Proper 7b - Saint James Fordham - Tobias S Haller BSGTwo questions are asked in today’s Scripture readings: Who is this that darkens counsel with ignorant talk? and Who is this that the winds and sea obey him? Thinking about these questions can help us answer the Big Question: Why are we here? and help us to understand what it means to be made in the image of God.
Jesus asked them, Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?
The first question comes from the last part of the book of Job. God finally speaks after a long silence. God has listened to Job’s three friends as they try to get him to admit he’s a wicked sinner — he must be, or why else would he be suffering? God has heard Job claim his righteousness. And God has heard a young man try to defend God — as if God needed a defense.
So finally God speaks, to settle the argument. But when God speaks, it is not to provide a comforting answer to the question, Why do the innocent, and even worse, the righteous, suffer? When God speaks it is to reveal a deeper truth, to help Job — and us — see our place in the universe.
Job and his companions have been debating the meaning of life, the universe, and everything — just as we do. Finally God says, “Who is this that darkens counsel with ignorant words? Pull yourself together, and let me ask you questions.” And, of course, the questions God asks are beyond human skill to answer. That is the whole point. God is saying, in a not-so-subtle way, Just who do you think you are, anyway? You are not the center of the universe — I am. You do not make the universe run; you don’t even know how the universe runs.
Human pride is such that we often put ourselves at the center of the universe, and sometimes act as if we were in control. People have very powerful control needs. We are haunted by the fear that if we aren’t in charge, then no one is in charge.
Think for a moment what that means: to fear that no one is in charge if we aren’t. Isn’t this just a kind of faithlessness, that doubts the loving providence, maybe even theexistence, of God? We forget that God assigned us as the stewards, not the owners, of creation.
This human presumption led to the human fall — thinking we should take charge “as if we were gods.” And human mistrust of God’s sufficiency was the crack through which the serpent wiggled his head, in his wily tempting: “Oh, you will not die... are you sure God is telling you the whole story? maybe God doesn’t want you to touch the fruit because you might become like him? Pride and fear are powerful motivators to wrongdoing!
They led us to forget that we were placed in the garden to tend it, to care for it — as servants, not owners. We sometimes like to imagine we are the descendants of the lord of the manor instead of the gardener and the upstairs maid! Instead of doing as God said, Adam and Eve decided, “We’d better take the fruit and become gods ourselves, because who knows if God can be trusted to take care of us. It’s every man and woman for him or herself, and the devil take the hindmost.” And he did!
The tragedy was that humankind was already like God — made in God’s image and likeness, and didn’t need a fruit salad to become like God! So what belonged to us by original blessing, we lost through original sin. And as a result, rather than tending a garden, humankind was reduced to struggling with the hard soil, forcing it to produce what formerly grew in plenty.
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Human distrust — let’s be honest and call it lack of faith — is also displayed in our Gospel for today. The disciples cry out to Jesus in the midst of a storm on the lake, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus confronts faithlessness with a bold question, as bold as the ones God posed to Job, “Have you still no faith?”
We are often no better; we are often in the same boat as the disciples. We look at the world around us, and see all its horrors: disease, destruction, terrorism, war. And our frantic fear doesn’t help us, it just rocks the boat more, as we run from side to side, wringing our hands like Olive Oyl crying for Popeye to come to the rescue.
The answer to our dilemma, the way to bring the boat home safely to port, is to rediscover, in and through Jesus Christ, our proper role in creation, our proper role as stewards and as people of faith. What Adam and Eve were given in the beginning was dominion: lordly stewardship. We were not lords of the manor, but called to act in the manner of the Lord: for we were made in the Lord’s likeness, the Lord who is also a servant and a steward, who loves and cares for all he has made.
This is where we find the answer to the disciples’ last question: “Who is this that the seas and wind obey him?” It is Jesus, who is the Lord — the Lord who serves and saves. If we can learn to exercise lordship in the manner of Jesus — and we can, for we are made in his image, and as Saint Paul says we are his ambassadors — perhaps we can understand what it means to be stewards.
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So what kind of a Lord is Jesus? First, Jesus is the original: “the firstborn over all creation.” He is the answer to God’s persistent question to Job, Who, who, who? The answer: Jesus the Christ! He is the one who was there at the beginning, as our Creed affirms: God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Through him all things were made, and without him nothing came into being.
He is also the answer to the disciples’ fearful question, Who is this who can give orders to the sea? Jesus can still the waves on the Sea of Galilee because it is he who placed a compass on the face of the deep, who stretched forth the line upon it, who shut in the seas with doors, and laid the cornerstone of the earth while all the morning stars sang together for joy. Christ’s stewardship is from before time and for ever.
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Second, Christ’s stewardship is loving. His word to creation is Peace. He stills the stormy sea like a mother calming a crying child, “Peace, be still.” He doesn’t yell and shout; a quiet word will do it, a wordspoken in love. Jesus loves the sea, for he was there at its birth, as God says to Job, shutting the doors upon it to protect it like a loving parent who puts window guards on the windows and a gate at the top of the stair to protect the toddler in his terrible twos, gently dressing the sea in clouds, and making diapers from the fabric of the peaceful night. This is the caring stewardship of a loving God.
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Finally, the stewardship of Christ is self-giving, not self-preserving. His stewardship reaches out to others. “Why are you worried?” he asks. He will provide, even unto death. For his stewardship is not “of this earth” — that is, not worldly. This is why the worldly-wise, Caiaphas and Pilate, and many others since, couldn’t and can’t and never will understand him.
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So what about us? Can we be like Christ, who is original, loving, and self-giving? Can we serve in the manner of the Lord? Yes, we can. For as Saint Paul says, Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. “Why are we afraid? Have we still no faith?” If we have even a tiny faith, we can be like the mustard seed that unexpectedly grows not into a mustard plant but into a mighty tree so magnificent that it provides a home for the birds of the air, and shade for the creatures of the field. That is creative, original, lordly stewardship! That is the lordship that is ours after the manner of Christ, from the very beginning, when we were made in God’s likeness.
Through this blessing of oneness in Christ, we can take our part in the loving stewardship which embraces and holds together all creation, caring for it with the skills God gives, in self-giving love and charity, as ambassadors of Christ. God has entrusted us with this ministry of cosmic reconciliation.
When we accept this, we can pass through the labor pains we experience in life, along with the whole creation, as it waits with eager longing for us to take up once again the role of stewardship we were given long ago. The whole creation is waiting for us — for us — to accept our destiny, our true identity as children of God. All God’s creatures are waiting: the birds flock and circle around us; the cats and dogs look up at us expectantly, waiting for the door to be opened; the horses stamp their hooves and snort impatiently; the fish and whales are gathering in schools; the spirits of the blessed wait in hope, while the devils in hell tremble in fear; and far out in the endless reaches of space the morning stars are holding their breath, waiting to burst into joyous song once more, when the whole creation is reborn — and we become all that we are meant to be — through the original blessing of the Father, the loving stewardship of the Son, and the outpoured gift of the Holy Spirit.+