Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

When sudden suffering interrupts ordinary time, how will we testify to God’s goodness?


waves in darkness
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June 23, 2024

First Reading
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Commentary on Job 38:1-11

The season after Pentecost—an extended season of ordinary time—feels like Groundhog Day in the pulpit and pew. But this season invites Christians to dwell, notice, and articulate God’s movement in the ordinariness of life.

Because, for some of us, Job’s story resonates with what is ordinary in our lives.

This week, the first reading is Job 38:1–11. If you are choosing this pericope rather than the crowd-pleaser from 1 Samuel, give yourself a pat on the back. Perhaps you and your congregation are hungry for a message that provides a reflection on our limited view of the cosmos Yahweh created rather than a tidy victory story about David and Goliath.

When suffering interrupts ordinary time

This pericope marks a turning point in Job’s drama. For 37 chapters, humans have been debating the cause of the sudden decimation of Job’s relationships: the death of his entire family, his livelihood, and his reputation. For 37 chapters, Yahweh has been silent. All that is about to change in chapter 38, known as “The Theophany: Yahweh’s First Discourse.”1

The lectionary has not provided any scaffolding for Job. Rather, we dip our toe into a complex and mystifying book for just this one week (my hunch is to connect the wind and waves that Jesus stills in Mark 4 to Yahweh, who speaks to Job from the storm—theophany is often connected to meteorological events). To move forward, you may need to go back in your sermon preparation.

First, ask what question from Job the Lord is answering (38:1).

You will need to go way back in the book of Job to pick up his voice. Since chapter 32, Elihu—whose name means “He is my God” or “He remains my God and does not change”—gives a counter-response to the weak theological responses of Job’s friends (Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad) to Job’s undeserved suffering. As the drama of Job unfolds, Elihu first reframes Job’s question—Why is Yahweh punishing me when I have been a holy man?—by challenging Job to see the suffering not as punishment from God but as helpful discipline, then hints at an intermediary who will restore Job to Yahweh. Then, Elihu poetically articulates Yahweh’s omnipotence and justice.

Not really a surprising response when a guy’s name implies a steadfast commitment to and trust in Yahweh’s plan. Elihu: “He remains my God and does not change.” Names often provide clues to the character of people in the drama of Scripture.

For six chapters, Elihu has had the floor. Now it is Yahweh’s turn to speak to Job.

What does Yahweh say to this helpless man who has lost everything? Like Elihu said, will Yahweh claim that suffering is for the greater good? Will Yahweh, like Job’s three friends, call out secret sins that did indeed lead to Job’s punishment? Or will Yahweh draw back the camera lens to the cosmic level, reinforcing Yahweh’s mystery and our inability to know Yahweh’s ways?

Yahweh pulls back the camera lens, far away from the immediate pain of Job’s circumstances that gave birth to his question, his cry, of “Why?” and does not offer an answer. Rather, Yahweh “assails Job with questions he cannot answer.”2

An invitation to a counter-testimony

In this ordinary-time sermon, where might the preacher focus the message? Will they sound like Elihu, defending God’s omnipotence no matter the circumstance of the one suffering? Will they amplify God’s perspective in the ordinary drama of human life and proclaim the Creator as one set apart with bigger fish to fry than Job’s questions?

Or will the preacher consider adding another voice to the drama of Job, in their sacred imagination? Will they answer Job, answer others in their orbit who suffer, with an alternative perspective on theodicy, suffering, sin, and healing?

Preachers may want to explore Dr. Kimberly Wagner’s Fractured Ground: Preaching in the Wake of Mass Trauma (2023). In this unfortunately necessary text, Wagner offers two preaching forms that resist the narrative tidying that brushes over the pain(s) communities face when suffering interrupts ordinary time. This may be a week not to defend God’s power, but to acknowledge narrative fracture—I thought God was good to those who follow God, so why has this happened? Perhaps this is an invitation to lament with Job, and with the children of Job in 2024, who await the healing of their bodies and souls.

In the midst of ordinary time and in the season after Pentecost, it might be tempting to only focus on God’s self-disclosure in this text; it might be tempting to preach about stars and the cosmos, to ponder images from NASA that make us stand slack-jawed at the awesomeness of God.

But when taken in context, there is a different sort of slack-jawed awe taking place in the drama of Job—sudden loss.

When sudden suffering interrupts ordinary time, how will we as clergy testify to God’s goodness?


  1. Marvin H. Pope, “The Theophany: Yahweh’s First Discourse (38:1–41),” in Job: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (New Haven: The Anchor Yale Bible, 1975), 288–303,, accessed April 11, 2024.
  2. Ibid.
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