sermon

All In & Humble

When I sit down to write a sermon, I begin by asking God what He wants me to know about Him, and what He wants you to know.

I read the collect – the theme upon which the readings center: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.”

“the proud who confide in their own strength”

King Nebuchadnezzar immediately came to mind.  The portion of his story told in Daniel chapter 4 is a perfect example of God resisting man’s pride and of man boasting of God’s mercy.

Nebuchadnezzar, as you might recall, was the king of Babylon.  He was at home in his palace, contented and prosperous.  But he had a bad dream.  The images that passed through his mind terrified him. 

So he summoned all the wise men of Babylon to come interpret it for him.  Magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, but they could not explain it. 

Finally, Daniel came.

King Nebuchadnezzar said, “Belteshazzar (aka Daniel), chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. 

These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven.  He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.

‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him…… so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’

That was my dream, Daniel, now tell me what it means, for none of the wise men can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”

Daniel was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. Neb said, “Do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” In other words, “Don’t be afraid to tell me.”

Daniel answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky… Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

“Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. The decree he issued is against you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven for seven years – until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and He gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

But old habits and old personality disorders die hard.

Twelve months later, as Neb was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven.

Immediately the terrifying dream was fulfilled. Neb was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

Seven years later, When Nebuchadnezzar finally raised his eyes toward heaven, his sanity was restored. He praised God, acknowledging that  “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.

Everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.

Sometimes God’s messages – His reprimands, warnings and promises – are for individuals, as in the case of Neb, and sometimes they are for nations.

It’s important to keep straight what promises are specifically for us and which ones aren’t.  It’s important to keep straight which ones are literal and which ones are metaphorical.

For instance, two weeks ago we heard these words from Isaiah:

“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong;”

And make your bones strong?” My ears perked up.

You mean all I have to do is stop pointing my finger and my osteoporosis will be healed?  Well Alright!

Except God wasn’t talking to me about my osteoporosis.

He was talking to Israel about the bones of their nation.

No doubt heeding Isaiah’s words will bring me blessings, but God didn’t make me any specific promises about my bone health.

How do I know heeding Isaiah’s words will bring me blessings?

Obedience always brings blessings.

God broke and reshaped Neb into a better, more useful vessel, and He promised to do the same for Israel – allowing them to suffer long years of slavery, wilderness wandering and even captivity if that’s what it took.  And it did.

Which brings us to Deuteronomy 30: After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel was about to finally cross into the promised land.  Moses – who wouldn’t be going with them – announced to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments I am giving you today by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.”

Thresholds.

Just as I can’t apply Isaiah’s words to the health and strength of my bones, I can’t apply Moses’s words to my personal longevity – plenty of obedient people die young.  Moses died relatively young.  He was only a hundred and twenty years old when he disappeared from the earth. Scripture says his eyes were not yet weak nor was his strength gone when he died. 120 was young back then – Methuselah, for example, lived 969 years.

Moses was talking to the people of Israel and not us when he announced God’s promises, but we can still apply his principles as we stand at our thresholds.

The threshold of a new school, a new school year, a new job or ministry, a new marriage, the threshold of parenthood.

If we obey God, He will bless us as we enter into the new thing He has put before us.

“But,” Moses continued, “if your heart turns away and you are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you (as a nation) shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. 

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

God wanted Israel to stop and think about the foundation and habits they were going to establish in the land He was giving them.

He wants us, as we stand at our particular thresholds, to consider the path we’re going to take – to choose honesty and integrity, loyalty, fidelity and charity so that we and our children, our spouses, co-workers, classmates, communities may live, loving the Lord, obeying Him, and holding fast to Him; for that means life to us and length of days.

There is a pleasant fiction circulating among some, a theology that says, “It’s all good.”

Our obedience/disobedience doesn’t really matter because God will redeem it all.

In the end, He will.

But, as He spoke through Moses, our choices do make a huge difference while we’re here on earth – a huge difference in our physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health.

The words He gave the writer of Psalm 1 concur:

“Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful! Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.”

Often I have prayed those words for my daughter, and now for her husband and his family, too – planted by streams of living water, with roots of faith that are deep and wide, that everything they do shall prosper.

“It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”

Our obedience, our love for God makes a difference.

Even Jesus used “ifs” and “thens.”

John 15:5 “If you remain in me and I in you, then you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 14:23 “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

I can’t think of anything better than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit making their home with me.

There’s a cause and effect. 

