Job 28: 12-28
September 29, 2013
But where will they find Wisdom? Nobody has the slightest idea where to look.
Earth’s depths say, ‘It’s not here’; ocean deeps echo, ‘Never heard of it.’
It can’t be bought with the finest gold; with silver, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, or fancy jewelry.
Pearl necklaces and ruby bracelets—why bother? None of this is even a down payment on Wisdom! Pile them up as high as you want!
It can’t be found by looking, no matter how deep you dig, no matter how high you fly.
If you search through the graveyard and question the dead, they say, ‘We’ve only heard rumors of it.’
God alone knows the way to Wisdom, the exact place to find it. After God got the wind and rain started, Wisdom was set up and tested.
Then he addressed the human race: ‘Here it is! Fear-of-the-Lord—that’s Wisdom, and Insight means shunning evil.’”
In the beginning, there was darkness. God’s breath moved across the waters.
And God’s breath formed the Word – let there be light, good light. And sky – call it the Heavens, the let the air above the earth be filled with the breath of God.
And speaking of earth – land and ocean. A dry place to call home and a deep ocean from which to draw life. And God saw that it was good.
Next, we need plants – seeds and fruits of all kinds. Each one shining with the life of God.
And next, two lights – one for the day and one for the night, marking days, seasons, and years.
And now animals – birds, and huge whales, and tiny mosquitoes, and pigs, and eels, and kimodo dragons, and finally people.
Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature, in every culture and gender and lifestyle, to be responsible leaders and stewards.
Hey folks – I’ve given you every sort of plant, tree, animal, ecosystem, and culture. There it is. It is good. It is so good.
This is a familiar passage to many of us here. I don’t know about y’all, but growing up I had this first chapter of Genesis told to me over and over again, retold many times in a way that made it feel like God was unpacking the toy cupboard – setting up little plastic plants, and some tiny plastic cows, and then bringing out the Barbies (though I have my doubts about Barbies being made in the image of God). I could easily imagine, “and on the ninth day God brought forth the model train set and built a track with tunnels and bridges and loops. And God saw that it was good.”
Or maybe it felt a little more like God was at the beach – a vast formless void (growing up in Kansas this is how I imagined beaches) until God got out the rake and the shovel and the cups and started building a sandcastle with little starfish and stones paths until God gets pissed and brings in high tide and starts over. Which raises the question – is God the kid who runs around giggling and clapping her hands when the sandcastle is washed away, or does God plop down in the sand to pout and cry? When creation is destroyed, how does God respond?
But now that I am not seven and don’t break out the model train as often as I used to – I’m pretty sure my family sold it last month to help pay for going to Ghana – the story of Genesis 1 looks more and more like a dinner party, but a dinner party that is simultaneously grand and elegant beyond our wildest dreams and also so simple and beautiful that it can be described in a few short verses, even a phrase – God saw that it was good.
God has laid out a dinner so vast that entire ecosystems have been invited, entire continents have been laid over with fine tablecloths of forests and mountains and farms and communities of people who maybe have not realized that they are guests on a planet that is loved so deeply that “After God got the wind and rain started, Wisdom was set up and tested” so that we could learn about this world, find out how it works, and appreciate it in its infinite, evolving complexity. That’s the fear of God.
I have a friend who studies soil microbes and she says sometimes, when she walks through a park barefoot, she is forced to stop and grapple with the reality that there are millions of living beings in each square foot of soil underneath her, and vastly complicated communities of living things that literally turn dead and decaying material into the building blocks for new life. Every ounce of soil is transforming death into life as she stands there. Every second of every day, resurrection is happening under our feet. That realization there – that’s wisdom. And that’s the beautiful and complex world that has been created and that we put on this earth to enjoy, as guests.
And sitting around this tablecloth of farms and forests and communities, some folks have realized that they are the recipients of hospitality far grander than we can imagine. And so they start to meet together just to say “Thank you” – to each other, to the Creator, to the host, and to the great cloud of witnesses that supplies the food and drink on the table and who resurrect themselves through the soil and through these communities. And when these people meet on Sunday mornings, or Sunday or Wednesday evenings or other times, we call it church.
