The Stewardship of Job
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg is an author, speaker, and ordained minister. Her new book, "Sacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-weary Christian," invites readers to savor familiar words of faith and thereby meet The Word afresh. Click here to read more about Rav. Hackenberg's writings.
I realize that you have a short bio of me in the announcements in front of you, and of course some of us have had longer conversations on Sunday mornings when I worship here, but for a little extra background let me say: I was a writer long before I became a minister, with my first story published at the age of thirteen – a fictional short story about a cat who was a king. In college, I studied the language of music, and in seminary, I focused on theology and preaching because I loved the impact of words. These days, I spend my time immersed in the dialect of denominational process for the United Church of Christ.
I say all of this so that you trust me and my entirely unscientific background as I tell you about a recent discovery in the field of quantum physics.
Quantum physics is the study of subatomic particles – those infinitely small bits and pieces that comprise the microscopically small bits and pieces of atoms that in turn comprise the bits and pieces of the world as we know it. Subatomic particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) are so unimaginably small that they can pass through objects that we would otherwise describe as solid. Just to keep things interesting: sometimes subatomic particles pass through objects by acting like particles, like tiny pieces that duck and dodge their way through objects by finding open spaces; but sometimes subatomic particles act like waves that have motion, that vibrate their way directly through objects.
In a recent experiment conducted at the Australian National University, scientists tried to understand when and why subatomic particles act like particles that go around or like waves that go through. For the experiment, they put obstacles in the path of those particles to see if the particles would go through the obstacles like waves or around them like particles. What the scientists discovered boggles the mind:
When there was only one obstacle in their path, the subatomic particles behaved like particles. When there were two obstacles, the subatomic particles behaved like waves. So when there were two obstacles, the particles changed how they interacted with the first obstacle based on the fact that there was a second obstacle still to come. In other words, a subatomic proton made a decision – if protons make decisions – a proton made a decision about its behavior at the first obstacle because of its future behavior at the second obstacle. What was coming impacted what had already occurred.
The future was found to influence the past.
And if it astounds our minds to think of it in terms of quantum physics, it should equally awe and marvel our spirits to understand it in terms of faith and scripture: In the Gospel of Mark this morning, the future of Bartimaeus’ healing is so miraculous, so life-changing, that even before the healing occurs, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs up with joy. And even before Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs up with joy, that future of healing causes Bartimaeus to shout out to the man passing him by, “Jesus, have mercy on me!”
That future healing prompts joy and dancing even before it happens, prompts a crying out even before it comes to pass. The future is found to influence the past. And Jesus says to Bartimeaus, “Go. Your faith in a future healing – that prompted you to call my name, that prompted you to leap for joy – has made you well.” The future is found to influence the past.
And if it’s hard for us – because sometimes it is very hard – to rejoice in healing before healing ever comes; if it’s hard for us to sing for the fulfillment of justice before we ever see it come to pass; if it’s hard for us to take comfort in God’s voice before God’s voice speaks comfort; if Bartimeaus’ future joy is just a little too quick for us; if it’s hard in faith – not if, when it’s hard in faith to even imagine the future let alone to trust in the future; then we are blessed with a good friend in Job.
Job too found that his future shaped his past, but we have a whole book of the Bible to understand how much Job struggled to find that future perspective and to allow it to shape his past perspective. While it’s true that the book of Job has a happy ending – his friends and brothers and sisters return, he once again has thousands of sheep and camels and oxen and donkeys, he has children again (including three daughters who are listed by name) – nevertheless it’s not the restoration of fortune in chapter 42 that influences the preceding 41 chapters. It’s the future dawning of Job’s humility that influences his past endurance and struggle through trial after trial after trial.
Chapter 42 is the future of all Job’s struggles, and it’s in that future when Job finally confesses: “I have uttered what I did not understand. There are things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I have heard of God but now I see God. Now I know that God can do all things. Now I repent, for I understand at last that God’s purposes cannot be confused with my goals and gratification.”
It’s not because he gets his stuff back in the future but because he finds humility in the future that Job can say in the past: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return, yet still: blessed be the name of the LORD.” And it’s not because he gets his stuff back in the future but because he finds humility in the future that Job can lament and wail in the past, saying: “Why does God give light if I cannot see the way? Why does God pay attention to humans at all, since we are so fleeting and so sinful?”
