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Sermon for 11th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Job 38:4-18

 4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? 8Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? 12Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, 13that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? 14It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. 15From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken. 16Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? 17Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? 18Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.”


Psalm 18:1-17

1I love you, O Lord my strength, O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. 2My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge: You are worthy of praise. 3I will call upon the Lord, and so shall I be saved from my enemies. 4The breakers of death rolled over me, and the torrents of oblivion made me afraid. 5The cords of hell entangled me, and the snares of death were set for me. 6I called upon the Lord in my distress and cried out to my God for help. 7He heard my voice from his heavenly dwelling; my cry of anguish came to his ears. 8The earth reeled and rocked; the roots of the mountains shook; they reeled because of his anger. 9Smoke rose from his nostrils and a consuming fire out of his mouth; hot burning coals blazed forth from him. 10He parted the heavens and came down with a storm cloud under his feet. 11He mounted on cherubim and flew; he swooped on the wings of the wind. 12He wrapped darkness about him; he made dark waters and thick clouds his pavilion. 13From the brightness of his presence, through the clouds, burst hailstones and coals of fire. 14The Lord thundered out of heaven; the Most High uttered his voice. 15He loosed his arrows and scattered them; he hurled thunderbolts and routed them. 16The beds of the seas were uncovered, and the foundations of the world laid bare, at your battle cry, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. 17He reached down from on high and grasped me; he drew me out of great waters.


Second Reading: Romans 10:5-17

 5Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.



Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

 22Immediately {Jesus} made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”



Because I Am God

A father was running errands for the wife one day, and he had his two small children in tow.  All morning the children have been pestering him: “Can we go to the new toy store?  Let’s get some ice cream.  We want to go home now.”  Pretty soon their pestering turns to complaining, then to angry questions. “Why can’t we go where we want to go? Why do we have to go in that store?  Why can’t we eat lunch now?  Why do we always have to do what you want, and never what we want to do?”  Finally, the father stops, bends down to face his children, and says, “Because I’m the daddy, that’s why.”

I’m sure none of us were ever in that same situation.  Our patience tested; our endurance pushed to the breaking point.  That scenario reminds me of the way God responds to Job in this morning’s Old Testament lesson.  Job too, was at his limit.  He too had progressed from acceptance of his suffering, to complaining, to questioning, to bitter accusations.  Now at the climax of the book bearing his name, God finally speaks to Job and His answer is, “Because I’m God, that’s why.”

It’s a bit surprising that God appears to Job here at all.  God hasn’t spoken since He gave satan permission to test Job’s faith in the opening scene of the book, and He has never spoken directly to Job.  Job has become frustrated by God’s silence.  He has hoped, even demanded, to argue his case before God; he has pressed God for answers, but to this point, has gotten no response.  Perhaps God has simply been exercising patience with Job, allowing Job the time to blow off some steam.  At this point, it might be helpful for us to put today’s reading into context.

We’re all familiar with the story of Job.  In the opening chapter of this book, Job is described as a God-fearing man who was blameless and upright before God.  One day, satan comes to God to challenge Him concerning Job.  The bottom line to the devil’s accusation is, that Job is only an upright man because God had protected and blessed him.  God disagrees and allows satan to strip Job of all he has, and even afflict him with terrible sores.  Yet Job remains upright.  Even when his wife taunts him to curse God and die, Job remains faithful in his belief that God is in control.  Many days pass, and next come Job’s so-called friends.

These friends join Job in the ash heap, and after 7 days and nights of silence, they begin to accuse Job of sinning, and tell him that if he would simply repent of his sins, God would restore him.  Put yourself in Job’s place.  At this point you’d be thinking, my wife has told me to curse God and die, and now my friends are telling me that all my problems, the loss of all my possessions, and the death of my children are all my fault.  All this trouble is the result of sin according to my wife and friends.  Job just can’t seem to catch a break.  We call Job patient, but even the most patient of us find we have a breaking point.  It’s at this breaking point in this story, that we encounter Job in our first reading for today.

