October 28, 2018

2018 October28

Proper 25 - Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

When reading today’s passages, what struck me found it’s conclusion in Sacramental theology. So, We’re going to go from Job to the Eucharist…so pay attention!

 

What does it mean to hear, see or know God? One line in the passage from Job has stumped scholars on its exact interpretation:

 

Job 42:5 – I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

 

Does that mean that Job had secondhand knowledge of God from others, and he wasn’t a follower, and now, after his long ordeal, he has seen God with his own eyes? Or does it mean that he knows God more fully after his ordeal and is ready to be more obedient? Either way, Job’s relationship with God has changed. But what can we in 2018 learn about our relationship with God from Job’s experience?

 

So, what does it mean to hear, see or know God? Our other readings give us different clues on how to have a relationship with God.

 

  • The Psalm is both helpful and unhelpful, depending upon one’s relationship with scripture. On the surface, it illustrates how we should be thankful and praise God. If one has a more academic approach to scripture, then the origin, context and setting of the Psalm are not fully clear. Is it a Psalm of Thanksgiving or a Psalm of Wisdom? Was it a Psalm referring to an event in King David’s life, or is it a mishmash of different purposes and events? No doubt, we should always take time to be thankful and to praise God. We owe a lot to the content of the Psalms in how we worship as this congregation. But sometimes authenticity of our sources matter.
  • The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that our knowledge or relationship with God can be directly through Jesus as the Great High Priest rather than through the Priests of the Temple. During the Temple Periods, faithful Jews would bring offerings of animals and grains to the Priests; the Priests would make a sacrifice for various sins committed; and the person who brought the offering would then have a restored relationship with God. Through the Incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, the role of the Temple Priest was no longer required. This passage from Hebrews briefly spells that out. But like Job 52:4 and the Psalm, there exists some ambiguity. It suggests that we are to approach God through Jesus Christ. Does that mean that Jesus Christ is subordinate to God? In our own worship, we refer to Jesus as our only Mediator and Advocate. But we believe Jesus to be an equal part of the Trinity along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. If we have these questions, then imagine what it must have been like for the Early Church to hammer out the Nicene Creed: It wasn’t pretty!
  • The Gospel shows us that there were those who knew Jesus directly. Since we now believe that Jesus is part of the Godhead, and has been since the Beginning, the healings were a way of knowing God, certainly of hearing and seeing Him. Certainly, Mark believed Jesus to be the Son of God, the Messiah, so to him as the writer, he believed that Bartimaeus was hearing and seeing God. Mark also portrays the Disciples as those who don’t fully understand who Jesus is, and they don’t understand their role in Jesus’ ministry. Just before the story of Blind Bartimaeus, James and John ask to sit at Jesus’ left and His right. Jesus responds with the demand for servant leadership, which they fail to understand. So, in Mark, it is the downtrodden, the untouchables, and the most vulnerable in society who hear, see and know Jesus as God, but not His closest followers.

 

So, each of our readings speak to us about having a relationship with God – hearing, seeing and knowing God. Yet, each one of them have an element of confusion about what that really means. And the question remains: Did Job actually have faith in God before this ordeal?

 

At the very beginning of the Book of Job, we read:

 

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

 

At the end of Chapter 1, Job gives us one of our overused clichés from the Bible:

 

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

 

In Chapter 2, there is another clue that Job might know God:

 

Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

 

Job spends all of Chapter 3 cursing God. Chapter 4 is the response of Job’s friend Eliphaz. And then, in Chapter 5, God speaks! Then on-goes the complaints of Job and the rebuke of friends for almost 3 dozen chapters! The Lord speaks again in Chapter 38!

 

So, Job seems to have a relationship with God from the beginning. Then why this statement at the end of the book:

 

Job 42:5 – I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

 

Right before that, Job says:

 

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

 

The Oxford Bible Commentary maintains the possibility that Job, a man in the land of Uz, who was blameless and upright and feared God, may have only understood God through rumor than through experience. This is a dynamic that I believe many of us have:


We hear from others about God:

  • Through scripture, poetry, writings from prominent theologians
  • Through hymns and songs
  • Through metaphors and imagery
  • Through the belief that we see God in every human being and in Creation

 

But what we really want is the
theophany – that personal visit
from God that Job had, that
Moses had, that Adam and Eve
had in the Garden of Eden.

