Other Homilies



Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

Home Mission Statement Homilies Liturgies In Memoriam Reports Resources Contacts Links

Ordinary Sunday 29, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 21, 2018

Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Psalm 104; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45


‘I served and I saw …’

The Book of Job was an important influence on William Blake’s writings and art (late 18th and early 19th centuries). Blake, impoverished for much of his life, apparently identified with Job, who features in various guises throughout the artist’s work. Harold Bloom has interpreted Blake’s most famous lyric, “The Tyger”, as a revision of God’s rhetorical questions from the whirlwind (some of which we’ve read today).

The god of Job’s “comforters”, who claim that Job’s trials are punishment for his sins, is a false god, Blake says. The true God is the One who speaks from the whirlwind – creative, free, a little unpredictable – glimpsed (only) in terms of effects, in terms of what happens when this God makes an appearance, in terms of what is overcome, in terms of what is made possible. God be with you…

There’s a lot to explore in Blake’s illustrations (paintings and lithographs). For example, he nearly always depicts Job’s wife as part of the scene, and nearly always as empathic (as shown in our artwork). There’s much written about Blake’s use of gesture, the symbolism of left hand and right hand, left foot and right foot ... Today, however, we might notice the similarities between the Job and God figures – they look so much alike. 

You’ll have your own questions and interpretations on that. It’s certainly interesting … 

In light of our other readings today, I want to note two things (I’m continuing to draw on Blake, too). Firstly, that Blake’s God appears in the guise of Job turned toward others, toward creation. And secondly, that the encounter with the God of the whirlwind, the God/self turned toward others, sees Job at the centre of a new community of prayer, care and peace – the encounter positions Job as a kind of priest

The God of the whirlwind does not address Job’s immediate concerns. Attention is shifted to the wild, to wild forces of creation, to the lives of the creatures of land, sky and sea. “Where were you?” God asks the one overwhelmed by injustice, in the first of two torrential displays of divine creative power.

In the past, I’ve thought about this along recreational lines – how a tumble in the ocean or a rumble with a big dog, a walk in the park or a retreat in the wilderness disorients and reorients. I’ve contemplated God in creation as source of wonder and renewal. “If the going gets rough, turn to wonder” – a touchstone for safe and trustworthy space according to our facilitator, the Rev. Neil Millar, at yesterday’s pastoral carers’ retreat.

“If the going gets rough, turn to wonder.” I don’t want to lose touch with that, but Blake’s illustrations invite another more “mystical” reading. 

There is a “you” always and already attuned to creation. There is a self, in turns of tempest, with radical concern for others. The psalmist, always and already, is part of the song rejoicing in creativity – “All creatures depend on you to feed them at the proper time” – if God were wholly other, totally beyond comprehension, there’d be no point of understanding and nothing at all to sing about. 

There is a “you” attuned to creation. Job’s final response to God is not, then, so inscrutable: “Now my eye sees you …” (42:5). It’s something akin to the life of Jesus drawing followers into the life of God. Salvation, as our Orthodox friends profess, is a kind of divinisation, a coming to be like Christ, like God, which is always at the same time a coming to be more human, more responsive and more responsible. 

We might think of ourselves in the image of God, then, even of God in the image of ourselves, with one crucial qualification: God is the “you” turned toward others. Blake would be pleased, I imagine, with the church’s selection of gospel text for today. “The Promised One has come not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

The “you” attuned to creation, turned toward others, is someone whose powers and capacities are not exercised for selfish benefit, but for the benefit and building up of others. We might recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s description of Jesus as “the one for others”.

It’s not about narcissism. Instead of growing closer to Jesus’ radical vision of the kindom of God, the disciples struggle with walking away from their old and long-cherished expectations, “those surreptitious nets of desire for personal power and glory” that entangle and trap us all, each in our own age, in our own way. One scholar writes: “Is it any wonder that this section of [Mark’s] Gospel begins and ends with stories about blind [people] being restored to sight?” (Resner). 

“Now my eye sees you …” “The Promised One has come not to be served, but to serve.” It’s about action, a way of living, looking, learning. 

Kahlil Gibran, a Blakean visionary of sorts, writes: “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” 

Secondly, the encounter with the God of the whirlwind, the God/self turned toward others, sees Job at the centre of a new community of prayer, care and peace – the encounter positions Job as a kind of priest. 

The conclusion to the Book of Job is startling. Job’s struggle in the name of justice is affirmed. Job’s theology is affirmed. Job’s friends learn to show empathy and they all learn to share. Each of Job’s three daughters is given a beautiful name (Jemimah, Keziah and Keren-happuch) and an inheritance along with their brothers.

In the midst of all this, Job prays on behalf of his community (there are intimations of this, too, in our artwork). Whatever has happened in the whirlwind, Job is no longer simply a wealthy and pious parishioner. He is now a mediator. He and his long-suffering wife bear the marks of faith, hope and love in human flesh. S/he lifts up. S/he blesses. S/he turns to others. 

Christianly, the Book of Job offers a vision of Christ. And Christ, according to Hebrews 5, is our high priest. Just as Job’s wife is part of the scene, we too are priestly companions – the body of Christ in our particular place and time, turned toward others, toward creation. In some sense against ourselves (against our unimaginative selves), yet in response to the Spirit deep within us, and thus true to our calling and identity as bearers of faith, hope and love. 

One scholar writes: “[H]ere around this table together we … perform priestly functions. We make offerings for sin. We consecrate ordinary things and stand in the presence of the holy. We pray for the salvation and healing of the world. We mediate between heaven and earth, representing the world to God and God to the world. We do all this in Christ and through Christ … [W]e have been immersed into the life of our high priest” (Nathan Nettleton).

In regard to the words of Kahlil Gibran – turning you, converting you, again and again, as in a whirlwind or storm – for whom or for what are you called to pray? “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy”… Amen.


Prayers of the People

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.
I woke and I saw that life is all service.
I served and I saw that service is joy”

God, in your grace,
hear our prayer.

Servant Lord, you became as one of us that we may be at one with you.
Give to your church the same humility that it may seek to raise up all as heirs of your grace. In your service we will find true glory. In your service there is joy.

God, in your grace,
hear our prayer.

Servant Lord, you endured power struggles among your closest followers.
Give to all political leaders wisdom to understand the true purpose of government. Correct all self-seeking and desire for honour.

God, in your grace,
hear our prayer.

Servant Lord, you are the source of our salvation.
We pray for those in anguish or trouble of any kind …
We pray for friends and strangers …

Servant Lord, you saw the corrosive effects of status.
Give to all the peace that comes from knowing we are precious in your sight. Set our restless hearts at ease in your love.

God, in your grace,
hear our prayer.

Homily