And a cost.

Luke 14:25-33

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and He turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…

…You must first sit down and count the cost, figure out whether you have what it takes to go the distance…

“…none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Our lectionary reading stops just short of the end of the chapter. Here’s what it left out:

“Salt is good,” Jesus continued, “but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

I googled, “How does salt lose its saltiness.”  I figured it’s important to know since Jesus warned against it.

Water.  It loses its saltiness when it is diluted in water.

Why did Jesus add that last bit?

Large crowds were following Him, marveling in His miracles, enjoying free bread and fish, talking about how great it is – you don’t have to do anything except show up at mealtimes and reap the benefits.

I imagine some in the crowd were promulgating a pleasant fiction that threatened to water down His gospel, take the tang right out of it.

So He set them straight.

Discipleship isn’t a free lunch, He explained.  It will cost you something.  Your behavior, your choices, your obedience and your disobedience will matter.

He wants us all in.  

Listen to this: Recorded in John 6,  Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will lift them up at the last day.”

On hearing it, many of His disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

I always strikes me that He didn’t run after them!  

He didn’t run after them to sugar-coat His message, make it more palatable, water it down to woo them back.

Instead He turned to the twelve who were all in (well, eleven who were all in because Judas) and asked, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”

Simon Peter answered, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

What about that hating your parents stuff?

Don’t do it.  Jesus was not being literal.

Hating your parents does not line up with the fifth commandment.

It doesn’t line up with what  Jesus said about loving one another.

But it does line up with what He said about money.

The love of money is the root of all evil.  Not money itself, the love of money.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

God doesn’t want us to hate money – He rewarded Solomon with a ton of it.  He gave a ton of it to His friend, Abraham, too.

And He doesn’t want us to hate our people.

It’s a matter of loyalty.

A matter of who/what you love more.

Following Jesus would have meant huge familial sacrifices back then.

Think about it.  Everyone who was anyone followed the Law.  To follow Jesus would have been treasonous.

It would be like a Catholic child leaving her parish to become a Protestant.

A former co-worker, who is a Messianic Jew, told me she knows many people who secretly believe Jesus is the Messiah but would never say so publicly or set foot in a church because they don’t want to lose their Jewish community.

For me, following Jesus might mean giving up weekly worship with my daughter and wonderful new son in law.

It might mean giving up the pleasure of preaching an occasional sermon.

Jesus said, [I’m paraphrasing] “If you’re going to follow me it’s going to cost you.”

But let’s do it anyway.

Because there is nothing as soul-satisfying as being His disciple. As having Him make His home with us.

Amen.

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Jesus, life, sermon

Job

The very beginning of Job chapter 1 tells us that  Job was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 

He had such a healthy fear of God that when his sons held family feasts to celebrate their birthdays, he would get up early the next morning and sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them – just in case one of them sinned and cursed God in their hearts.

That’s the kind of man he was – He sacrificed for his children – acted as their priest – every single time they feasted.

Meanwhile in heaven, the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan showed up. 

The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been surveying the earth.”

“Have you seen Job? There is no one on earth as blameless and upright as he.”

“Of course he’s blameless and upright,” Satan hissed, “You’ve given him nothing but protection and blessings. Take it all away and he will curse you to your face.”

“Go ahead then, take everything I’ve given him,” the Lord replied,  “but don’t lay a finger on his body.”

So when Job’s sons and daughters were gathered at the oldest brother’s house feasting and drinking wine, a messenger came to Job and cried, “All of your oxen and donkeys have been stolen and all of your ranch hands have been killed!”

Another messenger came: “Fire has fallen from heaven and burned up all your sheep and shepherds!’

A third messenger reported, “Raiders have made off with all your camels and all their caretakers have been killed!”

Yet another messenger hurried in with horrific news, “The roof of your son’s house has collapsed and all your sons and daughters are dead!”

Job tore his robe and shaved his head, fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

“In all this,” Scripture says,  “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Satan basically accused Job of loving God for His money.

But when the money was gone, when his children and his employees and his livestock –  all his wealth – were gone,  Job continued to praise.

You would think that Job’s praise would have shut the accuser up – proved that Job loved God for who He is and not for what He could give him.

Except the accuser doesn’t shut up.  We all have first hand knowledge of that.

Instead of shutting up, he showed up at another angelic staff meeting.

Again the Lord said to him, “Where have you come from?”

Again Satan answered, “I’ve been out surveying the earth.” 

