Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Did God Send This?

Job 1:1;2:1-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; Mark 10:2-8
October 7, 2012
© 2012

Job and His Family, copper engraving by William Blake (1757–1827)

I.                Last week I mentioned how in the seventeenth century Dimitri of Rostov defined prayer as gazing unswervingly at God. But what if all you see is impenetrable darkness?

A.            In his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) wrote that the spiritual life is a rhythm of consolations and desolations (¶ 313-337). Returning to the book of Job in my seasons of desolation, I have learned that when impenetrable darkness is all I can see, the night is as bright as day to God. I was first encountered by Job as a senior in public high school in World Literature class. To tell the story today would be a distraction, but it was the turning point that I still consider the beginning of my adult faith journey. I have taught and preached Job. My study of Job has included a post graduate class. When I saw Job was in the lectionary for October, I wanted to share Job with you in a way that I hope you will find insightful and inspiring.

B.            To make sense of Job requires some understanding of its literary form. It is a stylized drama not unlike ancient Greek drama such as Sophocles or Euripides wrote, little action but profound eloquent poetry. Almost all of the action comes in the prologue (chapters 1-2) and epilogue (chapter 42:7ff), which are prose. The first half is dialog between Job and his three friends.  The second half is monologues by Job, a fourth friend Elihu, and God. Between the halves is a hymn to wisdom. Scholars have tried to figure out if these pieces were once separate and put together to make Job or if they were written at the same time by the same person. If you push too hard on that, you can turn Job into a fable disconnected from the reality of life. If you lean too far in the other direction and try to make a literal history as though Job was a script for a home video, it becomes distorted and even silly. My approach is to assume the suffering of a man named Job inspired a magnificent artistic creation through which we recognize that if all we can see when we gaze unswervingly at God is impenetrable darkness, the night is as bright as day to God.

C.            Perhaps you have heard people talk about the “patience” of Job. That comes from the King James Version of James 5:11, which misses the point of Job. The NIV says “perseverance” and the NRSV says “endurance.” These get at it a little better but I think the RSV may be closest when it says the “steadfastness” of Job, implying his relentless relationship with God. Though often used that way, Job is not about explaining why bad things happen to good people. Job is never told what took place in God’s presence, nor is he offered any explanation for his suffering.

1.              Most English translations use “Satan” in the prologue, but the Hebrew word is hasatan. This is the source of the name “Satan” that is used in the New Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures do not mention a Devil; that does not appear until the New Testament. The Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12 refers to an earthly king whose fall has been allegorized as though it described the fall of Satan.

2.              Hasatan actually means “the accuser,” meaning a prosecuting attorney. Hasatan accuses Job of not being as faithful to God as he appears. It occurs a couple of other times in the same way. It has much the same feeling as “the accuser of the brethren” (KJV) in Revelation 12:10. It helps understand the temptation of Jesus as an attempt to prove he was not worthy to redeem humanity.

II.            I hope you didn’t get lost in all of that, but I wanted to get that out of the way so we could focus on Job as a man who wanted to see God. Though you may never suffer as Job did, like Job when you gaze unswervingly at God, all you may see impenetrable darkness. Rather than blaming yourself or cursing God, learn from Job that the night is as bright as the day to God. If this was a Bible study, I’d have you look up the places where Job looked for God (3:23; 9:11; 23:8-9; 24:1).

A.           Twice God starts the conversation with hasatan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Why does God hold Job up as a model of righteousness? Job even acknowledged he was not sinless. But Job did want to see God!

1.              Aware of his children’s spiritual vulnerability, Job repeatedly sacrificed on their behalf.

2.              Aware of God’s compassion for weak and needy people, Job was generous. It is the central theme of Job’s self-defense in his monolog (chapters 29-31). People who want to see God know that generosity and giving are essential to their spiritual health.

