Monthly Archives: February 2021

Sunday Worship at MtE – 28 February 2021

The worship service for Sunday 28 February 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

28 February – The Cost of Discipleship

View or print as a PDF

Lent 2

Genesis 17:1-5,16-17
Psalm 22
Romans 4:13-17
Mark 8:31-35

Sermon preached by Rev. Bruce Barber

‘Jesus called the crowd, with his disciples, and said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me”.


The first requirement of a text like this is to remind you that I am preaching to myself. Many may find this observation ludicrous, certainly those absent from what we are about to engage with. Perhaps even you who are present! But trust me – preachers must always be seeking to be convicted by their own words. This means that for the next few minutes you are simply being invited to overhear the conversation that this text has been having with me, not just by way of preparation in recent days, but for virtually an adult lifetime.

We read this text in the season of Lent. Lent has long been a time for denial. But what has to be denied? One answer has been a symbolic yielding of something we take as normal, and actually like, even something as banal as giving up chocolate. The problem, you see, is that despite what we “give up”, self-consciousness remains. “See what I am giving up” we will be saying to ourselves, possibly even happy to share our deprivation with others.

The point is that we are not called to DENY the self. We are called to deny THE SELF.  Nothing could be more offensive to the contemporary spirit of the age than to deny the self.  We are obsessed with it. We feed it; we clothe it; we educate it; we bring it to church – or not; we take it on holiday; we exercise it; we medicate it; many tattoo it.  Deny it? The whole thing’s absurd. We can all give something up; what we can’t readily do is to give ourselves up. So, in the face of this text, everything we think we want comes crashing down. No self left, only death, figuratively if not literally. Not to put too fine a point on it, Jesus is simply saying: Game over.

Therefore, if any text requires a crash helmet for a preacher, as well as potential hearers, this is it. It simply reduces us all to nothing. We could, in other words, just pack up now and go home – a risky invitation for a preacher to make, since you might do just that. And because of the burden of this text, I certainly would need to be first out the door.

But there is a let-out: “If”. This tiny word: “If”: “If any want to become my followers….”  We can breathe again. “If” means that it’s possible to say: “I don’t want to follow”. The vast majority of our contemporaries have so decided. These are surely the crowd that Jesus has in front of him. And presumably he is on side with this defiance. “If” says it all. “If” is simply saying: “If denial of the self is too hard, then go away. You are not ready for what I have to offer”.

Stupefaction on our part, surely!  How can this be since, if we have learnt anything, it is that Jesus loves everyone willy-nilly, consequently assuming that everyone is some sort of closet disciple? But this text, with its fluid boundary between crowd and disciples, poses the serious question as to which are which. It contradicts our common assumptions. It invites us to imagine our Church notice boards saying, instead of “Everyone Welcome”. something like: “If you’re not serious, go away”. A proposal, in any case, which is entirely superfluous in the culture we inhabit.

If you think that I can’t be serious, Peter has just been told precisely to do that. The question then is pertinent. Even if not quite as extreme as “go away”,

what does: “Get behind me, Satan” imply?  To be called Satanic by anybody is certainly confronting, indeed decidedly offensive, especially in Peter’s case by his presumed Mentor, and, what’s more, in the hearing of a surely astonished crowd.

What had Peter done to deserve such a dressing down?  He had made an apparently trivial but fundamental theological blunder. Despite his orthodox confession, ”You are the Messiah”, he simply got the point of it all wrong. He assumed that Messiahship meant the evasion of self-denial – even for a Leader. Well, Peter may have taken the hit, but he is not alone. For immediately we are told: “Turning, and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter. So, he’s not a solitary individual; the crowd as well as disciples are as one, we’re all being looked at; we are all likely to get Lent wrong. But there is still time.

Get behind me” may look like “Go away”, but it is actually a call to radical discipleship, to get Lent right. “Get behind me” really means “Walk behind me”, or better still, “Imitate me as you walk beside me”. Like Good King Wenceslas’ servant, the command is simply the offer of renewed time to tread the master’s steps. For us, of course, it will not be snow but likely deep sand that will be our metaphorical impediment.

The point is that the world looks different when we fall in behind. This morning we have been offered a clue as to this monumental difference. It is this. When God comes to Abraham and Sarah their known self disappears. “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham”; and: “As for Sarah your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name”. The reality of God’s coming means that names are changed, and names are changed because selves are changed. In like manner, Saul became Paul, Simon became Peter. Note, then, the wonderful irony of this name change right here. Prior to this exchange, Simon had already become Peter, the so-called rock, because he had already accepted discipleship. But he got that original call, and therefore his name, wrong. Consider the risk, then, as the cross is signed on the forehead of the baptismal child to accompany the question: “What name do you call your child?

