Disney and the Ending of Job

A sermon for Proper 25; Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22), Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

Back on Oct 7, we start a month-long reading of Job. I’ve often held that one cannot get the experience of Job until you have slugged through its massive verbiage, much as Job slugs through the unfairness of his circumstances, and the response of his wife and friends. I also shared that Job is my favorite Disney story in the bible. This morning we come to the final chapter when the opening perfection, shattered through the middle of the story, is fully restored.

The final chapter is in three segments. In the first, Job acknowledges his ignorance and insignificance (Epperly). After being in God’s presence, Job has a deeper, more direct understanding of God from experiencing God firsthand (Gaventa and Petersen). He now knows that God is God and he is not (Epperly). He now knows there are elements of chaos and darkness in the world that can be the source suffering, but they are under God’s vigilance. Job now knows he suffers not because he sinned, or because of divine neglect or injustice, but because he is human, and life happens. Job does not despise himself, as our translation reads. The word ‘despised’ is elsewhere translated as reject or retract. He says something like “I reject and retract dust and ashes” (Newsom) or better yet “I changed my mind” (Tucker, Jr. Proper 25).

We did not read the second segment this morning. In it, God expresses displeasure in Job’s friends. Not because their arguments are wrong, but because of their failure to minister to Job in his time of need (Harrelson). They allowed their fears to determine their actions and beliefs. They are instructed to make a burnt offering and to ask Job to pray for them. They make the offering. They ask Job to pray for them. He does, and God accepts his prayer. Job effectively praying for his friends tells us something about being a faithful follower of God. Oh, that we could stop actions driven by fear, and pray for the wellbeing of those who oppose us.

And now we come to the fairy tale ending. I think on October 14 I used the line “mirror, mirror on the wall” to invite us to look into the mirror and see if our reflection is God’s we are or a reflection of a world of our own imagination? (Trotter) This morning I’m back to the same line “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Only I’m not interested in who the best-looking person is, I’m interested in knowing if God is fair? if God is just? Job never gets, and so, we never get an answer to that question. What he does get is a vision of the truth, about God, about creation and about himself. Learning to see the truth is hard work; learning to see the truth about the world around us, learning to see the truth about ourselves is tormentingly difficult (Pagano). Job now sees the truth. Through a secondhand experience of Job’s trial, have we learned something of the truth about the world? about ourselves? Maybe how we read the final segment of today’s reading gives us a clue.

We heard the fairy tale ending. Everything Job has is restored, only more so. All those who ignored him ate with him, offered him comfort, and gave him “a piece of money and  gold ring.” He now has twice as many herds and flocks. All his children are restored. And at 140 Job dies “old and full of days” The phrase “old and full of days” is used to describe Abraham (Gen. 25:8), Isaac (Gen. 35:29) and David (1 Chr. 23:1) (Keener and Walton); and is a traditionally associated with wisdom and piety (Gaventa and Petersen).

A couple of observations. We never hear from or about Job’s wife, who also suffered all the losses that Job did. I wonder what she thinks of bearing seven children again? In chapter 1 the focus is on Job’s sons. Here the attention is on his three daughters. Their names are revealed, and that is always indication this is a time to pay attention; and they each received an inheritance with their brothers; that is very rare in the bible. Maybe through his suffering Job has seen the true plight of the powerless, especially women. (Harrelson).

While in high school and college I worked a couple summers for a construction company. The owner had a partner who was a commercial real estate broker. From time to time the broker put together investors to buy a piece of investment property. Some thirty years ago I was invited to join one. We did. We made ten years of principle, interest and tax payments. We made another ten years’ worth of tax payments. And then the property sold for ten times what we paid for it. Angie and I took our share and used most of it to finance a gymnastics and competitive cheerleading school. Later we also invested in an oil well that would provide a nice cash flow. Not quite a fairy tale, but life looked very good. Then the scheme broke. The business plan did not consider discretionary income, which was low in the area we were, and is the category of family income that pays for things like gymnastics and cheerleading. The oil well produced one royalty check and then spewed water. Both investments went bust. We made some mistakes, but we were well-intentioned; we saw the gym as a form of outreach ministry. We weren’t as righteous as Job, no one is, but we were acting, for the good of the community. As it goes with failed investments there has been no restoration.

