Last week we heard Job’s great lament to God: Lord where are you? Let me come into your dwelling place and I will prove to you that I am righteous. If you see this, then you will acquit me of the wrong you think I have done and you will return to me the things that were mine, you will give me back my land, my family, my power and prestige, my reputation, all of which you have somehow taken away, or let be taken from me.
This week the Lord answers Job: What is the first thing that God says to Job? Who do you think you are, Job, that you get to determine how things should go? Who are you, that you would speak to me without knowledge. Who do you think you are? I’ll tell you what, let me ask you some questions: ‘where were you, Job, when I laid the foundation of the earth? If you think you know what should happen Job, if you think yourself so wise, if you think you know how things ought to be ordered, if you think things ought to happen just how you think they should, then tell me how the earth was made, who made it, how will your life be knit together with your neighbor’s life? Do you see how people’s lives, their work, their ministries, their service, their faithfulness, their follies, their hopes and joys, their fear and anger, their bitterness, do you see Job, what I am bringing out of this and how I’m ordering it? What, you mean you’re not me, Job, you are not God? Things do not happen in accordance with your own limited knowledge and understanding? Imagine that Job.
God’s answer to Job here might seem incredibly harsh. But remember what it is that Job had said to God: I am righteous and you will just see that if you let me talk to you. How many of us would be tempted to say this to God? God, I have worked hard, I have done this and that, I have been a good person, why would you let a bad thing happen to me? Maybe you haven’t been paying attention and that’s why you’ve let these terrible things go on in my life. Let me just show you how righteous I am, Job says. Then you’ll grant me all the things I think are right; you’ll make good things happen for me and I will get my way, I will get my life back. How often do we say this sort of thing to God? Lord I have been a good person, or slightly more problematically, ‘I know what’s right, I know how things ought to be because I am wise, I am experienced, I am smarter than, kinder than, more holy then.’
But God’s point is this: my friends, you have absolutely no idea, I quote God, “you have no understanding” about how I am working in and through people and things that you don’t even realize are going on. You are finite, you are limited in your lifespan, your knowledge, and your understanding. You may think you are right, holy, good, and you may think you have a case about how things should go your way because you are so righteous, but stop imagining that the world that I, your God created, is as simplistic as you imagine it to be.
What God is saying to Job and to us in a nutshell is this: you simply don’t know as much as you think you know about how God orders the events of all our lives into this tapestry that is unfolded over time and enfolded or brought altogether at the end of time. That’s not to say you don’t have some good ideas, it’s not to say that your pain isn’t necessarily real and justified, that’s not to say that how you respond might not be correct. But, and here’s the key: as we go about our day to day lives – as the limited people we are – God says to us, go about those lives with humility, with charity toward others, with love, with kindness, with patience. Don’t envy or boast, don’t remain angry at someone, stop imagining you know better than everyone or you may turn out to be God’s own betrayer by turning away from him, and turning others away from him. To be a jerk and to be a Christian really is a contradiction. To imagine that the way that you treat others can be separated from the core of you, who you fully are before God, is to live falsely before him. It is to fail to seek, grasp, cling to, and follow the grace God has provided in Jesus Christ. It is to cling instead to what you experience in life, as if your own personal experiences of the world, of how to gain and maintain influence or power or control over other people, are how God too has ordered the world. That my friends, is not following Jesus Christ. It is falling to sin.
Listen to what Jesus has to say to his disciples on this very theme. James and John, a couple of Jesus’s disciples come along and they seemingly want some power. They want to be Jesus’s number one men. Maybe it comes with power or influence or prestige for them, maybe it gives them more control over others. So up they go to Jesus and they say, “teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus says, ‘okay guys, what do you want.’ They say to him, ‘grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left in glory.’
Now remember when God says to Job, who are you Job, you that were not there with me at the beginning of the world and who will not be there at the end: you who have no understanding of how I order all things. Jesus the Son of God says to James and John, ‘you do not know what you’re asking do you guys?’ Do you think you can drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I’m baptized with? What is Jesus referring to here? Well is arrest, his trial, his crucifixion of course, but also, his rising from the dead, his bringing all of creation with him, and his bringing our time, all of time, to its end. James and John, can you do this? Do you see: Jesus’s response to James and John is God’s same response to Job.
You see guys – James, John, Job – to sit at God’s right hand is foremost to be Jesus Christ. But to follow Jesus Christ, well, it’s not like following the powers of this world (the gentiles) isn’t not like following a ruler who lords his power over people, it’s not like being someone with a lot of worldly power who influences and controls, and always gets his or her own way. No, Jesus says, that is not what following God is like at all. Guess what following God looks like? It is the way of the Cross. Are you prepared to pick up your cross and follow me, Jesus asks? “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you, must be slave of all.” Why? Because Jesus Christ, the one who has power over all things, sets the way that the world really is, what power and influence, and truth really is: it is to live his own life. He came not to be served, not to have worldly power, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for human beings.
To live into the grace that we’ve been given, even when we are happy or sad, wealthy or poor, filled with hope, or languishing in fear or doubt, wondering why things aren’t going our way … to live into the grace won by Jesus Christ on the cross and in his resurrection, is to live a life of self-giving. It is not to accumulate or to wield our power, our intellect, our possessions, our money. It is not to lash out in condemnation of those with whom we don’t agree, scolding or belittling, or almost worse, gossiping about – this is sin. It is rather to engage as Jesus Christ did with each and every one of us when he came into the world: with love, charity, kindness, gentleness, patience, persistence, and self-control. To the extent one’s life looks like Jesus Christ’s own, one is witnessing to God who rules over heaven and earth. To the extent one’s life looks like a grab for power, a lust for control, things played out in so many different ways by people in churches, in businesses, in families, one witnesses to their own insecurity, frustration, anger, and fallenness. It is a type of life where people’s motivations are bent to securing themselves in the world, but not in the life of God and so it’s a witness that ends up driving people away from God.
God in and through his Son tells us exactly how we can come to sit and the right and left hand of God: whoever wishes to be first among you – that is, to be joined with me – must become a servant to others. The life of a servant is Jesus’s own: it is to give up using the world’s broken ways of gossip, slander, bitterness, anger, controlling or threatening others, hurting and harming, and tearing others down, in order to have real power: a life of love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and care for others so that their fear, their insecurity, their pain, their struggles, might be cast out as Hebrews puts it, they might be broken down so that that person might see God and follow too. That is our calling my friends. I cannot tell you what this could look like in your life – only you know the particular circumstances of your life and your inner hearts, what drives you, what you’re motivated by, why your respond to certain people or things as you do. But just imagine yourself standing before God when he asks you what sort of servant, what sort of witness to his life you were on earth. For one day, we will all be standing here. AMEN.