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Out of the Whirlwind

Out of the Whirlwind

“The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind. . . .” Job 38:1-11; 16-18

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

June 24, 2018 – 5 Pentecost

Why do bad things happen to good people? This is the central question at the heart of the classic biblical parable, the Book of Job.

I say ‘parable’ because like the Garden of Eden story from Genesis, which we read a few weeks ago, the Book of Job is not history and it is a category mistake to read it as such. It is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible. We do not know who authored the book, and even its date of composition is obscure: scholars place it somewhere between 500 and 700 years before Jesus’ day. Set in the mysterious land of Uz, which doesn’t appear on any ancient map, the book is named after its star, an unknown Gentile character named ‘Job’ with no known historical lineage.

As the great twelfth century rabbi, Maimonides, observed long ago, the Book of Job is a poetic tragi-comedy, grounded not in the historical reality of a single man and his family, but rather in the experience of all humanity, as each of us struggles to understand where God is in our suffering.

At the beginning of the drama, we meet Job, a rich and happy man. He enjoys all the ancient near Eastern markers of prosperity: seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred oxen, an equal number of donkeys, dozens of servants, along with a devoted wife and seven sons and three daughters. And, we are told, Job is widely regarded by his peers as a blameless and upright man.

But then the scene shifts to a chilling conversation in a heavenly court between a God-like figure and a fallen angel. Like a parent who is a little too proud of his upright son, God says to the satanic angel: “Did you notice my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him: a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and avoids evil.” The devilish angel is doubtful. He suggests to God that perhaps Job is such a good man only because he is so well off; if Job didn’t have all these riches, the accusing angel taunts, Job would turn on God in a second. Let’s put him to the test, the angel begs. So, God accepts the diabolical challenge, and the hellish drama begins: Job’s animals are stolen, his servants are killed, all of his children die in a desert storm, and then, to make matters really ugly, Job contracts leprosy and develops loathsome boils all over his body.

Needless to say, poor Job cannot fathom what has happened or why. His friends are convinced that Job must have some deep, dark sin in his past and that his current misery is punishment for this. They are persuaded that bad things happen only to bad people. As for Job’s wife, she quickly gets fed up with this reversal of fortune and urges Job to curse God and do himself in. But Job can’t bring himself to do that. Despite all his suffering, good old Job hangs on to his relationship with God and continues to trust.

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Planted in the Lord

Planted in the Lord

“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God; They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be green and succulent; That they may show how upright the Lord is, my Rock, in whom there is no fault.” Psalm 92:11-14

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

4B Pentecost – June 17, 2018

Anna Mary Robertson was born on September 7, 1860, shortly before Abraham Lincoln was elected President. Born into a poor farming family in upstate New York, Anna was the third of ten children. As a child, she attended a one-room school house for only a few years, receiving no formal education after the age of ten.

By any measure, Anna had a hard life. When she was twelve, she started work as a house girl, doing chores, for a wealthy family who lived nearby. She worked as a domestic for various local families for the next 15 years.

When she was 27, Anna met a fellow by the name of Thomas Moses, one of the “hired hands” on the farm where she worked. Anna and Thomas were married soon thereafter, and moved to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where they spent the next several decades, living and working on various farms, wherever they could find work.

While they were in Virginia, Anna and Thomas decided to start their own family. Over the next decade, Anna bore ten children, but tragically only five of the ten survived infancy. Even so, Anna and Thomas persevered, and continued to live simple, hard-working, and unremarkable lives for the next several decades, until Thomas died of a heart attack in 1927 at the age of 67.

Anna never married again, and eventually moved in with one of her daughters in 1936, where she did what she could to help around the house, and pursued her interest in needlepoint in her spare time.

For most poor American farming folk of her generation, this more or less would be the end of the story. But not for Anna. Though she was not a churchgoing type, Anna was raised in the Methodist tradition and was very much shaped by the Puritan ethos of her generation. She believed in hard work, purposeful living, and putting to full use all of the God-given talents she had been granted. She loathed wasting anything, and was determined to continue making a contribution with her life, however small, until God decided she was done.

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Where are you?

Where are you?

“The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” Genesis 3:9

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

3 Pentecost 2018 — June 10, 2018

One of my theological heroes since my college days is the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth. I wrote my senior honors thesis on him, and I still rely on Barth’s writings for insight and inspiration. Most professional theologians will tell you that Barth is arguably the most important Protestant theologian since Luther and Calvin. And it is not just Barth’s writings that make him important, but his public witness too: along with another hero of mine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Barth was an early and outspoken leader of the Christian resistance to Adolf Hitler in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.

For all his theological acumen, Barth could also be disarmingly simple. When a reporter asked Barth, near the end of his life, how he might summarize his vast theological writings, he simply began to sing: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so ….” As a reminder of his influence on me, I keep this little pillow in my office with Barth’s picture on it, his ubiquitous pipe in hand. And as you may be able to see, the caption on the pillow reads: “The answer is Jesus. Now what’s the question?”

Against this background, you can probably imagine how my heart sank when, a few years ago, I started reading Eberhard Busch’s classic biography of Barth, only to learn that throughout most of his professional life, Barth maintained a forty-year affair with his long-time secretary, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, which his devoted wife, Nelly, knew about, and was forced simply to tolerate. It was one of those morally obnoxious “accommodations” that powerful men throughout history have often been able to demand. Even now, it pains me to acknowledge this sad truth publicly, because I so want my heroes to live virtuous lives that match the profundity of their work.

It seems that everywhere you go these days, we see a similar pattern of heroes falling from grace because of some dark secret or other. Political leaders, artists, sports figures, television celebrities, the list goes on. And so we wonder: are there any people of integrity left anymore?

While this may seem to be a problem of our times, the truth is that people have always been deeply flawed creatures. In years past, reporters and writers were just more willing to adhere to a code of silence out of respect for the privacy of public figures. I hate to say it, but if you have a hero whom you believe to be an entirely pure paragon of virtue, I suspect it is only because you haven’t probed quite deeply enough.

In our faith tradition, of course, we call this reality sin, and it plagues us all. We are broken people. And, the story of the Garden of Eden, a small excerpt of which we heard in our first lesson, is the classic text for understanding this truth about ourselves:

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