Proper 22

October 8, 2006
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Job 1:1, 2:1-10
Reading 2: 
Psalm 26
Reading 3: 
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Reading 4: 
Mark 10:2-16
Alt Reading 2: 
Psalm 8
Alt Reading 1: 
Genesis 2:18-24
By Ignacio Castuera

Pastors who did not read the notes from the first Sunday in October need to read the theological foundations that inform all the sermon notes for the month of October so that the fullness of the intended direction of the messages may be best understood.

There are many directions in which one can go with the lessons today. Select only one reading and go with it or point out the connections and build on them. I will offer suggestions for several possibilities.

A serial on Job under the possible title of The Wizard of Uz would be fun to do. The ending of the first text lends itself for a cliffhanger ending. Will Job continue to display the proverbial patience for which he is famous? Come back next Sunday and find out. I believe that it is important to point out that the Bible is the wonderful moving ocean that received the waters of many rivers. Creative adopting and adapting is much more of a “proof” of divine inspiration than the more mechanical and totally improvable ways in which less informed Christians perceive the role of God in the creation of the Bible.

Last week we had a portion from the book of Esther, a Persian story featuring originally Ishtar and Marduk who are morphed creatively by the ancient sages of Judaism into Esther and Mordecai. How much poorer we all would be had these sages, and the ones who decided that this book should be included in the Judaic Canon, refused to include it in their collection.

Job comes to us through a similar route but from a different part of the world; Egypt. While Esther has no explicit reference to God, Job starts with a polytheistic gathering in which the most important God is the God of Job. The Satan (and it is important to include the article “The” because this way we can differentiate between this character and the later developments of “satan” in the New Testament and in Islam) also invites himself to the gathering. Then a cosmic chess game is alluded to in which Job is a third, so far, passive character, which has been goaded in some way, we are not exactly told how, to turn against God.

The stakes then are raised by The Satan and the God of Job accepts the challenge. The ensuing round has Job filled with sores, inflicted by The Satan, and sarcasm inflicted by the “helper and partner” of Job. The patient Job refuses to speak against God and like so many people who experience suffering simply accepts the bad with the good as coming from God and does not sin with his lips.

The series on Job may address the issue of the causes of suffering. As we move through the texts in the following Sundays in October we will see that this Job of chapters one and two, the meek, patient Job, will indeed develop into someone who will question his God. We could, astutely, lead our congregations through an exploration of this issue and the Judaic responses to the suffering of the innocent. We could play the patient Job this week, but brace your congregations, the second act will complicate things.

Another possible direction is to deal with the Genesis portion of the Lectionary with some allusions to Job. Pastors have another great opportunity to preach and educate while at the same time undermining the sandy pillars of the Religious Right, the acolytes of the Empire. One of the most important elements in the perspective of the conservative forces of our nation is the naïve, uninformed way in which the Bible is presented as the Word of God. This text makes it clear that the Bible is replete with a variety of images of God that often contradict each other. Not only that, there are conflicting narratives about the creation of humanity and this text illustrates this clearly, especially if one uses the Hebrew names in this text, Ish and Ishah, not Adam and Eve.

In the Bible we have a library, a collection of books some of which come from cultures other than the culture and religion of Judaism. Likewise, in the book of Genesis we have a compilation of stories, some of them also from another culture and religion. Job, as stated before, is a story that started out in Egypt. The origins of the Genesis story are probably in the Canannite culture and so it goes with much of the biblical record. Creative adopting and adapting is surely a good way to understand “divine inspiration.” It is also a good way to gain ground on conservative forces that are high jacking and domesticating the power of the Word of God.

The Psalm for the day also provides a great opportunity to proclaim the God of Jesus Christ and the consequences of pledging our allegiance to the commonwealth that Jesus called the basilea theou. The psalmist praises God’s creativity and then praises humanity as the bearers of the divine creativity “little less than God.” That divine creativity is seen by the psalmist reflected in humanity as dominion. This psalm gives the preacher the opportunity to correct misconceptions about the creative power of God and the garden tending power of humanity.

The key word here is dominion a term that has been overlaid with Imperial and imperialistic designs from very early on. The Latin origin of the word relates the term to the title for God, the Lord, Dominus. This word is also related to the word domus which means house or home. Those of us who come from cultures with a Latin based language understand this clearly. The word permeates our world. Sunday, is not the day to honor a Teutonic Sun-God, rather it is Domingo, Domenico or Dimanche, the day to honor the real Dominus, the creator not only of the sun but of “the heavens.”

This Dominus then gives dominion to part of the Creation to tend it, to love it to divinely tend it. Unfortunately this concept of dominion has been overshadowed and dominated by those who wanted to exercise control over others. Whether David or Solomon or the British Empire or the supporters of the Project for the New American Century, they all wish to derive their own sense of domination from the loving God who tends creation and wills that those who claim to have faith in such a vision act as little less than Dominus and care for the earth.