It’s not because he gets his stuff back in the future but because he finds humility in the future that Job can yell and curse at God in the past yet still find the faith to listen for God’s response, which comes in chapter 38: “Have you commanded the morning or taught the dawn how to shake the shadows from the earth? Have you fathomed the depths of the oceans or measured the storehouses of snow and hail? Tell me, Job, if you are so wise.”
Job’s past interactions with God through seasons of struggle and crisis and doubt are influenced by his future humility before God.
And when he does get his stuff back, when God restores Job’s material wealth and family abundance – house and friends and family and land and camels and donkeys and sheep – even with the return of such comforts, Job does not forget his humility before God, his faith that God’s purposes will outlast his own dreams, his trust that God’s goodness will endure long after life’s goodness.
Even when he gets his stuff back, Job demonstrates that he is still humbled by and trusts in God’s future more than in his own abundance. In humility and faith, Job is radically generous with his renewed fortunes, giving not only to his sons as was the custom but also to his daughters Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch, who receive equal shares. The continuation of Job’s humility into the future beyond chapter 42 – his trust in God’s future over his trust in his own life causes him to act with bold economic stewardship in the division of his inheritance.
The future influences the past.
And I don’t know if it’s harder for you to believe in such a phenomenon through the lens of quantum physics or through the lens of faith. I confess that there are days when I find it easier to believe that a proton’s future can impact its past than to believe that God’s future can impact our past, because it’s a struggle of faith to recognize God’s dream of goodness interrupting our grief and doubt now, God’s eventual justice unfolding now, God’s ultimate redemption coming to fruition now.
Yet this is the witness of Job: that our faith today can be nurtured by God’s mystery tomorrow. More to the point, this is the stewardship of Job: not how he managed wealth when he had it but how he managed faith when he did not.
Job grounded his faith,
nurtured his faith,
interacted with God in seasons of struggle and doubt,
based on the slowly dawning understanding that
God’s purposes will never be within our grasp,
based on the trust that God’s mystery and goodness
will always be found in our future
just as they will always leave traces in our past;
based not on an abundance of wealth
but on an abundance of humility
with awe for who God is
with appreciation for all that he did not understand.
The mystery of God will outlast our seasons of uncertainty; in faith, we also trust God’s mystery to undergird our past. The magnitude of God will remain true in our future long after the entertainments of this world have ended; in humility, we confess the magnitude of God within every present moment.
The power of God to bring about justice and healing and a new day is the ground in which we plant our faith and our lives on this day, not because we are full of certainty but because we are full of doubt. We ground our faith and our lives in joy not because the world is perfect today but because God is good tomorrow.
Call it quantum physics.
Call it faith.
But whatever you call it, be bold and courageous in allowing God’s future to influence the ways you steward your past and present.
To God be the glory,
 Morgan, Stephen. 3 June 2015. Scientists Show Future Events Decide What Happens in the Past. Science.
 Job 1:21
 Job 3:23 and Job 7:17-21
 Job 38 excerpts
Clueless in Jerusalem
Job 38:1-7. (34-47); Psalm 104: 1-9, 25, 37b; Hebrews 5: 1 – 10; Mark 10: 35 – 45
Dr. Carol S. Franklin
Dr. Carol Franklin is a retired higher education professional and is a member of Christ Church.
You know that old saw that it is difficult to serve two masters? Well this Sunday, I feel pulled in multiple directions. First of course is the pull of today’s lessons and how God illuminates them for me. Second is the fact that I was asked specifically to preach today as part of an Outreach Sunday event. But then a few weeks ago Peter reminds me that it is also stewardship season, and finally he encouraged me to be short and succinct. My response to him about that last bit was it depends on how she chooses to speak to me. Thankfully she did speak, revealing that the heart of today’s lessons was about serving and giving. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together and all the stars seemed to align for this Outreach and Stewardship Sunday? Now let’s see if I can be succinct.
As I read the lessons appointed for the day, especially Mark’s Gospel, the first thing that popped into my head was “Clueless in Jerusalem.” With their minds more preoccupied with petty thoughts of self at the top of the table, the disciples couldn’t see Christ’s true purpose or understand his service and his sacrifice. Clearly, clueless the sons of Zebedee and the rest of the crew just didn’t get it, didn’t get the difference between worldly greatness and spiritual greatness. Then it struck me that many of us, even those of us in the church, can fall prey to that clueless syndrome.
