While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
Power over Creation
In our recent studies on the symbolic meanings of miracles and wonders in the Bible, we discussed Jonah.
There’s a stunning parallel between Jonah and our story from Mark’s gospel today:
Before Jonah met the whale, he was fleeing from God. He was in a boat, asleep while the sailors battled a terrible storm and they woke the prophet up to ask for his help. The best he could come up with
was to tell them to throw him overboard because it was obvious God was causing the storm to stop Jonah from fleeing and he’d rather die than turn back.
So they threw him overboard. That’s when he met the whale, which saved him from drowning and took him back to the shores of Israel.
The similarities and differences with Jesus are obvious and early Christianity made a lot of fuss over it. Not only the story of the boat but particularly comparing the three days in the belly of the whale with Jesus’ three days in the tomb.
But even deeper than that is the message we hear from Job.
This part of Job always seemed unfair to me: Job has been flawless in his faith and he has been punished as a test, not because of being bad. The book of Job is an ancient approach to the question of why bad things happen to good people.
This part of it shows God demanding that Job “man up”; that he confront God instead of sitting and whining. And then God overwhelms Job with the sheer power of creation itself. The entire section of God’s teachings to Job is long: full of images of nature. Our reading is only part of it but it cuts to the core of Creation itself:
In the Bible, creation is imagined as a bubble surrounded by an endless, chaotic sea. The “firmament” is the star-studded bowl
placed over the world to keep the upper waters out. The land keeps most of the lower waters out and the word of God keeps the other lower waters – rivers, lakes and seas – from repeating what happened to Noah.
Originally the job was perfect: the firmament was perfectly sealed and then it was cracked during Noah’s flood to let the waters in to destroy creation. That’s when rain first started to fall and the rainbow was finally added as a promise that although the firmament might be cracked, God would never destroy all creation that way again.
How could Job possibly stand up to that wonder and power? He is faced with the understanding that no human could do what God has done: to place limits on the chaotic waters of the universe.
That’s where the real meaning of our gospel lesson comes in: Jesus is doing something that only God could do; controlling the powers of creation with a word; holding back the chaotic waters when even the damaged firmament could not.
Job, who was a perfect servant of God was shown that he couldn’t do this. Jonah, who was far from perfect, didn’t even try.
And yet we see Jesus doing something that has already been determined to be beyond human ability. The early church presented this story as a demonstration of God’s presence in the person of Jesus, in a way never seen before.
One of the challenges we face as a society is that we have always wanted to be able to do that. We have worked not only to predict the weather but to control it as much as possible and we keep striving to impose our will on the natural processes of creation.
Seeding clouds to cause rain is an old technique now. And we are realizing with some trepidation that many of our forms of pollution
have caused unexpected consequences so that now we have to deal with climate change and extreme weather events, without being able to push a button to solve the problem.
That image of Jesus calming the storm in the boat has inspired us to think about what it would be like for humans to claim the power of God. I do not believe that it was ever intended that way. Early Christians were identifying the uniqueness of Jesus, but we have changed that to: if He can do it, why can’t we? But instead of relying on divine miracles, we have decided to invoke the wonders of science and technology.
Today is Indigenous Sunday, coming, as it does, so close to the Summer Solstice. We would do well to let our indigenous peoples remind us about our relationship with the rest of creation.
In scripture, there is an understanding that we have forgotten: that we should stand in awe of the universe God has made; that we should never take equality with our Creator as something to be grasped; that while we have a privileged position with intelligence that gives us the ability to do things other animals cannot, we are also part of creation
not separate from it, not in command of it. Just ask Job.
In our culture, in our pride, our arrogance, our hubris, we have forgotten that.
So maybe it will take the culture of our First Peoples to remind us of that reality. They haven’t forgotten it. It is woven into their culture, their stories.
It is also woven into our stories, but our culture has managed to twist those stories so that they ended up meaning something very different
than what was intended.
When the disciples asked: ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ it was to consider the nature of Jesus as the Creator at work in a particular person; it was not to challenge us to try to match those miracles.
As much as I have admired the achievements of people of science, as much as I will always be a fan of Science Fiction, which imagines the impossible every day, which hopes to spur us to leaps and bounds of possibility, I also believe that perspective is an important thing for us to learn. When we forget that we are not Lords of Creation, we will reap the whirlwind, to use the metaphor from our Job lesson.
Just as God spoke out of that whirlwind in the story, so we should be reminded that, as much as we can do, we should never forget that when we reach for great powers, when we try for the powers of creation itself, we will also need to develop the wisdom of the creator. We will need to learn the balances that keep things working, the self-imposed limits that will allow our world to continue to work in a way
that is respectful of the life we share with everything around us.
We have this lesson in our own teachings, but we have forgotten it
and if it takes another culture to remind us, to bring us back to a place of respect in creation, then so be it because the lesson is essential.
And we need to remember right away: that we never do well when we try to play God.