Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's June 24th homily. Relevant text, Job 38:1-11, Mark 4:35-41
I tend to ask a lot of questions. I am sure that there are some who don’t like that I ask questions, and some who wonder why I ask questions at all. What purpose do they serve – especially in a sermon – other than to see if you have been paying attention, of course?
I ask questions because questions are important. We ask questions in order to learn and to better understand things. Questions help us to grow. This is true in the realm of knowledge as well as in the realm of faith. Questions are key parts of Martin Luther’s catechism. After each commandment, after each article of the creed, and after each petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther offers an explanation by answering a question: “What does this mean, exactly?”
Questions are a big and important part of today’s Old Testament and Gospel lessons,but in all honesty, today’s sermon has nothing to do with the answer to a question. Today is about the question – actually, about questions in general.
Let’s start with Job. Of Job, God says: “There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.”
Of Job, the Tempter says: “Of course Job is good and righteous you have not given him any reason not to be. Let me at him and I will show you that he is like all the rest.”
God, for reasons I do not pretend to understand, or agree with, says go ahead, you can touch anything but Job’s life.
Now many people have experienced far less tragedy than Job and cursed God for it. But what does Job do? He questions God. In fact his questions go so far as to challenge God to a trial. Job’s point is: “If I have done something wrong, fine, I will accept everything that has happened to me as just. But if I HAVE done something wrong – which I’m pretty sure I haven’t – then tell me what it is so that I can understand and repent and set things right.”
This is Job’s question: “What did I do wrong? What did I do to offend you, O God?”
Who has not asked this question? Who has not wondered in the face of some catastrophe: “Why, O God, is this happening to me?” It is a question as old as time.
Here is the amazing thing – out of the chaos that has become Job’s life, God answers. This is not the voice of God that came to Elijah in the whisper of stillness. This is the fullness of God in the power of the whirlwind that shook the disciples at Pentecost. And God’s answer comes in the form of more questions.
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Let me ask you some questions Job. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who determined the earth’s measurements? Who laid its cornerstone? Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?”
God goes on, and on, for three chapters, asking one question after another.
Now, some hear in God’s response a rebuke of Job, but what I hear is God’s voice ANSWERING Job. God is not silent in the midst of Job’s pain and confusion. No, to this mere mortal who has dared to call God into question, God speaks.
It is not the answer Job was expecting, but in the end, it is not the answer that matters. When God is all done with the string of questions, Job knows this – God has not forgotten him. Though it doesn’t feel like it, and it sure doesn’t look like it, God has never stopped caring for Job. And, with this knowledge, Job sits down, shuts his mouth and listens to the only voice that is able to give order to his chaos and soothe his distress.
In many ways, the reading from Mark is much the same story with a few key differences.
The disciples have been living, eating and sitting at the feet of God incarnate. Thy have heard Jesus’ teachings, seen him drive out evil spirits, cure leprosy, heal a paralytic, and speak openly about the transforming mystery of the Kingdom of God. You would think this would have had a profound effect on the disciples and their faith.
And yet, when faced with their own life threatening trial, their question is much the same as Job’s. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Notice that they call Jesus teacher, they have not yet figured out that he is both Son of Man and Son of God.
Of all the gospels, Mark’s portrayal of the disciples is the least kind. In Mark the disciples are a bumbling bunch of dimwits. In Mark, Jesus constantly asks the disciples: “Don’t you get it? How is it that you do not yet understand?”
This is pretty much the picture that is before us today. In spite of all that they have seen and heard, the disciples still don’t get it. And so in a terrified stupor, unable to understand how it is that Jesus could possibly be asleep in the middle of a chaotic storm, they shake him awake and ask: “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing? What have we done that you sleep while death knocks at our door?”
And what does Jesus do? Like Father, like Son, Jesus responds to the disciples’ question. There is no long diatribe in Mark, just a simple: “Shut up wind, be still waves.” And in an instant the great storm was reduced to a great calm.
It is only after Jesus responds to his disciples’ question that Jesus asks his own: “Why are you still afraid? Have you still no faith?” In other words: “Do you still not get it? With all that you have seen and heard, how is it that you still do not understand? How is it that you still do not know who I am?”
And here is where the disciples and Job part ways. Job, having heard God’s answer, gets it. He sits down and listens. The disciples, however, having experienced God’s action, still don’t get it and their fear intensifies.
Mark ends this story by saying: “And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him.’ A more accurate translation is: “And they feared a great fear asking, ‘Who then is this?’
So what is in these stories for us? First, it is ok to ask God questions – even demanding ones. Our God is a great God, and can handle our questions – questions of fear, doubt, lack of understanding; questions of life, death, hopes, dreams. Ask away.
Second, daring to ask, expect a response. It may come to you with the force of a whirlwind or in the stillness of night, but you can be sure that God will respond. It may not be what you were expecting as was the case with Job. On the other hand, you might get the exact answer you were hoping for as in the case of the disciples.
Upon receiving an answer, this question then remains: having encountered God, how will you respond? Will you be moved to fear or to faith? Will you grow in belief and trust or will you grow in dread and anxiety?
While the disciples in Mark are growing in fear, the fact that we are here reading the Gospel says that the disciples persisted. They kept asking: “God, why is this happening and who is this guy, Jesus?” And clearly, God continued to care enough to keep answering until, finally, their fear and lack of understanding grew into a belief beyond faith.
And this is the point, ask all the questions you want of God. Keep asking. God will not stop answering, and, eventually, the truth of will be made known. God will not lose faith in us, and will not stop caring. Even when it appears that we have got it all wrong and are growing in the wrong direction, God is not deterred. God stands ready to speak into our confusion and chaos, and will do so until our growth in knowledge, understanding, and faith overcomes our fear. Amen.