Of Touchdowns, Whirlwinds and Other Mysteries
The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sermon preached on October 18, 2015
Proper 25, Year B: Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Mark 10:356-45
I’m going to keep the sermon this morning almost entirely in the context of football. So if you are a fan, please take this moment to give thanks because this doesn’t happen very often. Enjoy the occasional references to touchdowns and defensive backs and yards to go. And if you aren’t a fan, you might as well take a moment to give thanks too, because this doesn’t happen very often, and I will eventually sit down. I promise. I will also do my best to provide the background you need to participate. All of you. Finally before we dive in, I’d ask of you who are fans that there be no fact checking while I’m preaching. I will at least come close to what actually happened in my retelling of this story. Remember, it’s the loose connections that matter today – there is a metaphor at work here, people. So hang with me. Here we go. Or maybe better, game on.
I’m going to bet that there are people here this morning who believe in miracles. Am I right? And that there are others who are wondering if there really is a God . . .or if there is why that deity has completely abandoned humanity.
Because as one Facebook post I read last night said, “I don’t even like football but that game was amazing!”
In case you missed it (you were reading a book, knitting, hiking, napping, working, cooking or doing any of the one million other things you could have been doing besides watching football,) let me recap briefly. In the final seconds of the U of M versus Michigan State game one of the flukiest plays ever to happen happened. The University of Michigan was up by two with ten seconds left to play. They had the ball. It was fourth down with three yards to go and they put in the punting team. It looked like the Wolverines behind their head coach, Jim Harbaugh (in what was becoming sort of a magical comeback year,) had this game in the bag.
But then the ball popped out of the kicker’s hands, hit the helmet or hands of another player and then landed in the arms of a green and white defensive back (one who apparently only “occasionally plays”) and he ran the ball 38 yards for a touchdown. And the clock ran out. Spartans took the game by four. And everyone in the Big House, no matter what colors they were wearing were completely, absolutely stunned!
And so in our little house this morning here at Grace, and around the state and beyond, there are some new and some born again believers. “Miracles happen!” you who run green and white would say. They come unexpectedly! Inexplicably! Defying all odds and leaving those who are affected by it speechless, except for perhaps a momentary whisper and upwards glance of “Thank you.” And even if you don’t quite go so far as to see this as a miracle, it’s at least a sign that good things happen to good people, right? “Hard work pays off,” you might say. “We never stopped believing,” Spartan coach Mark Dantonio said last night as one of his explanations. We never stopped believing.
However, there are also those who this morning are struggling to believe that there is a God at all, those wondering if faithfulness and righteousness, let alone packing the House on a regular basis ever really pay off. In the words of a still-in-shock U of M coach Jim Harbaugh, “We played winning football,” as he sort of worked to focus on anything at all. They played winning football. And they still lost! Momentum and shut-outs, defensive stands, first downs and that old “Let’s go blue” spirit were flowing once again! So, how could this happen? “We did everything right!” cried out those who love the maze and blue. “We even took a bad call or two along the way and didn’t let it get us down!”
And so here is this event that made absolute sense to some (i.e. a sign that hard work and believing pays off) and yet was a failure of the predictable ways of the universe to others (i.e. an experience where even those who play in a winning fashion lose.) This event showed that “THE JUST GET WHAT THEY DESERVE!,” if your blood runs green and white. Or it was “AN EXPERIENCE OF COMPLETE INJUSTICE!” to those who who run blue and gold.
Which is (to take a step away from the gridiron for a few) not an uncommon human experience. Outcomes don’t always make sense. Life doesn’t always make sense. For any of us. Unexpected good comes or unexpected bad comes that don’t fit neatly within our framework of how things should go. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to people who do bad things. Hard work doesn’t always lead to victory. And to complicate it even more, something that is good for one might be bad for another at least in our interpretation, our limited interpretation of how this world should work.
Take Job for instance. (As we move seamlessly from football to life to Scripture.) We’ve been hearing from Job for a few weeks now and most of you know his story. Job worked very hard. He was as faithful as they come. Job, one could argue, did everything right. He played a winning game. And yet, the ball got knocked out of his hands over and over again! Job lost in hard ways that he didn’t deserve time after time after time. Yet he remained close to God in ways that weren’t deserved either, because “deserving” is not how God works.
It’s just not as predictable as we’d like it (when things are going our way) to be.
But where were we, where were any of us when this world came into being? I think these final few chapters of Job that we began to hear from today are some of the most beautiful chapters in all of Scripture. If you need perspective, look here. If you need to be reminded of your place in an “it’s-good-to-be-humbled-every-now-and-then-sort-of-way,” look here. Where were we when God laid the foundations of the world and “the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”
In the big pregame, where were any of us? In the cosmic scheme or even the unfolding cosmic picture (depending on your theology, your eschatology and while we’re at it your theodicy) who are any of us? What makes us begin to think we can determine outcomes or outline an exact formula for how life should play out? And what makes us think we have to? “Who made the rain and the thunderbolts and the grass and the clouds?” God asked Job from the whirlwind. Which is to remind us all that all of this is in hands bigger than our own.
Which is not to say that I think God was behind the outcome of yesterday’s or any day’s big game. Nor is it to say that I think that God’s will is behind every little thing that happens, every snap, every fumble, every touchdown.
It’s simply to say that there is a bigger game going on that really isn’t a game at all. It’s a creation. It’s not a formula; it’s a creation. A creation that contains goodness and badness and a whole lot of humanity, created in God’s image and prone to the more than occasional sin and misunderstanding. And it’s to say that all of this contains a mystery, that we believe to be holy – full of sin and redemption and a peace which passes all understanding. And it’s to say that all of this is in hands bigger than ours, and ultimately more merciful, wiser, and more just than our own. And so making sense of it all isn’t the work we’ve been given to do.
Loving Job when the unpredictable, underserved storms of life hit is the work we’ve been given to do. Loving that poor kicker who just experienced a tremendously hard life lesson in front of millions of people is the work we have been given to do. Celebrating with that other kid who scored the touchdown of his life is the work we have been given to do! Laughing with Marc Dantonio and those whose lives swung toward the unexpectedly good yesterday and weeping with Jim Harbaugh and those for whom yesterday brought far worse than a four-point loss is the work we have been given to do.
Our work is not to make sense of it all. It’s to make God’s love known in the midst of it all, whatever colors you happen to be.