And so it goes…

I just finished the first semon in my series on the Book of Job: “Seeking God, No Matter What.” I am happy with it, though I know that God will have the final word on what I actually say come Sunday morning. I am seeking God in this process because I believe we have so much to learn from Job. It’s about faithfulness, hope, and integrity. It’s about God’s passionate love for us; God is so passionate that we are never alone in the midst of our suffering – God is with us. We may not have the whirlwind visitation that Job sees, but we are visted…no matter what. For what it’s worth, here is the manuscript version of this sermon. Obviously, the actual spoken word will be somewhat different and it will be posted next week. Pray for me that I hear God’s message in my heart and that I faithfully preach God’s Word.

MANUSCRIPT:

“Seeking God, No Matter What
No matter what? – #1
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
World Communion Sunday
During the month of October the Lectionary offers us the opportunity to confront a difficult text.
The Book of Job…
A challenging book of prose and poetry that cries out in the midst of human struggle, pain, and grief…
It challenges us to examine our image of God and our relationship with God, no matter what.
It is a text that ultimately leads us to an image of God that demonstrates faithfulness, hope, and integrity.
I have struggled this week over whether to embrace this opportunity and find a way to preach this text
with care, or to simply avoid it and move on to the Gospel readings.
I confess that I am tempted to take the second, simpler option.
God has a different plan and so we will explore the timeless story of Job in a series of three sermons
that ask the question – No matter what?
Let us pray:
O God, we come today seeking your face; we come seeking your hope and grace in the midst of an ungracious world. Faithful God, give us a higher degree of faith that will remove doubt and fear. Bring us to your message today and allow me to faithfully speak what you place in my heart. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
[Set the stage by story-telling Job 1:1 – 2:10]

The story of Job truly is about the presence of God in the midst of unimaginable pain, suffering, and injustice…
It isn’t really about why bad things happen to good people, though…
That is one of many common misunderstandings of this Book

Hebrew word: hasatán = “the satan,” not “Satan”; this is not a proper name, it is an office;
this is not the Devil of the New Testament
Not the story of the battle between good and evil; it is about God’s relationship with humanity.
If we focus only on the “why do bad things happen to good people” theme, we miss the more important question: “What is the nature of faith – how are we supposed to relate to God?”
The prevailing ancient theology centered on “divine retribution” – if you do good, God will bless you; if you sin, God will punish you.
That is far too simple for Job and so he struggles to figure how to approach God; how to seek and encounter God.
Job seeks to reach a faith that will discover God in the midst of fear and chaos.
We must remember that our world is far removed from the world of Job’s story.
The “heavenly court” doesn’t fit with our image of heaven;
The epic catastrophes that strike Job seem exaggerated to us;
We must read this story with one eye on our own world…we must see Job’s story through the lens of our pain and the pain of those we lovewe must try to hear Job’s troubles in the chaos of our own lives we must ask ourselves if the words Job speaks have ever come from our mouths
The catastrophic events of Job’s life could just as easily be seen in our own lives when we change the words to be: unemployment, debt, depression, betrayal, illness, and death
From within our reality, Job cries out, wanting to know: “Where is God and how may I approach him?”

The story of Job challenges us with three basic questions:

  1. Can God lose control and be influenced by hasatán?
  2. Does God allow intense suffering, just to settle a bet?
  3. How does this square with our belief in a compassionate, just God?
  • We must remember that the story of Job is not taken from Israelite tradition; it comes from ancient Near Eastern folklore that does not share the Hebrew faith. The poet has appropriated the story to make a point of faith to the Jews in exile – suffering the loss of everything; living in the ghetto and forced labor.
  • The original folktale comes from a multi-god culture where the strongest god ruled in a heavenly court surrounded by lesser gods. For the Israelites, these lesser gods become God’s messengers – angels – and hasatán is a sort-of prosecuting attorney who acts on God’s behalf…for “the state”…this is not God’s nemesis; it is his advocate…the District Attorney.

Job is a pre-Mosaic character who lives in an area outside of Palestine – Uz, possibly Edom.
Though a non-Jew, Job is portrayed as being faithful to Yahweh, the God of Israel. This is not unheard of in the Old Testament – hear Caleb, Rahab, and others.

At the end of this part of the story, Job does not understand his calamity, yet he accepts it. In his exchange with his wife he is clear that we must take the good with the bad…This is the nature of faith.

It isn’t until later in the story, when his friends begin to give him bad advice that Job starts to wonder and seek God for answers. This is where we hear the “divine retribution” theology that was common for the Israelites and debunked by Job’s evidence of a blameless life.

[Job 23:3-4, 8-9]

Often, when we find ourselves struggling, in pain, facing catastrophe, or navigating grief – we ask: “Is there some purpose behind my pain?”

We assume that our pain is part of God’s benevolent plan – to teach us something, to make us stronger, to accomplish a greater good…

The first two chapters of Job explode this kind of thinking…

Because Job suffers as the result of a silly, cosmic wager – We hear the poet saying: “Don’t look for any reason behind your pain; it just is! It can’t be understood.”

And in the midst of this suffering we hear a word of hope…God says to hasatán: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on earth?”

God passionately loves Job and talks about him as any proud parent would…
God passionately loves us too, and sees us as a proud parent would…
Only a God who loves us so completely can speak to us in our pain…
Only a God who parents us, forgives us, and knows us so well, can wipe away our tears

The Lord’s love for Job ultimately produces a whirlwind visitation – pretty remarkable considering the curses Job hurls at God from the ash heap…

Then, of course, we see God’s passion for us produced the greatest visitation of all – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ…

In spite of the insults and curses we have thrown at God, he loved us so much that he sent his only Son – you know the rest.

Job is being led to a spiritual cross and his cries of despair strike deep into God’s heart…
God will not leave Job, nor will God leave us hanging there alone.

[Jeremiah 29:11-13]

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