 

This afternoon I am having conversation with an atheist. I hope you can attend. It’s at 2pm at the Library, directly after “GraveTalk” here. One of the standard questions from atheists and agnostics is “How do you know that God exists?” An evangelical will say, “Because it’s in the Bible”, and that never goes well! A mystic would say, “I feel the presence of God in everything around me,” or a charismatic would say, “The Holy Spirit works through me”. But the skeptic still says, “How do you know?”

 

So many of us, atheist, agnostic and Christian alike, want God to stand in front of us and say, “‘I am who I am.’ We want a theophany. “What is a theophany?” I was asked the other day. The Oxford Bible Dictionary defines “theophany” as:

 

An appearance of God in visible form, temporary and not necessarily material. Such an appearance is to be contrasted with the Incarnation, in which there was a permanent union between God and complete manhood (body, soul, and spirit)

 

So, rather than rely on the hearsay of Scripture (which is an heretical statement because we don’t believe Scripture to be “hearsay”), we want an appearance of God in visible form. And we got it – we got an appearance of God in visible form: Jesus Christ. Our reading from Hebrews emphasizes that we no longer need the Priests as intermediaries because the Incarnation was the theophany of all theophanies – it was the ultimate manifestation of God to the People. No intermediary needed; no more hearsay.

 

But here we are 2,000 years later, and we are back to: priests, others telling you who God is, hearsay. And here is where Sacramental Christianity plays a part. The Sacraments, put simply, are encounters with God through the material of Creation – but they aren’t theophanies. According to The Episcopal Church:

 

The Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

 

The two Sacraments – given by Christ – are Baptism and the Eucharist. Sacramentalists maintain a spirituality focused on the Eucharist.

 

In my Sacraments class, taught by an amazing Roman Catholic Sacramental Theologian, we discussed the concept of a Sacrament as an encounter with God through the material of Creation, and that Sacraments are symbols as opposed to signs. Signs simply points to something else; symbols not only point to something else, they articulate, make present, and take the place of what they are pointing to (Dupré, 1). The bread and wine of the Eucharist and the water of the Baptism are symbols of the Sacraments. They articulate, make present, and take the place of Christ’s body and blood and of the life-giving waters of Creation that cleanse us from sin.

 

John Macquarrie suggests that any material ‘thing’ can be a Sacrament, because Sacraments are about how humans encounter the true God. Quoting Thomas Aquinas, Macquarrie states:

 

‘God exists in all things by
presence, power and substance.’

 

He refers to a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘Aurora Leigh’, which alludes to Moses’ encounter with God in the Burning Bush. Macquarrie suggests that the Burning Bush is a Sacrament.

 

“That bush was for him (Moses) a sacrament of God. At the bush God encountered him (Moses), manifesting himself in and through the bush.” (Macquarrie, 8-9)

 

As an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, there is no reason that the Burning Bush could not have been a Sacrament.

 

What all my theo-babble points to is the balance between knowledge and experience. Whatever Job’s relationship with God was before his troubles started, it was different after his one-to-one encounter with God. Whatever knowledge Job had of God – by hearsay or by faith – it was that experience, that theophany, that Sacramental encounter that changed his life forever.

 

The same is true in the other readings. The Psalmist, regardless of the original context, had some encounter with God that took him deeper than his previous knowledge. Jesus the Great High Priest gave us a new understanding of sacrifice, making Himself the ultimate Sacrament of God. And the restoration of sight for Bartimaeus was a Sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Each one of these was an encounter with God through the material of Creation.

 

Job said to God:

 

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

 

Moving from knowing-by-hearsay to seeing-is-believing is the fusion of one’s knowledge with a new experience. I mentioned 4 different ways in which Christians engage their spirituality:

  • Evangelicals through Scripture
  • Mystics through the embodiment of God in all things
  • Charismatics through the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Sacramentalists through the symbols of engagement with Jesus, namely the Eucharist

 

Each of these spiritual paths has its own mixture of knowledge and experience. Elizabeth Barret Browning’s allusion to the Burning Bush as a Sacrament tells us how to make experience a larger portion of that mixture that is our relationship with God:

 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire
with God;
But only he who sees, takes off
his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck
blackberries.

 

Come forward and engage with Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and then go out into the world and discover the common bush that is afire with God.

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