God is Faithful

July 3, 2016 – Job 1:1-22

You can listen to the sermon right here:

Job 1:1-22       July 3, 2016

Narrator: 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,

Job: It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.

Narrator: 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,

Side 1: “Where have you come from?”

Narrator: Satan answered the Lord,

Side 2: From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.

Narrator: The Lord said to Satan,

Side 1: 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.

Narrator: Then Satan answered the Lord,

Side 2: 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.

Narrator: The Lord said to Satan,

Side 1: Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!

Narrator: So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

Narrator: 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,

Messenger (ALL): With feeling, people: 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.”

Narrator: While he was still speaking, another came and said,

Messenger (ALL): “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.”

Narrator: While he was still speaking, another came and said,

Messenger (ALL): “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.”

Narrator: While he was still speaking, another came and said,

Messenger (ALL) “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.”

Narrator: Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said,

ALL: “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.”

Narrator: In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

This week I stumbled across an interview on NPR with the author Nora McInerny Purmort who has written a memoir called “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too).” She describes the book this way: “It’s about my husband and dad dying, after my miscarriage — and it’s hilarious, obviously,”[1] The breath-taking speed at which these deaths occur made me wonder just how she’s able to walk and talk and, you know, live. And of course, there were days when she did not walk or talk. But she has emerged with humor and heart and a life in tact. And, of course, hearing her story I thought about Job.

Poor Job. He loses all of the people and anything of value, including his health, in 3 breaths. While one messenger is ending a tragic announcement, another is beginning, stepping on each other to give Job the bad news. You’ve lost your donkeys and sheep and oxen and camels to raids and firey death! You’ve lost all your servants to the sword! And now, your sons and your daughters are dead, too.

But before I go any further, let’s talk about this book. This is not a historical account but rather more a morality tale or like a parable Jesus uses to teach us about our own lives. The land of Uz cannot be found on any maps. Yet, this story is no less true. Because it’s a story of suffering. It’s a story of figuring out what you believe to be true about God when you’re suffering. And so, each of us, to some degree, can relate to Job.

Today, we are ring side for a conversation between God and Satan. Can it get any better? But that term does not mean what you think it means. We’re not talking pointy red tail and a pitchfork. In this story, The Satan is a title meaning “The Adversary” and this guy is one of the heavenly council. He did not emerge from the depths of hell, but is one of God’s trusted colleagues. It’s as if, as Ellen Davis says, “He is something like the chief prosecutor in the divine realm, or the head of the heavenly FBI – not an appealing figure of course, but that is precisely his role, to prevent any dangerous sentimentality from eroding cosmic order. And that includes any dangerous sentimentality on God’s part.”[2]

Which gets us to the central question of the book of Job. Just who is this God you have a relationship with? What do you expect of your relationship with God? The Adversary’s question hits the nerve: What motivates Job to love God? Is it that he’s always had everything go his way? Then why wouldn’t he love God? The Satan wonders if Job loves God for what he gets out of it. Family, land, livestock, servants, health. Gone. Check, check, check. Now what?

The Adversary bets that Job’s faith is fickle, that his love for God is based in a transactional, one-sided kind of relationship. I love you therefore I have the people and things I love. Amen. Yet, this member of the heavenly council truly does not get God.

While I was at camp with 5 of our youth, we played an all-camp game where staff and pastors hid around camp and the goal was for kids to find us and answer any question we might have for them and then we’d sign their piece of paper and off they’d go. So I “hid” in plane sight on the basketball court, shooting hoops. It worked for a little while, but soon they figured out if they asked me if I was playing the all-camp game, I’d tell them the truth. My question to them was this: “What do you have to do to make God love you?” And oh, they’d hem and haw and they’d say, essentially, all the things you’re supposed to say. “Love and be kind and pray and go to church and…”

But, and I am awfully happy to report this to you today, when any of the River of Hope kids were part of a group, I’d barely have the question, what do you have to do to make God love you asked and they’d be saying “nuthin’!” much to the jaw-dropping “huh?” of the other kids. It was awesome.  Sure, we studied the catechism at camp, but I tell you what, if they can live knowing they are loved unconditionally by God, then we’re in good shape folks.

You see, God loves us. And that is at the heart of the conversation between the adversary and God. The Adversary is betting on Job’s inability to love without strings. And God’s bet? Well, God knows that God will always be faithful to Job. Because our relationship with God is “…based on love that transcends self-interest on either side.” [3]  A covenant relationship with God means that God won’t ever stop loving us, but we all know there are no guarantees when it comes to our behavior. We are not trust-worthy and The Adversary has put his money that we will turn on God because we are not capable of selfless love.

Which is pretty accurate, don’t you think? The Adversary knows the human condition well. My throat always tightens when I sing the this verse of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let that grace now like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

The book of Job asks you who God is and what you think God does.

The book of Job is a book where we get to see and hear the theology of a sufferer.

If we listen to the person and the book called Job, in it we will hear and see that when you talk to God, “…complains to God, pleads with God, rails at God, does not let God off the hook for a minute…” well then, you walk through a door that only pain and suffering opens and qualifies you to know God and to speak about God in way others simply cannot know or speak.

I imagine it’s why the author I spoke about at the beginning laughs as she tells us about her book of suffering. Each of us has a story that should drive us away from God, a story that says, “See! What good is your God now?” And yet, here we are, people of faith, following a God who will not leave us or let us go.

[1] http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/06/28/books-nora-mcinerny-purmort-its-okay-to-laugh-crying-is-cool-too

[2] p. 123

[3] 125