When God comes, names are truly conferred and the known self is transformed. This is why the little word “if” is so crucial – absolutely crucial – crucial, crux, cross! “If” goes with Cross. As the known self is being dissolved, two signs are being realised; the first sign is that the cross is being taken up; the second, that we are learning what it means to follow. Two different metaphors offering the promise of life.

What do we make of the cross? It had only one meaning in the Roman Empire – a political and military punishment inflicted on those who had no rights – slaves, violent criminals, those whose elevation had to be suppressed to safeguard law and order in the State. Here taking up the cross was specific; the individual not only had to carry his own cross to the place of execution, but as the ultimate humiliation, he had to be naked.

If we do not know what the cross might possibly mean for us, then nakedness does the job. In this we have been helped over the past twelve months by the world’s experience of intermittent mask wearing, bringing home to everyone as it does how little control we have over our lives. Behind the mask: Who am I? and Who are you?  The imposed camouflage of mask-wearing has paradoxically exposed the human experience of all the other camouflages we invariably adopt throughout our lives. As the mask strips to the bone all the self-images we have constructed, it helps us to understand what might be involved in experiencing the nakedness of the Cross.

This is why the third calling after that of self-denial, and taking up the cross, is simply: “Follow me”. The command is compelling in its simplicity. Almost 60 years ago, I found myself at the airport in Geneva. It was the early days of Jumbo jets. Here was this huge gleaming cylinder in which 300 selves – a virtual crowd – had given themselves up to the airline’s power, strapped in, all facing the same way, and hoping to arrive unscarred at their destination. But for now, no-one is going anywhere. Then along came this tiny tractor, driven by its equally tiny driver, with a large sign on the back that read: “SUIVEZ MOI: “Follow me”. What a splendid metaphor for the impossibilities of our text! Here we are, in the great bundle of life, all strapped in going nowhere with our improvised camouflages, until, like the miniscule tractor, God comes in front saying simply: “Follow me”. And then we can take off – mask-less possibly for the first time in our life. That this invitation might be accepted is why we must be told:

“If anyone wants ……”;        “If anyone ……”;       “If ……”

MtE Update – February 25 2021

  1. News from the Justice and International Mission Cluster  (February 22) AND February 24.
  2. The most recent Synod eNews (Feb 25)
  3. The nascent UCA City Churches justice network will be meeting again on Tuesday March 9, 7.30pm by Zoom. For the connection details (if you’re not already on the list!), contact Craig. 
  4. UCA Assembly ‘Circles’. The UCA Assembly sponsors ‘circles’ of interest across a range of areas including justice, theology, worship and ecumenics (among others). More information can be found here.
  5. The Assembly also has a new repository for reports, historical documents and such: ‘illuminate’.
  6. Lenten study details are now finalised: Wednesdays 10, 17 and 24, and Fridays 12, 19 and 26, and possibly others. The Friday series will be online — easy to get to, and a great conversion!
  7. This coming Sunday February 28 Job will be on hold, with Rob Gallacher and Bruce Barber leading the service. Some background on this week’s gospel reading can be found here.

Other things of interest

  1. Book Launch: There will be a book launch at St Mary’s on Saturday 10 April at 4 pm: Dorothy A. Lee, The Ministry of Women in the New Testament. Reclaiming the Biblical Vision for Church Leadership (Baker Academic, 2021). The book will be launched by Bishop Kate Prowd and will be on sale for 20% discount. The event will include refreshments by the Hospitality committee. All are welcome!

Old News

  1. Friends of MtE organist Donald Nicholson may be interested in his upcoming concert, Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home!

Advance Dates

  1. Congregational Meeting — March 14, following worship
  2. AGM — April 18, following worship

Illuminating Faith – Lenten Study: Meeting God in Mark

This is not an original Illuminating Faith study but a recommended resource for a Lenten series from Rowan Williams: Meeting God in Mark.

This book has only short but nevertheless illuminating chapters. Williams also offers a structured reading of the whole of Mark’s gospel over the season of Lent.

This book could be used for studies at any time or in any Lent, although they would be particularly useful to lectionary-linked churches during the ‘Year A’ cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary, within which Mark’s gospel features as the set gospel for most Sundays in those years (2021, 2024, 2027, etc.)