Apparently that’s what he does.  Peter said he prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

“Did you see Job?,” the Lord asked,  “he still maintains his integrity, even though you incited me to ruin him for no reason.”

Integrity is an important word to this story.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”  The second definition is “the state of being whole and undivided.”  It’s to have all parts of your life integrated and consistent.  To be the same on the inside and the outside, in public and in private.

Even after all of his tragic losses, Job remained consistent and God was proud of him.

“Anyone can maintain their integrity after losing their stuff,” the accuser spat, “but strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

“Very well, take his health, too; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

And there was nothing for Job to do but sit among the ashes scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Remember the itchy misery of chicken pox?

Seeing him sitting there, his wife had had enough. “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

But Job was committed to God in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. 

He replied to his wife.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Again Scripture reports, “In all his suffering he did not sin in what he said.”

Four of Job’s friends heard what happened and went to comfort him.

When they saw him from a distance, they hardly recognized him; they began to weep, they tore their robes, sprinkled dust on their heads and got down in the ashes with him. 

For seven days and nights they sat with him and no one said a word because they saw how great his suffering was.

And then, after seven silent days,  Job opened his mouth and wondered why he had ever been born.

Once he broke the silence, his friend, Eliphaz, dared to speak.

“Think how you have instructed many,
how you have always strengthened and supported those who stumble
But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
Shouldn’t you be confident in your piety, 
shouldn’t your blameless ways be your hope?”

Eliphaz started well, with words we all want to hear in our distress – “You’re a good person, you don’t deserve this.”

My dad spoke those words to me over the phone when my first husband left. “You are a fine Christian woman, you don’t deserve this.”  And, bless his compassionate heart, he left it that.

But Eliphaz’s words of comfort quickly turned to condemnation.

“Or maybe you’re not so blameless… in my experience,” he continued, “you reap what you sow.”

“So even though it appears that you’re an upstanding citizen on the outside, there must be some hidden sin on the inside. 

Only the wicked suffer, after all, and you’re suffering, therefore you must be wicked.”

Then, to his faulty logic Eliphaz added a spiritual gut punch:

“A word was secretly brought to me,
my ears caught a whisper of it.
Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
when deep sleep falls on people,
fear and trembling seized me
and made all my bones shake.

A spirit glided past my face,
and the hair on my body stood on end.
It stopped,
but I could not tell what it was.

A form stood before my eyes,
and I heard a hushed voice:
‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?”

Eliphaz assumed that the presence that came into his room and gave him insight was God, but I don’t think it was.

Because God doesn’t accuse.  The accuser accuses.

And God doesn’t twist the truth.

The twister of truth twists the truth.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God, to be more pure than his Maker.  Job’s words and actions clearly showed that he knew his humble position.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.”

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

He sacrificed for his children after every party for crying out loud, you can’t get more aware of your need for atonement than that.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God yet here’s the snake in the dark shadows of Eliphaz’s bedroom hissing and twisting and accusing and planting seeds of condemnation.

You gotta’ feel for Job.  He has lost everything, he’s covered in itchy, oozy sores and now his “friend” is saying that he brought it all on himself.  Hinting that the problem might be his self-righteousness.

It’s ironic that the accuser would plant that particular prejudice against Job in Eliphaz’s mind when the whole reason he got booted from heaven was because he wanted to be above God.

When we point a finger at another, we’re pointing three back at ourselves.

Job replied, “Seriously?  That’s how you are going to respond to the magnitude of my suffering? Give me specific examples of my sin and self-righteousness and I’ll be quiet. But don’t make accusations without proof, my integrity is at stake.”

And then, because his friend got into his head, Job turned his attention to God.

“What is mankind that you make so much of us,
that you give us so much attention,(scrutinize us so closely)
and test us at every moment?

Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
If I have sinned, tell me what I have done,
you who see everything we do.”

For the next 3 chapters Job lamented his misery and wondered what he did wrong. Have you ever been there?  I have.  When my first husband left.

Eliphaz (with Satan’s help) played into Job’s fear of offending God, he exploited his fastidiousness, leaving  Job crushed under the weight of what he thinks is God’s condemning gaze.

But what Job and his friends don’t know is what transpired in heaven between God and Satan.

Job’s confusion and Eliphaz’s condemnation are all based on a lack of information.

That’s something we should remember when we are in the midst of a spiritual struggle – or a relationship struggle or a work situation:

When things don’t add up, there is more to the equation.

His second friend, Bildad spoke up.

