At the Heart of it All
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through the Word, and what came into being in the Word was life and light, which cannot be overcome. The Word became flesh, and we have seen its glory. Though we cannot see God, though the glory of God defies language we might hope to understand, nevertheless the heart of God has been made known by the Word.
The Gospel of John is the story of what happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed by the life and flesh of Jesus. Spoiler alert: What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is foolishness for those of us who desire rationalizations and wisdom. What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is weakness to those of us who hope for strength and works righteousness. What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is mystery for those of us who calculate signs and hedge our bets.
What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed by the life and flesh of Jesus is foolishness and weakness and mystery, because the heart of God is a jealous heart (Ex 20). The jealous heart of God is the kind of heart that will chase down love and claim love and cling to love wherever it might be found: in the wilderness or the temple, at weddings and on deathbeds, sitting under a tree or hiding itself in parables.
The heart of God heard the ancient Israelites crying out from their enslavement in Egypt and broke with love. In a jealous rage, the heart of God swore to break Pharaoh’s heart as well if that’s what it took to free the people. God took Moses – who, by the way, probably thought that his life was faithful enough, because every day he loved his wife and his kids and he worked hard tending to the sheep so that he could contribute to the well-being of the tribe – but God surprised Moses, overwhelmed Moses, tipped the tables of his contentment, and said, “This is now the love I need from you.”
Out of a broken heart full of love, God brought the ancient Israelites out from slavery, guided them across the Red Sea, led them and fed them daily through the wilderness. Time and time again God delivered the people, renewed their hope, strengthened their courage, loved and loved and loved. Then God said, “See how my heart has broken for you. Now listen, for this is how your heart must break for me:
In the ten commandments, the heart of God revealed itself to be full of power and very much jealous in love. Upon hearing this, two verses after today’s reading ends the ancient Israelites responded by saying to Moses, “Did we say that we were longing to hear God’s voice? We were definitely wrong about that. Let’s not do that again. Moses, you can approach the smoking mountain, you can listen to the thunder and the lightening, we will stand safely over here.”
We are grateful to have the heart of God beating for us. We can be easily overwhelmed to know what the heart of God requires of us. How can the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts and the actions of our lives be found acceptable by that Gaze of Love that does not miss any single one of our faults?
It is foolishness that we hope to try to return any measure of love to the One Who Loves Us. Yet we gather here because we are called to try:
Like Moses, we believe that we are being faithful in our daily diligence to love our families, to be honest in our work, to connect with our church, to represent God’s goodness to the world. We give our gifts to God. We build an altar out of our prayers. We support our friends. We contribute money where it is needed. We lift our voices against injustice. Isn’t this what it looks like to love God?
Yet no matter our diligence, whether we believe we have been faithful or we find ourselves flailing & failing in faith, the jealous heart of God still and certainly interrupts our routines of love and turns the tables on our habits of faith and confronts our weariness:
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of contentment that we resist that call to heartbreak out of which we might love more: we are satisfied with the networks of love & relationship around us, and we have wisely measured a tithe of our love that we give back to the community. In our contentment and routine, we fail to realize that God is calling us to foolishness with our love.
Sometimes it’s an overexposure to the world’s brokenness that we protect our own broken hearts a little more closely, hoping to rebuild our hearts’ strength despite Christ’s example of love in weakness. When you’ve worked so hard to repair your own heart’s breaking, faith can look like a callous more than it looks like love.
Sometimes in the busyness of faith we inadvertently begin to calculate how much heart we can give and when – “On Tuesdays when I take my friend to lunch, that’s my capacity for opening my heart that day because she will talk my ear off. On Wednesdays, my heart’s commitment is to the choir. On Saturday, my heart’s offering is spent on tutoring.” We forget the vast mystery of God’s heart that flashes across the sky and cannot be contained in a schedule.
Sometimes – a lot of times – our hearts are just easily distracted. We think we’re being faithful to God throughout our days, like the Passover pilgrims believed they were being faithful to God by traveling to the temple and exchanging their coins for temple currency so that with the temple currency they could buy doves & cattle & sheep for the faithful offering. And so each day we try to be prayerful: as we read the headlines and run our errands and write some email and notice that no one has taken him off Twitter yet and wonder where is the sanity to write laws so our children can study without fear and calling our loved ones and praying at the dinner table and did anyone remember to buy cat food and we tell ourselves that this is simply the chaos of life through which we love, but in the meantime Jesus is throwing tables to catch our attention so that he say, “Would you please stop chasing cows & birds & sheep through your life and calling it faith? I’m simply asking you to love.”
What happens when the jealous heart of God is made flesh and dwells among us?
