When Andrew and I named our first born son eyebrows were raised especially among members of our own family. He would be called Quincy Casper Job Corsello. Four names all of our favorite names given to the child we tried unsuccessfully for years to conceive. No, they are not family names. As you re well aware, in Virginia, especially Richmond, one can name one s child any unusual name as long as it is a family name. Casper certainly is a family name now! As we expected many were puzzled by the name Job. Did we want our child to suffer? For the record: NO! So why Job ? Well, for starters, Job is my favorite biblical character.
Job is described as blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. Job is blessed with a large family and fortune and he is famed as the greatest of all the people in East. And then one day Satan asks God if his servant, Job, only loves him because God has bestowed a good life upon him; he asks, Does Job fear God for nothing? (1:9). And there it is: one of the fundamental questions of the Bible. Satan wagers that if all of Job s livestock, property, servants, and his children are destroyed, he will curse God. Then, with God s consent, Satan takes back what God has given. But Job refuses to curse his Lord; saying, Naked I came from my mother s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (1:21).
Satan is unconvinced. Playing the Devil s Advocate, as it were, he tests Job again with physical torture, inflicting loathsome sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Job is reduced to sitting among the ashes with only a pot shard to scrape his sores. His misery is so deplorable that his wife implores, Curse God, and die (2:9b). Job s friends then come on the scene and accuse him of sin, because they assume God would never punish an innocent person. In their minds, divine retribution is not capricious. Yet Job maintains his innocence. He shakes his fists at God and demands a trial; he demands to maintain the rights of a mortal against God. He is not broken; he is emboldened! Job is the first dissident of the Bible, and one of its first truly independent thinkers. He fears God, as ever but he also tells his maker, in essence, I have done everything you have asked of me. I have kept your covenant. I have kept my faith. And this is my reward? No! People always speak of the patience of Job. Well, you could say the man was patient to a point. And then he was mad as heck and he wasn t going to take it anymore.
So no, Andrew and I did not name our son Job because we were interested in seeing him suffer. We named him Job in the hopes that he, too, would come to possess a deep and questioning mind. We still hope that happens. Sometimes, though say, when Quincy is stomping his foot and howling that NO, he will not be potty-trained, we kind of wish we d named him Bunny.
Now we come to today s scripture. Two Sundays ago we read how Yahweh spoke to Moses out of a burning bush. Today he speaks to Job from out of a whirlwind delivering what may be thought of as a divine trash-talking. Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? he asks, adding, Gird up your loins like a man. And then God really lets it fly. Were you there when I laid the foundation of the earth? he asks. Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? It is the most emphatic dressing-down a boss has ever given an underling. Job, a smart man, doesn t even attempt a smart comeback; he knows the only reasonable response is, more or less, Thank you, sir may I have another!
Job, enveloped in this fearsome whirlwind, begins to comprehend that no human can understand the purposes of God, who has created all that exists. God s intent is to reveal to Job the mystery of creation, of which Job and his suffering form only one small part, and which Job perceives dimly.
I love this scripture. It makes me feel blissfully humble. It reminds me that I am a miniscule, if not puny, bit of God s creation, despite my frequent assertion that the world revolves around me. Job responds to God by saying, quite rightly, See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? (40:4) I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (42:5-6) Job has broken through the cocoon of his own suffering to behold the great mystery of creation and his place in it.
I m sure you noticed that the Episcopal Church made above-the-fold headlines last week because of news from our General Convention. Not the least of which was the election of the church s first woman as Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Bishop of Nevada. When I heard the news, my jaw dropped. I had heard bits and pieces over the past year that she was always one of the frontrunners but that she could not be elected because of her gender. Wow! The Holy Spirit really caught us off guard and showed us that, like Jesus, God can command the waves. We are not in control.
One could not help but notice that the news reported was always cloaked in the context of what could possibly break our church in two: the election of a woman as primate of the American church; and the church not officially issuing a statement of regret and apologizing for consecrating Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire three years ago.
This morning, let us break through the cocoon of our everyday perceptions to behold the grandeur of today s Scripture, in which God showers his concern upon the world and not upon his church and its issues. Paul s second letter to the Corinthians tells us that Christ has left with us a ministry of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ who must live no longer for ourselves, but for others whose lives reflect peace and good will rather than rancor and narcissism.
The Rev. John Danforth, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Republican senator from Missouri, spoke at the convention and challenged the Episcopal Church to a “higher calling” of reconciliation. He said that virtually all of the public attention on the church has been on the issue of sexual orientation. He raised the basic question of whether that issue is truly the centerpiece of the Episcopal Church. He said and I quote, First, it is the most divisive single issue in America today and secondly, when you think about how we’re so focused on the Episcopal Church and so focused on how we deal with this issue, bear in mind that over 99 percent of the people in the United States are not Episcopalians and they really don’t care, with all due respect, Bishop Griswold, who our bishops are.
He told a story about a recent speaking engagement he had in Monterey, California, at the U.S. Naval Graduate School and Foreign Language School for Armed Forces. The main subject of his talk was the balance in national security with privacy rights, but they also discussed national defense, Iraq, and he answered questions from officers who were also interested in the economic health of the country. I quote: But it took place while this gay marriage amendment was being debated on the floor of the Senate, and a number of officers present asked the same question. They said, We are at war, we’ve been there, we’ve been to Iraq. One of them said he has been there for three tours: we’ve been there. We’re at war and how can the United States Senate be devoting its attention to the issue of gay marriage? End quote.
Danforth went on to say that Religion is either the direct cause of some of these conflicts or it contributes to the very polarization that makes addressing the conflicts so difficult. People kill each other every day because they believe that God commands them to do so. And in our country, thank God, we are not killing each other in the name of religion, but religious people acting in the name of Christ have championed the wedge issues that divide us, that cut the common ground out from under us, and make even discussing important questions so difficult. He added, If God does call us to a ministry of reconciliation, then it would be very hard for our church to present itself as a broken answer to the problems of the world. If we can’t hold ourselves together, it’s hard to see how we can present ourselves as a force to hold the world together, and, if we can’t exchange the peace with one another, it is hard to explain to people how we purport to be agents of peace.
What did not make headlines at General Convention is all the other work of the church that is noteworthy in its own right because it is mission, and mission is a way of looking beyond ourselves through the lens of Jesus gospel mandates to the world outside. The church agreed to implement the United Nations Millennium Development Goals which are an eight-pronged declaration that has at its core the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by the year 2015. The General Convention also acknowledged the past involvement of the Episcopal Church in slavery and supported a study of monetary and non-monetary reparations to descendants of the victims of slavery.
After Job submitted himself to God in humility, God restored his fortunes two-fold, and blessed his latter days more than his beginning. As Job learned, and as St. Paul wrote, God transcends any of our perceptions of God; God is big enough to embrace the perceptions of all kinds of people, even those with whom we adamantly disagree.
I believe that the central message of the Episcopal Church, and of all Christians, should be lit from within with a Job-like spirit of humility and reconciliation. Yes, let us speak of the humility of Job and get beyond ourselves to working on the life and death issues plaguing our nation and our world poverty and the AIDS crisis to name just two.
T his is a message from our little corner of Christianity that should be heard all over the world. If this is the Gospel preached from our church we Episcopalians will not long remain seven-tenths of one percent of this country s population. I believe that we can be a church with the message that the Sudan is waiting for, that Gaza is waiting for, that the Congo and Sierre Leone, and even the East End of Richmond is waiting for, a church with a message that the world is waiting for.