by +

Pr. Ben Adams

October 20/21, 2018

Lectionary 29b


A Place Within


When I was in college my roommate, Tex, wrestled a bear.  A literal bear. It’s not that we went to school in some remote wooded area where we would regularly encounter bears or anything, it was just suburban Cleveland where we lived after all, but Tex got his opportunity to wrestle the bear when he went to this outdoor expo that was being hosted near our college.  And at this outdoor expo was an attraction where, for a little bit of money, you could pay to get into the ring with a real live bear, and my friend, Tex, who was also on the John Carroll wrestling team with me just couldn’t resist the opportunity to see where he stacked up against the wild beasts of nature, and he was sold.

Now this next part might surprise you because Tex actually beat the bear! And he wasn't like some scene from The Revenant. It was pretty docile: they scuffled lightly for just a short bit before Tex eventually prevailed and pinned the bear. And I don’t want to sell Tex short or anything, but, spoiler alert, the bear let him win.  It’s actually what the bear is trained to do.

The idea that Tex could actually wrestle an untrained or untamed bear and win is preposterous –it's ridiculous, but I can still remember Tex telling the story over and over after it was done and he’d be bragging about his victory, and by leaving out crucial details like that the bear was trained to lose, Tex could say with a straight face that he did in fact beat a live bear in a wrestling match.

And even though this is a completely ridiculous story, the desire that Tex had to prove his dominance over a bear, no matter how staged it was, is not far removed from our own desire. Because we too have this desire to dominate, subdue, and harness nature.

Maybe this comes to us because we are taught in the creation story of Genesis that says we are to, “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

That whole dominion idea looms large in our human psyche. It leads to our desire to subdue, to tame, to control the wild and beautiful natural world around us. But that desire has resulted in our overuse of our fragile earth. We humans are stressing-out our ecosystem and disrupting the balance of  our relationship to creation. And we know the effects, climate change, extinction, even war due to famine have been some of the effects of our untamed use of the earth has caused.

I could go on and on, but you don't need that from me. What we need to hear and know is that there is good news and hope for our bad situation. And I'm here to say there is.

Our text today from Job might seem from the outset like a verbal lashing from God for Job complaining about the suffering he’s endured, but it's more than that. If we can understand the larger ecological context that God speaks of, I think we too can understand and locate ourselves more appropriately within the order of creation rather than firmly at the top of the ecological pyramid. Maybe what God is saying to Job is, “I have made a place for you within this vast creation and cosmos. You can rest secure in that place. And when you feel the desire to know and control all things around you, instead be humble and know that it is I that created you and I that will continue to provide for your needs.”

We need to let God be God and recognize our place within creation not over it. And maybe our call is not to follow our desire to tame the natural world but instead to tame that desire itself and rest in the presence of God in our place within creation. God has created a place for each of us in this order, but we give in to greed and ambition and transgress the lines of order that would otherwise prevent us from taking too much from creation or giving in to our desire to consume at the expense of the rest of creation.

Feminist Theologian Elizabeth Johnson prophetically interprets this interaction between God and Job saying, “Shifting from an anthropocentric to a cosmocentric perspective, Job now knows a different God.”

A different God. Have you ever felt like pre-tribulation Job where life is sailing along smoothly and you have God all figured out and then all of a sudden, your life of smooth sailing gets upended by a wave? In that moment you might question God’s goodness or the existence of God altogether. But then have you ever been met with an experience of God in that moment that reveals an altogether different God than you could have ever imagined? A God so big, so immense, so beautiful, so intricate, and so mysterious that you couldn’t even put this God into words? It’s that same God that created you and made for you a place.

In our Gospel the disciples want to be great, they want a seat on Jesus’s right and left hand in glory. Their self-centered ambition causes them to think that greatness is sitting over all things. But through the Christ Crucified we are once again reminded that true greatness is in serving all, not being served.

But we can't see creation in this way if we position ourselves as the ones with dominion over all things God has created. We must instead see ourselves as servants of the community of creation.

Granted, God’s creation does provide us with all of our needs, but the ecological vision that God paints for us in Job is one that relocates us in within a community of creation and greatness in community means to serve all. This counter-cultural, radical message redefines for us our relationships to this earth and to one another.

There is no need to wrestle bears, tame the wild, or harness and extract the earth’s finite resources, to achieve greatness because none of those actions lead to greatness, they lead to skewed relationships and ecological disaster. In a true community of creation all things can stand in their difference encompassed by God the one who makes us all one in the Body.

And at this communion table we all have a place, we receive Christ’s body as we experience what it means to have a place within Christ’s body. At this table we experience what the community of creation would look like where all can come, standing in their difference, diverse in their createdness, but encompassed and made one by our creator.

You have a place at this table, it has been prepared for you by God, and you have a place in this community of creation.  Fed and nourished here we are sent by God back into the world to become great through humble service to our community.

We have some deep-seated anthropocentric beliefs and behaviors that are driving our environmental destruction, but like Job, when we can stand before the whirlwind of God and see the recognize our place within the cosmos and not over them. Standing in this place we are humbled and delighted by the life around us and filled with Christ’s presence at this table where all have a place and we are once again strengthened for great service to all.  Greatness is not found in dominion but in service to and protection of our fellow members of the community of creation. Amen.