a divine encounter

Our God, in offering everlasting life and salvation, does so through a divine encounter with Christ.This is a sermon delivered at Auburn United Presbyterian Church in Auburn, NE on Sunday, October 18, 2015.

Scriptural References are:
Job 38:1-7 (34-41)
Hebrews 5:1-10

A recording of the sermon is
available here.

Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks is the book used during the Children’s sermon.

      Back when I was flirting with the idea of attending seminary I made a visit to two Presbyterian seminary campuses during the spring break of my senior year of college. I didn’t really know what it would look like to attend seminary directly after college, and the idea that a mere three years after I’d graduate college at twenty-two I would potentially be serving a congregation, possibly as a solo pastor, scared me enough to turn me into a skeptic just in time for my trip. Driving down the interstate to the first school, I began thinking of how much fun it would be to extend my student-hood for a few more years. Along the journey toward School A, I received an admissions phone call from School B offering me a place as a first-year student that Fall. I wiggled around in my seat in a sort-of happy dance over being accepted to seminary and immediately decided against School A, despite my impending arrival on campus that afternoon. I turned into a confused ball of college-senior-considering-graduate-school mess during the trip to School A when I fell in love with the school and the program offerings, so I started to write off School B. After two-and-a-half days on the campus of A, I departed and drove 6ish hours away to School B for my three-day visit. School A won out in the aesthetics department, but I really liked the people at School B. What do I do?

         School C, which wasn’t even on my radar over spring break, ended up being the champion in my self-created seminary contest, and not three, but six years later I graduated as a slightly older twenty-something with two degrees instead of one, and I was anxious to see about this world of ministry beyond student intern and part-time church work ministry. I was ready to become Reverend, or so my degrees said.

         Despite my wishy-washy approach to seminary visits, I learned something very important about our call to ministry during my time at School B. You see I learned that I was affirmed for ministry. I learned one afternoon that this tugging I’d been feeling since I was a sassy five-year-old who marched into her Pastor’s office and declared, hands on hips, that she was going to work for the church one day, was actually a call to serve. And it was a call that not just I had recognized, but others saw as well. School B’s vocational discernment roundtable for seminary candidates during our visit offered us a change to sit and tell our stories. Professors listened, as did fellow candidates. And in the discussion, we learned about our Presbyterian three-part-call to ministry: God, Community, Self. All three had to be evident in our lives if we “inquirers” were ever going to serve a congregation, a presbytery, or the larger church as Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Teaching Elders. At that very circle discussion group in the basement of an old seminary building, I was affirmed for the first time by people I did not know, that I was called to minister to God’s people through the Presbyterian Church (USA). The words offered to me that day was nothing short of a holy experience.

         When we arrive at our texts today we see God illustrated both in sound and in the flesh. God is making God’s presence known. In the Old and the New Testament texts, God’s words assert prowess as the Divinity and remind humanity of our limits. The words we have read this morning display for us the grandeur of our Lord and the ignorance of ourselves. God speaks in majesty. God takes the opportunity to remind us that the things of earth can never compare to the things of heaven. How can we possibly relate the Divine to the ordinary? The messages today serve to retell for us the confines of our faculties and the boundless-ness of our Creator. Through these chapters we become more aware of our need for the presence of God in our lives. When faced with our mortality, we fall in awe of the Holy.

         When God finally has enough of Job’s smart talking, God wastes no time putting Job back in his place. Who was this man, this long-suffering, faithful servant of mine to question me? Who was this man to demand my presence? Who was this man to speak ill of all that I have given him, including sparing his life in the middle of the trials and destruction attending him right now? Job thinks highly of himself. I don’t want to try and imagine what it would be like to be in Job’s place when God decided to finally respond to all of Job’s questions, complaints, and demands. I don’t know how I would react. The arrogant human, know-it-all, stubborn me would want to continue yelling, probably something along the lines of “it’s about time you finally responded!” But I think I know better. I think I would be humiliated that God had to remind me of my ignorance, contrary to all that I think I know. I feel I might even cry. Probably out of shame, but most likely out of shame. The God we encounter in Job’s story is not a gentle God. This God is furious. This “God’s words are pugilistic; they strike out at Job the way Job’s words had earlier attacked God.”[1] Yet, in all of this, God shows up. Job encounters the divine. He is suffering, demanding, and God recognizes that enough to show up and remind Job that he is not alone on his journey. God may not appreciate his behavior, but God shows up, for God recognizes the faithful servant. God, trusting the continued faithfulness of his servant, takes a risk in answering Job. Rather than respond to the demands, God responds “about the grandeur, beauty and order of the creation.” Professor Thomas Edward Frank shares, “If asking why is some feeble human attempt to get control of life and bring it into sense and better management, God’s response gives humanity even less sense of control than before. In fact, human concerns are completely peripheral in God’s queries. God has a universe to run, and human beings are only one among many species to be tended.”[2] God accommodates to Job.

