Scripture Introductions

Pentecost 20 October 18. 2009 Scripture Introductions by Stewart Clarke
I believe that we should introduce Scripture readings as part of worship to provide context, not, of course and as much as possible, to lay on personal interpretation or bias, but to offer setting. ScrIntros are intended to respect people's interest in the Bible and their ability to pay close attention to it. They are (I hope) intended to take the Bible and the congregation seriously and respectfully. Of course, you are invited to improve on these offerings or write your own! If, perchance, you have personal use for them, that is another benefit. (There are comments in parentheses, and even footnotes, which you may want to skip, for one reason or another, including the possibility that I demonstrate my slant more there! There are also alternate readings, which, in this case make me wish that we could read them all, with a progression from Job to Isaiah to the Gospel.) (I confess that I have a struggle around the choice of today's reading from Job. The whole direction of the book, it seems to me, is to negate the idea that people are punished for sin, with the implication that misery implies sin. The first reading has God talking down to Job. Had this section been followed to its conclusion, we would have read of justification for Job and even the request that Job pray for his so-called "friends." But, even next week, this part gets left out, as if we side-step the main message of the book!) So let's look at the passages.
Our first reading is from the book of Job. As the book began, (the) Satan[1] was pictured challenging God, with Job as the pawn (patsy). As a result, Job loses almost everything: family, fortune, and health. In the common wisdom of the day, this meant that he or his parents must have done something terrible for him to merit this . His "friends" try to convince him of his fault, or to debase him. But he stands firm. Finally, God speaks and Job is overwhelmed as God gives an overview of Creation, [2] in effect another cosmogony or "story of Creation," along with those in Genesis. (To preserve the spirit of the book of Job, we could surely have include God's statement to Job's friends, (24: 7 - 9) in which God supports Job against his friends, and invites him to pray for them! [3] ) (We may note that God speaks out of the whirlwind, in contrast to the experience of Elijah in I Kings 19, when God was not in storm or earthquake or fire, but in the "still small voice".) Let's listen, as God's voice takes part in the drama of Job: Job 38:1-7, (34-41) (You may hold your acclaim until after the Gospel, or use traditional words, or say something like: May the Spirit keep us in awe of God's glory and open to the pain of others. Amen.
The Psalm echoes the awe appropriate as we consider Creation. Let's.. Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
(Alternatively: )We have a wonderful reading from the Servant Songs of Isaiah of the Exile. In sharp contrast to the idea that people are materially rewarded for their goodness or punished for their sin, the prophet pictures God's chosen servant beaten and humiliated, not for his own sins, or those of his parents, but those of the nation, or, by extension, all humanity! [4] We naturally see it as applying to Jesus, but that was not its original message, although it may help pave the way to understanding him. ( BTW, the first verses of the chapter help to set the scene and are not really too long to read. They ask: who would ever have dreamed of this? [5] (In a modern setting, we might reflect on the impact of industrial pollution, or worldwide exploitation, global warming or even second-hand smoke on the most vulnerable of God's creatures.) Let's listen, awake to challenge and good news for us, in Isaiah 53:4-12 May the Spirit help us keep open to the needs of those in pain, and ready to learn and be blessed. Amen
This Psalm suggests extravagant promises on God's behalf, but also holds out the assurance of God's presence with us in trouble. Let's... Psalm 91:9-16
The letter to the Hebrews interprets Christ's ministry in terms of priestly calling, with special reference to Melchizedek ("King of Righteousness") who welcomed and blessed Abraham at Salem, the city of Peace. It is not, surely, to condone abuse or to see suffering through rose coloured glasses; Jesus' habit of healing gives a different message. It may, however, remind us that God can bring good out of evil scenes. Let's listen... Hebrews 5:1-10 Praise be to Christ, Saviour, Friend, and Lord. Amen.
In the Gospel reading, two of Jesus' disciples come to him with the approach children have used with their parents: "Promise to do what we ask?" They want to be the best and most important and have the seats of honour beside Jesus. Jesus responds as parents have responded, first testing them. But they still don't get it. So he spells it out: it is not honour, but service that will be first and foremost. And Jesus will lead. (Picture, if you will someone sitting to write some of Jesus' story. It is thirty some years since Jesus' death and resurrection, and he is recognized as Lord and Saviour. And this story is written! Then, where will Jesus be found sitting? [6]) Let us rise to honour and be open to the Good News for us in: (Or: Let us listen closely for the Good News for us in: ) Mark 10:35-45 May the Spirit keep us alert to moments and possibilities of greatness in service and sorrow. Amen. It is appropriate to follow the readings with words of thanks and praise.
  1. As it happens, the book of Job mentions "Hasatan," which, because the "ha" is the equivalent of "the" in Hebrew, is a designation or title, rather than a name! It is, thus, "the satan," yet every Bible that I know translates it "Satan." Hasatan is apparently a functionary in the heavenly court, the Adversary, or Opponent, whose task it is to test and report on human beings. A hasatan also appears in I Kings 22, where he tricks Ahab into disaster, but hasatan apparently is an opponent to humans, and not to God. The concept of "Satan" as a fallen angel, and opponent to God, seems to come from Persian tradition rather than Jewish.
  2. Long enough ago to almost qualify for "Once upon a time," I was pouring over periodicals in the Pine Hill Divinity Library in Halifax, now part of the Atlantic School of Theology, and read with fascination an analysis of Job in terms of the aspects (not stages, please) of grief as propounded by Dr. Kubler-Ross, of denial, withdrawal, anger, bargaining and acceptance, with Job's encounter with God illustrating acceptance, as, if you will, at least as practical as pious. RSC.
  3. We may note that God speaks out of the whirlwind, and not in the "still small voice of Elijah's experience in I Kings 19! Part, indeed, of the message to each is the manner of its delivery! Job has felt caught in a whirlwind! The message gives us another cosmogony alongside Gen. 1, and 2:4a. RSC.
  4. This picture takes the message of Job one step further: not only are folk not hard pressed as punishment, but their pain may be from others' behaviour, which links powerfully with the Gospel reading.
  5. In my family: "Who'd'a thunk it?" And the answer is "No one; no way." The reaction, surely, is Awe.
(Comments to Stew at