“How long will you maintain your innocence when clearly you are lying?
God doesn’t pervert justice, therefore if you are suffering it must be warranted.

Case in point, your children.  Clearly they all sinned or they wouldn’t all be dead.

But if you will seek God earnestly and confess
And if you are pure and upright,
He will restore you to your prosperous state.”

OMG.  His children were all crushed under the roof of his eldest son’s house at a birthday party and this “friend” is saying it was because of their sin?

If I were Job, and if I weren’t weak with fever and grief, I might have grabbed Bildad’s neck.

Instead Job answered, 

“Indeed, I know that I should plead with God,
But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God? 

His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

Though I were innocent, I could not answer him;
I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.

If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty!
And if it is a matter of justice, who can challenge him?

Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me;
if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.”

Then Zophar, jumped on the condemnation bandwagon:

He, too, had been listening to Job with prejudiced ears. He too was offended by Job’s claim of innocence. 

What all three friends failed to hear is that when Job claimed to be innocent, he wasn’t claiming to be perfect or more righteous than God.

He was saying that he didn’t do anything to warrant complete devastation.

It’s like when some friends from my young marrieds Sunday school class called after my husband left wondering what I did.  Some were looking for scandal, some were looking for rhyme and reason – assurance that a random abandonment wouldn’t happen to them.

When I answered, “I didn’t do anything.” I didn’t mean I was perfect or blameless, I meant I didn’t do anything to warrant being abandoned – I didn’t have an affair, for example – as one of my callers had.  By Job’s friends’ logic her husband should have been gone, not mine.

Zophar said, “Do you really think you’re going to win this argument when it’s three against one and you are clearly wrong because you’re the one covered in sores?

I won’t sit back and listen to you mock God.
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’

Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you.”

Do you ever wish God would open His mouth and speak against someone when you are convinced that you are right and he/she is wrong?

Be careful with that because God did eventually open his mouth and speak against someone, but it wasn’t Job!

“Surely he recognizes deceivers,” Zophar continued,
“and when he sees evil, he takes note.

Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.”

“THERE IS NO SIN IN MY HAND!”

Job was sick of the pat, spiritual answers that didn’t apply to his situation. He was sick of judgment parading as concern.  He was sick of insult being heaped on his injury.

 He replied to Zophar,

“You are miserable comforters, all of you!”

Tell me something I don’t know, something that will actually help.

What’s your problem that you insist I admit to some grave sin?

“I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
But I wouldn’t, I would speak words of comfort and encouragement.”

They all knew that was true because that was the first thing Eliphaz said when the silence was broken – “you’ve always strengthened and lifted up the faltering.”

Yet on him they heaped condemnation – all because the accuser whispered in Eliphaz’s ear and took control of the narrative.  If Eliphaz hadn’t been the first to speak would the others have been so quick to pile on?

Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar went ‘round and around for 28 chapters.  It’s a long thread.

Job turned his thoughts to the good old days:

“when people listened to him expectantly,
waiting in silence for his counsel.
For his words to fall gently on their ears.

To the days when people were thrilled to receive his smile, when the light of his face was precious to them.

Back to the days when he dwelt as a king among his troops;
When he was like one who comforts mourners.”

When he was treated with respect.

“But now,” he said, “my skin grows black and peels;
my body burns with fever.”

And after lamenting for quite awhile more, the words of Job ended.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar’s words ended, too.  There was no point in arguing with Job since he was clearly right in his own eyes and not willing to repent.

Young Elihu, who had been silent up until now, was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had failed to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.  They could produce no solid evidence against him but they still convicted him – all because of their faulty understanding of his situation, their prejudices against him and their limited understanding of God.  

(If you give each friend’s arguments a close reading, you will see their particular prejudices and jealousies bubble to the surface.)

Elihu started by saying something similar to what Eliphaz said:

“God speaks in various ways,
though no one perceives it.

In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
and keep them from pride,”

Remember when Zophar claimed God gave him insight in his restless sleep?

This is different.  Here Elihu is saying God speaks to us about us in order to save us from sin.

He doesn’t whisper to us about the behavior of others so we can accuse and condemn.

In so doing, Elihu added salvation and redemption to the equation.

But then Elihu makes an arrogant statement, even as he accuses Job of thinking he’s perfect.

“Be assured that my words are not false;
one who has perfect knowledge is with you.”

Elihu is confident that he has perfect knowledge when he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about – implying that  Job’s problem is he won’t confess his sin and cry for mercy.

