Given by Jason Fischer 10/25/15
At St. Paul's Episcopal Bakersfield
Readings: Old Testament: Job 42:1-6; 10-12, 15-17, Psalm: Psalm 34, Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
A Reading from the Navajo Creation Story, Song of the Earth
It is lovely indeed, it is lovely indeed.
I am the spirit within the earth.
The feet of the earth are my feet,
The legs of the earth are my legs.
The strength of the earth is my strength;
The thoughts of the earth are my thoughts;
The voice of the earth is my voice.
The feather of the earth is my feather;
All that belongs to the earth belongs to me;
All that surrounds the earth surrounds me.
I, am the sacred works of the earth.
It is lovely indeed, it is lovely indeed.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing unto you O lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Today I am going to be talking about Job, about impermanence, about really bad days, about prayer and hope and most importantly about experiencing God. Because experiencing God, truly feeling and connecting with the divine is what this is all about. It should be fun.
I want to start with 2 quotes
The first is from the Buddha, it reads:
"However many holy words you read
However many you speak
What good will they do you, if you do not act on them? "
The second is from the great Sufi master poet Hafiz. My personal favorite poet as well.
"I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this music
Let me read that again:
"I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this music"
This is a stanza from my favorite poem of all time. It has become a mantra for me. A source of inspiration and of contemplation that I dwell on often. The poem states that we are apart of God, apart of the music he is making. I love music, so this was always a really awesome metaphor for me. Moreover, it does not say I am the only hole in the flute, but simply 1 hole, a hole in a flute.
It takes breath to play a flute. I like to think of this in terms of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, the great nooma. It is the Holy Spirit that moves through us to do wonderful things, to make this music. Which is truly an amazing thing to have access to, to be blessed with. And it is out there, waiting for us. It is easy to tell when we are in tune, when we are living right, because it sounds good. We have all the right notes. It is also easy to hear when we are out of tune, because it does not sound good. And it is so easy to be out of tune. It can happen so fast.
When the music is right, it is beautiful. When it is really right, people stop, people gather and people listen, people cheer and scream and hold lighters up to the sky.
We all have it in our power to play the music, to let our lives be the message of God that makes people stop, makes people gather and makes people listen. Which is what I think this is really all about today. Are people listening and are we in tune.
Our reading today comes at the end of the book of Job. We read that after all the terrible suffering, of all the trials, all the doubt Job is vindicated and all his life restored to an even greater place that it was at the the beginning of the book.
Today though, I do not want to dwell on the suffering of Job. Which is hard, because it is THE book to look at for suffering. Job experiences what I believe is the most cosmically bad day in all of religious literature. Nothing I have ever read comes close.
Today though, with God's delightful music in mind I want to talk about impermanence. I want to look at impermanence because it is also THE book to look at to draw comfort from when everything around you is falling apart. Which is really, really important. We need to know that God is with us when everything is awful, even if it awful through our own efforts to make it awful.
Because the book of Job tells us that even when everything blows up, when everything is crumbling, when life is at its lowest, when tragedy, no matter what-death of loved ones, loss of fortune, loss of social standing, loss of health, when your marriage is falling apart, all the majorly bad things that make you want to wish you were dead or better yet, never had even been born...well, Job experienced them all and came out better for it in the end. Which seems like an ironic statement, but hold on.
Job lost children, he lost his property, his wealth. He lost the social standing he had built up over a lifetime of living right, his OWN WIFE tells him to go and die. Everyone believed that it was because of some secret sin. That Job had not been the man that they believed him to be.
We know, through the dramatic irony that this is not the case. We need this in the narrative or as readers, we would not believe that he was blameless. It was all just too bad to believe otherwise. Conventional wisdom and theology demanded this be the case. But it was not.
Theology and the understanding of God, failed Job . Got it totally wrong. Which is a really scary thing, because there are no answers. Job had only his gut and faith to hold on to. This is where is think the quote from the Buddha figures in. Words, theology are meaningless if we do not act on them. If do not live the life, there is no point. Job's life was called into question, because it did not fit the understanding of God at the time. People forgot his goodness immediately. People forgot all about the music they had heard and experienced. No one in this narrative ever says "Job, you are a great man. You love God, how could this be?" Everyone just points their fingers and write off everything he had ever done, because it did not fit into a neat little box.
Which should be a danger sign for us all. If we feel that there are no surprises with God, then well...we are in for quite a few surprises. Job reminds us that we can take nothing for granted.
That the reason that this book is even in the Bible at all, is because through all of those terrible things, God was with Job. He was watching over him all the time. He had a plan. The plan challenged the theology and worldview of God and blew it apart. God was bigger than they let him be. His plan greater. He even physically appears to Job to tell him that He is there. Just as he always has been and always will be. Which is Awesome. We need this story.
We need it because it tells us nothing is life is set in stone, that tragedy can strike and it is ok, because God is with us. We have to understand that life is not static, but dynamic on all fronts.