Consider the timing of your study series. If using the studies for Lent, there are 6 weeks across which the studies could be conducted (including the week of Ash Wednesday and excluding Holy Week). Williams’ suggested plan for reading Mark’s gospel begins on Ash Wednesday. If the studies were not commenced in that week, participants should be encouraged to begin reading the gospel before the studies commence.

Order hardcopies of the books early enough for delivery! Paperback copies are available from about $AU14 and instantly available electronic copies (including Amazon Kindle) from about $AU6 (2020 prices).

A very brief summary of the three chapters is given below. In addition to whatever questions might arise in your study groups, Williams proposes several questions for reflection on each chapter.

Chapter 1.

  • Williams’ first chapter addresses questions of the What, Who, Where, When and Why of Mark’s gospel.
  • Of particular importance in this chapter is Williams’ invitation to discover more in Mark than simply a collection of stories to believe or not believe. This is the invitation of Mark’s Gospel itself: to allow ourselves to be addressed by the central figure in the story and to enter into the changed state of affairs which his story is said to bring about.

Chapter 2

  • Williams’ second chapter addresses the themes of secrecy, openness and understanding – all important tools in Mark’s telling of the gospel. He writes also about the significance the miracles and teachings of Jesus have (and, perhaps, don’t have) in Mark’s account.
  • Of particular importance in this chapter is Williams’ conclusion that the very substance of the gospel might itself require that we cannot be too precise or clear about what is seen and heard without reducing Jesus to something which less than his whole self and significance. What is at stake here cannot be reduced to simple observations and conclusions.

Chapter 3

  • The final chapter of the book looks at Mark’s account of the death of Jesus, with particular attention given to the unsettling nature of that story and the requirement that we return to it again and again in order to be reminded of its challenge to the easy assumptions we tend to take on about ourselves, others and God.

Sunday Worship at MtE – 21 February 2021

The worship service for Sunday 21 February 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

21 February – Job crucified

View or print as a PDF

Lent 1

Job 42:1-6
Psalm 25
Mark 1:9-15

In a sentence
In Jesus the experience of Job is shown to be God’s very own.

One of the reasons the book of Job has been held in such high regard for the last 2500 years is that we see ourselves in him and his experiences. This is undoubtedly the right thing to do.

By contrast, we don’t identify so directly with the figure of Jesus. We know – faithful confessors of the faith that we are! – that Jesus is ‘one of us’, that he ‘became truly human’, as we will later recite in the Creed. Yet, Jesus is still experienced as rather distant from us-in-Job, at least in the telling of the story.

We began our reflections on Job by drawing a connection – and quite a strong one – between Job and Jesus. This connection is suggested, in part, by what we called the comic narrative arc reflected in the fall and rise of their two stories. Beyond that, there are many things said about Job, which happen to him or which he does, which have clear echoes in the ministry of Jesus. Observing the intercommunication of Job and Jesus is the main reason for looking to Job in this Lenten season.

But if there is this association, what are we to do with our differing experiences of these two figures?

The perennial interest Job generates for us has to do with the sense that, despite its clear historical location, his is a contemporary story. What he experiences and says could be said by any one of us. Job is a person not only of his own time but also of ours. Job’s tale recurs right down through history to the here and now of our very own lives.

By contrast, Jesus is not typically experienced in that way. What happens to us here and now is less something which happens to Jesus than it is something with which Jesus might ‘help’ us. It doesn’t go too far to say that we tend to experience Job as with us, whereas Jesus is cast as in some way ahead of us. We sit with Job but we are to follow Jesus.

And yet, perhaps Job is less with us than at first we imagine. We resonate with the pained righteousness of Job’s ‘Why me?’, but much stranger to us is where Job ends up. By this, I mean not the ‘unrealistic’ restoration of Job at the very end of the book but his humble repentance, as we’ve heard it today.

Can we who love Job because he asks our questions still love him when, in the face of the mighty God of the whirlwind, he acquiesces and repents in dust and ashes? ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear’, Job says, ‘but now my eyes see you’.


I suggested last week that the restoration of Job’s former abundance at the end of the story might be more problematic than the divine game which caused his suffering. Yet perhaps Job’s repentance is more problematic than his restoration, not least because it is the climax of the story.