“God is wooing you from the jaws of distress.
But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked;
judgment and justice have taken hold of you.”

And then Elihu reveals his particular prejudice:

“Be careful that no one entices you by riches;
do not let a large bribe turn you aside.

Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?

Do not long for the night,
to drag people away from their homes.

Beware of turning to evil,
which you seem to prefer to affliction.” 

Elihu seems to assume that Job’s hidden sin has something to do with his wealth, with ill-gotten gain.  But if wealth were Job’s problem his story would not have ended as it does.

All this angst, all these accusations, all these prejudices surfaced because Satan couldn’t stand that a human would actually, sincerely want to please God.

It’s all the more maddening because Job was humble to begin with.  It wasn’t until he was forced defend himself against the accusations of his friends that he became puffed up.  And annoyed.

Elihu’s speech was closer to the truth about God than E’s, B’s or Z’s because he recognized God’s focus on redemption where they others were focused on judgment, but he was wrong about Job.  And he didn’t have perfect knowledge of the situation because he didn’t know the whole equation.

The only one who knew the truth about Job was God.

Job suffered because Satan accused God at an angelic gathering.  Just as Jesus suffered because Satan accused God at the base of a fruit tree.  It had nothing to do with Job.

When His disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Sometimes our suffering has nothing to do with us.

But in the midst of our suffering, when things don’t add up, we assume that God is angry with us.  We flail around trying to figure out why, beg Him to tell us what we did.  But if the answer isn’t obvious, then maybe we didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s interesting that when God finally spoke, He didn’t tell Job about the wager in heaven, He didn’t address Job’s suffering at all.  Instead He asked Job a series of questions all designed to help him understand mercy. 

To ask for mercy is to look up and beg, to be merciful is to stoop down and bestow kindness.

It’s a positional thing.

Job kept insisting that he had done nothing wrong but the need for mercy isn’t a matter of whether or not you’ve done something wrong, it’s simply a matter of humbly recognizing your size.

A carpenter ant looks up under the shadow of the sole of my shoe and begs for mercy, not because it did anything wrong, but because it is aware that it is small and I am big enough to squash it like a bug. (Actually, if it is in my house it did do something wrong, but if it’s outside, I won’t squash it, even though I can.)

Mercy is recognizing that God can do anything He wants, and trusting that what He wants is good.

God’s questions to Job also revealed Him as a powerful, genius Creator.

Job responded,

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this who obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember how at the beginning of the book God bragged about Job to Satan – called him upright and blameless?  God wasn’t nitpicking Job’s imperfections, as Job assumed, He was saying, “What about that Job, huh?” Like a proud Papa.

And now Job understood that God isn’t sitting in heaven judging, just waiting for us to mess up so He can pound the gavel.  He’s a Creator who sits in heaven and delights in His creation.  And who cares enough to stoop down in kindness and explain it to us.

After the Lord spoke to Job He said to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. Now go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 

See how God reiterated that Job’s friends were the ones who were wrong?  Perhaps because of Zophar’s wish that God would open his mouth and set  Job straight.

Notice something else here:  God doesn’t give the silent treatment, we don’t have to flail around wondering why He’s angry or if He’s angry.  He was angry with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar and He said so.  And He said why.  And then He offered them the way of restoration.  Throughout the Old Testament God’s people would anger Him, He would send prophets to point out their sin, they would repent and be blessed.

Nowadays He sends the Holy Spirit.

So stop flailing.

The best thing we can do for a suffering friend is to keep what we think we know to ourselves and simply ask God to tell the person what they need to know.  Because He is the only one who can truly nail it. 

After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. (Obviously his problem wasn’t his wealth.) All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

 I’d have a really hard time accepting the fair weather comfort and consolation – at my dinner table – of those who mocked me when I was down, but God was gracious enough to restore Job’s good will toward men.

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. In addition to his restored wealth, he also had seven sons and three daughters. 

Notice, the daughters are named and the sons are not.

Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

Did you catch that? 

Now that Job saw God clearly, he did what he hadn’t done before, he gave his daughters an inheritance along with his sons.

Seeing God clearly causes the traditions of men to yield to the heart of God.

After this,  Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 

And so Job died, old and full of years.

Job was seeing God with shiny new spiritual eyes and Bartimaeus wasn’t seeing a thing.

