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Sunday 20 June 2021: Trinity 3, Twelfth in Ordinary time, Proper 7

Almighty conversations

Job 38:1-11; Mark 4:35-41

By Val Ogden

Methodist Minister in Boston, Lincolnshire

Context: Sunday morning worship in a bustling market town; preached from a raised, central pulpit to a physically gathered congregation of incomers and Lincolnshire indigenous

Aim: to encourage big conversations with God, inspired by Job and Jesus’s disciples

Be careful what you ask for. Job and the disciples of Jesus have a lesson or two for us here.

In Job 13:3, we read of Job’s big ask. ‘I would speak to the Almighty: I desire to argue my case with God.’ Then, in case we thought he wasn’t serious, listen to 23:4-5, ‘I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me.’

Job wants a one to one; a real heart to heart with God. Do you fancy one? Job wants to sort out once and for all why, as an innocent man – blameless, upright, God-fearing – his whole life has turned from triumph to tragedy and he’s suffering so acutely. He simply can’t fathom it. And why would he? How many times have you or I wrestled with the ‘why do bad things happen to good people’ question? Job also wants to hear God’s take on the advice three well-meaning friends are giving him about all this. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are sympathetic to a point, but convinced that Job’s suffering evidences God’s judgment and punishment. Whatever he’s getting, he must deserve it. Job calls them ‘miserable comforters’

Meanwhile, in a fishing boat on a stormy lake, the disciples wouldn’t mind a one to one with Jesus at a critical point in their lives. Remember our Gospel, Mark 4? Potentially, they’re about to be submerged by suffering also; the boat that was their livelihood battered by waves and fear mounting, even among seasoned sailors, that ‘we are perishing’. What had they done to deserve this; to incite the wrath of the elements? The Teacher is asleep. But surely now’s the time for firm, reassuring, motivational words from Jesus, much in the spirit of God’s straight talk to Job in 38:1-11. Remember some of those choice phrases? There’s a place for them here. How about, ‘Gird up your loins like a man!’ to disciples as they frantically bail out water? And to the tempestuous sea, ‘Thus far you shall come and no farther. Here shall your proud waves be stopped.’

Inviting God into conversation is a huge ask, but maybe we gain more confidence to do so in the light of encountering Job and Jesus’ disciples today. We’re reasonably confident, usually, about inviting God to listen to our prayers, with a handy store cupboard of liturgical pleas: Lord, graciously hear us! Let our cry come unto Thee! But inviting divine conversation – real dialogue, costly listening, and new understanding – is different.

Fancy trying it? Engaging God in critical conversation with fresh confidence, energy, and passion? I’m convinced Job and the disciples urge us on. Because, having dared to do the big ask, the discoveries for them were utterly life changing.

Job discovers that the Almighty has questions for him! ‘Why, O why?’ couldn’t just be a mortal to Immortal one-way street. In conversation with God, we can’t just give it out and hope to dodge what comes back. Job is asked time and again why he’s even questioning the One who ultimately holds everything and purposes it for good. It’s way beyond his limited comprehension. No end of examples from creation bolster God’s reasoning here. Job can’t order the stars or calm the seas, bless him. At one level, this sounds like an humiliating put down. Remember your lowly place compared with my heavenly greatness. But if so, it’s a temporary and gentle put down in preparation for an awesome raising up. In chapter 42, Job’s fortunes are wonderfully restored. If we’re going for the serious conversation, the big ask of God, Job’s discoveries are well worth remembering. Not everything’s going to fall sweetly on the ear. But what we learn could set us up for life.

The disciples discover that Jesus, strangely enough, could also hold it all and purpose it all for good. Their big ask came physically and urgently out of raw fear and need. No luxury of choosing the lyrical phrase or the considered argument; simply ‘Save us!’ And in the presence of Jesus, shaken awake, his friends found they moved from chaos to calm and a completely new appreciation of their Teacher and Saviour. Perhaps we’re gripped by fear in our lives just now. No need for guilt – there are many life-storms that can do that to us. If that’s our reality, the disciples’ discoveries encourage us to converse with Jesus in an amazingly simple way. Wake him up and shout. He won’t mind. Pour it out, whatever your big ask. Listen for his ‘Peace be still’. Dare to invite him, or re-invite him, to speak into and out of your storm.

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