All of you have had similar loss experiences, in business, relationships, school, death, etc. How do we apply the restoration, the Disney ending of Job, to our experiences? Until the restoration of Job’s fortunes, we easily see Job’s story as a powerful biblical counter to the implied biblical idea that fortunes are a sign of God’s blessing; and illness, poverty, and miss fortune are a sign of some sin or another (Newsom). Until the restoration bit, Job debunks the prosperity gospel (Tucker, Jr. Proper 22) The trouble is not the Disney /fairy tale ending. The trouble is reading it as literal truth, not a metaphorical truth revealed in a Disney style fairy tale story. We can resolve our conundrum, our unsolvable puzzle, by a return to the beginning. Not chapter 1 of Job, but chapter 1 of Genesis:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

In the first story in scripture, we learn God made us, all of us, to be in relationship with God. This is the most important relationship we can have; all the others stand on this one. So, if our relationship with God is fractured, as Job’s was, the most important thing is to restore that relationship. Job changes his mind about the injustice of life’s unfair tribulations, without any assurance of a subsequent blessing. So, the restoration of Job reflects God’s faithfulness, eternal presence, to those who have a humble awe of God. Job does not hold God in awe to receive a reward, but in discovering the awesomeness of God, Job discovers the faithfulness of God (Tucker, Jr. Proper 25).

I suppose this leads us to the metaphor of a Disney fairy tale of a life of woe when the hero or heroine asks “Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s most faithful of all?” Deep in your hearts you know. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take 42 grueling chapters to see the truth; but if it does our faithful God will there.


Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 10 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Newsom, Carol A. New Interpreters Bible, Book of Job. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree App.

Pagano, Joe. “Let Me See, Pentecost 23 (B).” 28 10 2018. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Trotter, John Scott. “The Mirror On The Wall.” unpublished sermon, 14 10 2018.

Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis. “Commentary on Job 1:1; 2:1-10.” 7 10 2018. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis . Commentary on Job 42:1-6, 10-17. 26 10 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.





The 95 Percent We Cannot See

A Sermon for Proper 24: Job 38:1-7, (34-41), Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 7, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

Last week we heard the debate between Job and three friends. We don’t read the similar debate between Job and a 4th friend, Elihu. He goes on an excruciatingly self-assured, self-righteous tirade for 6 chapters (Mast). This morning we hear that Job gets what Job wants, well some of what he wants.

God answers Job out of a whirlwind, a typical sign of a theophany (the presence of God) which here indicates God’s displeasure (Isa 29:6, Jer. 23:19 and 30:23, and Zech. 9:1) (NISB). God does not answer Job’s questions about evil, and justice, nor does God condemn or humiliate Job (Mast). He does tell him to get ready for action requiring unchecked agility. (Newsom). What follows is fours chapters of question after question that challenge Job’s knowledge of all creation. What does Job’s knowledge of creation have to do with evil or justice? What is really going on in these verses?

The Book of Job one of the wisdom writings, which were written to teach us something. (Tucker, Jr.) But What? If we listen to Job carefully we hear he wants to debate God face to face; he wants to understand why he has been put through all this agony. He doesn’t get a face to face meeting, and that’s a good thing because it is dangerous to see God:

God tells Moses you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live (Exodus 33:20).

Moses tells the Hebrews Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived (Deuteronomy 4:33)?

Gideon says Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face (Judges 6:22)

Manoah (Samson’s father) tells his wife, We shall surely die, for we have seen God. (Judges 13:22).

What Job does get is that list of questions. And yes, they challenge his place, humanity’s place, our place, in the making of the cosmos but they also reveal the grandeur of the cosmos and the majesty of creation. They make clear that creation is well beyond human abilities but ~ it is the results of God’s will; (Tucker, Jr.). including the elements of chaos, which are present in the universe (Gaventa and Petersen). The questions reveal a cosmos way too vast way too powerful for Job to fully grasped (Gaventa and Petersen). They leave him befuddled (Tucker, Jr.). At the same time, they affirm that creation remains ordered by God (Tucker, Jr.).

In a peculiar way, the divine questioning the divine order seems to kindle trust. If God can create such wonders, stores of rain, ice and snow pathways for the sun, moon and stars provision for all wild animals and birds, even the predator lion, and the scavenger raven (Gaventa and Petersen) if God can control the chaos of seas & darkness then perhaps life is under divine control, not predetermined and manipulated but held within boundaries and establish a moral order (Epperly).

At this point, there is the possibility we run into ourselves. We know so much more about the cosmos and the workings of creation than those of Job’s time. We are on the verge of making a new kind of computer that takes advantage of quantum mechanics, which explains the behavior of the smallest particles, which have interesting characteristics like ‘spooky’. We begin to think we can, or at least some people can fully grasp all the mysteries of creation. So, while creation, as described in Job, is certainly spectacular, it may not kindle the kind of trust for us as it did for the ancient students of Job (Mast).

