Proper 24

October 22, 2006
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
Reading 2: 
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
Reading 3: 
Hebrews 5:1-10
Reading 4: 
Mark 10:35-45
By Ignacio Castuera

This is the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and it offers preachers another good opportunity in October to help congregations imagine a different kind of world.

The Wizard of Uz III:
Those who decided to stick with the book of Job as the text for their sermon have an important and interesting task to deal with. While we can affirm the central message of Job, that human suffering is unpredictable and that “bad things happen to good people” we may want to argue vehemently against the image of God prevalent in the book, especially in the text today. Not very many congregations hear their pastors preach “against the text,” but it is common in Judaism and in some Black churches. Here is a good time to demonstrate this kind of preaching.

First of all one can feel freer to argue against the image of God in Job because, after all, the Egyptian origins of the book and the polytheism present in it clearly permit us to do that. I think the sages who put together the Judaic Canon were right in including the book because of the way it deals with the realities of human suffering and its unpredictability. But Job’s God hardly resembles the God of the prophets of ancient Israel and certainly bears no resemblance to the God of Jesus Christ. The long, overbearing, ponderous, insensitive monologue, of which our text is only a portion, is totally unfair to a man who is depicted by this same god as “my servant Job!”

Process theology offers an image of God that is more in harmony with the God of Jesus Christ and completely different from the god of Job. Our text for the day has this “almighty, omnipotent God” who demonstrates his right to be “god” on the basis of his, clearly here it is a masculine god, of his raw power. The God of Jesus Christ and of Process thought is a loving God who suffers alongside creation and all its creatures. The omnipotent god fits the needs of all empires in general and, for us today, it fits the requirements of the American empire.

A good third act of the “Wizard of Uz” ought to include a new chapter of the book of Job written by the creative pastors who are informed by Process thought. Maybe an expansion of Job’s own “I know that my redeemer lives…” is what is called for instead of the wimpy response which appears in the text for next Sunday. Since Job is a book that developed over the years, let us assume that the real ending has not been written yet and that our own contributions to that new ending can be shared as sermons for our congregations this Sunday and the next.

Catherine Keller has a couple of paragraphs which ought to inspire us to write and preach along the lines of her theologizing: To heal the religious schizophrenia of love and power, power itself first needs recoding. Then another kind of love, a divinely infinite desire, might make itself felt –a love that is the opposite, as the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas suggests, of an imperial totality. Such a love desires our fullest becoming –our genesis- as individuals, as peoples, as religions, as nations, as creatures inextricably embedded within the interdependencies of the creation…The spirit of this wider, wilder, achingly beautiful creation does sometimes seem to be revealing itself…Let the hierarchichal universe of unilateral and omnipotent sovereignty fade into a more wildly democratic cosmos of unpredictable and uncontrollable –but never unordered- interrelations. God is called upon not as a unilateral superpower but as a relational force, not as an omnipotent creator from nothing, imposing order upon inert entities, but the lure to a self organizing complexity, crating out of the chaos…(The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God, pp. 135-136).

The Epistle and the Gospel lessons offer texts that can be combined coherently to talk about power and relations in the Commonwealth of God. In Hebrews the author presents Christ as a high priest who is chosen, like Melchizedek, from among the people but also ratified by God. Being “one of us” he does not lord over us but models relationship to God and to those of us who need his priestly functions. This is echoed in Mark as Jesus first states that he must go to Jerusalem, to offer himself as sacrifice, and that the disciples need to abandon their vain hopes of ushering in a kingdom that merely replaces the Empire and orders its life along similar lines.

James and John, like Peter in Chapter 8 and all the other disciples in Chapter 9, don’t get it that the “messianic” character of Jesus is not connected to a hierarchically ordered realm. These two “sons of Zebedee” try an end run on their fellow disciples and ask Jesus to grant them to sit at Jesus’ left and right “in your glory.” Jesus cryptically tells them that they will need to be willing to die executed and the brothers reply that they will “drink from the same cup” that Jesus will drink. Then Jesus predicts that indeed, they will die executed by the empire but that only God can has the seating chart of the Commonwealth. When all of the disciples learn of the “end run” attempt at power they get mad, because they all want power as they perceive power to be ordered. Jesus, however, tells them once again that the models of authority and power of the world don’t work well and that the patterns of service will determine the patterns of honor in the basileia theou.

This Sunday closest to the anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations it will behoove pastors to exercise their imaginations and the imaginations of the congregants asking what kind of organization the UN would be if it were to take seriously the models of power and authority presented by Jesus in the text. More important, what would happen if the UN were to become really an instrument of international law and justice rather than an organization where the US can veto any resolution it sees as a “threat” to the interest and national security of the country. This is especially true when it comes to issues related to education, health, protection of the environment and so on.

Finally, these days our nation prides itself in being a great nation but how does that greatness compare with the greatness of service that Jesus presents? Does the term “tyrants” as used by Jesus apply to others or to us?

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.