The story also begs us to read between the lines. Like a lot of things in the bible, the ending of the book never addresses what Job had to go through to get it all back. It does not talk about how much sorrow he must have carried, because you cannot outlive your children without carrying that everyday. It never tells us how he found the strength to pick himself back up and regain his wealth. There were no insurance plans in the ancient world and I think you would be hard pressed today to find an agent that would offer "camels stolen by bandits" as a part of aninsurance package. Which means those broken buildings were rebuilt brick by brick, the herds of animals replaced one business deal at a time and his family restored with time and love. It is a story of riches to rags and back to riches. The only way it could have happened is moment by moment, day by day, prayer for strength by prayer for strength. The story begs us to remember that we have survived our worst day so far, so we can survive the next. It does not tell us how, but it does tell us without doubt that WE WILL. I do have one suggestion. See God in everyone. See God reflected in everyone around you and treat them like God. Reach out a hand to the suffering. It will change you. Change you in ways you cannot believe.
We also need Job to ask WHY ME GOD? God, the wily spirit that he is, refuses to answer. He tells us he is greater than we can comprehend. That we do not get to know. Which is terrifying and comforting at the same time. Job is probably the oldest book in the Hebrew Bible. Scholars disagree, but that is why they have jobs. It may have been written by an unknown Israelite around 1500 b.c.e., but since that person is unknown...it is a good guess. What I find fascinating is that it may also have been written in Egypt and some believe that it did not even originate with the Hebrew faith, but was adopted by Jewish literature from another faith.
Which tells us a few things. People have been screaming WHY at the top of their voices for as long as they have been writing about God and that truth is universal. It promotes interfaith relations and reminds us that we do not have all the answers. I find the possibility that the Jewish writers adopted this from a different faith because it said it best, just as Christians kept the story from Jews an amazing possibility.
I am taking a Class at CDSP, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, right now. The course is entitled "The Empty Way. Zen Buddhism and Christianity". It is a course about Christianity and about Buddhism. It is also about contemplative prayer and focusses quite a bit on how Christians can translate the Buddhist practice of meditation into our own Christian prayer. When I think of our reading today, I think about the purpose of meditation. Which is that meditation should not have a purpose.
You should approach the practice simply to focus on breathing, on living, on letting go and just experiencing life as it comes. This is because Buddhists believe that Enlightenment lives in all of us. It is not something to be achieved, but revealed. Since it is in us and we cannot define it,
we cannot have a purpose in looking for it. How can we look for something, when we do not know what we are looking for? Jeff Bridges, yes the actor, famously states "Riding my lost horse looking for it". He is saying the meditation is awakening something, something we cannot really define, but is there. It is opening us up. Letting us be receptive to the truth of life. Bringing us out of the chaos of our thoughts, the struggles of the everyday world and letting us move all that aside to see truth. A truth that we did not have to go looking for, but was within us the whole time. I think this is what Job had to do. To simply focus on the moment, to just breathe and continue to hold on to his faith, because that is all he had.
For Christians, think "It is not I who live, but Christ within me". Yes, I just quoted Paul in an Episcopal Sermon, but I think it is fitting. Christ is in us. Has always been in us. It is our job tolet him shine out of us. To move over the problems of life and let him out to touch others.
Not to dwell on the big picture, because we simply cannot know everything. We do not know what God has in store for us...and that is pretty exciting. Goodness carries with it a domino effect. One good act prompts another. More often than not, we never know who or how we are touching others. But we are. It prompts us seek answers, to not be passive. To look for God, to search for meaning, to weigh it against our judgements. As soon as you learn something about God, he shows you more. You go after the more and then there is more. And So it goes...
Also, if we knew everything...well we would be terribly boring and annoying. There would be no adventure, no discovery of the unknown and no one would invite us to cocktail parties. Even worse, we would know exactly why no one wanted us to come to their cocktail parties and have that bit of existential angst to deal with while we are all alone and everyone else is having a nice time.
So, the story of Job tells us to be ready. Because life happens and we can lose it all. Isaiah says that "The grass withers, the flowers fade away, but the word of the Lord stands forever. Which is great, except that sometimes it is our grass and our flowers. It gets real when it gets personal.
But, the word of the Lord, the word that says "he works all things for our good" that is what is left standing when all else, including us and our bones, are dust. This is impermanence. The world around us is constantly changing. We are constantly changing. It is not an easy process.
Think of a more recent figure who suffered, who changed and the world changed with her. Who showed us that we should take nothing for granted.
Think about Malala, that amazing young Pakistani woman who stood up to the Taliban and said "women deserve an education". If any of you have not heard this story, it is pretty amazing. Malala was an advocate for education who publicly spoke out for women's' right for an education. She did this while still a teenager. For this, she was shot in the face. Like Job's boils, she carries the scars of that today. Most people would have stopped there, given up, but she would not let evil silence her. Now her story has inspired millions. She recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for continuing to speak out even after being shot. Her life forced her government to change its policy, to let women become educated. It is still a struggle, not all women have access to education yet...but she started something big. Something that is changing the world. One woman did what armies could not. And she is not done yet. We are still living the story. She showed that we can take nothing for granted. That everything can change with a word, with an action. This is truly beautiful music.
So, to close. I would like to extend an invitation to all of you today. Be God's music. Wake up in the morning and before you get going, stop. Listen. And know that you have the power through God's spirit to be the music that makes the people you encounter
and praise God for the life that we share.