There is a sharp disconnect between the messages of the culture in which we live and the kingdom of God to which we aspire. Too frequently, we in the world value celebrity over substance, idolizing the rich, the powerful, the beautiful and the athletic. Then there are those purveyors of a prosperity gospel that preach earthly rewards in return for our faith, focusing more on what God will do for us rather than what we are called to do or be in and by that faith.
Clueless that’s what we are, expecting seats at the top of the table and the finest of wines rather than seeing where the cup and the baptism of Christ would lead him and us. The truth is, we didn’t choose God, God chose us. Let’s be honest, who among us at first blush would choose anything, any seat or any cup from someone who asks so much of his children, of someone who could send his own son to suffer a horrific death? But we do accept because we realize that such an act demonstrates a singular truth that we are the beloved of God and that He would pay any price, including the life of His son, to ransom our lives. We are who we are and what we are because of who God is. God came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ to show us the meaning and power of His love and to remind us that we are His.
The real question is, are we ready to confront what it means to be chosen? When we take the cup, are we really ready for the service and the sacrifice? In his sermon last week, Peter said something that struck a chord with me – in essence if we accept that we are known and beloved of God, we can’t stay the way we are. We must discover what God desires us to be and what it means to walk that Jesus walk. With Jesus as our model, we see that God’s kingdom rejects the world’s measures for esteem, for true greatness flows not from dominating others but in giving of self and serving others. Thus acceptance of the cup and of baptism is acceptance of God’s way. It is accepting Jesus’ invitation to change ourselves and the world we live in by joining him in serving and giving to others. By following Jesus, we are lead directly into the heart of God, where we find that the message of Christ’s journey is not about worldly riches or a place in the spotlight, it’s about love.
The Lord instructs us to love and To Love is a verb. It requires action, for loving God is not measured solely or simply by the law or our adherence to it. Jesus practiced what he preached, breaking down barriers, loving the outcast and welcoming those on the margins. He was a rule breaker who moved beyond conventional wisdom to open our eyes and hearts to see a new path and a new life. We can do no less than to love one another as Christ loved us. For me it means that loving God is not measured simply by being baptized or going to church or praying regularly or professing to be a Christian. It’s love that must abide as we gather in worship and in giving of our self, our time, our talent and our silver to the work that God and Christ have called us to.
Last month, I ended my sermon by stating that “At the end of the day when asked ‘Where is the love?’ I hope we can respond, here in this place, as we reach out to love as Christ loved and heal as Christ healed.”
Now I could give you a litany of the ways in which we in this parish seek to reflect the priorities of God that Jesus proclaimed. It would include our outreach and giving, our work to reimagine and renew our parish life and role here at the crossroads. But if I did, I’d miss the mark on that last injunction to be succinct.
On this Outreach and Stewardship Sunday, take a moment to explore the many ways in which we in this parish live out that call to serve and to give. Talk to someone about our stewardship of time, talent, silver and this edifice. Ask about the ways in which we reach back and lift up those in our community and throughout the world through our outreach initiatives. I think you’ll discover that we in this place are not clueless, and you will be amazed to learn that we can indeed be known by our love as we walk in Christ’s purpose.
Exactly the Way You Are
Rev. Peter Faass
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus said to the man, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone."
The rich young man addresses Jesus as "good teacher," which is a respectful way to address a rabbi, a teacher of the Law. But Jesus quickly discounts that greeting and shifts the focus. This is not about him being a teacher, good or bad, but rather about his teaching us how to live within the rules God has set. Jesus has just said in the previous passage in a similar question about divorce, that the Law on divorce was an accommodation to our imperfection. It was because of our hardheartedness that the Law of Moses allowed men to divorce their wives so easily. But this is not the way God intended marriage to be in the Creation, he explains. You have taken what God desires and watered it down to be palatable for yourselves, Jesus says.
In his book How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian, John Dominic Crossan calls this behavior of taking God’s rules and watering them down to make them palatable, the “rhythm of assertion and subversion.” This pattern of assertion and subversion in the Bible occurs when we humans don’t like how radical God’s call to us is on how to lead our lives according to God’s will. We humans find that way just too hard or inconvenient, so we domesticate God’s desires by adding Bible verses that temper God’s rules to our liking so that the normalcy of human civilization is maintained. In other words, so humans can take the easy way out. This is a frequent pattern in the Biblical canon.
