Sunday, October 18, 2009

18 October 2009 - Sermon "God's restoration project"

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, VA
18 October 2009 – Sermon

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 24
Job – Hebrews - Mark

While in Italy during college, I had the amazing fortune to take a class on Michelangelo taught by one of the main scholars of the Florentine genius. One of a dozen or so highlights of the class was when we were given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel. When I was there, the restoration project was going on and part of the ceiling was covered by a mechanized scaffold in the middle of the ceiling while on one side there was a rather dark and subdued depiction of the Biblical scenes. On the other side of the scaffold, the ceiling glowed with bright color, the figures seemed to pop off the ceiling as if they were sculptures rather than painting. The paintings were a wonder to be seen, and most scholarship on the ceiling had to be revised after experts saw the results of the wonderful (albeit controversial) restoration project.

This theme of restoration moves through our readings today.

Job’s problem looks easy enough to figure out, on the surface, he’s gotten whacked, smacked, and rejected. He’s a blessed man, a man of integrity, and yet he’s gotten beat up. He is angry, and rightfully so. After first responding to his wife (which we discussed two weeks ago) by saying, “should we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad,” he then goes into a long dialogue within himself, with his friends, and finally with God. Job’s problem seems easy enough to figure out, on the surface, but in reality, his problem is that he’s seeing things all wrong. So God responds to him. God speaks from the whirlwind and says that he will answer Job’s questions if Job can prove his worthiness.

• Were you present at creation?
• Do you know your way around the cosmos?
• Would you know how to operate it?
• Would creation and creatures obey your commands? and
• Are you capable of providing for animals and birds?

After God’s speech, Job says: “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? ... I will not answer” (40:4-5). God’s appearance explodes to bits the basis of Job’s complaint. He is finally able to say what he’s been suspecting all along; he and his friends do not know the world. And so his complaint against God evaporates.

A few years ago, I was in DC when I saw a man with a T-Shirt that said on the front: “There is a God,” and on the back it said: “And you aren’t Him”

Job reminds us that God is above and we are below. God is above and humans are below. And so, Job responds with no response. [And, I suspect, he finally begins to really pray.]

Can you imagine the quality of the silence after Job’s response? Praying the mystery. “There is nothing quite like God as silence,” Meister Eckhart


It is hard to live in the moment, to live in the silence that surrounds us. Especially when we are with loved ones, or when we are visiting friends after long absence. The talking raises up into the ceiling like a song. Perhaps this reluctance about silence is why James and John walk up to Jesus and start bugging him about where they will sit in the heavenly banquet (wouldn’t it be enough to just be there?). But before we are too harsh on the sons of Zebedee, we have to admit our own fascination with status and seating charts. But they [and we] really didn’t get the point of Jesus at all. They are looking for comfy seats next to the Son of God. Here, Jesus has to step in and cleanse their vision. James and John never saw the T-Shirt in the DC Metro, and they fall into the trap of hubris. They forget what Jesus has taught in word and deed, and think the next six chapters will be a rose garden.

Jesus responds to them by offering what most scholars believe is the central core teaching of the gospel of Mark. Jesus responds to their question about seating chart with a vision of sacrifice, servanthood, and selflessness that explodes the basis of their questions. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” which is better translated “as a ransom for All.” Where God’s answer to Job outlined the difference between the nature of God and the nature of humankind, here Jesus’ answer to James and John outline the difference between Jesus the Christ and the Jesus of their imagination.

It is this passage [among others] which also obliterates a simplistic way of thinking about “What Would Jesus Do?” While having a bracelet on to remember Jesus is a great thing, deeper exploration of scripture teaches I that we cannot do what Jesus did, and this is because Jesus is the Son of God and I am the son of Jason Carey. Jesus is the”Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for all.”

And so that holy silence returns, the silence when we encounter the cross, both harshness and hope exist there. We are not the Son of God, we have only to pray that we can receive the gift with gratitude and thanksgiving.


God has come into the world and has made a sacrifice, “once offered” so that we might live, and live fully and abundantly. The letter of the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the embodiment of the old temple priests, however, even this image has gone through a radical cleaning and restoration. The letter of the Hebrews describes the fact that Jesus is no mere temple priest, limited and circumscribed, but a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” If you are not up on your Old Testament figures, I might remind you that Melchizedek appears in Genesis 14:18-20, long before the Levitical (temple) priesthood. Melchizedek received alms from Abraham and is able to reconcile the judgment (kingship) of God with his mercy (priestly quality).

Christ is God incarnate, immortal, sinless, and therefore his priesthood is able to transform all of humanity, not merely one Tribe. The priestly “ordination” that Jesus receives at his baptism is given by God, who ordains a Son. And, since Christ is immortal, the priesthood of Melchizedek needs only one, eternal, priest.

Through Christ, who is priest in the order of Melchizedek, we are brought into God’s family, we are adopted as brothers and sisters of Christ, who is God’s Son and who has opened the way for us. Through his eternal priesthood as the Son of God, we are welcomed into the sanctuary, and into the household of God. “Jesus our brother, strong and true.”

And so, God’s restoration project goes on for us. God gave Job the vision to see with greater clarity about the nature of God and the nature of humankind. Jesus restores his disciples’, and our mistaken thought that we should be concerned with seating charts and status.Through Christ, God restored the image and understanding of the High Priesthood – not based on familial identity and not limited by human boundaries – Jesus as priest welcomes us all into the household of God as adopted brothers and sisters of the Son of God.

God’s restoration project continues, may we be blessed with clear vision and thinking.

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