Does not Job now move ahead of us in our suffering? Are we not now called to follow, to set aside Job’s rage in ourselves and repent with him? Is not Job’s strange answer to God to be our answer as well? And if Job’s response is not enough for us, does not Job, who was so familiar, now become strange? If we previously felt that Job was with us, as distinct from the Jesus who is ahead of us, Job now looks rather Jesus-like: no longer where we are but somewhere out in front.

Jesus out-in-front is who we seem to meet in our Gospel reading today. This is the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, marked with his programmatic, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ On our comparison of Jesus and Job, this declaration and command could be the word of Job’s God out of the whirlwind, which brings about Job’s own repentance. We might say, then, that Job rises to Jesus’ call to repent and believe – that his repentance is the repentance for which Jesus calls.

This is difficult. And if Jesus is ahead of us, and Job leaves us behind to follow him, where does that leave us who feel we can’t ‘repent’ with Job?

If Jesus is already out ahead of us, and Job has now also moved ahead Jesus-like, we are nevertheless not left alone. What becomes apparent when we continue to press the relationship between Job and Jesus is that, if it is the case that Job in his repentance moves away from us, Jesus moves towards us. Or, we might say, Jesus begins to become more Job-like.

‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’. This is about as distant from us as Jesus could be. Yet, with ears still ringing from that divine embrace, Jesus is then ‘driven’ into the desert of human experience, culminating in the cry from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ Is this not the reverberating echo of the whole lament of Job? Is not Jesus now become Job? Job, in whose suffering and questionings we see our own, now suffers on the cross. This is to say that Jesus’ journey to the cross is our own journey to the cross, the filling out of our own Job-like existence.

And yet, Jesus is not only us-in-Job. He is also the Son, the Beloved, and no less so because of the crucifixion. The cross, then, becomes a convergence of our Job-like experience of suffering with God’s own experience of suffering in the Son. We ‘coincide’ with God on the cross.

These are not easy thoughts, and if you’re having trouble following them, so am I!

But if we are to take ourselves seriously – including our resonance with Job – and to take also the story of Jesus seriously as a culmination in God’s story, these are the kinds of things we are pressed to think.

These are no simple thoughts because what we are unpacking here are not steps towards an ‘explanation’ of who we are and why we might reasonably expect a happy ending for ourselves, now or in some afterlife. We will not discover a logical key which opens up resurrection and leaves Job and the cross behind, as both the end of the Job and Easter might seem to do.

Technically, what we have here is a ‘mystery’ – not a problem to be solved but a sheer givenness, in this case the coincidence of God and human being on the cross, and the revelation there of God’s convergence with us, the coming near of God’s reign in the place of godlessness. Mysteries are for contemplation, not for solving.

Job on the cross of the divine Son is not an argument but an occasion for pause. There are no clues in the world to unravel them for us; they are rather clues for unravelling the world. Repentance – whether that of Job or that which Jesus calls for, is not the outcome of a careful argument. Nothing has been proven, not by God’s response to Job out of the whirlwind or even by the miracles of Jesus as responses to those who ask the questions of need. And we might also say in passing that our suffering proves nothing with respect to God, surely one of the clearest things Job’s story has to tell us.

But still the unprovable mystery is asserted: our story and God’s story converge. They converge in the cross but also – just because of this – they converge in the resurrection. This life-in-connection-with-death is the basis of the proposal of last week – that the life of the Christian is a to be lived as if it were a comedy, as if what we see now is but passing, as if there is a deeper secret we know about our whence and hence. This does not give ‘meaning’ to what suffering might be ours now – or to what joy – but it sets our experience in a broader vision.

To repent and believe the good news is to hold that, in all things, God convergences on us – whether our hearts are lifted in this or that joy or weighed down with this or that pain or grief. Jesus’ path to the cross is his path to us, the path of the LORD which is – in the words of our psalm today – always the path of steadfast love and faithfulness.

Steadfast love and faithfulness is God’s gift, and God’s call.

Let us, then, receive God coming to us on this path, in repentance and faith, with Job and all the saints.

MtE Update – February 19 2021

  1. Worship this Sunday February 21 returns to the church for those who would like to attend; the live streaming will also continue as before.
  2. The most recent Synod eNews (Feb 18)
  3. Check out the Hotham Mission web site for an update on what we’re up to!
  4. Friends of MtE organist Donald Nicholson may be interested in his upcoming concert, Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home!
  5. Lenten study details are now finalised: Wednesdays 10, 17 and 24, and Fridays 12, 19 and 26, and possibly others. The Friday series will be online — easy to get to, and a great conversion!
  6. Job Series On most of the Sundays between Feb 14 and Easter (that is, when Craig is preaching), our focus text will be from the book of Job, reading in tandem with the set gospel for the day. This coming Sunday February 21 we will jump from the beginning almost to the end and hear Job 42.1-6. See here for some more information about Job and the series; some background on this week’s gospel reading can be found here.

