Friday, 19 June 2009

Sermon notes: Father's Day

Father’s Day (Job 38: 1-11, Mark 4:35-41)

I hope it doesn’t come as news to any of you that today is fathers’ day…if you did forget – there’s always the phone!

You will probably have heard sermons before on the subject of the fatherhood of God – it is an image with which we’re very familiar.
We might need to get over some of the difficulties of associating God too strongly with someone we think of as an unhelpful model of fatherhood. But if we can set aside any prejudice, we can probably cope with the idea that God is like the best father we can possibly imagine – caring, warm, strong, someone to whom we can always turn.
Perhaps we imagine our Father God as the one who can give us the wisest answers to our deepest questions.

That may have been what Job thought, too. The passage we’ve heard today is God’s answer to Job’s deepest questions – questions about his suffering. Job has had terrible things happen to him – he’s lost everything, he’s covered with sores, he’s lying in an ashpit. Job asks God the very understandable question..
‘Why?’ – ‘why this suffering?’ ‘why me?’ ... ‘Why, God?’

And this is God’s answer:
‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth or when I made the hippopotamus?’

A couple of weeks ago I was in conversation with someone who's been bereaved, and Job’s answer from God came up. We agreed that as far as answers to the question of suffering go, 'where were you when I made the hippopotamus?' has to be one of the lousiest!

Come on, Dad – you need to do better than that!
But that’s all the answer Job gets – God firmly reminds Job that he, God, in the creator of everything, that all of creation is safe in his hands. Even poor old suffering Job is still safe in God’s hands.

And to Job’s credit, he realizes that he will never understand God’s creation and the role of suffering in it, and he has to trust that his heavenly father knows what he is about.
It’s just one notch up from the earthly father who in exasperation in reply to the thousandth ‘why’ of the day says ‘because!’.
God says to Job in effect ‘I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but I haven’t failed to notice you, or abandoned you, I am still your loving creator, but you will just have to take my word for that, because I know it all looks completely bleak’.

It’s all the answer we’ve got – maybe it’s all the answer we will understand – why suffering? God knows.

And right now, in the cool calmness of this church, I can accept that answer. But in the heat and the press and the storm of life, and when the suffering is really starting to bite, it’s a different matter. Then, with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, I want to scream 'don't you care?'.

There are times when it seems the one who should be saving us is asleep – when we feel absolutely alone. We need rescue, we want superman, we scream for help…

Yet Jesus' answer to all his disciples is to calmly remind us who he is - master of sea and wind - maker & redeemer of all.
Finally Jesus steps in, and all is calm again.
Some have argued that Jesus was testing the disciples; he waited to see how they would react to the storm. Some people see a parallel in the story of Jesus asleep in the boat with the story of Jonah, where he is found asleep in the hold during a storm, and is sent up on deck to pray for help – then when help doesn’t come he is held responsible for the storm and thrown overboard. By contrast, Jesus is shown to be in charge of the storm – he has the power of the creator God over the sea and wind. Some people see this as a story about trusting Jesus.

But why doesn’t Jesus just stop the storm from happening in the first place? Why does a loving Father God make a world in which suffering seems inevitable?
If I knew the answer to that, I’d know how to make a hippopotamus!

But I do believe it’s better to have this gritty reality than to live with the pretence that there is no suffering, or that we can be kept insulated from harm, wrapped in cotton wool. What sort of father fails to tell his children to expect some knocks in life?

And ultimately the answer to the disciples’ question to Jesus ‘don’t you care?’ comes on the cross. In Jesus we see the God who cares enough about our suffering to endure it for himself, to take it and remake it and transform death itself into new life.
In the end - beyond this life we know - deep at the pillars of existence - God will not let us down and will not let us die.

This communion meal is a foretaste of all that is to come, the gift and promise of God with us: in all our suffering. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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