Our Gospel reading today tells us he was sitting along the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho when Jesus and His following went by.   When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Bartimaeus didn’t ask Jesus why he was blind, he asked for mercy. That was the lesson Job needed to learn:  Knowing why doesn’t make you see, the mercy of God does. 

There’s humility in a request for mercy.  There’s no accusation of wrong-doing, there’s no demand for fairness, just a humble request from the powerless to the all-powerful.

Many sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Mercy can take many forms – the provision of a seeing eye dog, the invention of braille, friends to assist…

“I want to see!”

And see he did.

When you need mercy, speak up even when others tell you to pipe down.  Be specific about what you want God to do for you.

We could spend a bit of time on the Hebrews passage comparing  Job’s atoning sacrifices for his children party after party with  Jesus’s one sacrifice for every party past, present and future.  I could point out that Jesus is the Redeemer  Job longed for in chapter 19, and the Mediator he longed for in chapters 9, 25 and 33.  But I’d rather end with a personal story so I’ll answer Job’s question from earlier: “How can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?”

We don’t have to.  We have an eternal Mediator who lives to plead our case.

A Mediator who talks us through things and helps us make sense of it all.  He’s talked me through a few hard things.

Back when my first husband left me all those years ago and my so-called friends were breaking my heart – after much Job-like lamenting and Job-like confusion, God finally spoke and said, “You can choose to believe what your circumstances say about my love for you, or you can choose to believe what I say about my love for you.”

It was a defining moment.

Seventeen years later came another defining moment.  My daughter had just gone off to college when a sudden fall set off a string of strange neurological symptoms that baffled a string of doctors.  I sat on my sofa day after day trying to distract my fearful thoughts by watching movies as I waited to die.  It occurred to me that maybe God didn’t care about me as much as I thought He did.  Perhaps I had been foolish to think He cared about me at all.  I teetered between hope and despair until He finally reminded me of His defining moment.  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

Let that sink in:  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered “yes” once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

“Okay,” I thought a few weeks later as I was washing my tear-streaked face, “He loves us.  But does He love me?”  I had always felt special to Him because I loved Him so much, but maybe I wasn’t.

As I grabbed the hand towel He reminded me of the day He called my name.  He reminded me of the following night when He revealed Himself to me.  It was a glorious revealing.  He called me into His family knowing that I would let Him down, knowing that I would let myself and others down, knowing every bit of my past, present and future, He adopted me.  

“Why would I call you into a relationship with Me and show Myself to you, only to abandon you?,” He asked.

 I love it when He reasons with me.  

He reminded me of everything I love about His character, His plans, His stick-to-itiveness.  He wouldn’t adopt me as His child and then turn His back on me.  He isn’t a bad parent.  He finishes the good work He begins in us.  He accomplishes His purposes.  He isn’t lazy or distracted.

“But Christians sometimes die in their prime, when their ministries are thriving and there is still work to be done,” I countered.  “So there is no guarantee I will recover.”

“If you don’t recover, it won’t be because I don’t care or because I am not paying attention or because I am unable.  It will be because it is time to come home.  And if it is your time and my will, you will have peace.”

I thought of the palpable peace He gave my sister as she battled cancer and faced death.  I realized that it wasn’t God who was trying to kill me, it was the author of fear.  If there is fear, then God’s hand is not in it.  And since the presence of fear proved the strange illness was from the devil’s hand and not God’s, I was going to be okay because God is stronger.  God loves us.  God loves me.  I rested in that and I recovered.

Job’s defining moment came when he resolved, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” 

Peter’s defining moment came not with words, but with action.  After he denied Christ thrice, after he threw his best friend under the bus to save his own skin, he got back up and walked with Him.  Not as one who was just barely forgiven, but as one who was amazing. (See Acts 2:14-41)

Those are the moments the Holy Spirit illuminates when I am struggling.

If you are suffering and wondering what you did wrong, wondering whether God still cares or ever cared, I’m here to say, of course He cares.  Of course He loves you. If nothing makes sense ask Him what’s missing from the equation.

Our defining moments, as tough and heartbreaking and scary as they are, are designed to bring us to the place where we “come to know and believe the love God has for us.”  1 John 4:16a

Does God see you in your suffering?  Does He love you?  Remember your adoption day? That was the day He answered “Yes!”  Forever.

Beth Moore shared a sweet moment she had with God:

He said to her:  “Don’t say, ‘I love you’ to Me.  Say, ‘I love you, too.’  Because I am always saying it first.”

No matter what is going on in your life, He is always saying it first.  Amen.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

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