That heart drives out everything that is not love, and if we are willing, breaks our hearts so that they might be made new with more room. The breaking has a different look and feel for all of us. Hearts can be broken open by joy, not just pain. Hearts can find the peace of foolishness in the face of difficult challenges. Hearts can stumble over ego or skip into a new adventure. For all of the ways that our hearts can break, for all of the ways that our lives can be turned upside down like tables, whether by God’s hand or by the world’s whims, I know that the renewal and expansion of our hearts never happens alone: God’s love never leaves us alone. God’s love within our hearts is not nurtured alone, not remembered alone.
Months – years – after Jesus turned tables and forecast the temple’s destruction & renewal, when the disciples had their own worlds turned upside down by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, they remembered this moment (John 2:22). They remembered it together, and because of that, they were able to love together.
Nothing comes before loving God. Every bit of love and hope and faithfulness and boldness and creativity that we might strive to show begins with & comes out of loving God.
In the beginning was the Heart, and the Heart was with God, and the Heart was God. And we have seen its glory.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
I am anxious, excited, terrified, wildly hopeful
a complete turmoil of nerves,
unsettled to the point that my stomach feels queasy.
I am tongue-tied with anticipation
as if speaking might burst the bubble of a dream,
yet if I don’t speak, I might explode with all that overwhelms me.
Tense in between the bliss and chaos of waiting,
I just might collapse into tears.
Something has been promised!
Something has been promised
that is so keenly desired,
so desperately needed,
so longingly dreamed of,
so impossibly out of reach
yet hauntingly within sight
and I tell myself to be cool, for heaven’s sake,
to not look as eager and anxious as I feel
just act like it’s no big deal
whether the promise is fulfilled,
whether the dream is realized.
Be smooth, I tell myself – non-anxious,
so that no one sees your delight
if the impossible becomes possible
(perhaps as soon as tomorrow), but also
so that no one will know your disappointment
if the dream remains elusive for years or forever.
Just breathe and no one will know your disappointment
if the gladness never replaces the mourning,
if the harvest never springs from the earth,
if the ruins are never restored.
Pretend like it doesn’t matter
if the wilderness never blooms,
if good news never manifests for the poor,
if broken hearts remain unmended,
if release is never granted to the prisoners,
if injustice is never repaid or made right.
Swallow that knot in your throat
that moments ago was your heart
leaping ecstatically at the glimpse of a possibility.
Feel the knot settle into the pit of your stomach
like it’s a lost friendship or a loved one’s death,
like it’s the daily gasp of work’s overload,
like it’s an unexpected medical bill,
like it’s another tweet that compromises your life,
like it’s a wave of depression that comes as surely as the tide,
like it’s the fatigue of wondering whether we can make a difference.
It’s hard to linger for very long
in a state of genuine anticipation.
It’s hard to sustain an Advent spirit
that waits on the edge of its seat
without secretly fearing disappointment.
Because after a while of watching the pot
that is the promises of God and wondering
when exactly those promises will come to a boil,
we can be tempted to adopt the perspective of those who
heard John the Baptist’s prophecy of a coming Messiah:
the priests and the teachers who were curious to come to the river
but – after generations upon generations
of living in anticipation of a messiah
without a messiah showing up –
they couldn’t get excited or find any hope within themselves
because the hope that once unsettled their stomachs
and caught their breaths had hardened
So many years they had waited:
charged with watching,
charged with praying,
charged with holding onto hope,
charged with leading in the meantime,
charged with patience and faithfulness
while the world around them crumbled and rebuilt
and crumbled again, surviving governments and wars,
waiting for the relief promised through Isaiah,
waiting for the joy promised even before that
to the ones wandering in the wilderness.
Along comes yet another prophet
“Make straight the way of the LORD,
the Messiah is coming!”
and the hope that has become a pit
of cynicism and depression
cannot even wonder
whether this time it might be so.
“Who are you?
Why is your prophecy
any different from all the others?
If all you have is water,
why should we believe you?”
Their mouths had forgotten
how to laugh at impossible possibilities,
like Sarah laughed
at the news that she would
give birth to a long-awaited son.
Their tongues had forgotten
how to rejoice and shout and sing,
like Miriam sang
after the people crossed the Red Sea
even though a wilderness still lay before them.
Their stomachs had forgotten
the delicious nervousness
of a promise on the verge of fulfillment
like a Christmas present waiting to be opened.
Their hearts had forgotten the quick pound of love,
the sudden wild racing of a burden relieved,
the heat & blush of tears overflowing with joy.
Their dreams had forgotten imagination,
too convinced by the harsh realities of the world
to fantasize about a harvest in the desert
or equality for the disenfranchised
or peace for the nations.