Other things of interest

  1. Book Launch: There will be a book launch at St Mary’s on Saturday 10 April at 4 pm: Dorothy A. Lee, The Ministry of Women in the New Testament. Reclaiming the Biblical Vision for Church Leadership (Baker Academic, 2021). The book will be launched by Bishop Kate Prowd and will be on sale for 20% discount. The event will include refreshments by the Hospitality committee. All are welcome!

Old News

  1. A primer on pastoral care conversation is being offered in a neighbouring Presbytery; details here.

Advance Dates

  1. Congregational Meeting — March 14, following worship
  2. AGM — April 18, following worship

Lent and Easter 2021


Lenten Studies

Once again we are joining in a Lenten study series with St Mary’s Anglican Church, North Melbourne. This will be a three week series on the Gospel of Mark — the focus gospel in our lectionary this year. Details will be available from the MtE homepage soon!


Ash Wednesday — Wednesday February 17 6.45pm. On account of the present COVID-19 inspired lockdown, this will be a LIVE ZOOM service from 6.45pm. The Zoom link will be sent directly to those who usually receive our weekly eNews mailings; if you don’t receive these but would like to ‘attend’ the service, contact the minister via the email address on the Contacts page

Services will be at the normal time. Check the MtE homepage if there is any doubt as to whether the services will be gathered or online.

Passion Sunday — March 28 — We have usually had a reading of the passion narrative of the year’s appointed gospel on this Sunday; check the MtE homepage closer to the date for any COVID impact on plans for this Sunday and for the following services.

Maundy Thursday — April 1 — A Tenebrae service, 7.30pm (Gathered only, not live-streamed)

Good Friday  — April 2 — 10.00am (Gathered and live-streamed)

Easter Vigil — Saturday April 3 — 8.00pm (Gathered only, not live-streamed)

Easter Day — 10.00am (Gathered and live-streamed)

14 February – Job: A Divine Comedy

View or print as a PDF


Job 1:1-12
Psalm 126
Mark 9:2-9

Jim Carey is not everyone’s favourite actor but what he does he does well – playing the part of the happy-all-is-well punter whose life is suddenly sent into tailspin, as any theatrical comedy begins.

Consider the opening scenes of one of his movies Mr Popper’s Penguins. The hopeful innocence of the young Popper gives way to the charismatic confidence of a New York developer, who seals a difficult property purchase and sets himself up for partnership in the firm. There’s a grey cloud here and there on the horizon but nothing Popper can’t handle until there arrives at his door a couple of crates from his just deceased father: 6 live penguins in a New York apartment.

And so the downward spiral begins, with disaster following crisis following catastrophe until, by some unexpected means, balance is restored and so too is the protagonist.

Compare this now to the beginning of Job

1There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job… 2There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3He 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. 4His 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. 5And 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.

With the right soundtrack and a sufficiently silly grin on his face, the start of the book of Job could be the start of Mr Popper’s penguins. Then begins Job’s own downward spiral. A conversation in the heavenly court sees the floor drop out from under Job’s happy, secure life, and down he goes. He spends quite a while in the depths before his life is finally restored.

There is nothing at all funny about what happens to Job, but the story as a whole itself is comic, in that it follows the same narrative arc as any comedy we might see in a theatre. As Popper’s life is shaken to its roots by a flock of penguins but is then restored at the end with a reconciliation to all which has happened to him, so also is the life of Job. If there is one thing we might take away from this series of reflections on Job, perhaps it could be that the book of Job is a comedy.

Of course, it is almost offensive to speak of Job as a comedy, given what we usually associate with comedy and what Job himself experiences. Must we not take seriously what he experiences, and what many of us have experienced, or are experiencing right now?

Indeed, but the point of noting the comic structure of the book is not to dismiss what happens to Job; it is to set it in context. The comic narrative arc is the basic story structure of the Scriptures themselves. Last week we heard something of the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry, according to St Mark.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John… That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons… And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

This could be the start of the book of Job, or another Jim Carey movie! Jesus is on the field and kicking goals. And, of course, the gospel then follows the comic narrative arc – from the joyful heights of Jesus’ early ministry to the depths of the cross to the even greater height of the resurrection.

