All Posts By

Rick Morley

something wonderful comes yet

Remember that Mark’s Gospel was written during a time of great trial and misery. Jerusalem had been destroyed. Rome had burned, and the Christians had been blamed for it. Thousands upon thousands of Jews and Christians had been forced to leave their homes and flee as refugees to other places that were out of Rome’s grip—for now.

For them, it must have seemed as if the whole world was coming to an end. The whole foundation of their lives were shifting on the sands of persecution, murder, and fear.

So, in Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus starts talking about the destruction of the Temple and “nation rising against nation,” this would have been no surprise for Mark’s first readers. These things that had been talked about 40 years ago by Jesus had come to fruition in their lifetimes.

Even after Jesus’ death, his resurrection, and his ascension into Heaven—even after the event of Pentecost—there was a sense in the earliest church that the story wasn’t yet over. There was more to come. And, like the resurrection had to be preceded by the crucifixion, this new thing that God was about to do would also be preceded by something terrible and awful.

I think this would have been some consolation to those Christians living in Mark’s day who were fleeing Rome’s reach as they watched their whole world burn. I think it would have reminded them that all these terrible things weren’t anyone’s fault—especially not their fault. They were being reminded that even in the face of horrible, horrendous things, God is still present with them.

They had a sense that something was on the horizon—and that this something was going to be wonderful. When we look east, we see the same horizon they saw. And, something wonderful still comes yet.

broken

Back in the opening chapters of the Bible there’s a rift. Abraham and his nephew lot have to go their separate ways. There was major tension between them and the families who supported each of them. The land wasn’t rich enough to support both sets of flocks and herds.

So, the family split up. Lot when on to Gomorrah (in the end, a “bad” decision…) and his uncle Abraham went on to the Oaks at Mamre.

Abraham is, obviously, the great patriarch of the nation of Israel. His nephew Lot became the patriarch of another nation: the nation of Moab. For the better part of a thousand years these two nations carried on the same rivalry that their patriarchs began centuries before.

And then… some 1,500 years after Abraham… an Israelite woman named Naomi fled to Moab to escape a famine in her land. She took her two sons with her, and they each found a Moabite woman to marry. Sadly, both of her sons ended up dying, and Naomi was left in a foreign land along with her two new daughters-in-law.

When the famine was over, Naomi decided to head back home. She told her two daughters-in-law that she wished them well, and that she hoped they met new men to marry, and that they had a great life. One of those daughters, Orpah, took her up on that and stayed in Moab. The other daughter turned to her and said,

Wither thou goest, I will go.

Her name was Ruth. And she returned to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi. There, Ruth met an Israelite man named Boaz. They fell in love. 

They got married.

With this marriage a 1,500 year rift between the family is healed. Two nations return and become one nation, one family again.

And, these two have a son, named Obed. Obed has a son, named Jesse. And Jesse has a son.

Named David. He becomes the first king of Israel, and hundreds of years later from this family tree comes a child born in Bethlehem.

See what happens when our lives are bent towards reconciliation and healing? See what happens when we come together and put away the silly fights of old?

Going home

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

This Sunday is All Saint’s Sunday—the day on the church calendar when we remember that we are part of something bigger than what we can see, or even fathom. One of the readings that is assigned to this day is from the latter part of the Book of Revelation in which we get a glimpse into the heart of God.

We all know that Jesus, God incarnate, came to live among us. That’s remarkable as it is. But, here in this consummate vision in Revelation we find God who is still searching out his home among us.

Alone among the religions of the world, we proclaim a God who isn’t content with remaining high in the vaults of heaven—no, our God wants to be with us. Our God wants to make a home among us. Our God wants to be among us, and wipe any tear that may fall from our eye.

To call this “extraordinary” is a ridiculous understatement. 

And, it begs an uncomfortable question: Do we want to be with God as much as God wants to be with us?

As uncomfortable as this is, the discomfort reveals perhaps the most splendid, beautiful facet of God: God’s vulnerability. God wanting to be among us—and willing to open himself up to our rejection, is God’s pledge of risk—the sign of true love, if ever there was one.

God is willing to come to us, and wait. God is willing to open himself up to being shunned and rejected by us.

