Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 21 October 2018.
We have all seen the status symbols: big house in a desirable area, kids at the best schools and of course, doing wonderfully. Being dressed in the most fashionable outfits – and that applies to the men as well.
Then there is the flashy car, the individual office in the corner, with its plush carpeting and furniture – and so on and so on. It’s wonderful for those who achieve such heights of excellence – and you may be sure that I never even came close.
But then it has two flaws: first, one has to be especially aggressive to gain and keep these things, and this can take a toll on one’s personal sense of values; secondly, it can all disappear at no notice at all. It is fragile beyond words, and absorbs an incredible amount of energy to keep it all intact.
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
Job certainly found out the hard way just how fragile life and prosperity could be, and he spent most of the rest of the play arguing with his comforters about it.
And then God did indeed meet Job’s complaint and challenge, and did so with great humour, like an indulgent father facing off with a recalcitrant child. “Do you really want a fight? Come and get me!”
And so the Lord used humour to bring Job into a place of understanding. Job was never told what had been going on – yet he held to his faith in God, even if only just.
And so God said in effect: you do not know and can never understand what is going on, but at least you accept Me as the One who made heaven and earth, and now you have heard Me. You do not have the depth of understanding to probe My holiness or righteousness, and could never even imagine the lengths I would go to for those I love.
All this was there in the Lord’s answer to Job from the whirlwind. These things are beyond you, so you must continue to abide in My love.
You certainly cannot stand on your own dignity or good works.
And then there is the letter to the Hebrews in which we are given a picture of Jesus, who is indeed the Great High Priest who has passed into the heavens.
But He got there by suffering and loss. Although He was and is the Son of God, in His human life He had to learn obedience the hard way and not always in the most desirable or congenial way.
Jesus also learned obedience by suffering, even when wholly innocent. He learned to submit to the will of God without becoming cynical or losing faith.
Having been born without sin He still had to continue without sin, even when the most essential demands of survival would tempt Him to put self first.
And this temptation to compromise Himself and His ministry and above all His passion was there throughout His time on earth. It was even there are the very end: “Come on down from the cross and we will believe you!”
And then there is the gospel lesson in which James and John came to Jesus asking for places of privilege in the Kingdom of God. They were still thinking of this kingdom where people would be bossed around, and they wanted to be first when it came to doing the bossing.
And so Jesus, as had God in the lesson about Job, treated them with some humour: You may be following Me now but how will you cope with the chastising and the cross? Can you face these as well?
Their answer of “Of course we can” seems to have come a little too easily. Like a junior assistant taking a spin in the bosses’ chair, not knowing that he is thinking about managing the cash flow of the business and whether redundancies may be required.
Maybe having to defend a court action without sacrificing his reputation or relations with his stakeholders.
And so when they had settled down a little more Jesus then went into it a bit more.
To love mankind is to sacrifice oneself for them – all of them including those who reject that sacrifice. And it is to do so willingly and knowing that some will always reject what has been done.
To love and rule mankind is to pour oneself out for them, without restraint or limit. It is to be extravagant in the love that all want but not all wish to receive as it is given.
The pagan idea of Jupiter sitting on a heavenly throne dispensing thunderbolts is so wholly wide of the mark is to be laughably childish.
The love of God is all about the self-giving that is its starting point, which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It never fails or dies, even when its vision is as through darkened glass in a smoky room.
But it goes to the cross for all and rises up for all as well.