7/4/16 – Job 1 – A Question and an Invitation
Posted on July 5, 2016 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s Sermon for July 3, 2016
Text: Job 1
Act 1 – Pious and Prosperous Job (Job 1:1-5; Children’s Sermon)
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.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Job. There are three things you need to know about Job:
First, he was rich. Richer than rich. He had thousands of sheep, cattle, donkeys, and camels. Dozens of servants worked for him. He had children he loved and who loved him. A family that would always have these fancy dinners together. It was said that he was the greatest man in all of the east. Job was a man who was rich in money, and rich in life.
Second, Job loved God. He was faithful. At every one of these fancy dinners, and at every special holiday, Job would give a special prayer and offering to God for his children. He wanted to be sure God knew how much he loved them. See, Job really believed in God, and trusted God all the time. He had a lot of faith. Job loved God.
The big question in the book about Job is: are those two tings connected. In other words, does Job only love God because God is so nice to Job, or does Job love God for who God is? It’s sort of like the love you have for your parents. Do you love them only when they buy you ice cream? Or, do you also love them when they make you eat broccoli? It’s a hard question. We’ll have to think about it for a while.
But there’s one thing about Job that isn’t questioned. Number three: Job was loved by God. That’s just a fact. God says so. God loved Job the way your parents love you – no matter what. And, I think as we think about that other question, we should probably remember that.
Act II: The question (Job 1:6-12)
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.
Some books of the Bible are centered on a story. Some books are centered on a person. Some are centered on an idea. Job is centered on a question.
A picture is painted of a divine conference room. It’s the weekly staff meeting in heaven, and God has everyone give their reports. The angel Floyd Buhler says there’s a leak in the sky above the Amazon, but that it’s leading to some pretty cool life. God says let’s wait and see how it turns out. The angel Elisa Thompson reported on a great VBS and thank God for supporting it. The angel Rex Rudy reports that the distribution of resources on earth is a little out of whack. God says let’s work on a generosity program. The angel Bill Ayen has a very detailed report on a building program down on earth, but God cuts him off when Satan walks in the room.
Or “the Satan” I should probably say. Better yet, the accuser. This isn’t the horned devil you’re imagining, or even a creature of hell. No, the accuser is an angel whose apparent job in this folktale is to point out possible inconsistencies.
And the accuser’s got a good one. There is Job, of whom God is particularly proud. He’s pious beyond imagination. Full of faith and trust. He’s the kind of guy who lives his faith, too. Gives to the poor. Prays for his kids. Avoids anything even remotely bad. One of these guys you’d probably hate, if he wasn’t so nice.
And here comes the accuser’s question: Is Job faithful only because he’s also fortunate? Does Job only love God because God has blessed him? Is he pious only because he is prosperous?
“No,” God says. “No way, not Job! He’s so great.” “But how can you be so sure?” the accuser replies. “I mean think about it. Who wouldn’t love you if you’ve given him all of this stuff? These riches. This wonderful family. If you were to reach out and take all that away from him, I bet he would abandon his faith. I bet he’d curse you.”
And now the conference room has turned into an elementary school yard. The question has become a bet, a wager, almost a dare. And God takes it.
Which is so out of character! As Einstein said: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” This just isn’t how God works. This is more like a Greek myth, with gods arguing and humans as mere collateral damage. And given the vast witness of the Bible which says that indeed God does not make wagers and bets and use us to prove a point in some heavenly board room – I think we can safely say this is not the way God really is.
So, why does the author of Job write it this way? Why does this particular question from the accuser warrant a deviation from God’s character in order to address it – even if it’s just a deviation in folktale form? What’s so important about this question that we’re asked to imagine God willing to make a wager out of it?
Is Job faithful because he’s fortunate? I think this question is so important because it gets at the heart of our faith, at the heart of our covenant, our relationship with God. So, there’s a lot at stake in this question for God.
See, you could read the story of the Bible as the story of a God desperate to form a real, true relationship with us humans. Sure, the Bible is full of blessings and judgements and blessings again. But it’s almost like God is continually hoping for a relationship beyond one in which we hope to be blessed or fear that we won’t be blessed and so act accordingly. God’s hoping that we can move to a relationship beyond self-interest to genuine love.
