Thursday, 29 October 2015

Sermon October 25, 2015 Job 42:1-17

The book of Job does not come up in the lectionary very often, and I don’t believe that I have ever preached a sermon based on it, so I thought I would take this opportunity to use today’s reading as a basis for my sermon.  Indeed I don’t think that Job is one of the books that is often used for sermons.  I checked my source for sermon ideas and there were no sample sermons based on today’s reading from Job.

Indeed when you look at the book of Job it is surprizing that it actually is part of the canon and was included in the bible by the church fathers.   It may not be all that familiar to many people because of this so I thought I would spend a bit of time explaining the context for today’s reading.  The story of Job opens with an idyllic scene of a perfect life.  Job is the best of men living in the best of possible circumstances.  He is a man who has a happy family.  He is rich by any measure.  He has many servants and cattle.  Above all, we are told he fears God and live a blameless life — it is almost too good to be true.  This passage when we read it leaves us with a chill for we are certain such good fortune cannot last — conflict must arise otherwise there would be little point in telling the story.  As this account of a good man is included in Holy Scripture we except that God will enter the picture to save our hero from whatever evil befalls him as in the case of Esther or Isaac when he is about to be sacrificed by his father Abraham.  However, we discover that when evil does indeed enter to disrupt Job’s idyllic life, the source is not what we expect.

The surprizing thing about the book of Job is that Job becomes a pawn in a celestial wager between God and Satan.  Now it must be understood that this was before Satan had been expelled from heaven after his revolt against God. 
He is one of the ‘heavenly beings’ who come to present themselves before God.  It is, in effect, like a royal court appearing before a king.  Satan, which appropriately means ‘the accuser’, lives up to his name and holds that Job’s fear of God and blameless life mean nothing as Job has never been put to the test.  Satan bets God that if God permits him to send troubles into his untroubled life Job will curse God.  

Satan does an exemplary job of troubling Job, killing his children, and destroying his property and still Job does not curse God.  Satan ups the ante and with God’s permission Satan attacks Job’s person ‘inflicting loathsome sores on Job from soles of his foot to the crown if his head’ — yet still Job’s faith in God holds firm.  Job is further inflicted, however, rather than Satan this time, it is with a visit from so-called friends who insist that Job’s troubles must be due to Job’s own action.  Job demands an opportunity to appear before God to seek justice.  God permits this, however God attacks Job’s impertinence in questioning God’s actions as a mere human is not in a position to question the creator of the universe.  Job wisely defers to God’s omnipotence and Job’s fortunes are restored and more.  He is blessed with possessions and children albeit not the same ones.  In addition, as a bonus, Job’s erstwhile friends are punished.  

This is where today’s reading begins.  God requires that Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite make restitution to Job for their betrayal of his friendship.  The ending is happy, at least from the author’s perspective.  All is restored or replaced that was taken away from him by the celestial wager between God and Stan.  He has thousands of sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys.  He has a new family with seven sons and three daughters.  

Unfortunately it was not so well with the Job’s original children who were killed as part of Satan’s test of faith, but apparently in that time what was important was to have children so Job’s lineage would be assured.
As you can see this book does not put God is a good light.  So the question we must ponder is why was it included as a book in the bible?  I believe there are at least two reasons.  First, there is the question of faith.  Despite everything that God has apparently put Job through, Job’s faith is not broken.  His faith in God as his Redeemer is unshakeable.  This is a lesson  which is very applicable to us today as it has been universally for people.  It is inevitable that we all are going to suffer losses in our life.  A loved one is going to die; our health is going to betray us; we are going to lose a job at a critical time.  We have the question, why do bad things happen to good people?  How do we maintain our faith in a loving God at these times?  It may have been easier in Job’s time as God was understood to be wrathful and vengeful at times ever to God’s people.  Fortunately our trials will not be as severe as Job’s but they may seem so at the time.  We fortunately have the love of God as shown in Jesus Christ.  We know that the love of God is there to sustain us even though it is sometimes hard to recognize.  

The second reason for Job is the great mystery of life.  We human beings are God’s greatest creation.   We have many gifts that God has given us; intellect, reason, questioning hearts and minds, the desire to know God and the belief that we are able to discover and discern who and what God is.  We have created science which has done much to unravel the mysteries of the universe.  Science and scientists have discovered so much of how the universe works that they are beginning to believe that they will discover everything and will be able to explain everything.  They may even imagine they have discovered what they are calling the “God particle” which they think may be the source of everything. 
However, as much they have and will eventually discover about all of God’s creation, they will reach the limits.  We human being are limited and we will never fully know God and the mind of God.  To think otherwise is hubris. 
That is what the author of Job was attempting to express.  He was facing the mystery of all.  Job was granted his audience with God and came to acknowledge that God was beyond his understanding.  Today we know much, much, more of God’s creation than people knew in the time that the author wrote his account of one man’s attempt to understand the unknowable.  As much as we know and will ever know, God will remain the ultimate mystery.  To quote Helen Luke, “true mystery is the eternal paradox at the root of life itself—it is that which, instead of hiding truth, reveals the whole not the part.  So when, after having made every effort to understand, we are ready to take upon ourselves the mystery of things, then the most trivial of happenings is touched by wonder, and there may come to us by grace, a moment of unclouded vision.”  We can have the faith that Job had and proclaim as Job did, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another”.  Amen

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