the chaos rule his heart.  He was asleep because he trusts God. And it’s not just God’s individual plan for him specifically that Jesus trusted in that boat.

This is not about your one individual personal situation. Yes, you matter to God greatly. But you are also not the center of the universe. Even Jesus knew it was about something so much greater than himself.

Jesus isn’t accusing the disciples of having too little faith in the health and wealth, name it and claim it, just faith harder way that Eliphaz did to Job. He’s reminding them that faith – real faith – is so much bigger than their own individual day to day circumstances.

Sometimes, this is about playing the long game instead of worrying about everything being neat and tidy and calm right now.

Where were you when the earth was created?

Finally, the disciples begin to catch on and they ask one another:

Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey?

It’s like a light bulb goes off in their heads. It’s a dim light bulb, but it’s on.

They are both in awe of and a little unsettled by Jesus: the one who calms the waves and answers their questions with more questions.

People who are not afraid in a storm can be a little intimidating or unsettling. Perhaps that is part of what makes it so hard to trust God when things are going wacky all around us. We are suspicious of someone who rises above the chaos. It’s unusual to not fear anything.

That’s what makes following Jesus such a radical move. One of my commentaries put it this way: “Jesus reaffirmed his faith by being obedient to God, even to death. . . . ‘Have you found a just cause that overshadows death for you?’” I love that the commentary ends that section by asking a question.

I think we can ask ourselves that as a congregation. It’s scary to be such a small church today. We fear the unknown and the possibility that this church might not be here in 5 or 10 years. But where were we when God created this world? Who are we to say that we know what God has in store? How dare we question God’s love for us over a little storm? Jesus is right here in the boat with us.

We as the Church – big C church as in the Church as a whole – need to stop trying to have all the answers and fearing what we can’t answer. We need to embrace what’s happening around us and remember that God is the one who bounds even the chaos of the sea and who created everything out of nothing. We need to find a just cause that overshadows the fear of death – one that reminds us this is all so much bigger than we are. What might be that cause for this church? The one that we could throw ourselves so fully into that our fear for the future is gone?

Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B, Volume 3 Pastoral Perspective

Like Job, the people of God ask for explanation, for an accounting. More often than not, what we are given are moments of mystery. The church’s role is to support people in the midst of this encounter, to teach them the interpretive tasks of recognizing God’s work, not just in the exceptional moments of our lives, but in the regular moments of every human life, where God can be known but never finally explained.

It is appropriate that I should end this morning’s sermon with a question. So I will leave you with this:

Where is God the God who created this all working in the chaos around you?