Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great. You are clothed with majesty and splendor.
I speak to you in the Name of the Living God: Holy Eternal Majesty, Holy Incarnate Word, Holy Abiding Spirit. Amen.
Can imagination save you? Can a vision of the awesome stop our questions, provide comfort in sorrow? Can a glimpse of the majesty of God lift you out of yourself?
Those are the questions at the end of the Book of Job.
That’s the gamble God makes, arriving out of the whirlwind to answer Job’s questions.
Job, that faithful, righteous man who has lived a blessed life, rich in land and livestock, surrounded by a large family, respected in the community, hale and hearty.
Job who has lost it all—livestock stolen by marauders, and burned up by lightening strike; his sons and daughters killed by a tornado. His health ruined as he is covered in sores, head to foot, so itchy that he takes a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself. Still, he remains faithful.
Then his friends try to make sense of things: You must have done something wrong to deserve all this sorrow. Job, what’s your sin?
That’s when Job breaks, crying out he’s done nothing wrong and that they’re lousy comforters. Job never loses his faith, never writes God off, but he does demand some answers, an accounting, an explanation for why a good man should suffer so badly.
That’s when God enters the scene, which we hear today; speaking out of the whirlwind, God provides a vision of his power, not as the handmaid of we humans but as the Creator of all that is.
God offers overwhelming images of God’s glory and creation, making clear God’s sovereignty, asking, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Then God challenges Job: “Can you speak to the clouds, causing rain to come?” “Can you cause lightening?” “Who puts reason in the mind of humans?” “Who created the lion with its instincts?”
We get a short list of these questions in our reading today, but God goes on: this all-powerful God holds up the stars in the sky, the planets in their courses, made Leviathan the sea creature just for the fun of it. This is the Creator on whom we depend for our very breath, whose cosmic mind lies behind millennia of evolution and the shifting of tectonic plates.
In other words, Job, who are YOU to question ME, the Creator of the Universe?
This is terrible pastoral care but its a grand vision meant to reorient us entirely. For sure, this is a terrible way to comfort someone, and I do NOT recommend this approach the next time you’re with someone who is suffering. But it IS good theology; a way to orient our lives, to correct our posture towards the universe. After all, God is God, and we are not. God is glorious, divine in majesty, beyond our imagination; God is our creator, we are the creatures. We should stand in awe of God rather than treating God like our tame cosmic butler, eager to do our bidding.
And that awesome vision of an abundant, untamable creation set spinning by a God beyond our imagining inspired the psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” “You set the earth upon its foundations” sings the psalmist and then goes on to list all the beauties and wonders of the natural world—the lavish abundance of creation: cedars of Lebanon in which birds build their nests, mountains to provide refuge for mountain goats, stony cliffs for rock badgers, night so beasts of the forest can prowl, a day bound by the rising and setting of the sun, so humans know when to labor and when to rest. On and on goes the catalog of God’s work until the psalmist exclaims, “How manifold are your works, O Lord!”
In both Job and the psalm we meet the God of ALL creation, not just of humans, God overwhelming in power and creativity, lavish and abundant.
We demand answers for our questions; instead, God invites us into a wild adventure, a lush creation, unfathomable abundance. Rather than providing rules—be good, get rewards, do bad, get punished, it turns out life is messier than that—rather than providing rules, we are given amazement.
God has not created us for tidiness and safety but for awe and wonder and abundance.
I learned a lot about awe and wonder, about the abundance of God, right here at All Saints, sitting in that pew right there when Bonnie cast a vision, beginning her sermon this way: “It’s a river, not a pie,” a line that has rung in my ears ever since.
Now, I could have SWORN that sermon was given to kick off a pledge campaign, to convince us that there was more than enough, we could give without worry, because, after all, it’s a river, not a pie.
I did some checking around, though, and, unfortunately for me, on this Sunday that IS the kick-off Sunday for this year’s pledge campaign, it turns out “It’s a river, not a pie!” was a sermon about the prodigal son, delivered on the fourth Sunday in Lent. So much for my memory.
But it still works because what God is trying to show Job, what the psalmist gives thanks for, is the amazing abundance of God, and that IS what I learned here at All Saints, not just in Lent but year ‘round. It’s outrageous bake sales and green lining campaigns; it’s the communion of saints remembered in a canopy of colorful flags overhead; it’s a food pantry snaking from our front doors through the sanctuary and down the ramp, and it’s a sit down meal shared with our neighbors.
For God’s love, God’s grace, God’s creativity aren’t parceled out in small, finite pieces, but rushes on, an ever-flowing stream, without end, distributed recklessly, to us and to all.
That lesson was so ingrained in me here at All Saints, that I tried to live into that “river, not pie” metaphor. I began taking seriously that I wasn’t in charge, God was, and that God was greater than anything I could ask for or imagine, and that the best posture I could take in this world was one of wonder and gratitude.
And so when one of you—I won’t name names here, but you can ask me after service—when one of you challenged me to tithe to the church, I swallowed hard and asked, voice cracking: “Is that before or after taxes?” “It doesn’t matter” was the response; “Just choose one and do it.”
So I did, pledging 10% of my meager Catholic school teacher salary that year. Each week I wrote my check with a trembling hand and—you know what?—I became VERY aware then that I wasn’t in charge, that I was living before a God way bigger than me, that I was voluntarily placing myself into the hands of the living God, giving thanks to that One who was the source of all I had—friends and family, my job and income, my very life, each breath I drew.
Now, here’s the time for a little truth: I bounced some checks that year, and the church was incredibly gracious. I learned that maybe I didn’t have to START by giving away 10% of my income, but that I should lean into the abundant grace of God by giving more than was comfortable.
Over the years, I made it to ten percent and more, and, yes, I now calculate that on my after-tax income. Most of it goes to the church, but a significant chunk goes to other places I love—a homeless shelter for families with children, faith-based community organizing, and, of course, to NPR.
Who I give it to matters to me, of course. Feeling that I am doing good matters, too. But, honestly, each time I pledge, write a check or, more likely these days, sign up for monthly debit, I feel the joy of participating in God’s inscrutable, mysterious, overwhelming abundance. I give thanks that I live in a universe created by a God I love but cannot truly understand. I participate in the wild joy of a life lived in faith where the answers aren’t always clear but amazement is the order of the day. Along with the beloved poet Mary Oliver, “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.”
So, Dear All Saints, here we go. Pledge season is here; I know, it’s awfully early this year, and we’re promising it’ll be fast and furious—over by November 14. You’ll hear about balancing the budget, and from many good people about why they give. You know, the usual.
But I’ll tell you something else, when you give away some of what you have, you are acknowledging the scary truth of our faith—that our God is bigger and wilder, more abundant and inscrutable, than we can imagine. And God has lavished all of creation with God’s goodness and mystery. Our right posture is one of humility and amazement.
This isn’t a pledge campaign but a testament to the amazing grace of God, the abundance of Creation, the riskiness of generosity, to the love that is always, always a river and never, ever a pie.
You’re invited to the great adventure.