After Job asks where God is, God appears unexpectedly in a whirlwind that had begun to gather in the previous chapter.  Now to the Hebrew mind, the tempest or whirlwind was the symbol of “judgment” (Ps 50:3, 4, &c.), to which Job had challenged God.  God begins His speech by asking Job to get himself ready for the contest.  The questions God asks are sharp and direct.  God has no intension of mincing words.  Can Job explain to God the phenomena of God’s natural government?  If Job cannot, then how can he, then, hope to understand the principles of God’s moral government?  God thus confirms Elihu’s sentiment, that submission to, not reasonings on, God’s ways is our part.  This is an important lesson for us to learn when reading the book of Job.

The Lord answers Job, declaring His works of creation; the foundation and the measures of the earth, the stars; the sea, and its bounds; the morning, and its light; the depth of the sea; the gates and shadow of death; the breadth of the earth; the place of light and darkness; the treasures of snow and hail for battle; the east wind; springs, and rain for the earth; the planets, ordinances of heaven, and their dominion on the earth; clouds and lightning.  Wisdom and understanding in the heart of man, and all God’s works are more than we can understand that God did more than create, He also sustains, He feeds the lion and the raven.

God answers from the tempest to make His point, nothing happens that escapes God’s attention and ultimately God remains in control.  God also appears to awaken not only Job, but also His friends who have unnecessarily added to Job’s suffering.  God wants to demonstrate His displeasure, both with Job, and with his three friends; and partly, that all of them might be more deeply and thoroughly humbled, preparing them to better receive, and retain, the instructions which God was about to give them.  But why did God wait till this point in the chain of events speak?

It wasn’t because Job talked God into it; it wasn’t because God owed Job an explanation.  God is in no way under some obligation to Job.  No, God speaks now only because He, in His divine wisdom, chooses this moment to speak.  In fact, it’s only by God’s choice that He speaks at all in the Bible.  God reveals Himself to human beings only what He wishes us to know, and only when He chooses to reveal it.  How often do we pray and plead, and then seemingly wait endlessly for an answer from God.  And while there are instances of people in the Bible being able to bargain with God, God will not be coerced into acting.

Notice how when God does appear to Job, He speaks but He doesn’t answer any of Job’s questions.  Job wanted God to appear and explain His actions, defend the justice of what He has allowed to happen to Job.  Job wanted God to answer his accusations.  Instead, God appears and begins questioning Job.  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”  God demands.  “Who are you, to tell me I don’t know how to run the world?”  And then God gets sarcastic.  “Let’s check out your qualifications to criticize me.  I assume, since you think you know better than I how to create a universe, that you have some relevant experience.  What was your role in creation?  Do you recall the blueprints, the measurements?  Refresh my memory – were you the design engineer or the construction supervisor?”  Of course, Job, to this response, can only stand silently.

Job’s been had, and he knows it.  It’s immediately plain that he has neither any expertise, nor authority, that allows him to challenge God.  God has used another technique that parents often use to squelch complaints from their children.  “You don’t like what I made for supper?  Fine, I’m sure tomorrow night you can cook something you’d like better.  You didn’t enjoy our vacation?  Sorry, next time we’ll let you make the plans and pay the bills.”  The bottom line is that God doesn’t owe Job an explanation.  So instead of answering Job’s questions, God simply asserts His authority.  “Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are!’?” he asks Job.  “Can you make rain or food for lions?”  God’s questions imply its own answer, of course: “No, you can’t; but I can, because I’m God.”

Ironically, early in the book, Job had told his friends that he couldn’t really argue with God, because it would be no contest.  In chapter nine Job said, “If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice…. If it’s a contest of strength, he is the strong one” (9:16, 19).  Now God chooses to prove that Job was right from the beginning.  God shows up and crushes Job’s arguments with facts and His authority.  So, Job, in a way, gets what he wanted.  God finally appears and speaks to him, just as Job has been demanding.  But the result wasn’t a victory for Job.  It wasn’t even a fair fight.  Instead, God comes and teaches Job a harsh lesson.  Job’s opinions have outpaced his understanding; he has set himself up as a judge of things that he has no competence to judge.  Job has been playing God, and when God shows up, Job’s game is ended.

