Reexamining Wisdom

Scripture Focus: Job 33:13-14
13 Why do you complain to him
     that he responds to no one’s words?
 14 For God does speak—now one way, now another—
     though no one perceives it.

Reflection: Reexamining Wisdom
By Erin Newton

There is a stirring in the Christian world. People are asking about life, becoming perplexed at how things are. Many questions are about the Church and its purpose, motives, plans, and policies. The stirring seeks to disturb the status quo. There is a sense of hope that change is on the way.

For many, this is a frightening prospect. Content to hold fast to the ways of tradition, every daring question is considered cautiously. The world works this way, we say. God responds like this. The old patterns are not altogether wrong, but the narrowed perspective can be unhelpful to those with questions.

Elihu speaks to Job out of his own tradition with clear speeches of how things are. His response is not surprising. Each word is a repetition of the wisdom of the day. We’ve seen this throughout the book. The dominant view of God and his people was that those suffering likely deserved it.

When Job complains about God not answering his complaints, Elihu responds tersely, “Of course he has answered you!” He speaks of God answering through dreams that terrify or pain that chastens. Always with the perspective of justice, the wisdom given by Elihu is that Job’s suffering must be a lesson he has to learn.

Job continues to plead his case. His conscience clears him of believing Elihu’s speech is applicable to him. His questions continue to reveal a different perspective or at least he longs to hear something new, something to change the status quo of ancient wisdom. “For God does speak,” Elihu says and that should bring comfort. Job demands of God to speak something new.

We read the story of Job to find comfort in our own suffering. We like to know we are not alone when the pain feels unjustified. We often don’t consider how the story presents a picture of the community wrestling with different perspectives of life. The friends are rooted in their traditional wisdom, and it has served them well over the years. Job’s circumstances force him to look for another answer and beg God to explain it to him.

The stirring in the Church today is a plea to reexamine the wisdom of our day. Is it rightly applied? Are we addressing the community properly? Do we spout spiritual truths to a hurting world without listening or are we joining the plea for God to answer?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Job 33 (Listen 3:00)
Psalm 17 (Listen 1:58)

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An Earful From Elihu

Scripture Focus: Job 32.1-9
1 So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. 3 He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. 4 Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. 5 But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused. 
6 So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: 
“I am young in years, 
and you are old; 
that is why I was fearful, 
not daring to tell you what I know. 
7 I thought, ‘Age should speak; 
advanced years should teach wisdom.’ 
8 But it is the spirit in a person, 
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. 
9 It is not only the old who are wise, 
not only the aged who understand what is right.

Reflection: An Earful From Elihu
By John Tillman

Job and friends are about to get an earful from Elihu.

Elihu’s been there the whole time. Invisible, unnoticed, and ignored, he’s been listening. Once he breaks his silence, Elihu speaks longer than any of the others in the book.

Perhaps Elihu was related to one of the other men. Perhaps he was simply there to hold their camels. Perhaps the argument attracted an audience and Elihu was part of the crowd. We don’t know.

Reading Job, tension grows between our discomfort with Job’s accusations and our dissatisfaction and anger at Job’s treatment by his friends. Elihu starts by expressing those same feelings and frustrations, and we feel a sense of relief. “Finally, someone gets it,” we think. 

We could learn a lot from Elihu. Elihu is patient and has waited a long time to speak. Elihu is respectful but honest about his anger. He credits the spirit of God for his wisdom, not his own intellect. That doesn’t, however, mean that Elihu gets everything right. 

Elihu soon begins to fall into the same logic the others did. His only concession to Job is that perhaps God is using the suffering to prevent Job from sinning, not as punishment for past sins. The longer he talks, however, the more his anger grows, his logic falters, and he sounds just like the men he is trying to refute.

When leaders in politics and religion squabble and argue, younger people have often been like Elihu. They’ve been told to be invisible and considered insignificant. They’ve been unnoticed and ignored. And they’ve been listening with growing frustration, disgust, and anger.