But if their dreams had forgotten it
or if our hearts have become hardened to it
or if our spirits have resigned themselves
to settle for less in order to avoid disappointment,
then we very likely need John the Baptist
to splash a little cold water on our spiritual weariness;
we need Isaiah to shout without ceasing until
the ears of our hearts hear again what just might be possible:
freedom for prisoners,
healing for the brokenhearted,
good news for the poor and the oppressed,
a garland of gladness instead of ashes of lament,
a song of praise instead of a faint spirit.
God is about nothing less
than the full realization of justice
and the healed embodiment of love –
and this does matter, terribly so.
I try to play it off, to be non-anxious in hope.
We try to abide one day at a time,
try to work hard while we wait
– without minding the pins and needles –
but our wariness and weariness in waiting
can easily harden in our efforts
to be practical and non-anxious about God’s promises.
These promises have come slowly before,
they are coming slowly now,
but we can’t be cool about it, we can’t be calm
because truly it matters
to see justice realized and love healed;
desperately it matters and
not just to us but to who God is.
And if we only ever glimpse
the faintest shadow of such a vision;
if we only ever hear whispers
of a few faint syllables of such a possibility;
it would be enough
to set our pulses racing,
to make our palms sweaty with nervousness,
to make our stomachs anxious and our hearts tender,
to well up our spirits with laughter and tears of joy,
to get us shouting about the beauties of heaven
and to send us compulsively, obsessively
into the world with love that knows no limits.
At the risk of open-heartedness
and even broken-heartedness,
we must be unsettled with hope:
nervously eager in anticipation and
blushed with the burning joy
of an impossible possibility.
Not because God’s vision has arrived yet,
not because the Good News is fulfilled yet
but simply and entirely because it’s possible.
Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
What is the Church of the 21st century called to be, do and look like? In my work for the United Church of Christ National Offices, I have the frequent opportunity to travel in order to ask this question. The resulting conversations are fascinating, fruitful, continuously complex, and inevitably lacking consensus (which is the beauty of the Church, in some ways).
Because the work I do focuses on church order and organization, the answers to the questions about what the Church is called to be & to do & look like tend to sound legalistic. So I’ll be part of a room full of deeply faithful folks who pray together and worship together and ask each other, “If we say that the Church is called to be a certain way, then don’t we need to change the Constitution & Bylaws on lines 6, 12 & 25, deleting Paragraph 3 of Article 2 and adding an addendum to Section B?”
Not surprisingly, the organization of Church life as it is described in Acts 2 holds much more appeal to us than Constitution & Bylaw debates about Church order.
They devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to praying. They held one another up in faith and in life – sharing their resources and their hearts. (Acts 2:42-47)
Who wouldn’t want to be part of such a Church! Who wouldn’t want to be part of such a Church where your name is known and your need is known, without shame for having need, where you are supported through seasons of crisis and lament, never lacking for signs of wonder to urge on your faith, never lacking for community who will struggle together for the sake of heaven.
Never lacking for bread, and it’s the rare Church that doesn’t eat well. Which is fabulous, because I like to eat, so the combination of food and God is always sound theological practice in my book.
How magnificent would it be if the 21st century Church broke bread with all people who were hungry! How beautiful would it be if the 21st century Church extended fellowship so that no one went through a crisis alone! How peaceful would it be if the 21st century Church called its own people to live with glad & generous hearts!
What is the 21st century Church called to be, called to do, called to look like?
Lest we pull our hair and gnash our teeth and groan with longing for the good old days when Church people prayed well and ate well and loved well, and never had to endure Constitution & Bylaw debates or spend an hour discussing the altar flower schedule…
Lest we believe too simply that the early Christians embodied Church better than the present-day Church…
The readings from John and 1 Peter this morning hint to us that the early Church shared some of our 21st century insecurities and imperfections.
Jesus’ admonitions and illustrations in John 10 suggest that his followers had a tendency to long for the kind of Good Shepherd who gathers the sheep into the fold, always in, always protected, always huddled together against fear, always wary of the stranger, always behind locked gates, always praying for the fence to be strong, for the wall to be high, for the green pastures to be a fortress, always suspicious of anyone who gets in by an unrecognized route, easily threatened by anyone who does not share their fears, quickly criminalizing anyone who dares to suggest that the still waters are abundant enough to share. Always in, never out. Sometimes the early Church found itself huddling in fear behind locked doors, praying for a Good Shepherd who would keep them safe, forgetting that Jesus in John 10 called himself the gate by which the Church was called not in but out.
