A Real, Live Faith

Sermon from August 7, 2016

Listen to it here or read the text below.

Narrator: After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite:

Lord (Side 1): 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.

Lord (Side 2): 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,

Lord (ALL) 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.

Narrator: 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.

ALL: And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends;

Side 1: and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.

Side 2: Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house;

Side 1: they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring.

Narrator: The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. 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. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.

Narrator: Stay tuned for the continuing drama that is our story and God’s story.

Thanks be to God.

For two Sundays we endured the whirlwind out of which God speaks to Job and reorients Job’s place in the universe. God reframes Job’s reality in all of creation and draws Job out of his singular reality of suffering. God takes Job out of himself, casts him into the vast unknown, the vast and stunning creation and then Job sees everything differently. If this were a movie, the picture and the audio would go from high definition pictures of the stunning beauty of things we didn’t know existed, the backdrop the roaring whirlwind.

And then. It would go still. Utterly still. The screen would go blank. And then we would cut to a scene of Job in quiet prayer, praying for his friends. Praying for his friends who thought perhaps he’d brought this misery on his own self. Friends who blamed Job and spoke ill of the Lord. These friends. The ones pointing their fingers at him. Job prayed for them.

From the get go, we are told that Job is an upright and faithful man and so perhaps this praying, this behavior isn’t surprising. But in the beginning of this story, Job prayed every morning for his kids out of fear. Fear that they were not living right and would be punished for it. So to jump to this picture of Job praying for his friends seems to tell us that this is a changed man.

How could he not be changed? He’s lost everything. His tone deaf friends blame him for all that has happened. Job has blamed God, yelled at God, suggested God is a little too distracted with human sin. He has accused God of creating chaos. This blameless and upright man, one who feared God and turned away from evil, I daresay he’s a changed man by the end of this book.

And yet, when the whirlwind conversation dies down, when the friends have gone on home, when the dust settles, what Job is asked to do is to pray. And it’s not to pray for his future. Not prayer for his life to turn around but to pray for his long-winded friends who spoke without hearing, who spoke without knowing. Who tried to tell their distraught and grieving friend that he was somehow to blame, that he’d learn something from all this, that there is a reason for everything.

And God didn’t like it. God didn’t like being thrown under the bus by Job’s friends. But I suspect God didn’t like Job being thrown under the bus by his friends even more. And so God tells Job’s friends to offer burnt sacrifices and to have Job pray for them so God won’t give them what they deserve. And so, mercifully, Job prays for them.

We don’t hear any more speeches from Job here at the end of the book, instead we see him speak with his life. He speaks in prayer. He dares to have more children. He dares to keep on living even after knowing all he knows.

Patton Oswald is a comedian known for his standup and has been known to live-tweet Downton Abby episodes. This past week he marked 102 days since his wife died in her sleep and he took to social media to write about his grief. I share it in part [and somewhat edited] with you here:

Thanks, grief.

Thanks for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Depression is the tallest kid in the 4th grade, dinging rubber bands off the back of your head and feeling safe on the playground, knowing that no teacher is coming to help you…

If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get ’em to love you back. 

But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have [nothing] to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel “wiser.” You will not have “closure.” You will not have “perspective” or “resilience” or “a new sense of self.” You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you’ll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.

And…

You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, “Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday.” Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you’ll keep and re-read ’cause you can’t believe how helpful they are. And, if you’re a parent? You’ll wish you were your kid’s age, because the way they embrace despair and joy are at a purer level that you’re going to have to reconnect with, to reach backwards through years of calcified cynicism and ironic detachment.

Lose your cool, and you’re saved.

I was face-down and frozen for weeks. It’s 102 days later and I can confidently say I have reached a point where I’m crawling. Which, objectively, is an improvement. Maybe 102 days later I’ll be walking.

Job is walking by the end of this book. He is the same Job but also a whole new Job. He has to be, right? He’s lost everything. He’s blamed God, he’s been angry at God. He’s changed his mind. And he hasn’t tried to hide it, he hasn’t tried to soften the edges. He’s gone right to God with his anger, with his questions, with his misery. Gone are the prayers out of fear. Now it’s unfiltered prayer. Prayer straight from his heart, right out of his anguish.

Which is the only way forward. Sharing with God all the edges and cracks of your life, the whole of your life, the misery and the joy. Well that’s the only way forward. It’s the only way you can get back to crawling and then, eventually, to walking. To living again, in new ways.

Job, surrounded now by his family, has more children, boys and girls. And he’s playing by new rules. The girls are given names, names that reflect the wildness of creation, they are reflective of God’s imagination. They reflect the notion that Job was paying attention when God took him on a tour of the vast creation. For someone to be named in scripture, well it means they mean enough to be named. And the girls are given inheritance, which was not what you did. Women were not given inheritance in scripture. Job is living into a new kind of freedom, freedom that comes from God. This new life looks nothing like his old life.

That’s the gift of the book of Job. We are not alone in this life of unexpected joy and sorrow. Our faith is no guarantee of smooth sailing. In this book we get to know a man whose faith is tested, whose life is changed, and he comes out on the other side of things transformed. Instead of Job worriedly praying for his children, he prays for his blabbermouth friends. Job has gone from crawling to walking once again. It hasn’t been easy. And I suspect he doesn’t think it will ever be easy. And he will never be the same just as his relationship with God will never be the same. It’s the stuff of a life of faith.

 

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