Like Elihu, the spirit of God is stirring younger generations, so they are about to burst and will not stay silent. (Job 32.18-20)When they speak out, they may anger the old guard. They won’t be flattering or show partiality to position, rank, or denominations. (Job 32.21-22) And they may not get everything right. They might fall into the same old errors or find new ones. 

We won’t improve the conversation by continuing to ignore, sideline, or dismiss their arguments because of their youth. “It is not only the old who are wise,” and not only the young who are foolish.

When we get an earful from an Elihu, we should listen. If we don’t engage the Elihu’s of our age in sincere conversation, we may never hear from them again.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Job 32 (Listen 2:12)
Psalm 15-16 (Listen 2:03)

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God specifically moved among the young people of the land and the older generation did not take them seriously. 

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How Long?

Scripture Focus: Psalm 13
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you hide your face from me? 
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts 
and day after day have sorrow in my heart? 
How long will my enemy triumph over me? 
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. 
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” 
and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; 
my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, 
for he has been good to me. 

Reflection: How Long?
By John Tillman

Navigation is more than directions. It accounts for distance, speed, hazards on the journey, and the need to stop for fuel, food, or rest. This was true for Paul’s gospel-spreading voyages. It is also true for shorter trips such as commuting to work or driving across town for a meeting.

The navigation software on my phone continuously calculates my estimated time of arrival. If a wreck occurs ahead of me, it adds time for the slowdown. When I cannot resist “beating” the ETA by driving faster than expected, it adjusts accordingly. But without a connection, the software cannot adjust. I’m off the map.

Many psalms celebrate faith’s journey when it goes smoothly and God seems so close. Psalms of lament come from moments when faith’s journey slides off the map. Our ETA becomes a question mark. The turn-by-turn directions fail. Milestones disappear. Hazards loom larger. We no longer feel connected to God. We do not know how long the journey is or if we will ever arrive. Ancient mapmakers wrote warnings on the edges and unmarked areas of maps. “Here there be monsters.”

“How long?” is repeated often in scripture. It recognizes that something needs to be corrected—that there are monsters to confront.

These monsters are real. How long will we suffer wrongs that are not righted? How long will the wicked prosper off the backs of the poor? How long will justice be delayed and denied? How long will victims be less important than leaders and institutions? How long will we have to blow a whistle before help arrives?

The psalmist’s thoughts and heart race out of control, filled with sorrow. We may wrestle with the same dark feelings and thoughts. “How long?”

Like the psalmist, we can question openly and honestly. We need not hide our feelings from God. Also, like the psalmist, we can reorient by remembering God and his goodness.

Reorient means turning our map back to the correct position to represent the world properly. “How long?” recognizes a delay, but from another perspective, “How long?” recognizes a destination. There is an end. Wrongs will be righted. Tears will be dried. Monsters will be crushed.

Don’t be ashamed to cry out, asking, “How long?” It is a statement of both struggle and victory. It is a prayer that will be answered. “How long, O Lord?”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Look upon your covenant; the dark places of the earth are haunts of violence. — Psalm 74.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Job 31 (Listen 4:16)
Psalm 13-14 (Listen 1:45)

Read more about Convicted by Job’s Righteousness
We confess, Lord, we are not like Job. (Job 31.16-23)
We have seen those perishing due to lack of bread, lack of clothing, lack of freedom, lack of shelter, and said, “It is their own fault.”

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The Righteous Judge — A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 9.7-14
7 The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
8 He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.
9 The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
12 For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.
13 Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation. 

Psalm 10.1-7
1 Why, Lord, do you stand far off? 
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? 
2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, 
who are caught in the schemes he devises. 
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart; 
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. 
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; 
in all his thoughts there is no room for God. 
5 His ways are always prosperous; 
your laws are rejected by him; 
he sneers at all his enemies. 
6 He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.” 
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.” 
7 His mouth is full of lies and threats; 
trouble and evil are under his tongue. 

Reflection: The Righteous Judge — A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Psalm nine and ten may originally have been one psalm. Today we combine them in a prayer to God, the only righteous judge and the only one who dispenses justice without failing. May he hear the cries of all victims. May he bring every wrong-doing to light. May those who seek to cover their secrets have their plans exposed by his light and truth.