Sometimes the 21st century Church resembles the early Church in its fears.
1 Peter encouraged the early Church to cast aside its fear and to set its eyes on salvation, to focus so exclusively on obtaining the resurrection that the experiences of earthly life almost don’t matter. “Be holy so that you can be saved. Do not hide in green pastures that will wither & fade anyway. Do not worry about the needs of the flesh, do not struggle against injustice or authority; even if you are beaten,” says 1 Peter, “let God have the glory.” The early Church of 1 Peter believed that the end of the world was quickly coming, too quickly to spend much time on worldly cares. Faithful behavior was expected of the early Church – hospitality, grace and love, support – as a way of passing the time well until the world ended. Any chaos and suffering were seen as inevitabilities of evil that should not be resisted since salvation was so near.
Like the early Church of 1 Peter, sometimes the 21st century Church has its eyes only set on heaven, not interested in embodying God’s kingdom on earth.
What is the 21st century Church called to be, called to do, called to look like?
If not a Church of fear that hides in green pastures, then who might we be? If not a Church of disengagement that only cares about heaven, then what might we look like?
And, of course, that ever-present question: Depending on how we are the Church, will it change our Constitution & Bylaws?
More accurately, will being the Church change our constitution? Will it change our being, our makeup? Are we – in our essence – any different because we are part of this body, because we are part of Christ’s body, because the work of Christ’s body in the world becomes our work, because the good news of Christ’s being is the good news at the heart of our beings?
I ask because the Church – and I mean the whole, global, ecumenical Body of Christ, with a capital C, which includes Christ Church but isn’t only Christ Church – the Church can be a Church of fear and still do the Acts 2 work of meeting one another’s needs. The Church of fear can say, “We’ll send meals when you’re sick, but we won’t advocate for your health insurance.” The Church of fear can be a Church that feeds people, but it will wring its hands over every penny and it will buy the cheap bread instead of the hearty artisan bread.
And the Church can be a disengaged kind of Church that sets its eyes so much on the prize of resurrection that it tells people just to endure and be good, and still the disengaged Church might know how to proclaim #BlackLivesMatter (although it will be an inconsistent ally at best). When a Black 15-year-old straight-A student athlete named Jordan Edwards is killed by a police officer, the disengaged Church knows how to lament. But when a Black 18-year-old boy on probation named Malik Carey is killed by a police officer, the disengaged Church only shakes its head and mourns that Malik didn’t behave better.
The 21st century Church can do well and still have a constitution of fear. The Church can love strongly and still hold its nose at the work of injustice. Who we are and will be as the Church is a matter of constitution – of being – of the faith that defines our core and becomes our every expression.
And so we strengthen and nurture our constitution with that familiar articulation of faith, the psalm that perhaps we whisper when all other words fail, and we let these images settle at our core and become our being:
The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
The LORD is my green pasture;
I shall not roam endlessly in search of something better.
The LORD is my oasis of still water;
I shall not be discontent.
The LORD is my portion at the table;
I shall not be selfish.
The LORD is my deepest sigh;
I shall not cry alone.
The LORD is my soul’s restoration;
I shall not be discouraged.
The LORD is my calling;
I am not my own.
We are not our own. We are part of the Body of Christ, and the being of Christ is the essence of us. So let us be constituted, let us be comprised of the knowledge that goodness is the character of God and mercy is the call of the Church. All day long, all the days of our lives, goodness and mercy are our confidence, our actions, and our being, as the Church together for the glory of God.
Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6: 6-19; Luke 16:31
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
Tell me who you think will solve this. Tell me who you think can fix our collective state of being, the status quo of our living that includes as a foundational truth the devaluing and criminalizing of Black and brown bodies to the point of death.
Who do you think can fix this?
Who do you hold responsible for fixing this?
I talk with friends, I follow conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and I read books & blogs on racism, and it’s clear that there are many fixes. There are many good and necessary efforts toward uprooting racism, and truthfully we need every tool at our disposal to uproot racism. People I know and read have a variety of opinions about where to start or which efforts to prioritize:
The police system needs to be overhauled: not because every police officer is problematic, but because the historic foundations of policing are inherently racist and so the system of law enforcement needs revision if it’s going to be proactively anti-racist.
The justice system needs to be exorcised of its demons and redeemed of its biases against Black and brown persons: from public defenders’ offices to the selection of juries to mandatory sentencing laws to the privatization of jails & prisons.
It’s also essential for white folks who to account for our participation in and our unwillingness to stand against racism. More than that, white folks need to talk to white folks about racism, we need to hold each other accountable for our prejudices, we need to teach each other that the white experience is not the only experience. In particular we Christians who are white need to speak up to other white Christians and testify that Christ’s commandment to love one another is at risk if we do any less than work wholeheartedly against personal & systemic racism.
