Job Part Two

PENTECOST 22B – 28th October, 2012 – St Matthew’s, Guildford
SERMON NOTES

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

After several weeks, we have come to the end of the story of Job.

Round One:

We first encountered Job as the object of some apparent cosmic bet, with the Satan confident that Job would stop serving God if God were to take away all the good things with which God had showered him. God is equally confident that nothing will make Job turn away from him, and so allows the Satan to take everything but Job’s life and wife.

So in very quick succession, the oxen and donkeys are taken by the Sabeans; the sheep are consumed by a fire-storm; the camels are taken by the Chaldeans; and in each case all the servants but one are killed. Then – to crown it all – Job’s seven sons and three daughters are all killed when a huge wind destroys the house in which they are all feasting. Sounds like good material for a country and western song, except there’s no dog!

And we read:

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. 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.’

Round Two:

Satan now attacks Job’s body. He breaks out in “loathsome sores … from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head”, and we find him sitting on a rubbish heap scraping his sores with a shard of broken pottery. His wife – in a proper country song, he’d have lost her too! – encourages him to “curse God and die”. But he doesn’t. This man genuinely serves God out of loyalty and not on account of the blessings he has received.

Round Three:

In the next thirty-odd chapters of the book, Job and his so-called “friends” try to work out why God is doing all this to him. (Unlike us, they don’t know that God is not the agent of the evils occurring to Job). And the “friends” are not helpful. They can only assume – quite forcefully – that Job must have done some great evil to bring about such great disaster.

That’s their theology, and we know that it is still quite common in popular mythology. We live in a culture which is constantly seeking to find and shift blame. And, when all else fails, why not blame God? But you’ve heard me say it, and I’ll say it again, “Stuff happens; but God is in charge”. Not God doing the bad stuff to people – mostly it’s people doing bad stuff to people, or at least not doing the good stuff we should for people.

Round Four:

Last week, we read of God’s patience with Job running out. It’s God’s turn to speak and Job is to shut up and listen!

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

And so it goes, as God gently, but firmly, puts Job in his place. God has the whole picture; Job – along with all of us – is limited by his humanity, his mortality, to small glimpses of what God is about in the world – let alone the whole universe which God created and upholds.

We continue to read:
Then Job answered the Lord:
‘See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.’

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you declare to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?

Following another of God’s lectures to Job, we come to

Round Five:

Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’

Job never learns of the reasons behind his sufferings. Presumably God doesn’t consider that necessary. All that is necessary is that Job trust God. The cosmic battle is not to be his concern; simply the knowledge that God is in charge of all creation and all that happens within it.

Job’s “sin” is his presumption of knowing more than God and being what we might call self-righteous. The writer of the First Letter of John tells us,

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” and adds “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

And so Job confesses his sins of arrogance and self-righteousness. And it is clear that he is forgiven, as we’ll see in Round Seven.
But first, Round Six:

This passage, headed “Job’s Friends are Humiliated” in my Bible, is missing from our Lectionary reading for this morning. It’s the verses 7-9 of chapter 42, and is worthy of our hearing.

”After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt-offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.’ So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.”

This is important for at least two reasons. Job’s “friends”, described ironically in the King James Translation of the Bible as “comforters”, are brought to account by God. They have really got their theology of God wrong – God actually calls this “folly”, you note? They must, as must we all, account for their thoughts and actions. And their sin must be dealt with.

The second important point is that God provides a way for the sins of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar to be dealt with. In this case, sacrifice and the prayers of Job. Job is the “priest” who offers prayers and sacrifices for the “salvation” of Job’s friends.

In the New Testament, we see this grace poured out for all the world in the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s own Son, on the cross of Calvary. Today’s Epistle has it thus:

“It was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.”

And:

“Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

All of our sins – “in thought and word and deed and in what we have failed to do” – are covered and dealt with once and for all through the death and intercession of Jesus.

Back to Job and the final Round:

Round Seven:

“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 donkeys! And another seven sons and three daughters! And, presumably, the same wife! It’s worth noting that Job was way ahead of his time in his attitude to women. His daughters are specifically named – unlike his seven sons.

“He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.”

No “misogyny” here, whatever your definition! 