But, oh, if we but return the favor, no tear will fall from our eyes. Ever.

the end of Job

As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the Book of Job is a bit of an enigma – or maybe we could say that it renders life as an enigma. Part of what makes us human is the quest for meaning. Whenever we pick up on something being meaningless, it’s like we short circuit. “It must have meaning somewhere,” sounds the voice deep inside us.

This is especially true when it comes to suffering, death, and loss – and this is exactly where the Book of Job takes us in this search for meaning. But, in the end, if all we are looking for is meaning, at the end of the book we’re left waiting at the altar by ourselves.

The end of the book does have some resolution, though. Job gets back everything he lost, and then some. He even gets children. New children. Good looking children.

And here’s the thing… after forty-two chapters, we might be ready to accept that everyone lived happily-ever-after, and move on with our lives. But, look a little closer…

He lost all of his sons and daughters to horrific disasters. Would getting “new ones” be any consolation whatsoever?!

I mean, these new kids might be lovely. They might be smart, and humble, and easy on the eyes. They might have great temperaments, and truly admirable outlooks on life. He might have been able to develop very meaningful relationships with each of them. 

But, wouldn’t there be a hole in his heart for each and every one of the children who he lost? Wouldn’t he go to bed with tears in his eyes every night thinking of them, their smiles, their idiosyncrasies, and the joyous times they shared? Wouldn’t their names be written on his heart for the rest of his days?

And, in this light, we might take a second look at Job being compensated double for all the property he lost. I mean, yes, that’s lovely – and wouldn’t it be nice if this was the norm for all of us when we suffer some calamity. But, none of these newfound riches would erase the experience of that one horrible day. That sitting down in the ashes of his former life. The sinking feeling of loss, dread, confusion, anger, and helplessness.

That trauma can’t be healed by the magical appearance of new stuff. Trauma like that takes a lifetime to work through.

Scholars think that this ending was added much later to give the book a little resolution. And, if a “little resolution” is all your looking for, then that’s maybe all we get. But, all the questions that we came to the book to begin with are still bouncing around in our head, left wanting for answers.

And isn’t that the answer? We can try and plaster quick-and-easy solutions over our experiences of pain and loss, but the pain and loss is still there. And so is God.

In this sense, perhaps Job’s initial words to his wife on the Terrible Day are the real point of the book after all: The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Out of the Whirlwind

Job lost everything. Everything.

Then, several of his friends came by to tell him that this terrible set of things which happened to him was basically his fault. After protesting for a while, Job essentially gets angry, and blames God for his plight. He comes to the conclusion that God has wronged him, and that God must answer for his crimes.

That didn’t go over as well as Job originally thought though.

God appears and opens up a can on Job:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

“Who determined its measurements—surely you know!”

“On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

As the kids say today: “Oooof.”

God doesn’t answer Job’s specific questions. God simply shows Job how small Job is in relation to God and the grandeur of creation. In this verbal smack down, God doesn’t just recall to Job the things he know, or even just the things that he doesn’t know. God asks Job about the things that he didn’t even know that he didn’t know.

The Book of Job is, of course, the book in the Bible which so clearly asks the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? By now, you’ve probably realized that there really isn’t an answer to this question in the book, or in life itself. We just don’t know.

But, the end of Job does give one little answer: Suffering isn’t the only thing we don’t know about. We could fill a few books with our wisdom, but there are endless libraries full of wisdom that we aren’t even able to fathom. 

It’s not just the question of suffering that we don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t know.

I’m aware that that’s not the most comfortable answer—especially today, when we expect to be able to answer just about anything in a few seconds of googling it. Not knowing things makes us incredibly uncomfortable. It makes us feel vulnerable and small.

And, that’s where God and Job end up. Job isn’t yelled at for expressing his feelings to God. Job is simply reminded of who he is in the grand scheme of things.

The amazing part of this scene though… the One who DOES know who laid the foundations of the earth cares enough about Job to show up and let him know it.

We might not know much, but we can hang our hat on that.

Job lawyering up

I know that my redeemer lives,
And that at the last he will stand upon the earth

Job 19:25

These words from the Book of Job are read at the beginning of almost every Episcopal funeral.

There’s a pretty famous, and quite wonderful, musical rendition of this text which is included in Handel’s /Messiah/. You can watch a YouTube clip of that below:

On its own, the text seems to be pointing to Jesus, who is our Redeemer. Knowing that our redeemer “lives” appears to be a call of victory that would make sense on any Easter morning.

