Faithful Moon Steps, (by Pastor Kinsey)
I wasn’t planning on seeing the new movie, First Man, starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon. But then I heard an interview with the director, that I was just listening to with one ear, but my other ear perked up when he said that, the way Ryan Gosling looks at his role as Neil Armstrong is that, it’s not about going to the moon – as dangerous and historic as that was – but for him it’s a movie about, returning home to planet earth, and to his family. That snapped my head around and got my attention!
I remember watching the real thing with my family on our black and white TV in the summer of ‘69, fulfilling the dream that President Kennedy had set for the nation before the end of the decade, though he was no longer alive to see it himself. I don’t think I could appreciate the magnificence of the feat, at just 13 years old, but it was thrilling none-the-less! A little tin can of a space ship made it all the way to the moon, that giant orb in the night sky, which had never been done before. And we could see those small steps Neil Armstrong took on behalf of all humankind – which actually were pretty big compared to us on earth – giant steps, as he hovered in slow-motion, through the moons’ much lighter gravity.
In our First Reading from Job today, after 36 chapters of, Job and his friends, debating back and forth about God: Whether God is just or not, whether God cares about Job or not, how Job’s suffering must be his own fault, and on and on – finally, we hear the voice of God, which has been absent all this time.
It’s a long build up, and now we, the reader, want to know. Who is right? Job or his friends? Job contends that he is innocent, has done nothing wrong, to deserve the punishment he’s endured, losing all his wealth and his family, and being persecuted with illnesses. Through it all, Job has kept his faith, for the most part, though he has also questioned God’s created order, and doubted whether or not God really has a handle on things, on what is just and what is not!
And, like an improbable moon landing, the most stunning verse of Job may be this first verse, in chapter 38 of our reading: “The LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind…” God comes not as a classical debater. Not as a scribal superior. But God speaks from a natural phenomenon, out of a wind-dervish, an act of creation, within God’s creation. Like when God appeared in a burning bush to Moses, but this time, God is a mighty ruach, or wind, which is another word for Spirit.
“Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge,” God asks Job rhetorically? The word “counsel” usually refers to planning, and the ‘counsel’ here, is the plans of God. Job has ‘darkened’ them, by repeatedly suggesting that the world seems disorderly, that God has “taken his hand off the wheel,” so to speak. Yet instead of engaging Job’s argument, God reaffirms that not only does the world operate in an orderly fashion but that God is the author of that order. [Patrick J. Willson, The Christian Century]
Then God directs Job to, “Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.” ‘Gird up your loins’ can either refer to getting ready for battle – putting on your armor. Or it can mean, as it does here, to get ready for a difficult task.
Indeed, God will question Job – not the other way around, as it has been throughout the long Dialog, to this critical juncture. We only get 11 verses of God’s questions for Job in our reading today. But there are actually 2 chapters – 64 verses – of questions!
We are, along with Job, surprised and speechless! And sometimes, ‘astonishment,’ at the creation God has made, is the only appropriate response.
One of the physicists, that guided the space mission to Pluto, was so surprised, when it arrived, after 9 long years to get there, that all he could say at first was: “it’s just blowing my mind!” Not a very scholarly observation, but that’s because, like a Whirlwind, the pictures that New Horizon sent back, were totally unexpected. They showed that there were ice mountains on Pluto!
Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, later declared, “I don't think any one of us could have imagined that this could have been a better toy store.” So many new things to play with, was what he was getting at.
In just the same way – there is such rich, and richly varied imagery, that God provides for our consideration – the more science explores the vastness of our universes and also investigates smaller and smaller particles of our existence. God continues to blow our minds!
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth,” God asks Job? …Who determined its measurements? …Or who laid its cornerstone? (38:4-6)
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, and commission a shower of rain? Can you take charge of the lightning bolts and have them report to you for orders?” (38:34-35)
Are you the one who gave the horse its prowess, and adorned him with a shimmering mane? Did you create him to prance proudly and strike terror with his royal snorts? (39:19-20)
“Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters, or distract Orion from his hunt? Can you get Venus to look your way or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth? (38:31-33)
Our astonishment of God’s appearance in the whirlwind, as Dennis Tucker, Jr. notes – asking basic, but unanswerable questions – is that, the book of Job is not really about, Job and his plight, as much as it’s, a revelation about who God is for us! That’s the truly astonishing news of Job.
And our God, is a God who sets boundaries for us. God has created a world, a universe, for us to exist, and have our being. And it is more astonishing than we can imagine, the farther we explore it. It does not mean, that bad things will not happen to good people, in the freedom of this created existence. But only that God has established its boundaries, and that God is, and continues to be, the life force ‘in, with, and under’ everything, as Luther liked to say.
The 64 verses of questions God throws back at Job, I think, only point us back to ourselves, and our life in community. How do we respond to a creation so marvelously made? How do we share it? How do we care for it? How can we set boundaries for our life together, that protect, yet are life-giving?
Like the disciples in our Gospel reading, James and John, we are tempted to want a permanent relationship with this magnificent divine One – a seat at the right or left hand of God. But that’s not what Jesus came to bring, he tells his Disciples. ‘Those who want to be great, must be servant of all.’ Our blessed assurance is actualized in our loving, and in our caring.
Just so, the wonderful, amazing, immensity of God’s creation, is also, humbling. The pictures we have gotten from Hubble, and now, New Horizons, prove God’s vastness, and our fleeting wispiness ‘like a reed in the wind.’ And as much as we want to cozy up to God in Jesus, and rest assured – that we can rest, and be assured, that we will not be harmed, not have to go through the pain of suffering – yet God assures us here, only of God’s amazing creation, and power, and authority, which is meant to give us courage and faith right now, one day at a time, and help us to share it with our neighbor.
When we are young, we want the adventure of going to the moon. When we are older, we want the luck to make it back home! The only way we find blessed assurance, is to take one small step at a time – faithful steps, trusting and knowing, that God (creator & sustainer) is walking by our side.