“Pffff,” the accuser says. “Not even possible.”
“But what about Job?” God pleads.
“Nah, Job’s just like the rest. What you so desperately want, God, what you’d even be willing to die to help create. It isn’t possible. Not even for Job. Let’s bet on it.”
And God takes the bet. Not because God’s the betting sort of God. Not because God’s got some beef with the accuser. And certainly not because God doesn’t care about Job, whom he loves. No, God takes the bet in this folktale, because God needs to know. Is piety possible without prosperity? Is faithfulness possible without being fortunate? There’s too much at stake in this question. God’s got to know.
And there’s an awful lot at stake for us, too. This question is about the nature of our faith. So, what kind of faith do we have? What kind of faith is possible? Do we see God as a genie in the bottle – one who grants wishes, so long as we say the right incantation, attend the right church, or behave the right way? Do we see God as overflowing with blessings, never ceasing to shower us with fortune, and so our worship and praise is always and only in response to these blessings?
There are a lot of folks who have that sort of faith. For example, each one of us in this room, at one time or another. But maybe a different, deeper sort of faith is possible. A faith that moves beyond praising for blessings to something more genuine, something akin to a real relationship of sorts. Are we the sort of creatures capable of such a relationship, capable of getting all involved with God even without getting something out of it? Is there such a faith? Such a relationship? Is it possible?
There’s a lot at stake here. This question matters. This question matters because dozens died in an attack on Istanbul this week. This matters because of the names in our prayers later in this service, because Jeff Sebben is being beaten up by cancer and Isaac Grimes is in prison and Brad Buhler’s body is betraying him. This question matters because so many are hungry, and homeless, and nation-less in our world.
This question matters because a faith that is so tightly interwoven with blessing and fortune might not be a good enough faith for this world. That sort of faith might only work for us when we’re fortunate, but what about when we aren’t? What about when the opposite is true, when there’s suffering? What then?
Right now, we might need a different sort of faith – one that takes the hard truths of this world seriously and yet also takes God seriously. It’s the only sort of faith that will suffice. But, is it even possible? That’s the question.
Act III: An answer and an invitation (Job 1:13-22)
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 plowing 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 worshiped. 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 wrong-doing.
A series of unfortunate events is not enough to describe what happens after the bet is made. Catastrophe after catastrophe strikes, leaving Job penniless and childless. The sorrow overwhelms him.
Through it all, it would seem Job would have two options. Either he could maintain the same piety he had before, which would require him to somehow ignore the mass suffering which fell on him in one afternoon. Unlikely. Or, he could abandon his faith altogether.
This second opinon, the one the accuser was so sure he’d take, is the one Job’s wife endorses. After even more catastrophes befall him, she tells Job: “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” In other words, just give up, old Job. There is no shame in it. There is nothing absurd about it. What’s absurd is maintaining faith at all in such a time. Forget God. Succumb to the suffering of this world.
Two options, it would seem. Hold tight to God and ignore the suffering, or face the suffering and abandon God. But Job decides to take a third way. Job decides to hold on tight to both. Faced with such devastation, he tares his robe, shaves his head, and falls to the ground in sorrow. And there, he prays. Job holds on to the hard truth of this world, and he holds on to God.
The wager is made, the dreadful experiment is run, and in it we get an answer. Is faith with without blessing possible? Can there be a faith that takes seriously the hard truths of our world and also holds on to God. This more genuine relationship sort of faith – is it possible? The answer: yes. Yes. Yes it is. But, it looks a lot different than any other sort of faith.
And that’s what the rest of this book will be about.
This introduction invites us into the rest of the book. Is there a genuine faith that does not depend on fortune? Yes. What’s it look like? Let’s explore together. If this invitation seems more like an invitation to a funeral than a birthday party, I get it. But, if it feels like unwavering positivity and false piety aren’t doing it for you, and yet if you also don’t want to let go of faith, let go of God, then maybe the book of Job is for you. There won’t be any clear answers at the end of this book. It won’t all make sense in the end and be tied up with a neat bow, nice and easy. But this faith isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be genuine, it’s supposed to be what we really need.
So, if you’re game, let’s take a look at what that sort of faith might be like. Consider yourself invited. Amen.