Job has been to the edge of Hell and back and remained loyal to God and receives great blessing. We may well experience bad things in our own lives, and wonder what God is doing, just as did Job. But his story assures us that God is still in control and is bigger than anything which comes against us. And our confidence is that Jesus our great High Priest, has given his life as the sacrifice for us; he has been to the gates of Hell and overcome; and he lives forever to pray for us.

Let’s finish with those lines from Hebrews:

“He is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

The Lord be with you!

Job Part One

PENTECOST 19B – 7th October, 2012 – St Matthew’s, Guildford
BIBLE READINGS

A few weeks ago, at the Confessions Workshop we clergy attended, two of the speakers were a married clergy couple Charles and Peta Sherlock. Thirty years or so ago, Charles was my lecturer in theology and Peta lectured in New Testament Greek. Peta. who wasn’t in holy orders when we were in college because her gender prevented it, was ordained priest in the first Melbourne group in 1992. Her last appointment, before retiring early this year was as Dean of the Bendigo Cathedral for about six years.

In the talk she gave at the Confessions Workshop, Peta summed up her preaching and teaching in those cathedral years as “Stuff happens, but God is in charge.”

We’ve all, of course, seen tee-shirts with the message “Stuff happens”, only it doesn’t usually say “stuff”. 

In today’s readings from the Book of Job and the Letter to the Hebrews, stuff happens to Job and to Jesus; and to the casual observer, there is little logic or fairness in it.

When some suffering occurs, there are obvious reasons and it is not unusual that the “victim” is in some way at fault – the smoker with lung cancer; the drunk driver who hits a tree and ends up quadriplegic; or the swimmer who ignores the flags and gets caught in a rip.

Other suffering occurs as a direct result of someone else’s malice or neglect – for example, the suffering of victims and families of those murdered, assaulted or abused.

But a great deal of suffering occurs without tangible or visible rhyme or reason – MS, MND, children’s leukaemia and brain tumours, and a lot of other “stuff”.

And we can’t help wondering “Why?” over and over. In the time of Jesus, we know that misfortune, illness and disability were frequently regarded as being the fault of the victim or caused by someone else. Remember the disciples’ asking Jesus about the man who was born blind? “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus’ response, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”, is not particularly helpful, as it almost seems to suggest God made the blindness happen, so that Jesus could perform a miracle, Not good theology, my lecturers would tell me!

So, let’s look at poor old Job. Our reading this morning was only the first verse of chapter one and a chunk of chapter two. I think we need to hear the first chapter to get the whole story, so please bear with me as I read it:

“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 the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘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.’
Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’
The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
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 ploughing 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 worshipped. 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 wrongdoing.”

Then comes what we read earlier, when the Satan is allowed to take away even Job’s health, but not his life. And still Job remains loyal to God. God boasts about Job’s goodness; the Satan “calls his bluff” several times and God allows a great deal of suffering, leaving Job only with boils and a nagging wife. What’s that legendary curse along the lines of “May all your teeth fall out except one, so you can still get toothache”?

Job loses everything and trusts God. In the whole story of Job, from which we’ll be reading for the next few stories, Job never turns his back on God. But he does question, “Why is this happening to me?” He has several “friends” who take him to task while he sits on the rubbish tip scraping his boils with a shard of pottery. And he refutes their arguments, relying on his knowledge that he is a righteous man – just as we know God has told the Satan. I won’t spoil the story by telling you the ending, but feel free to read ahead 

God never deserts Job; and God never deserts us.

The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews points us to another who suffered the loss of everything and ended up naked on a cross and hastily placed in a borrowed tomb. “[W]e see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”

Chapter 2 of Hebrews concludes: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Suffering, we know from experience, is an inevitable and often random part of the human experience. The loss of health, possessions, a job or a loved one will hit us often when we are not the least prepared. I am not convinced that “these things are sent to try us”, as they say. Rather, I want to repeat Peta Sherlock’s words of wisdom, “Stuff happens, but God is in charge.” St Paul puts it another way when he says, “God works everything together for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”.

Jesus has walked the journey before us, as one of us, fully human, not just fully divine.

Stuff happened to Jesus; God was always in charge; and God brought him through death to resurrection. Stuff will continue to happen to us; and God will always be in charge and bring us through to resurrection and newness of life.

The Lord be with you!