One more direction a preacher might go is to look at the women in the texts. First we have Ishah made from Ish’s rib a partner and even an equal in principle even if the story has her being “derived” taken from her partner’s side. The old statement about God making woman from the rib of the male to insure that neither lords over the other can still play well.

Then we have Job’s wife, typically without her own identity, no name is given. She is not patient, she advices Job to “curse God and die.” That is a harsh directive and yet in some ways it is a very human and honest response to undeserved suffering. She might even be presented as the subscript for Job’s answers at the time, answers that little by little wear thin and meaningless. True, Job tells his wife that she talks like “any foolish woman” but later on he uses similar words on his friends who claim to know the real cause for Job’s suffering. Job poetically dismisses all statements by those who surround him as “proverbs of ashes.” That description provided Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima-Brock with the title for the book in which they question, like Job’s wife the teaching of “redemptive suffering.”

Those who decide to use the Letter to the Hebrews as the basis for the sermon have a great opportunity to cast this often misunderstood letter into a resource for resistance. For reasons stated before it is imperative that preachers mention that most New Testament scholars believe that Hebrews was not written by Paul. It is necessary to mention this because we have an obligation to both, our congregations and our successors in the pulpit to share the best scholarship available at the time. Many a congregation has suffered the consequences of the silence of the pastors. One of the churches I served hemorrhaged internally when a popular pastor was elected Bishop and was succeeded by a scholarly, mainstream pastor who addressed issues in a serious manner. Those who had grown accustomed to the popular, back-slapping style of the pastor who was building the church and did not address issues that were disputed or questioned theologically, left by the droves when they heard, for the first time that the Bible was a collection of books that was put together over a long time by a great variety of authors many of whom did not leave us their names and some of whom wrote in the name of, and to honor, others, as is the case with Hebrews and several other epistles traditionally ascribed to Paul.

References to the text from Hebrews may be combined in sermons that deal with the topics of dominion being careful to show that it is dominion and not domination that these texts deal with. Hebrews 2:8-11 seem to hold the key to help us understand this distinction best. As it is we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, (humans)but we do see Jesus…the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. One can, and ought, to mention that the sufferings were the consequence of a historical resistance to the Roman Empire and not part of a cosmic plan. The book of Job, in its own internal logic, shows us that suffering is not in fact “caused” by God, maybe at best permitted, but certainly not caused. The sufferings themselves may not be the cause of the perfection, rather, the way in which God, in community with those who follow Jesus understand the value of the suffering of the pioneer (later, pioneer and perfecter) of our true nature as people who exercise domain correctly.

Finally, pastors should not avoid the tough words about divorce from the mouth of Jesus in the Gospel lesson today. Divorce in the first Century was too easy to obtain for men and it constituted a sentence to perennial poverty, prostitution and early death. Divorce cannot be seen by people of faith in a facile and cavalier way. Even under the best of circumstances divorce is a tragedy. Connecting this text to Genesis and Job we can play with the different scenarios possible for Job. Should he not have divorced a wife who seemed unwilling to care for him in his illness and suggested Job curse his God? Most of us would say yes to that suggestion. Jesus might just confront our own sklerokardia and summon us to make sure that the reasons for divorce be truly proportionate to the consequences of that tragedy rather than merely considered in the light of the causes of that situation.

The statement about divorce is followed immediately by the call from Jesus to let the children come to him and not to block them from him. One of the unintended consequences of the tragedy of divorce is the way in which children are impacted. I would not want us to reverse to the days of staying married no matter what, but I would insist, having been through divorce myself, that every possible avenue of reconciliation and redress be sought before going through that incredibly painful step.

The most difficult part of divorce is how it is seen as a problem between two people instead of a problem that affects all of society and of the church. When I conduct weddings these days I strongly remind those present at the ceremony that the invitation to the wedding is also an invitation to support the couple, to get involved in their lives and never to allow the idea that internal family problems are none of the business of the friends and family and church associates. The rituals in many denominations now reflect that idea. Instead of having the father “give” the daughter to the soon to be husband, reflecting an atavistic property exchange, pastors remind all members of both the bride and groom that the union of the two people also brings closer together the two families. In addition all of the guests are then asked in the ritual to support the new couple as they go through the grueling growing pains of the new relation.

Ignacio Castuera, a United Methodist minister, is currently serving Trinity United Methodist Church in Pomona, California, and also serves as the national chaplain for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Rev. Castuera has served churches in Mexico, Hawaii, and California. In 1980, he became the first Latino District Superintendent of the Los Angeles District of the California Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.