In fact, the whole sweep of the Scriptures follows the same pattern, from the creation story of Adam and Eve through the expulsion from Paradise and the long struggle back to the promised restoration in the book of Revelation. The Bible as a whole is a comedy, and so are the leading stories within it. There are – of course – great depths of suffering and loss and despair in the Scriptures, but there is never really tragedy – that narrative arc which also falls but never rises again. Where things are looking catastrophic, irony is in play: not tragic finality but the confidence that there is more going on than meets the eye.

Recognising the comic structure of Job will not make all the tensions in the text go away. Indeed, if we were to take seriously the history of attempts to come to grips with the book, we should not expect that we will resolve these tensions in a few sermons, or ever.

But to see the comic structure of the story, and its correspondence to the comedy which is the whole Scriptural narrative, is to open up possibilities that might have been hidden from us. That the book moves in the same way as the rest of the Scriptures reveals that Job does not stand alone. The book is part of a larger whole: contributing to it, drawing from, reflecting it.

At the heart of that scriptural whole, from a Christian perspective, is Jesus of Nazareth. Today is Transfiguration, and each year the Gospel reading highlights on this day a strange revelation of the identity of Jesus to his disciples upon a mountaintop. Learning that they must see Jesus in the light of the law and the prophets, the disciples hear from the heavens comes the declaration and directive, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.’

This declaration is not far from Job. ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ God asks the Accuser. ‘There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’ The correspondence between the comedy of Job and the comedy of the gospel make the end of Job’s story and the Resurrection of Jesus the same kind of thing. Job and Jesus are ‘kind of’ the same figure.

And so Job’s story is not told as mere history about what happened to happen to one person. As we read his story, reflecting as it does the comic arc of all of the Scripture, we are invited to allow his story to be our own. For many of us, this is easy enough, at least that part of the story in which we are first happy and then suddenly we are not.

And this brings us to what is perhaps even more confronting than the bargain God strikes with the Accuser to attack Job: the very end of the story and final restoration to Job of even more than he lost at the beginning. This is confronting because we know that this is not the usual way of things.

And suddenly the nature of faith is revealed in a new light.

We can imagine that we were blessed and we know that we are suffering – as did Job. But we don’t – ‘really’ – expect things to get better; what happened to Job in the beginning and in the course of his suffering feels like ‘knowledge’ but what happens at the end feels like ‘belief’. It seems we know that life is struggle, yet we ‘only’ believe that all will be resolved.

Job’s happy – ‘comic’ – ending, then, challenges us with the same question at the heart of Christian conviction, the question of faith itself: Do we hold our lives ultimately to be tragedies or comedies?

Not to put too fine a point on it, Christians are comedians. This is not a reference to how funny we might happen to be to each other or to the rest of the world. It is a reference to how we are to read our world and our lives in it. There is no shortage of the passingly tragic, breaking our hearts and the hearts of others. And there is no guarantee that any one of us will die happy and content, whatever else the end of Job’s story seems to imply.

The comedy of Christian existence is found in the confidence that there is more going on than we can see. When we sit down to watch a funny movie we know, whatever happens along the way, that everything will be happily resolved. If it is a good comedy, then we have no idea how it will resolve until the end; we know only that it will. We might take a perverse pleasure in the grimaces and groans of the protagonist but we might also – were it possible – assure him that it will be OK. For the antics of the comic actor are less about the immediate discomfort than they are about what it means: will not my life be tragedy, for surely this catastrophe is insurmountable?

We have heard that all the world is a stage; if that is the case, faith expects the show to be a comedy. In view of that expectation, faith acts against the hopeless and tragic narratives which clamour to have us play our sad part.

We align our lives neither to the tragedy of approaching death nor to a bland steady state of eternity but to the promise in Job and Jesus.

‘There once was a man in the land of Uz named Job’. There once was a man in Nazareth. And somewhere between these two the promise realised in both their lives is a woman in Melbourne, and a child in Cairo, and a man in Beijing: you and I.

Have you considered my servants, God asks the Accuser? They are my Beloved, all.

I have made them, I love them, and I will restore them as mine and myself as theirs. And then will our mouths be filled with laughter, and our tongues with joy.

Sunday Worship at MtE – 14 February 2021

The worship service for Sunday 14 February 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below. Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

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