I have heard the suggestion before that prayer should be less like a renter talking to a landlord, and more like you are crashing on your friend’s couch for the weekend – “Dear God, thanks for letting me stay at your place this weekend – I love the art you have hanging in the kitchen. I drank one of the beers in your fridge, and I apologize for breaking the handle on your mug. I left money on the counter for the beer and will send you a new mug once I have some time in the pottery co-op. Much love, John.”
My housemates and I may or may not have a non-college-approved fifth resident in our house this semester, who may or may not be a friend of ours who is taking a year off to figure out what he wants to do. And we could treat him as a renter – he actually offered to pay us rent, even though he doesn’t have a job or stable source of income – or we could treat him as a visiting friend. Which is to say, he doesn’t pay rent but we make him do most of the dishes and vacuum the living room. A renter has different obligations than a housemate.
And every one of us is a visitor to God’s apartment, or a guest at this dinner table. When I was younger, in preparation for guests coming over for dinner on Saturday nights or for the grandparents visiting, my parents, and by my parents I mean my mother because my father couldn’t have cared less, berated me and my sister about our table manners. I would sit there, with my elbows on the table, chewing with my mouth open, talking while chewing with my mouth open, talking while chewing with my mouth open and simultaneously wiping my dirty hands on the chair, and my mother threatened to send me away to etiquette camp for the summer. Which I thought was completely unjustified – everyone else at school ate like this! If everyone else acted like this, couldn’t I act like this? Wasn’t it unfair to demand more of me just because “important people” were coming over for dinner?
Now, I still have my doubts about the actual existence of “etiquette camp,” I was never really convinced that it existed. But at God’s dinner party, I’m not sure “everyone else is doing it” is an adequate defense. Its certainly a popular defense among Christians, it has been for centuries, but it never wins the logic contest. We who realize the immensity of the hospitality being offered to us, who have been crashing on God’s couch and joining others at God’s dinner table, have new responsibilities. Like my hypothetical fifth housemate, we can’t just crash here, eat the food, strip the land bare, abuse the other guests, and then leave. For Christ’s sake, we aren’t just being neglectful, we are killing other guests at the dinner party! Murdering unarmed teenagers in Florida because of the color of their skin, arresting and deporting individuals, tearing apart families because they don’t carry the right paperwork (and making money through private prisons the whole time!), barring gay, lesbian, queer, and trans people from our churches, from our homeless shelters, and from our health care centers as if we can somehow keep them away from God’s love and hospitality. What sort of dinner guests are we? We don’t just need etiquette camp, we need a complete conversion.
And we are offered grace beyond our comprehension. Which is good, because this is clearly not a dinner party we control – ask Job! Later on in that book, God asks Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
How can we pay back God for this hospitality, for the gift of being in this world and seeing its beauty. Job again: “Pearl necklaces and ruby bracelets—why bother? None of this is even a down payment on Wisdom! Pile them up as high as you want!”
I’m trying to imagine a down payment to God on Creation, and I’m guessing it would sound like the time a few weeks ago when I went to The Feve for dinner with a friend from Cleveland. I realized that I didn’t have very much money on me and didn’t feel like spending more, so I was looking down the menu and decided that I’d save by just having tots for dinner – good college student dinner. And then at the end of it, I was still hungry but feeling like a smart manager of my money, he takes the check and pays the whole thing! I asked him and he said, “no, the organization I work for his paying me to come out here and talk. Its on them.” And I’m thinking, I could have gotten the biggest, fanciest burger in the whole world AND tots on the side, but instead I thought I was in control of this situation, and so am still hungry AND feel like an idiot.
When thinking about the ethics of being a dinner guest of God’s, I’m reminded of all the dinner parties Jesus went to. So, endless wine and wine often enough that you get called a drunkard and a glutton, expensive perfume, prostitutes and tax collectors, and always taking the lowest seat at the party. Which sounds to me like I need to up my partying. Because when I think about being a recipient of such hospitality, I immediately want to offer hospitality to all the other guests – can I get you a drink, do you need more mashed potatoes, etc. And Jesus invites the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the homeless to these parties and then says that anything you do someone in need, who is hungry, thirsty, in prison (and I think of the multiple ways in which our society imprisons people – in jails, in immigration centers, in ghettos, in poverty, in sexual violence, in debt) – anything you do to one of these guests, you do to me.