Those are just a few tools and avenues in the work against racism. Where do you look for solutions?
Where and with whom do you place the responsibility for change?
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals,
in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth
and their plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)
In this particular season of American racism, this is what I hear when I read Psalm 146:
Do not put your trust in police systems,
in which there is no help.
Do not put your trust in justice systems,
in which there is no hope.
Do not put your trust in white folks,
in whom there is no hearing.
These are all mortal
and by their mortality, inherently sinful.
When their self-righteous breath departs,
they will return to dust.
Only when they return to dust will their plans perish.
It’s a dismal paraphrase of the psalm, perhaps, but then again several of our scripture readings this morning have a rather hopeless cloud hanging over them – did you notice?
Amos 6 is less than reassuring: “Alas to to you who relax on their couches, who drink a glass of wine, who pause to enjoy a bit of musical harmonization, not minding the suffering outside your doors. You’ll be the first to be punished for the injustices of the world when the LORD finally holds us accountable for failing to love one another.” How bad was the injustice? Amos wrote that the people’s living was so outrageously contrary to God that it was as if they were trying to plow the sea for a harvest. (Amos 6:12)
The thread of biblical misery continues in Luke 16: Jesus tells the parable of a rich man and a poor man who die. In the afterlife, the poor man is waited on by angels while the rich man is tormented by flames. For the first time in his life (and death), the rich man is in need and dependent on someone else for relief. And Abraham, who’s monitoring the whole situation, shrugs and says “Too bad for you.” When the rich man asks if the poor man can be sent with a warning message to the rich man’s brothers, Abraham shrugs again and says, “People don’t really like ghosts.”
Far from a parable of good news, Luke 16 discourages the notion that all will be better if we can just be patient for the sweet by-and-by. To the extent that we look at the pain & suffering, racism & hatred in the world around us and believe that heaven will be the great equalizer, that God’s grace will comfort all who have suffered and cover all who have sinned, Jesus disrupts us in the most strident terms,
“Woe to you who have anything to do with the suffering of another. It would be better to throw yourself into the sea. Otherwise, plan to repent and confess at least seven times a day.” (Luke 17:1-4)
Who do we look to to fix this world of ours?
In what or in whom do we hope against the hopelessness of racism?
If we’re waiting for our sins to turn to dust along with our mortal selves, if we’re waiting for God’s grace to make us all one in the afterlife, Luke’s parable of the rich man and the poor man paints a picture of a judgment day that will feel worse before it feels better.
So then, hoping in heaven seems to be less than a guarantee.
Perhaps we hope just to live a little better, day by day, to keep our priorities grounded in faith according to the admonishments of 1 Timothy 6: to fight the good fight of faith, to hold fast to God’s commandments, to avoid greed, to pursue righteousness. But faith did not save a Black man who was at the wrong end of a police officer’s gun in Charlotte and in Tulsa. Righteous living didn’t save a Black woman who was arrested in Texas for failing to use her turn signal.
God help us, where and in whom are we to place hope?
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD:
the One who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever,
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry;
the One who sets the prisoner free
and opens the eyes of the blind,
the One who lifts up those who are
weighed down and weighted down,
and watches over the stranger;
the One and only LORD
who upholds the orphan and the widow
but ruins the ways of the wicked.
This is the LORD to whom we sing praises
for generations. (Psalm 146)
It is neither easy nor simplistic to say to one another, “Hope in the LORD,” at a time when hope feels so foolish.
But it is all and everything we have.
“Hope in the LORD” is the beginning of our efforts against racism. It is the foundation and motivation for living with love. “Hope in the LORD” compels us to look upward and outward when fear and stress would otherwise draw our shoulders and our spirits inward in self-protection.
“Hope in the LORD” is the rock we cling to at the end of each day, when racism remains even though we are tired. “Hope in the LORD” is the courage we have to sleep, believing that God has dreams still to give us that are more compelling than our nightmares.
“Hope in the LORD” is not a free pass from doing the work. It is not a dismissal of systems from being held accountable. It is the impatience that we will not wait for the princes of Psalm 146 or the rich man of Luke 16 to understand their dust & their sin before we demand the fullness of life. It is the conviction that our own dust & sin must not deplete another’s fullness of life, must not deplete our own full living in unlimited love.
“Hope in the LORD” is not easy but it is a yoke worth bearing — worth sharing and carrying together.
“Hope in the LORD” is a song worthy of singing through eternity.
Friends, let us hope when hope seems hopeless.
It is all we have.
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