Just as in that earlier exchange about divorce, Jesus now takes a different tack from where the questioner thought he would go, and maybe more to the point, where he wanted Jesus to go, with the rich young man and his question about obtaining eternal life. The man’s desire is for Jesus to temper God’s call so that he can obtain eternal life. But Jesus is not so easily domesticated.
The reality is, Jesus came to earth to lead us directly into the heart of God. Jesus is here not just to be a "good teacher" but to tell us the truth about God’s will for us, in order to bring out the image of God that is inside and upon each one of us. Jesus is the antidote to the assertion-subversion conundrum.
He wants to chip away everything else that has accrued to us in the subversion of God’s message – those things not of God - so that all that remains is us, as God sees us and dreams for us to be. It is in this soil that the good news of the radicality of God can thrive.
So "Jesus, looking at [the man], and loved him." There are lots of other verbs that could be in the place of "loved" here. Jesus could have rebuked him, pitied him, laughed at him, chided him, challenged him, told him to get lost. You can fill in the blank yourself. But we are told, "Jesus, looking at him, and loved him." He loved him as a prerequisite to telling him the most difficult truth he had to tell. He loved him before he shared something with him that was going to disabuse him from false beliefs, to potentially cause him sorrowfully to go away from Jesus . . . presumably forever. In her book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott says: "God loves us exactly the way we are, and God loves us too much to let us stay exactly the way we are." Jesus loved this man enough to tell him a truth he needed to hear, even though it might end their relationship.
Jesus' challenge is about possessions. But the root of any question about possessions is not so much about what we own or how much we own. This is not a story about the condemnation of owning things or being a person of means. Rather it is a story about what owns us.
This story could as easily be about pride, ego, or addiction, to name but a few. Like money, if these things own us than we really cannot love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and we cannot really love our neighbor as ourselves. If anything other than God owns us in our entirety, than that is a problem. Jesus sees that the man is a person of great wealth. Despite his efforts to meticulously follow all the Law of the Torah, he is still owned by his possessions. That is why Jesus instructs him to “…go, sell all your stuff, divest yourself of your love of things and their control over you, so that you can authentically follow me.”
Jesus is always inviting us into a new way of being ... a way of being where our identity is not wrapped up in anything else but being God's beloved child. Everything - and he means everything - else falls by the wayside.
At his baptism Jesus hears words from God coming from above. “You are my beloved. You are my beloved. You are my beloved.”
These are the words he says to us, as well. “You are my beloved. You are my beloved. You are my beloved.” He loves us so much, that he’s willing to risk the relationship with us to tell us God’s truth. Nothing else matters.
If we don't trust that we are known and beloved by God, it's pretty much impossible to give up everything . . . or even anything! It’s one of the most important aspects of the call to stewardship in the church. In fact it’s critical.
A lot of people don’t want to hear about their need to honestly assess their relationship with the stuff that owns them. So when we speak about stewardship of time, talent and treasure and call people to the Biblical standard of tithing, they frequently respond by saying, “that’s all you ever talk about in church is money.” To avoid “all” this talk they often stay away from worship for the duration of the campaign.
Frankly, each time I hear someone say that the only thing we talk about in church is money, my first thought is that this belief says a whole lot more about that person than it does about the parish’s honest effort to talk about our relationship to money and the things that control us. There is more than a little pattern of assertion - subversion in it. Think about that.
So, as we journey through this annual stewardship campaign for the next few weeks, I am going to ask you to do the following: For a few minutes at the beginning of each day and a few minutes at the end of each day, take some time in silence. Pray this phrase:
"Jesus, looking at him (or her), loved him (or her)."
Let Jesus look at you and love you. Then let yourself look at Jesus and ask him to help you know him better. In that knowing, let him help you loosen the grip of those things that have control over you. As that happens, remember, "God loves you exactly the way you are, and God loves you too much to let you stay exactly the way you are."
St. Francis and the Stewardship Kick Off
Rev. Peter Faass
Today we celebrate St. Francis, a saint who is described as being the most admired . . . and the least emulated.
We honor Francis by blessing animals; those creatures God has given us as co-inhabitants on this “fragile earth our island home.” Blessing animals recognizes Francis’ own special relationship with them and his love for all of God’s creation.
Recently, Francis has also taken on the mantel of being the saint of the environment. Human activity continues to degrade the earth through poor stewardship resulting in the inequitable distribution and consumption of resources and global warming. And yet, Francis stands as an icon to God’s call to us to be compassionate, faithful and equitable stewards of the gifts given to us. Ultimately, Francis is the saint of stewardship, not just by his love of animals and care for the environment, but stewardship for all that God has given us.
Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources: Not just natural resources but of all we receive in life, the tangible and intangible. The concept of stewardship can be applied not only to the environment and nature, but to economics, health, property, information, theology, love and our relationships.
When we think of Francis’ stewardship only in the context of the animals he loved, we limit the depth and breadth of his stewardship of all things. And in so doing, we risk trivializing Francis as cute and precious; the patron saint of puppies, birds and bunny rabbits. Francis is so much more than that.
Born into a wealthy family (Francis’ father was a silk merchant) Francis’ early life was one of indulgence: Fine clothes, sumptuous food and parties, travel. He became a devotee of troubadours.
All the family wealth was used toward leading a pampered, worldly life style.
In 1204, Francis – seeking adventure – went to war as a soldier for the city of Assisi. While at war, he experienced a vision that transformed him. After a pilgrimage to Rome, he had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ in the country chapel of San Damiano, just outside of Assisi, in which the Icon of Christ Crucified said to him, "Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins."
He took this to mean the ruined church in which he was presently praying. So he sold some cloth from his father's store to assist the priest there for this purpose.
He soon realized that he understood Christ’s call too literally. What Jesus really wanted was for Francis to help rebuild the house of the institutional Church, which had become corrupt and self-indulgent.
When his father, Pietro, discovered Francis used his family wealth to rebuild the ruined church building and assist the poor, he became indignant and enraged. He is reported to have even beaten Francis for this perceived waste of the family resources. Pietro’s behavior speaks volumes about his relationship to money. He’s seemingly fine when it’s squandered on self-indulgent living, but becomes enraged when it goes to the work of the church and helping the poor.
Francis ends up renouncing his father and his patrimony, publically laying aside even the garments he had received from him. He assumed the life of a penitent. The rest of his life was focused on founding the monastic Franciscan order and following Christ’s command to assist the least of those among us.
Francis and his father offer us a profound insight into the human condition and how we engage stewardship. The men are two pieces of a whole, or better put, one is the alter ego of the other.
Like Pietro, most of us believe that the resources we have belong to us. They are ours because we earned them and therefore we are entitled to them. We really do not like to give them away because we think to do so is to squander them. If we do give some away, we are often parsimonious about it, doing so begrudgingly. Living in this context of scarcity and not abundance, is to live in fear of losing what we have and becoming needy ourselves.
Yet, on our good days, we admire Francis and his model of self-sacrifice, stewardship of all things and his faithful commitment to God’s call. We toy with the idea that we sort of desire to be like him and to emulate his generosity in all things. Yet our inner Pietro often trumps our inner Francis. This would explain why Francis is so highly admired and yet infrequently emulated. We think his way of life and stewardship are a good thing, but we also convince ourselves that we cannot possibly engage in it ourselves.
Let me offer this take on the story of Francis.
Ultimately I don’t think God is calling us to the radical behavior and ascetical life of Francis. This is not an all-or-nothing story. The moral of it is much more nuanced. Instead, this story is an object lesson to help us become less like Pietro, gently nudging us to become more Francis-like. It is a story about losing our fear of scarcity and trusting in God’s abundance and care for us.
In a nutshell, Francis teaches us that we need to learn to divest ourselves from the hold our material goods have over us, and the fear that life is about scarcity and not abundance. The Francis story teaches us this so that we can be free to use our resources of time, talent and treasure for the glory of God. That glory can be manifest in myriad ways: from paying the mortgage, and putting food on the table, to supporting our favorite causes and generously giving to the health and well-being of the parish church, our spiritual home. More than anything, the Francis and Pietro story informs us that in God’s economy, we truly receive in giving.
Today we kick off our annual Stewardship campaign. Your pledges will determine to what degree we will be able to continue engaging Christ Church’s mission and ministry in 2016.
Frankly, the only reason we care about time, talent and money is because they are the resources we use to do our work as a Christian community of faith: which is to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the world. They are the fuel that powers the engine.
Today we celebrate Francis with our pets and the exotic animal parade. That is a joyful thing!
Today, let’s also celebrate the loosening of Pietro’s grip over us, as we embrace the liberating example of Francis. In so doing we become better stewards of all that has been given to us. And that too is a cause for great rejoicing!