God prepares this table for us in the presence of those in need, and also in the presence of our enemies. And some of them, it seems, have brought guns. Because that’s the rhetoric I’ve been hearing around the folks who have been protesting these last few weeks – “gun nuts,” “gun-toters,” “2nd Amendment lunatics,” “no respect for the constitution.” Really? They want to carry guns in parks and some folks, including church folks in town, sound like these people are evil.
After the City Council meeting two weeks ago, I went up and talked with one of the folks from Ohioans for Concealed Carry. He was a big guy, much taller than me and built like a tank, but he had his eight-month-old son with him, and as we talked about the comments that he and I and others had made during the Council meeting, it was clear that he wasn’t a nefarious lunatic out to demand that everyone carry a Glock at all hours. What he was was a very concerned new father who didn’t want anything or anyone to be able to hurt his son or his wife. I may not agree with his method of defense, I may not share his nervousness, I’ve never been a parent and I don’t know what that feels like, but I don’t think he’s evil. And the more that we refer to those we disagree with as “lunatics,” and “gun nuts,” the less and less we reflect the hospitality and love of God.
They are guests at the table of God’s creation. We are all guests at the table of God’s creation. We gather today to witness to the amazingness of God’s hospitality, the impossibility of making sense of it all and finding wisdom through our own efforts, and the resurrection that takes place all around us. As guests on this Earth, we also must practice the hospitality of God and the demand justice for all other guests. God’s Kingdom is nothing less than the world’s biggest party – everyone and everything is invited, its been going strong for millennia, and the wine still hasn’t run out. Our enemies have been invited, and if we offer them some wine, we might just see the face of Christ.
HERE ARE JUDY RIGGLE’S REFLECTIONS
I am drawn to this passage because of its poetic beauty, its catalog of wonders and mysteries of this world. From the watery depths to the horizon of the heavens to the mountains and the very dust—isn’t our planet a marvel? How can we not rejoice and delight and revel?
My first response was not of these marvels, but of the wonder of the nine infants we fostered. Each newly arrived, whole and perfected down to the tiniest of fragile fingernails. Nothing on earth is more softly tactile than their downy hair. Surely a gift to be celebrated and nurtured. Yet most of these children already bore the mark of neglect, even just for a few weeks or months, in their slower physical and mental development. And amazing what a few weeks or months of physical and mental stimulation could restore! Progress in which to rejoice and delight and revel! Each of us is precious in God’s sight.
HERE ARE LYNN POWELL’S REFLECTIONS
MEDITATION ON JOB 28: 12-28
I have always found odd comfort in the Lord’s response to Job’s anguished questions about human suffering. Instead of meeting Job on his own human terms, the Voice From The Whirlwind flings out not answers, but fierce, exquisite questions that assert the mystery and power of creation:
Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt . . . ?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens . . .?
Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
and spreads its wings toward the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes its nest on high?
Humanity is hardly mentioned in the litany of creation’s scope and wonder, ferocity and beauty. In my most receptive moments, I find that cosmic perspective thrilling and calming and liberating.
But the Lord speaks late in the ordeal of Job, and late in the Book of Job—another ten chapters after Job 28:12-28. In this chapter, Job, who has lost everything and is suffering in rags and boils on an ash heap, is responding to the self-righteous lectures of his alleged friends: the smug ones with conventional ideas and small, untested hearts. They have been dispensing their own “wisdom” with great self-confidence. But Job knows that a pronouncement that blames the victim and aggrandizes the speaker is not wisdom.
Thus, Job’s musings here: that wisdom is difficult to find and cannot be accumulated like other precious commodities. This a hard-won insight, and an insight not shared by the Know-It-Alls around him who feel sure they have cornered the market on wisdom.
But Job has come harrowingly close to a wisdom he cannot reduce to platitudes. And he now intuits that wisdom is what God discovered in the creative acts of giving weight to the wind, decreeing the rain, making a way for the thunderbolt, and setting the morning stars singing together in the sky. Job intuits that there is something larger and more wondrous, more creative and searching than his own suffering. And it is that intuition that the Lord will honor with a response in a few more chapters.