3.              The Stewardship Committee has been working on the 2013 budget and the stewardship emphasis for this month of October. I know they have put a lot of work into spending and giving projections. I know they are going to challenge you to make pledge of money, time and energy not just to keep 1st Christian Church going in 2013 but so that you will have the resources to expand your ministry under the leadership of a new pastor. Job is clear that giving is essential for spiritual health. Giving shifts our focus from money as our goal or security to God.

4.              Today the CROP walk helps us shift our focus from ourselves to hurting people whom God loves, beyond those who are close by to the whole world. How appropriate on World Communion Sunday! Job was not an Israelite, yet his story is fundamental to the Hebrew Scripture because God sees all humanity.

B.            Job’s passion to see God points ahead to the Beatitudes where Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) This one line prompted Søren Kerrkegaard to write his book Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Such purity of heart is not so much about moral purity, though that will surely follow, but about having a heart filled with only the desire to see God, undiluted by any other motive, no matter how noble. When the only thing you want is to see God, you will indeed see God, just as Job did, though not on our terms.

III.       If impenetrable darkness is all you see when you gaze unswervingly at God, you should not conclude that you are at fault nor that God has abandoned you. To God, night is as bright as day.

A.           Job’s wife thought that God had abandoned him. “If that’s how God treats you for all your righteousness, God deserves to be cursed. Do it and die!” she suggests. Job responds not only by accepting both good and bad at the hand of God, but by remaining faithful to her as well. In the epilog they are rewarded with children for a second family. Job’s faithfulness to God extends this faithfulness to his wife. This is where I believe the lectionary Gospel from Mark 10:2-9 connects with Job’s story.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

1.              We can push Jesus’ teaching on divorce is opposite directions that defy everything his ministry was about. On the one hand, we can treat it as holding out an unattainable ideal, and so rationalize our marriage failings. On the other hand we can make it into a rigid rule that denies the grace that Jesus was all about. Juxtaposed with Job, Jesus’ words stir in us the yearning to see God in our marital relationships.

2.              This week I saw an excerpt of an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger about his new book Total Recall. He said that infidelity in his marriage was the worst thing he had ever done and it cost him what was most important to him: his marriage to Maria and the respect and love of his children. I won’t imply anything about his faith or ego, but his observation suggests that our unswerving gaze matters.

B.            Job’s friends did well when they sat in silence with him for a week. They were present to him in his suffering. But when they spoke, thinking they were defending God, they dumped blame on him instead of grace. Hasatan was the one looking for blame. God delights in grace!

C.            The impenetrable darkness in which we cannot see God no matter how unswerving our gaze does not mean we are at fault or that God has abandoned us. It only means we can’t see everything. In Psalm 139:12, David said to God, “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” To journey with Christ in impenetrable darkness is to trust God to see what we cannot see.

IV.      Job’s desire to see God anticipated the incarnation in Jesus, in whom we see God.

A.           John’s Gospel introduces Jesus in 1:18 by saying, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” On the night before his crucifixion, in John 14:9, Jesus said to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” That is why the opening of the Epistle to the Hebrews that we read says, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (v. 3)

B.            The book of Job does not explain human suffering, but it does affirm that God is with us in our suffering, even when we can’t see God. Isaiah 53:3 points ahead to Jesus as the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Theologian Jürgen Moltmann has explored what it means that Jesus is the God who suffers along with us. In the middle of the impenetrable darkness, Jesus has gone ahead of us and can see what we cannot.

C.            In a couple of weeks we’ll talk about what happened when Job did see God. It was not at all what he thought he was asking for or expecting. Nevertheless, it was far more satisfying than he could have imagined. I think C. S. Lewis captured that in the description of Aslan the lion who is the Christ figure in The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan is not a tame lion; he is wild. He is not safe, but he is good.

1 comment:

  1. This is absolutely the best sermon that I have received from you, and one of the best of any that I have had the pleasure of reading. (I place St. Augustine's 'Of the Morals of the Catholic Church' at the top of the admittedly short list.) I'll be sharing this for years. Thank you for this gift.