         Bumps exist. Just when you’re cruising along the road on a sunny day with the windows rolled down as the wind blows through your hair, it appears out of nowhere. Bump. The car jolts a bit and you’re shaken back to reality in straightening posture and rechecking your grip on the steering wheel. That bump felt larger than normal. Looking in the rearview mirror you don’t see any speed bumps or animals, so it must have been a pothole. Bump. Swerve. You’re careful not to overcorrect because you just might end up driving in the ditch on either side of the highway. And wouldn’t that just ruin the day? The bumps disappear as quickly as they arrived, but the shockwaves experienced don’t quite leave. We always tend to remain impacted by the bumps that appear on the journey. Like: the skunk that stunk up the car as you passed over it, or the curb that scraped the bumper when you took too wide a turn, or the deer than smashed in the headlights and left you a bit more wary of driving down the road at night. Or, like the failing grade on the paper, or the significant other who dumped you and broke your heart, or the church that fired you when you least expected it. The reality of our life and our self-centeredness is that everything will end up being perfect. I expected to graduate from seminary after six years of school and be immediately called to a congregation. I expected a large ordination service that included all of my friends and family in my home congregation that had started me and nurtured me through the journey. I expected a lot of things that didn’t happen the way I wanted them, because I tried to make my life about my wants rather than about God. But in spite of my complaints, God accommodated to me. I had a divine encounter in my ordination and eventual call to ministry, for when the hands of the priesthood of all believers were laid upon me, I was convicted, I was challenged, I was re-affirmed, and I was charged.

         The Hebrews text circles around the priest-hood of all believers (in call, humility and obedience) and the three-part-call to ministry: “Every ‘high priest’ is ‘chosen from among mortals’ (v.1), ‘having been designated by God’ (v.10). We do not choose to serve God – God chooses us, and will not let us go. The only appropriate response is obedience, a commitment we keep forgetting.”[3] One that Job kept forgetting. One that I forgot. Jesus, however, did not forget. We are flawed, and yet God still accommodates to us.

         Hebrews chapter 5 continuously reminds us that none of this is about us, just as none of it was about Jesus. Christ, however, kept his pride in check when we tend to fall short. We, by nature, do things for our own glory and pride, even when we don’t intend to do exactly that. So much of what we read about Christ outside of scripture leads one to believe that Jesus was the penultimate, so very unique that he wouldn’t dare stoop to our lowly behavioral tendencies. We forget, however, and thankfully this text reminds us, that Christ was human. God incarnated in Christ to be among us to live as we live and to teach us the other way. Jesus wasn’t just the penultimate sitting from afar, he was in the flesh, a high priest who didn’t gloat or glory in himself, but offered prayers, supplication, tears and salvation for us. We are not the “perfect” high priests, rather we are imperfect priests called and claimed by God through baptism to be one with the “perfect” high priest. God chose us, and doesn’t let us go. Our God, in offering everlasting life and salvation, does so through a divine encounter with Christ.

        Discussing accommodation and incarnation, Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm shared this in a recent sermon: “The incarnation is not only about who God is, it’s also about what God is doing—God is in the process of restoring all things. Throughout the ages many have raised questions about the incarnation. One question they’ve asked is, “Why go to all this trouble?” Some might wonder why God doesn’t just give us the information and let us pull ourselves out of our own mess. And the answer is that a restoration of this magnitude is something only God can accomplish. We cannot do it for ourselves. Others have asked why would go to all the trouble of fully entering and sharing our experience. Why not just “say the word” and make everything right again? Because that’s the only way to actually restore our experience of human life—all of it. It can only be restored from within—by God entering it and pouring out the love that can change us all. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus did just that—he went into the abyss of human suffering in order to redeem all of us who have been trapped there. There is no depth of suffering in human experience that Jesus did not reach.”[4]

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God…”

A divine encounter awaits us today at the Table of the Lord. We come to the table, recognizing our humanity. We come keenly aware of every time we have back-talked God through our pride, but due to our ignorance. We step forward to take a seat at the table in awe that God would dare accommodate to us through the life of his own child. We accept the invitation to the table today, shameful that our outbursts have been more about us than about the one who gave us life and life eternal. We approach in recognition that while we may think ourselves unworthy, in reality our Creator calls us into new life and eternal salvation through Christ Jesus. We have a Savior that in the midst of his time in the flesh spent his time in prayer and supplication, in cries and tears on our behalf.

      We have a God that corrects us in demanding, but loving ways. Our God requires obedience and humility, and has no qualms about correcting our behaviors in any way necessary. If we choose to reprimand God, we must expect to be reminded that we are but a small piece in the whole of creation, so that we can fully grasp the gravity of the gift of salvation given us. The “God whose cosmic play spun the universe into motion; who plays with the colors of the sky at sunrise and sunset; who re-creates everyday with the birth of a new baby; who gives us the myriad of colors of autumn, and then treats our senses to the beauty of vibrant colors and floral smells of new life in the spring; who gives us clouds in the sky and stars in the heavens to imagine wonderful shapes and creatures”[5] is the same God who loves us enough to designate a high priest to offer us life in exchange for death.

      We are part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and we must strive to remember so. In our trials and sufferings, we shall seek to reverently submit to God as Christ did for us, becoming our model. As we approach the table of life today, I encourage us all to do so in subordination to the guidance of God. I encourage us all to do so in gratitude for the grace of God. I encourage us all to do so with a genuflecting spirit willing to refrain from doing that which might momentarily separate you from the holy we will encounter today. Listen to the words God speaks to you. Take your place in the divine order of creation. Embrace the love poured out for you. And inhale the life broken that you might have life. Come, friends, and encounter the divine.

In the name of God the Creator, Christ the Redeemer, and Sustaining Holy Spirit, Amen.

[1] Renovare: The Life with God Bible, notes on Job 38:1-41, pg. 760.
[2] Frank, Thomas Edward. Pastoral Perspective on Job 38:1-7 (34-41) in Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 4 (Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2009), 172).
[3] Andrews, Susan A. Pastoral Perspective on Hebrews 5:1-10 in Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 4 (Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2009), 182, 184.
[4] Brehm, Alan. http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2009/10/save-forever-heb.html
[5] Todd, Mason M. Faith is Too Fun to Be Boring, a sermon on Philemon 1:1-7 given at Eastridge Presbyterian Church, Lincoln, Nebraska on Sunday, October 11, 2015.

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