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Filtering by Tag: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones - Job: The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors

Job 1:1-5, 13-22

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.

His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.

One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace!  Be s till!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


Today’s theme – the last in this whole “Game of Thrones” series – is inspired by a particular character in the “Game of Thrones” saga. Her name is Malisandre. She is a kind of priestess or evil witch, it seems to me, who does horribly creepy things like seducing men, giving birth to shadows, performing rituals with stolen blood and constantly warning and reminding people that “the night is dark and full of terrors.” She repeats it like a mantra - “the night is dark and full of terrors;” or like a promise - “the night is dark and full of terrors;” or as some kind of threat - “the night is dark and full of terrors;” and also as though it is just a matter of fact, an objective truth - “the night is dark and full of terrors.”

And just like all the other sermons in the series, I don’t believe you have to have seen a minute of the show to find meaning here. Because the night is dark and full of terrors – not just in the world of “Game of Thrones,” but in the real world, too. And that made me think about – and want to spend some time with – Job as part of all of this.

Job is no witch, of course, and he’s certainly not evil or sneaky or creepy in any way. He’s the opposite, actually: a model of faithfulness, a righteous man who gets caught up in a power-play between God and “the Satan,” as the story goes. And we are supposed to read Job as a story – as a parable – as a reflection on suffering; particularly the suffering of the innocent and righteous of humanity. It takes place in a mysterious land called Uz – an apparently made-up place you won’t find on any map – but with real, relevant lessons for us, still.

In the verses we heard this morning, we get just the beginning – and just a taste – of Job’s torment: the surprising, unwarranted loss of everything dear to him – the oxen and cattle and camels; even his servants and all of his beloved children, most significantly. Throughout the rest of the story Job – faithful, righteous, blameless Job – wrestles and argues and commiserates with his friends about the purpose of and the reason for his loss and his suffering. They try to rationalize that he must have done something to deserve it; that God wouldn’t allow the truly innocent, the truly blameless, the truly righteous to suffer like Job was suffering.

And one of the things we love about Job, is that he knows that’s not true – he’s living proof that the righteous, the innocent, the faithful of God do suffer on occasion – that the night is dark and full of terrors, sometimes. And one of the other things we love about Job is that he’s in such a loving, faithful relationship with God – he’s so darned righteous – that he has that conversation with his maker, boldly and without shame. Job challenges God with hard questions in the face of his grief. Job begs God to end his suffering, by any means, necessary. Job lets God know how broken and hurting and full of despair he’s become.

And ultimately, at the end of Job’s story, God shows up for Job. And, while God doesn’t give Job any easy answers, God reveals for Job the vastness of God’s power in creation – and of Job’s place and perspective in the midst of all God has made. God has made a world that is beautiful, for sure. But God leaves it – and all of us – to our own devices a lot of the time, so it’s broken, too, this world where we live.

The night – and the day, and our lives in this world – can, indeed, be dark and full of terrors.

So we empathize with Job, because we know where he’s coming from, don’t we? He’s not just some character… in a parable… from a galaxy, far, far away. Job is us. Job is you and me and all of humanity asking hard questions about the unfair, unreasonable, unbearable-at-times terrors and trials and suffering and pain that find us and threaten us more often than we’d like.

Job is every loved-one, still grieving in Dayton and El Paso.

Job is every parent who’s lost a child. Job is every child who’s lost a parent.

Job is anyone and everyone who’s lost everything – or who has ever felt like all is lost.

Job is any one of us at any time that we’ve questioned God’s love for us; or God’s love for the world; or God’s presence or providence or power in our lives.

I had Job on the brain this week, when I watched Anderson Cooper interview Stephen Colbert on CNN. The interview was full of all the politics and humor you’d expect. And if you know anything about Stephen Colbert, who seems as smart and faithful and Biblically literate as he is funny, the rest of the conversation might not have surprised you. I want to share a bit of it because – even though they never mention his name – it was pretty much a study in the theology and the lessons of Job, if you ask me.