Our Righteous Judge
May our highest, most prized right, be to stand before you.

For you have upheld my right and my cause,
  sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.

May we learn from you, true judgment.
Make us a part of bringing your kingdom, your justice and righteousness on earth.
And this is your justice on earth—to be a refuge and stronghold for the weak and troubled.

He rules the world in righteousness
  and judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
  a stronghold in times of trouble…
  he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted…
Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
  let the nations be judged in your presence.

The world hates us, because it first hated you, Lord.
Trouble comes to us in different ways and in different levels of severity, in every corner of this world, God.

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
  who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
  He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
His mouth is full of lies and threats;
  trouble and evil are under his tongue.

In times of trouble, Lord, we look to you.
Do not abandon us to the schemes of the wicked.

Break the arm of the wicked man;
  call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
  that would not otherwise be found out.

You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
  you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
  so that mere earthly mortals
  will never again strike terror.

We commit ourselves to you, O Lord.
See our trouble. Hear our cry. Take our grief.
Give us courage to shake the world with your love.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Job 28 (Listen 2:44)
Psalm 9 (Listen 2:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 29 (Listen 2:26Psalm 10 (Listen 2:13)
Job 30 (Listen 3:14Psalm 11-12 (Listen 1:59)

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The Moon and the Cross

Scripture Focus: Psalm 8
1 Lord, our Lord, 
how majestic is your name in all the earth! 
You have set your glory 
in the heavens. 
2 Through the praise of children and infants 
you have established a stronghold against your enemies, 
to silence the foe and the avenger. 
3 When I consider your heavens, 
the work of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, 
which you have set in place, 
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, 
human beings that you care for them? 
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels 
and crowned them with glory and honor. 
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; 
you put everything under their feet: 
7 all flocks and herds, 
and the animals of the wild, 
8 the birds in the sky, 
and the fish in the sea, 
all that swim the paths of the seas. 
9 Lord, our Lord, 
how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

John 15.5
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Reflection: The Moon and the Cross
By John Tillman

In 1969, Buzz Aldrin, an elder in his church, got permission to take communion elements to the Moon. From the Moon’s surface, he radioed Houston, calling for a worldwide moment of reflection. Then Aldrin silently read John 15.5 while taking communion. He read Psalm 8.3-4 over the air on the journey home.

The psalmist who wrote, “You have put everything under their feet,” might be shocked that the Moon would be under human feet one day. But the spiritual reality is even more impressive than the Apollo missions.

Psalm 8 is the first psalm without a hint of lament. It is a perfect circle of praise in the center of a group of psalms that are laments or mixed bags of praises and worries. 

The enemy, the foe, and the avenger are silenced. What stops these forces that oppose God and his creation? Fire from Heaven? A chaotic beast? A mighty warrior? No. At the center of this psalm, we see the power that defeats evil. It is not the command of a king or the sword of a warrior but the praise of infants.

When children praised Jesus, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” religious leaders objected. Jesus was not the Son of David they wanted. He healed the sick and cared for the poor instead of throwing off Rome and stoning adulteresses. Instead of galloping in on a warhorse, Jesus plodded through the streets on a donkey. Jesus defended the children by quoting this psalm.

The contrast of Aldrin’s verses is interesting. In one, we marvel that the God who made the moon and stars condescends to honor humanity. In the other, we see the depth of that honor. Jesus sits with his followers at Passover. He has just washed their feet. The one whose fingers formed stars scrubbed dirt from human toes. He is about to die on their behalf. The one who hung the moon will hang on a cross. Then Jesus tells his disciples they can do nothing without him.

God uses the weak to oppose what is strong and what is humble to shame what is proud. If we give Jesus our childlike praise, we will find strength for our steps, no matter who scoffs at our weakness. Let childlike praise strengthen our steps for the great leaps of faith he will show us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Job 27 (Listen 2:21)
Psalm 7-8 (Listen 2:58)

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