Sunday, August 21, 2022

Unraveled: Seeking Understanding When Everything Falls Apart

But where can wisdom be found?
    Where does understanding dwell?
No mortal comprehends its worth;
    it cannot be found in the land of the living.
The deep says, “It is not in me”;
    the sea says, “It is not with me.”
It cannot be bought with the finest gold,
    nor can its price be weighed out in silver.
It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir,
    with precious onyx or lapis lazuli.
Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it,
    nor can it be had for jewels of gold.
Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention;
    the price of wisdom is beyond rubies.
The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it;
    it cannot be bought with pure gold.

Where then does wisdom come from?
    Where does understanding dwell?
It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
    concealed even from the birds in the sky.
Destruction and Death say,
    “Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”
God understands the way to it
    and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
    and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
    and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
    he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
    “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
    and to shun evil is understanding.” ---Job 28:12-28 (CEB)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from the Triune God who laid the earth's foundations, set its measurements, and to whom none on earth can compare. Amen.

Over the past year or two I’ve really begun to get into podcasts. My son started me on them - he listens all the time and will regularly share new ones with me that he thinks I might be interested in. One of my favorites is The Daily, which is a daily deep dive into something in the news, often digging deeper into politics here in this country or into events or situations happening in other countries. Throw in a little art and science, and that pretty much covers it. The exploration is usually about things that are happening now. The big and urgent questions of each day. 

But, this past Friday, they did something a little different. Instead of pursuing a current event, the entire podcast was focused on the topic of “cosmic questions.” Questions that often don’t have concrete answers. Big, dreamy existential questions that we don’t have the answers to. Like: “What’s a black hole and why do we care what happens inside?” Or “Is there other life in the universe? And, if so, why don’t we know about it.” One more. “Why do we remember the past and not the future?” You know, the questions at the center of your everyday dinner-time conversation.

Well, maybe not so much. 

But, it was a fascinating conversation that made me want to do more research and gain more understanding about one particular question they explored. And, as happens frequently, this particular podcast seemed to be perfectly timed with our text today from Job. Because the book of Job is also about a cosmic question. The question of suffering. Why there is suffering in this world? And, perhaps, more specifically, why do bad things happen to good people? 

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Experienced something especially devastating. A diagnosis. A loss. Or maybe several. I doubt there's anyone here who hasn’t had something incredibly hard happen in their lives. And who hasn’t asked the question, “Why, God? Why?” 

That was Job’s experience, too. He - like you and I - was one of the faithful ones. But, as the story goes along he becomes the subject of a cynical bet between God and Satan. A bet to question - really, to test! -  how faithful Job would remain in the face of hardship. And devastation. 

When he loses everything, he, too, asks the question, “Why?” 

Then, his friends show up. They’re not particularly helpful. Maybe you’ve experienced “friends” like this. Who, in the face of deep loss come with platitudes. Like “It’s just God’s plan!” Or “It was for the best!” Or, one of the worst, “Maybe God is punishing you for something you did.” 

Then, after these so-called friends, another one shows up and speaks a poem to him, a poem about Wisdom. It's from this poem from which today's text comes. 

About Wisdom. 

Wisdom is a key figure in the Hebrew scriptures, always in the feminine. Proverbs 8 talks of Wisdom as the one created at the beginning. “I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.” It would only be in the first century that the Church would make the connection between the person of Wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures with that of Christ in the New Testament - particularly, with the idea of logos in the first chapter of John. The Word made flesh. Wisdom embodied in the person of Jesus Christ; then, later, in Christ’s Spirit. One who captures the fullness of God. 

But, in the Hebrew scriptures, Wisdom is identified as a righteous woman, who walks in God’s ways, who seeks justice. Who is seen as both a playful child and a wise architect. A primordial being with the claim that, “whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.” It’s the claim in the last verse of our text today: “The fear of the Lord is wisdom; turning from evil is understanding.” The irony of this particular claim is that it points us exactly to Job and to who Job was. A righteous man. Faithful. A lover of God. 

Not that being righteous. Or faithful. Or a lover of God is a bad thing. But, if we expect that if we do these things or are a righteous person, we will escape hardship. Or difficulty. Or loss. Then, we, like Job, fail to understand. And, if we think, too, that we are experiencing hardship because we haven’t been good enough, we also fail to understand. Like Job, we fail to experience the bigger picture. Of who God is. Who asks Job, “Where were you? Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Where were you when I set its measurements? Where were you when I stretched a measuring tape? Where were you?” 

We try so hard to control everything. And when we no longer have control. When everything in our life has unraveled. We, then, finally - hopefully - begin to experience God. And God’s presence. With a sense of wonder of this God, at work at the beginning of our world. At work in the midst of our world in this very moment. God, who does not promise a perfect life or a life without struggle. But, God. Who promises to remain. To be. With us. 

That then is true wisdom. A breathless, awe-filled reverence for God’s mystery and God’s expansiveness. For God’s presence that is beyond what we can control. Or make sense of. Or fully understand. In this life. 

So, close your eyes for just a moment. 

Become aware of your breathing. Listen to its gentle rise and fall. Become aware of being in the presence of God. 

Allow the God of love to look at you. (What’s in that gaze? Acceptance of you as you are is a good start.) Adopt a position of receiving. Stay with that for a moment.

Now, think back over the week. Give thanks for something or someone that brought you light and life. 

Was there a time when you struggled? Bring that to God’s deep, compassionate listening. 

What do you need for the coming week? Let God know.

Then remember that God loves you. And that God will remain faithful. To you.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Preached August 21, 2022, at Grace & Glory, Prospect, with Third, Louisville.
Pentecost 11
Readings: Job 28:12-28; Psalm 42:1-3, 5, 9-11

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