The little back-story you need to know here is that Stephen Colbert lost his father and two of his older brothers when he was just 10 years old. They were killed in a plane crash. And, as you may also know, Anderson Cooper lost his own father when he was just10, as well. He lost his brother to suicide when they were both in their early twenties. And his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, died just this past June. So, like Job and his friends in the Old Testament story, these two men were commiserating about the nature and purpose of suffering – their own and the suffering in the lives of others.

Cooper: You told an interview that you have, in your words, “Love the thing that I most wish had not happened.” You went on to say, “What punishments of God are not gifts?” Do you really believe that?

Colbert: Yes. It’s a gift to exist. It’s a gift to exist. And with existence come suffering. There’s no escaping that. And I guess I’m either a Catholic or Buddhist when I say those things, because I’ve heard those from both traditions.

But I didn’t learn it - that I was grateful for the thing I most wish hadn’t happened, as that I realized it. Is that.. and it’s an oddly guilty feeling…

Cooper: Its doesn’t mean that you are happy that it happened.

Colbert: I don’t want it to have happened. I want it not to have happened. But, if you are grateful for your life, which I think is a positive thing to do… not everybody is… I’m not always… but it’s the most positive thing to do, then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for.

And, then, so what do you get from loss? You get awareness of other people’s loss…

Cooper: Well that’s true. Empathy.

Colbert: …which allows you connect with that other person, which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it means to be a human being, if it’s true that all human beings suffer.

So, at a young age, I suffered something so that by the time I was in serious relationships in my life, with friends or with my wife or with my children, is that I have some understanding that everyone is suffering and, however imperfectly, acknowledge their suffering, and to connect with them and to love them in a deep way, that not only accepts that all of us suffer, but also then makes you grateful for the fact that you have suffered, so that you can know that about other people. And that’s what I mean. It’s about the fullness of your humanity.

What’s the point of being here and being human if you can’t be the most human you can be? I’m not saying ‘best.’ ‘Cause you can be a bad person and most human. I want to be the most human I can be and that involves acknowledging and ultimately being grateful for the things that I wish didn’t happen because they gave me a gift.

Cooper: One of the things my mom would often say, she said that “I never ask, ‘Why me? Why did this happen to me?’” She would always say, “Why not me? Why would me be exempt from what has befallen everybody, countless others over the centuries?

And that’s another thing that has helped me think, “Yeah. Why not me? This is part of being alive. I mean, the suffering is, you know, sadness, suffering, these are all … you know … it’s … you can’t have happiness without having loss and suffered.

Colbert: And in my tradition, that’s the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ, is that God does it, too. That you’re really not alone, that God does it, too.

The thing about Job – and any lessons we stand to learn about our own suffering, from his – is that these lessons are hard to come by, in the moment, when we need them most. Just like Colbert said he didn’t “learn it” as much as he “realized it” [over time and through his faith and in experiences with others], Job couldn’t learn or see what he needed to learn in the depths of his suffering and despair, either.

It took time and patience and wrestling with his maker. It took a wider view of God’s creation and a realization that it wasn’t, ever, all or only about Job. Job realized that it was a gift to be just a part of all that God had so lovingly, carefully made. And, as hard as it is can be to abide, “the night is dark and full of terrors,” for sure. And never mind the “terrors,” the really big stuff that threatens to crush us. The night is dark and full of trials and tribulations that test our patience and cause us to stumble and challenge our faith, just the same – “storms” literal and figurative; cosmic and close-to-home.

It’s why I like this Gospel story of Jesus, in that storm-swamped boat with the disciples, paired with Job’s story. Much like Job wondered of God, the disciples are terrified and concerned that Jesus, asleep in the back of the boat, doesn’t care that they are perishing. And just like God did for Job, in the end, Jesus reveals the power of God over all of creation. Even the wind and the sea obey him!

This wasn’t a magic trick. This was Jesus showing the disciples – in the midst of their terror – the same thing God showed to Job in the midst of his – and something we’d do well to wrestle with whenever we can muster the faith: that trials and tragedies come; that fear and failure happen; that death and disease and suffering and sadness occur; that the night is dark and full of terrors; that God never promises us otherwise and that there’s not always anything we can do to avoid it.

But there is always hope.

