Proper 25(B): Full and Abundant Life

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By: The Rev. Jerrod McCormack

Many of us will be deeply familiar with the story of Job. He is a man who loses everything as part of a divine wager in which the accuser is allowed to take away all of the wealth and privilege that he has been privy to throughout his life. As part of the test, the accuser takes Job’s fortunes, his friends, and even his family. Even Job’s wife tells him that it would be better for him if he would simply curse God and die. (Job 2:9)

Can you even begin to imagine what that must have been like? That everything you ever possessed was taken away and even your family turn their backs on you. They were convinced that Job had done something wrong to bring God’s wrath forth on himself. However, throughout this whole theodicy, that is the experience of the absence of God, it becomes so incredibly clear that this is not the consequence of Job having done something wrong. That was the dominant theology of the day. If you’re wealthy it’s because God has blessed you and if you’re poor then that is because you have sinned and God is punishing you. We still see this theology alive and well in what many refer to as the “prosperity gospel.” In the West, this type of theology is often married with nationalistic pride.

But here in the last chapter of the book we come to this passage that speaks about the restoration of his wealth and his family. The passage tells us that “The Lord blessed the latter days of Job’s life more than his beginning…”

I can’t help but wonder what it truly means to be blessed by God? Is that a life that comes with rich resources? Is it a life that comes easily? Or is it free from defeat or disappointment? I can’t bring myself to hold that any of those things are reflective of what it truly means to be blessed by God. For the sake of transparency, I should own my understanding is shaded by my own experience of life. My experience of life teaches me that not a single one of us escapes this life unscathed by challenges, difficulties, defeats, and disappointments. These things are simply consequences of being ‘alive.’

I’ve met with so many people who are struggling and asking the question of “Why is this happening to me?” It’s a question that many of us struggle with when we’re in these difficult places. We can be tempted to think that it’s because we did something or we didn’t do something we should have. Often, we are in difficult places because we’re alive and managing the struggles and challenges of life is just a part of it.

A wise young woman once said, “Why not me? Why am I so special as to be spared the pains and challenges of life?” I was privileged to know her for a significant chunk of her life and mine. I now find myself asking that question more regularly in the places where I am tempted to ask why instead I wonder why not me?

The last verse of this passage is one that really prompted my imagination. In spite of all the trials and challenges that Job had overcome, the scriptures record that when he died, “He died old and full of days.” (v. 17)

What does it look like to live a life that is “full of days?” I am convinced that it means living our lives to the fullest that we can. It means finding our passions in life and embodying them fully and by doing so to make life full and abundant.

We can see this in the life of artists who give up big careers and lots of money to pursue their art. We see it in the lives of those who devote themselves to the religious life for the sake of the world. We see it in the people who devote their lives to making this world a better place with one act of compassion at a time.

In the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic, I’d be remiss to not mention the men and women who have given their lives to provide care for those who are sick and dying at great personal risk to themselves and their families.

St. Teresa of Calcutta famously said, “In this life, we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Finding that great love and making it manifest in the world is one of the ways that we can live our lives “full of days.”

What will it look like for you to live your life “full of days?”

The Rev. Jerrod McCormack is originally from Alabama and now resides in Calgary Alberta. He holds an Associate Degree in Pre-Medical Studies from Hiwassee College, Madisonville, TN; a Bachelor Degree in Biology from Tennessee Wesleyan College, Athens, TN; and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY. He began his career in ministry as a pastor in the United Methodist Church some 20 years ago in East Tennessee. He became an Anglican in 2012 and was ordained a deacon in 2018 and priest in 2019. Jerrod is currently the Spiritual Health Practitioner and Team Lead for Spiritual Care at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Alberta Canada. His passions include nature, mountains, photography, hiking, and kilt making.

Proper 22(B): The Call to Integrity

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By: The Rev. David Clifford

The texts for the Proper 22 also happen to fall on World Communion Sunday. This is a rather challenging group of texts to incorporate into world communion Sunday, so I would recommend those preaching this Sunday to pick a theme and work from there. The scripture readings offer a few different suggestions. A main theme found throughout Job, Psalm 26, and Hebrews seem to be integrity. God boasts of Job’s integrity. The psalmist brags of personal integrity. And Hebrews speaks to Christ’s integrity. The Gospel reading seems at first not to fit into this theme of integrity as it deals with marriage, divorce, adultery, and entering the kingdom of God like children. However, I would argue that Christ’s integrity is on display within our Gospel reading.