In ancient drama, when a writer wrote a complicated plot and then couldn’t come up with a way to resolve it, he would have a divine being lowered from the stage rafters by a crane to work a miracle and make everything right again.  That technique was called deus ex machina, “God from a machine.”  How often do we think of God in that way, as the One who is hanging in the rafters, waiting to swoop down and solve our all our problems on demand?  Job may have thought the same thing.  In Job’s mind, God was bound to come when he called and straighten out his affairs; in Job’s mind that was God’s job.  But God didn’t immediately come when Job called.

God choose to wait, and Job waited, and God finally came when God decided it was time to come.  And when God came, it wasn’t to answer Job’s questions, but to remind Job of his place.  God came to remind Job that He – God alone – was the one who designed and created the earth, and no one is competent or authorized to judge Him.  We, like Job, must remember that although God has promised to answer our prayers and to act on our behalf, it’s only because He loves us and chooses to.  God is under no obligation to take orders from us or defend Himself to us.

Up to this point in the summary, this doesn’t present a very flattering picture of God, now does it?  God keeps people waiting, and then when He does reply to their cries, it’s only to pull rank or to make fun of their complaints.  It might leave us wondering if God is a tyrant, or even a bully.  But we must look further.  This passage also reminds us that God is the absolute ruler of the world because He designed it, created it, provides for it, and sustains it.

Returning to the analogy of the father, God is like a father who tells His children, “As long as I provide the roof over your head, the clothes on your back and the food on your plate, I’m the One who make the rules, and decides what’s fair.”  You and I must acknowledge God’s absolute authority, and we must acknowledge His benevolence as well.  After all, God may seem slow to respond, and His response may not be what we want to hear, but God does know best, and He does respond.

God answers Job, which shows that He has been listening and watching all along.  From the beginning, Job’s ordeal has been a test of his faith, and he has passed; he has never given up on God.  Now, at the end, God vindicates Job’s faith.  God doesn’t simply restore Job’s fortune and reputation; He does much more than that.  God comes in person to talk to Job, to show Job His majesty.  It’s as if a peasant wrote to a king for a legal judgment, and instead of granting the judgment the king comes to visit the peasant’s house.  What more could Job have asked for?  Furthermore, God proved His grace in this story.

God didn’t have to listen to Job, or speak to him, but He did, because He chose to.  Later, in a much more dramatic event, God initiated another unexpected contact with humankind when He became flesh in Jesus.  He didn’t have to come into the world to save us, but He did, because He chose to.  God does the same for you and me in the reading of His word, in His true presence in bread and wine, and in the waters of Baptism.  God doesn’t have to listen to our prayers, or speak to us, or come to us at all, but He does, because He loves us and cares for His children.  It’s also a comfort to know that God reveals to Job that He is control of the universe.

In our text today and for the next two chapters, God reminds Job of all the things He’s created, that all the things operate according to His design.  The sun and the stars, the clouds and the rain, the animals, light and dark, the birth of baby mountain goats, the pride of a stallion – “I caused all that!” says God.  God recites this long list mainly to show Job that he shouldn’t try to tell God how to run His universe, but at the same time He points out to Job the pattern, the harmony, the orderliness, the appropriateness of things.

Does the sun do what it’s supposed to?  Does the rain do what it’s supposed to?  Does the snow fall when it’s supposed to?  Do lions eat what they’re supposed to?  Does it get dark when it’s supposed to, and light when it’s supposed to?  The beauty, precision and harmony of creation is proof that God is the best creator of universes in the whole universe, so we can trust God to take care of us.

“Because I’m the Daddy, that’s why” means, on the one hand, “I’m in charge here; I don’t owe you any explanations; and you wouldn’t understand if I did explain everything I do.”  But it also means, “I am your Daddy, I’m here with you, I know what I’m doing, and you can trust me to look out for your best interests.”  God tells Job, “Because I’m God, that’s why.”  God shows us the tremendous gap between our rights and His authority, between our speculation and His knowledge, between our dependence and His amazing power.  But at the same time, God lays a foundation for trust: He is listening to us, He is present with us, and He is ruling the world with our best interest at heart.


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