Earlier in that same interview, Stephen Colbert told Anderson Cooper something he learned from his mother, about struggle and suffering, over the years, and that was “to see everything in the light of eternity.”  To see all things in the light of eternity.

None of what scares or saddens us most is any match for the love of a God who suffers for and with us, when we do. None of what breaks our hearts on this side of eternity is any match for the grace of God who already lives on the other side of heaven.

Our God suffers and survives, to let us know we will, too.

Our God silences the wind, to let us know love always gets the last word.

The night is dark and full of terrors, but our God’s light shines in the darkness, our God’s mercies are without limit, and our God’s faith, hope and love never end.

Amen

Game of Thrones - David: Flawed and Faithful Keeper of the Crown

2 Samuel 11:1-5, 14-17, 26-27

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord…

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner.”

Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”


So, King David is kind of a mess, right? He gets as much praise and prominence in the story of our faith as he does infamous notoriety for the transgressions we just heard about in 2nd Samuel. Not only is he lifted up and revered as the slayer of giants, as the composer of psalms, as the wise and faithful king during the Golden Age of Israel’s monarchy … but all of that is tarnished, not just by his selfish, misogynistic infidelity with Bathsheba (which might actually, fairly be considered rape, under the circumstances), all of his glory is stained, too, by his strategic, sneaky, underhanded, manipulative murder of Uriah, her husband and one of David’s own faithful soldiers. It’s another story that seems straight from the cutting room floor of “Game of Thrones.”

And all of that sin did more than just stain David’s legacy and the way we’re forced to remember and wrestle with what we know of his history. David’s sin impacted him and his reign in real time, too. The days and years following that transgression against Bathsheba and that tragedy for Uriah were filled with more of the same for David, for his family and for the kingdom under his rule, too. In spite of the forgiveness he is promised by the prophet Nathan, in the verses that follow what we just heard, David’s life and that of his family were filled with the consequences of his sinfulness … filled with even more shame and struggle, more rape and revenge, more deception and death, more trickery and tragedy, and so on. We just don’t have time to read or recount it all this morning.

Sin, for David – and for so many of us, it seems to me – can have a cumulative effect on our well-being, until we find a way to mitigate and mend its brokenness in our lives.

When I was a kid – maybe in the 2nd grade – old enough to know some bad words but young enough to get into lots of trouble for saying them. I was playing football with my brother and some friends one day. At some point during the game, I did a bad thing … I said a bad word … a word that’s bad by grown-up standards, never mind that I was in elementary school … and my older brother heard me. And I don’t remember how long exactly, but for a very long time it seemed, my brother would bribe me with his knowledge of my sin.

If he wanted me to do something for him, he’d threaten to tell my parents until I did it. If I was on his nerves, he’d promise to tell my mom or dad about that thing I’d said until I left him alone. If he wanted something from me, he’d hang my sin over my head until I gave in.

It was a miserable position to be in. I felt helpless and at my brothers’ mercy. I was frustrated and angry that he had that kind of power over me. I was scared to think of what kind of grounding I might get if my parents found out about their youngest son’s potty mouth. And, I think most of all, I was embarrassed to think about their reaction to what I had done.

Now, I don’t remember anything specific … I wasn’t the King of Israel, so my power and influence were limited … but it’s easy to see how my sin affected my every day life. It was intrusive and harmful and fear-inducing, like a little Scarlet Letter eating away at my conscience and my sweet, slightly less than innocent, pre-pre-pubescent soul.

Which is what the power of sin – what the consequences of sin – can do in our lives. And most of us don’t need a vindictive older brother’s help with this. Our sin eats at us. Sin nags and gnaws at us. Depending on how severe or shameful, how dramatic or damaging our sin might be, it can impact and influence, it can cloud and color every part of our existence, like it did for King David, in spite of his faithful desire to do and to be otherwise.

Well, I wish I’d have known my Bible better when I was a kid. Because if I’d known about this morning’s Gospel story – about this woman with her alabaster jar of ointment; about Jesus and the grace of God he offered – I might have handled things with my brother differently.

See, Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus over for dinner and this woman ‘from the city’ hears about it, shows up and has the nerve to anoint the feet of Jesus with a jar of ointment and her tears. Simon can hardly believe it and, had he had the chance, he likely would have told the woman to stay away – that she wasn’t worthy of his company, let alone the company of Jesus. He might even have threatened, like my brother, to tell Jesus all he knew about what made her so sinful.

But, there was something Simon didn’t know. Simon hadn’t heard all that the woman with the alabaster jar had heard about Jesus, this prophet from Galilee. And I don’t think we always hear it, or believe it, either.

See, this woman’s tears weren’t only – or even primarily – repentance for her sin. What I mean is, Jesus doesn’t offer her forgiveness because she showed up with that ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. If you look closely and use a little imagination, you’ll see that she must have known something about God’s grace and her own forgiveness before showing up to that dinner party. How else would she have had the nerve to invite herself into the home of a Pharisee, interrupt dinner and get so cozy with a stranger?

And besides that, Jesus says it plainly: “her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” “Hence she has shown great love.”  “Hence…!” Jesus seems to imply that the grace of God – the forgiveness she craved – had already come. And her anointing – her tears and her ointment – were a repentant, joy-filled response to the love of God and to the forgiveness she already knew and expected from Jesus.

But that’s a hard thing for us to swallow sometimes. No matter how much we talk about grace; no matter how often we remind ourselves that God’s love and forgiveness come with no strings attached – we still make room for our own guilt, for our own shame and for our own ability to point fingers and place blame and cast judgment on those who sin differently than we do. And we still let the shame of our sins do a number on our own lives, too.

But, as always, Jesus shows us a different way. Just like he knew the truth about the woman, God knows the truth about us, already. Just like Jesus had no illusions about her moral status in the eyes of her community, God has no illusions about our sin, either. And, what’s amazing is that none of it scares Jesus off. What’s amazing is, if anything, her sin – like our own – just gives Jesus a chance to reveal his tremendous capacity and desire to forgive.

One day, some time after that R-rated football game of my childhood, I couldn’t appease my brother any longer. I don’t remember the circumstances – if I was tired of trying or if my brother just got that mad about something – but he finally told my dad about the horrible thing I had said that day.

I remember that he warned me he was going to tell him. I remember him marching up to the kitchen while I listened in fear from the other room. And I remember, much to our surprise – and to my complete relief – that my dad said simply, “When your brother’s ready to talk to me about that, we will.”

And, in my little boy’s heart, I think I felt some measure of what that woman was feeling when she kissed the feet of Jesus. Surprise. Relief. Unburdened. Forgiveness. Grace.

I had a conversation with Rob Saler, our resident theologian, earlier this week, and he said something off-hand that caught me off-guard because it was surprisingly relevant to all of this for me. We were talking about the nature of sin and its impact on our lives and he said, “When you’re sick, you don’t get well again, just to please your doctor.”

“When you’re sick, you don’t get well again, just to please your doctor.”

If Sin is our sickness and God is our Great Physician, we don’t go about the work of repentance and forgiveness, of receiving God’s gift of grace, of changing our sinful ways, just to make God happy. We’re called to go about the work of repentance and forgiveness – of righteous, faithful living – because God knows our lives are blessed and better for doing so, as is the world around us.

God doesn’t demand our repentance, our obedience, our faithfulness or our love.  God isn’t keeping score of our sins and indiscretions any more than God is keeping score of our good works and our acts of faithfulness.

God wants us to be well, because God loves us; because God knows what the power of sin can do in and to and through our lives. God wants us to be well, not because our sins ruin God’s day or because God can’t handle the burden of our brokenness – Jesus’ death and resurrection have proven otherwise.

No. What God wants for us is to live – on this side of heaven – in freedom from fear; liberated from our shame; set loose in the world to love like Jesus did: openly, generously, widely, courageously, without limits. King David couldn’t seem to do what that sinful woman from the city managed – and that to which each of us is called: to live with gratitude for the abundant forgiveness of all of our sins – forgivness which has already come – until the truth of that grace releases us and inspires us and moves us to love ourselves and the world because of it.

Amen

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.