But, Job, when he utters these words, is in no way thinking about Jesus here. He has a whole different sort of “redeemer” in mind.

In fact, when Job extols the virtues of his redeemer, he’s actually talking about someone who resembles a lawyer who will come and help him take God to court. He wants to sue God because he has come to believe that God has wronged him—he believes that God wrongly allowed all the horrible things that happened to Job. He’s so convinced of his own innocence, and God’s guilt, that he believe that any impartial judge would see it this way.

All he needs is a good lawyer.

In this week’s lesson from Job 23 we find these words:

Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

Isn’t this amazing?! Job the upright and just man, who God brags about to all the heavenly host, ends up getting so upset with God that he says /outloud/ that he thinks a good lawyer and a good judge could successfully bring suit against God.

And, not only does Job think this, and say this—but then his words get memorialized as scripture.

Now, next week we’ll hear God’s response to Job. It’s not pretty. At the end of it Job is put back in his place with his knees knocking.

But, also in the end, Job is found to honestly express to God what was on his heart. His relationship with God meant enough to him that he felt it appropriate to be honest with God. And, like when we spout off to a friend or spouse, Job had to go back and apologize.

But, I’m convinced that God was at least pleased with one thing: Job’s relationship with God meant enough to him that he was willing to express his displeasure.

What’s on your mind with God today?

Why?

The question that we always seem to ask ourselves is, “why?”

“Why did this tragedy happen?”

”Why is there such evil in the world?”

“Why is there so much suffering?”

”Why did this happen to such a good person?”

”Why would God do this?”

”Why would God do this… to me?”

As humans we’ve been asking this for thousands of years. We know this, because archaeologists and historians have dug up ancient documents inscribed in clay tablets and on sheets of papyrus which contain stories which seek to ask and answer these questions.

Tad DeLay—the philosopher and theologian who was with us this summer—has a fascinating point in his book “The Cynic and the Fool.” He says that prior to Jewish Monotheism (the belief in one God), the answers to these questions were different, and less strained. In Pagan Polytheism bad things happened because the gods were warring with each other, and you happened to get caught in the crossfire. Or, a god got jealous, and decided to punish you.

The pagan gods were fickle and naughty, and you never knew what might happen.

But, when Jewish Monotheism came around, there was just one God—who was supposed to be good and righteous. So… when something bad happened… the questions started rising to the surface: Did God allow this to happen? Was God not powerful enough to stop this thing? Is God punishing us? Or, does God not care about our suffering.

The Book of Job, which we’ll be reading for the next four weeks, is the ultimate book in the Hebrew Bible which asks the question: why?

We can tell from textual criticism (the science of looking at ancient texts) that the Book of Job was written in several different eras. There appears to be a very old story that was then revisited and added to. The bulk of what we know as the Book of Job today was composed during the Babylonian Captivity—when the Israelites had their homeland destroyed, Temple leveled, and were taken off to Babylon to serve as slaves.

In the wake of such suffering, can you guess what kind of questions they were asking themselves?

After Job loses everything, he is visited by several friends who try and comfort him at first, but who then want to figure out why this terrible thing has happened to Job. They come up with several of the same answers that we tend to come up with—answers that never seem to hold up to scrutiny.

In the end—Well… I’m not going to give the WHOLE thing away here!—the answer might surprise you.

James: a glorious ending

I think it’s helpful to read the conclusion of the Epistle of James in its full context. James was writing to a community engaged in conflict over class discrimination. It was apparently a vicious and heated inter-church argument. In the beginning of the Epistle, James urges the people in the church to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. He tells them that anger doesn’t bring forth righteousness. Later in the letter he tells them to watch their language and how they speak to one another. Really, it’s a good recipe for church unity, no matter the level of internal conflict, if any exists at all.

But then, after telling them us who not to be, he tells us who we ARE.

We are a people of prayer. We pray when we’re in distress, we sing our prayers when we have something to celebrate, and we pray together. We bring our sick into the midst of the assembly, and we reach out our hands and touch them. We even bring our troubles and sins to each other, knowing that no matter what we’ve done or failed to do, we will be met with gentleness and prayerful forgiveness.

It really is a glorious ending to this letter, and a glorious way to BE.