Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Former President Jimmy Carter spoke to the graduating class of Rice University in Houston, and he shared this story with them. “A young college freshman took a science course one semester, but failed to attend a single class. On the day of finals, he showed up for the exam, but the professor met him at the door and questioned the student’s boldness. ‘If you can answer one question, I will pass you, but if you cannot, then you will not even be allowed to take the exam.’ The student agreed; what else could he do? And this was the professor’s question: How can you use this barometer to determine the height of Brown Hall, the tallest building on campus?
“The student thought for a moment, and then said ‘There are several ways to use a barometer to determine the height of Brown Hall. I could climb to the roof, tie the barometer to a rope, lower it to the ground, and measure the rope. Or I could drop the barometer from the roof and time its fall, dividing the time by 22 feet per second/per second. Or I could find the building supervisor and say “Hey, I’ll give you this neat barometer if you tell me how tall Brown Hall is.”‘
By now, the professor was smugly smiling at his failing student. But then the student continues, ‘But if you want me to conventionally use the barometer, I would measure the pressure at ground level, which should be 14.7 pounds per square inch, measure the pressure on the rooftop, which should be slightly less, and calculate the height of the building.'” The story has a good ending. President Carter concluded his illustration to graduates: “The student was given an ‘A’.”
Sometimes, students think they are smarter than their teacher, and sometimes, I suppose they are. I never was, but I suppose it’s possible. More than likely, however, the teacher always knows more than the student, and only when they know their respective roles, only then does learning happen. For it is one thing to, out of curiosity, question and challenge those who teach, but quite another thing to disrespect their authority, and challenge their credentials as an educator.
And if this sort of insulting confrontation is inappropriate in human terms, then how much more so when we shake our fist at the Creator God when our lives are in disarray? How is it that we know more than God about what is good for our lives” How is it that we can demand God for an explanation as to why we lost a job, or why a child is sick, or why a marriage ended, or why we were born with an imperfect body. “Give me an answer, God, and it had better be a good one!” And the amazing thing is not that we dare speak to God in such fashion, but that God chooses to listen to it, and to love us, even in our worst, most rebellious moments.
I wonder if you know the story of Job? Scripture tells us that he was a most upright and God-fearing man of immense blessing. He had seven sons and three daughters, thousands of sheep and cattle and oxen, he prayed diligently and he was respected by everyone who knew him. But then one day, Satan was looking for someone to test, to see if they were faithful to their God, and God said “Have you considered my servant Job?” While God’s reasoning is inexplicable, God gives Satan permission to tempt Job, and in almost no time at all, Job loses everything he has. Enemies came and stole his cattle, lightening started a fire and it killed all his servants, and a ferocious wind storm flattened his house and all of his children died.
For 37 chapters, Job rails at God. He curses the day he was born, he calls God his enemy, and demands an explanation for his tragic life. You heard that Job is a patient sufferer? It’s a myth; Job is hurting and frustrated and angry at God. And it doesn’t help that Job has three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, who try to reason with Job that God was merely punishing Job for his unfaithfulness. But Job insists that he is blameless, and that God has treated him unfairly.
It is in this 38 chapter that the student is told to be quiet, and the teacher speaks. God answers all of Jobs questions and insults, not by defending his actions, but by reminding Job that God is God, and that he always has Job’s best interests at heart. How does God do this? By asking Job a series of rhetorical questions. “Where were you” God asks Job, “when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you’re so smart! Who determined how big the universe would be? Who established how far the seas would flow, and no further? Who created the clouds? Who hung the stars? Were you there when the mountain goats gave birth? Did you give the horse his strength? Did you teach the hawk how to soar?” For three long chapters, Gods words turn Job into melting wax. The teacher is reminding the student that he created the universe.
For more than one hundred years, scientists have been in charge of telling us how creation came to be. It’s a bit like the clay pot telling the potter how it was formed. The theory of evolution suggests that we were all once apes, but we evolved, or at least some of us did, into humans. The Big Bang Theory says that 15 billion years ago, a cosmic explosion erupted, stuff went flying everywhere, and formed our solar system. The focal point in both of these theories is the “how” of creation. Neither one considers the “who” of creation.
More recently, however, the idea of “intelligent design” was advanced, explaining that SOMEONE had to have created the world as we know it. We aren’t just an accident. We are an idea that has come in existence. They use the “watchmaker’s analogy” which reasons that a watch is so complex, sometime, somewhere there had to be a watchmaker. They’re just now sure who the watchmaker is. What they fail to do is simply turn to the first chapter of Genesis; it’s written right there: “In the beginning, GOD created…” It doesn’t say how, it doesn’t tell us how long ago, it doesn’t explain whether the first day of creation was 24 hours or 24 million years; it simply tells us that the watchmaker is God.
Now by now, you are thinking one of two things. You’re either thinking “Oh boy, Pastor Steve must have slept at the Holiday Inn last night and now he thinks he’s a physicist.” Or you’re thinking that none of this mumbo-jumbo really matters to you. But you’d be wrong on both counts. I slept in my own bed so I’m as dumb as ever, and secondly, this does matter to you. Let me tell you why…
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Dick, Just wanted to say I have greatly benefited from your SermonWriter. Having graduated from seminary, I greatly missed the seminary library, and trying to purchase additional resources was a costly endeavor. Using your reliable resource has been great.”
Resources to inspire you — and your congregation!
All of us have Job-like days. We may not lose everything in one fell swoop, but storms do come upon us suddenly, without warning, and they can turn our world upside down. Our storms may be caused by our own bad choices, or by the bad choices of other. Or in some cases, storms just happen. Rabbi Harold Kushner says that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” That’s what Job discovered.
But what do we do when the storms come? Shake your fist at a big bang? Cry out “Oh, I wish I have never been evolved!” Pray prayers to a nameless, faceless watchmaker? No! We call out the Creator God, with all our questions, all our pain, and all our confusion. Like Job, we are free to question and challenge God. Our prayers and even our insults are not only tolerated, they are listened to and ultimately answered by the God who loves us. Gerhard Frost, in his book “The Color of the Night” records this family conversation.
“It’s been a bad day, a really bad day! I lost my best friend, and the teacher made me sit by myself because she thought I talked too much. On my way home, I made a snowball, and I threw it, and I told God I hoped it hit him right in the heart! But after awhile, I told him I was sorry, and then things got a little better.”
And Dr. Frost concludes “This is a starkly honest telephone report of a day in the life of a seven year old. A one-minute, dramatic summary of the Book of Job.”
Your world may be perfect today, but calm seas won’t last forever. On the other hand, your world may be embroiled in a ferocious storm that is beating you up; that won’t last forever. But the good news is, we know the Creator. We have a direct line to the One who made the world and all that is in it. He may not answer every question we have in this life. We may never understand the bad things that have happened to good people that we love.
But we believe there is a God nearby, hearing our frantic cry “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re dying?” And his answer is always the same. “Peace, be still.” Whatever the storms are in your life today, the Intelligent Designer stands closely by, holding you and guiding your way. May that promise bring you peace in the midst of the great storms of your life. Thanks be to God. Amen.