Some of Jesus’ teachings are difficult to hear and near impossible to practice. However, his devotion to the ancestors of the faith and the ways in which God is constantly at work through our lives is always on full display. I believe this shows us a glimpse of the incarnation. In Jesus’ life, we see the divine and the creator. It is a life that is always pushing us to be more connected and more engaged with those we might otherwise wish to avoid.

Jesus is constantly engaged with the religious leaders who often attempt to test him or trick him. Of course, we must be careful here not to equate these religious leaders with the Jewish people (a common mistake that has had terrible fallout throughout our history). Instead, I find it helpful to equate the religious leaders of the Gospels with ourselves. After all, we are constantly looking for the loopholes in our lives of faith. Too often, we attempt to read only the parts of scripture that fit into our narrative rather than reading the entirety. Too often, we attempt to turn Christ into what we want him to be rather than who he is and who he is calling us to be.

In this way, we find another connection to the theme of integrity. In order for us to be complete and truly whole, we must be the person God has called us to be and live the life of love Christ calls us to live. I had a professor once who would often teach that integrity is the things you do when no one is around. Christ calls us to a certain life and too often we fail the test of integrity in attempting to live in a different way.

In Mark chapter 10 verse 14 we find a very interesting thing happen. We are told that Jesus is “indignant” that the disciples would rebuke people bring their children to him. The NIV translates aganakteo into indignant. You can also find this word translated to “displeased” in some translations. In any case, Jesus is upset with the disciples.

The interesting part of this particular passage is that this is the only use of aganakteo to describe Jesus’ emotional state in the Gospel of Mark.[1] There are only two others uses of this word in Mark’s Gospel. One is found in chapter 10 verse 41 when the disciples become indignant with James and John about them asking to sit at the right and left of Christ. The other is found in chapter 14 verse 4 when some gathered there become indignant about the unnamed woman using such expensive perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet. (Interestingly, this seems to be the last straw for Judas, because right after this he goes to the chief priests to set up Jesus’ betrayal.)

There is, of course, much written and preached about the example of children within Christ’s teaching of the faith. This particular passage even suggests that it if we do not receive the children, we can not enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus often seems to be able to take time to enjoy the innocence of the children around them. I often picture Jesus as one who is willing to learn from the children around him: from their curiosity, their playfulness, and even their integrity. Children often give you exactly who they are. They have not yet learned the various social norms of society and thus are willing to tell you exactly what is on their minds. Something many pastors have learned during an embarrassing answer to a question asked at the children’s moment of a worship service.

As a parent of three children myself, I am also struck by the things I have learned from my children. Sometimes the skeptical introvert in me can be caught off-guard by their innocent willingness to have conversations with everyone they meet. Of course, the adult in me often worries about stranger-danger and the need to protect them. And yet, there is something pure about the way they live into who they are and who they have been called by God to be.

Even in the midst of devastation to his family, his life, and his health, God boasts of Job’s integrity – proclaiming him to be a blameless and upright man. There is a word in these texts that calls upon our own integrity – it challenges us to be who we have been created to be. But we are also challenged to find the pure love of Christ in who others have been created to be. In my own experience that is so much more difficult.

In those moments when who we are crashes headfirst into who someone else is, we may be challenged to fall into indignation. It would be wise for those preaching from these texts to explore the ways in which our indignation can open up the Kingdom of God for more people rather than close it off. Who knows, maybe there is a connection to this theme of integrity and World Communion Sunday after all? However we spread this word, remember that Christ takes the children of God in his arms, places his hands upon them, and blesses them. I pray all those that hear these words from God would feel the same.

[1] Oh, Kirsten S. “October 3, 2021 Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22/World Communion Sunday.” The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2021. Ed. Tanya Linn Bennett. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020. 67.

The Rev. David Clifford is the senior minister of First Christian Church in Henderson, KY. A graduate of Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN. David is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He has served churches in Indiana, Texas, and Kentucky. He currently lives in Henderson, KY with his wife and three children, rides his bicycle, enjoys reading, coaches a local archery team, and enjoys learning about the history of such a wonderful town.