Column by Mary Lee Talbot.
“The title is suggestive; it is meant to be a puzzlement. Is there something greater than the love of God?” asked the Rev. Marvin McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and the Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplain for Week Five at Chautauqua. His title was “Something Greater than the Love of God,” and his text was Job 1:1-12.
“Most of us have been led to believe that there may not be anything greater than the love of God. Jesus loves me, this I know. Greater love has no man than this. … Now abide these three, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love,” he said. “But what we ought to strive for is trust. Not can we trust God, but can God trust us? Shakespeare said we love all men, and trust but a few.
“There are people you love, but you would not give them your pin number to the ATM. There are people you love, but you would not entrust the care of your children to them. Love is a gift, but trust is at a deeper level. We come to trust over time, as we come through trials, as we prove ourselves to be reliable. You have to be cautious about who you trust.”
McMickle continued, “This is where God is dealing with the devil: Could Job be trusted? God had called in all the seraphim to stop singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ around the throne. He told Gabriel to stop blowing his horn and Michael to put down his sword. Everyone was gathered at God’s command, and someone crashed the party, the one who always crashes the party, always is unexpected and unwelcome — Satan. Now if the devil is not afraid to walk into the house of God, he is not afraid to walk in on you.”
God asked Satan what he had been doing, and Satan said he had been walking on the earth.
“He was checking out the nature of the people of God. And God asks ‘Have you considered Job? He is the only one I know I can trust,’ ” McMickle said.
Satan tells God that of course he can trust Job because he is rich, healthy, has a great family and a good reputation.
“Who would not love you with all of this?” Satan asks. ‘Take something away from him and he will curse you to your face.”
God allowed Satan to test and try Job, but he could not take his life.
“God said, ‘I don’t just love him, I trust him.’ Could God say that about you?” McMickle asked. “Can God trust us never to stray? Whatever the day may bring, can we show that we are trustworthy?”
McMickle described three levels of trust that Job experienced, and we experience, with God.
“Job could be trusted with his prosperity. The pronouns we use to explain our success indicate the kind of spirit we have. We live in a first-person, singular world, and we give credit to ourselves for our success when we did not come by it by ourselves.”
He continued, “I was born at 537 West 56th Place in Chicago where no one was meant to survive. How did I get from 537 West 56th Place to Chautauqua 63 years later? The Lord found me, and put me in his service.”
He quoted a friend from Cleveland: “ ‘If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, it did not get there by itself.’ You know you can be trusted if your pronouns give God credit.”
McMickle described the second phase as the long stretches when prayers are not answered. God says not yet, wait. God wants us to tarry to see if we are patient; it is part of the journey.
“Now what if I was sitting in my office, the pastor’s office, at the pastor’s phone at the time the pastor was supposed to be in the office and the phone rang?
A voice says, ‘Marvin is that you?’
Sitting in my office at my desk at the time I am supposed to be there, answering the phone with my number? Yes, it is me.
‘Do you mind holding while I take another call?’ Do I mind? You called me. Call me back when you have more time,” he said.
But that is just what God does — he has your attention and asks you to hold on.
“He knows what you want and need, but you have to pass the Isaiah 40 test: ‘those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint,’ ” McMickle said. “Now, don’t wait for what you can go out and get. Don’t wait to raise your voice in protest. Don’t wait to do what is in your power to right. You can trust God if you learn how to wait.”
He described his search for a wife.
“If God had listened to me, I would not have her. I was waiting for God to send somebody, and when he did, I thought ‘I do not know how I will handle this.’ As we said in the vernacular of the early 1960s, the chick was fine and easy on the eye,” McMickle said. “But she did not love the Lord and thought Sunday morning was for recovering from Saturday night. I thought I would marry her and then save her. The Lord answered me in English and in a Midwestern accent, ‘Fool!’ Had God ever called you a fool to your face? And almost immediately he brought someone finer to me 37 years ago.”
If you do your part and wait on God, God is sufficient and reliable to do God’s part.
“But what if your children die and your health is gone? When the bottom drops out and every day is not wonderful? When that day comes, can God trust you then?” McMickle asked.
McMickle is a cancer survivor and said that as he was wheeled into the operating room, he reminded the people around him that not only were the doctors and nurses back there, but there was someone else.
“I said, ‘I believe he will guide your hands.’ Can we trust that God has our best interest at stake? I will trust in the Lord, and it will be a repudiation of my circumstances. When a lynch mob is on my trail, when sharecropping ties families to the land in slavery, when the colored signs bring daily humiliation, how will I keep my dignity in a system designed to assault me? I will remind myself every day, I will trust in the Lord.
“There is something greater than God’s love if our pronouns are proper when we are wealthy, if with patience we can hold on, if in times of trials and peril we never forget, as H. Richard Niebuhr said, that you can trust the trustworthiness of our God. That is something even better than his love,” he concluded.
The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion, presided at the service. Alma Adele Gast, a former Abrahamic Program for Young Adults Christian coordinator, read the scripture. The Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.
Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship and sacred music coordinator, led the Chautauqua Choir. Peter Steinmetz, cantor, led the congregation in “Good Shepherd, Guide Me,” a responsorial setting of Psalm 23 by Laurel Elizabeth Whitney. The anthem for the morning was “Prayer for Peace” by Brad Richmond with text from Psalms 120 and 130. The offertory anthem was “The House of Faith Has Many Rooms” by Craig Phillips and Carl P. Daw Jr. The organ postlude was “Toccata” from Suite, Op. 5 by Maurice Duruflé.