But, we have a problem. The same physics that gives us quantum mechanics also reveals that what we can detect of the universe is about 5% of what is there. 95% of the universe is dark matter and dark energy, which have to be there to make the math of physics work, but we cannot detect it, or measure it, or know it in any way at all. So, maybe we are no so knowing as we might think. Maybe realizing we mostly grasp a tiny 5 percent of creation leaves room for a trust to emerge from the vast 95% mystery of creation that is both wild and beautiful, dangerous yet held within boundaries.

Last week we explored the power of God. It is not the power to move mountains or manipulate molecules creating or avoiding this or that event. The power of God is love. God’s reply to Job reveals a God who sings with such love that becomes such energy, that becomes such matter, both seen and unseen, that guarantees our existence. It is God’s love that is creating all that is, seen and unseen, beauty and chaos, light and darkness, known and unknown. It is God’s love that encloses the chaos, and the darkness. It is God’s love that limits the seeming randomness of life, not by controlling it, but by the loving presence that assures us that we are not alone; we never have been; we never will be.

That love is present to us, That Love is present to C and C grieving the death of a loved one, is present to S, J, and S who justifiably wonder “What’s next?” is present to all who are experiencing their own version of Job’s “Why me?” experience. I do not, and I cannot know what difference this makes to those who suffer the hurts of slings and arrows but with all my heart and with all my soul I know it makes a difference. Such love may be like that 5% of the universe we can see, it is what we know, and it comforts us. Just perhaps such love is also like the 95% of the universe we cannot see, we can’t know it, it’s beyond understanding but it must be, because it shapes how we live, and move and have our being.



Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 10 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Mast, Stan. Job 38:1-7, (34-41). 21 10 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Newsom, Carol A. New Interpreters Bible, Book of Job. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC). Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree App.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis. 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]. 3 6 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.





The Mirror On The Wall

A sermon for Proper 23; Job 23:1-9, 16-17, Psalm 22:1-15, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31

Last week I mentioned Job is my favorite Disney story in scripture. This week I was going to create some clever amalgamation of all the Disney heroes and heroines to be Job and/or ourselves. I was also going to create an equally clever amalgamation of all the Disney villains to be Job’s friends. But, our kids are 30 something, it has been a long time since we’ve really watched a Disney movie. And yes, we have grandkids, and we have watched Disney movies with them. Only they have seen them dozens of times, so they know what’s going to happen, and are so excited, they just have to share it with us, so we spend as much time listening to our grandkids (who really are grand) as we do watching the movie. I thought that would be okay, I could just google the lot. And then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday happened, no Disney googling. So, welcome back to Job.

Between last week and chapter 23 lots has happened. As you recall, last week we ended with Job’s wife uttering her infamous line Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die. (Job 2:9). Job has an equally terse reply. Later Job has three friends show up; only they do not recognize him. That is a bit much, and Job begins to wish he had never been born. He might even welcome death, which in his day is being cut off from God, and right now all Job wants is for God to leave him alone [1] (Gaventa, and Petersen.). The next twenty chapters are 3 cycles of exchanging speeches. It is not an interactive conversation like we are used to. It is a friend’s long speech, followed by Job’s response, then another friend’s speech and so on. It’s almost like a political debate, except they stay on topic.

The first cycle of speeches begins with Eliphaz. He reminds Job of the great wisdom he has shared with others, and that he is surprised Job cannot offer the same wisdom to himself. Job’s response describes his suffering, and he maintains his righteousness, he lashes out at his friends, recounts that he is insignificant before God and that he just wants to be left alone, wondering who he is, who humanity is, that God cares much.

Bildad makes his first speech, asking if God perverts justice. Of course not; so, if Job will only plead before God, God will restore him and his riches. In his response Job agrees, God does not pervert justice, but that is of little consequence, because even a righteous person, as he is, does not have a chance against such power. He begins to ponder entering binding arbitration to settle his case.

Zophar’s makes his first speech. He criticizes Job

Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and should one full of talk be vindicated? Should your babble put others to silence, and when you mock, shall no one shame you? (Job 11:2-3)

 He continues saying it is impossible to understand God’s ways. He is convinced of Job’s sin and does not take his thoughts seriously. Like his companions the only answer Zophar offers are common convention. Job’s reply is long, angry and sarcastic. He observes that even though he is no less wise than they are, he is a laughing stock. On the other hand, anyone, even the animals, can see God is responsible for his troubles. Now Job has decided to argue his case directly before God, even though his friends will unjustly take God’s side. He pleads with God to show him what he has done to deserve his fate.

Eliphaz also begins the second cycle of speeches. He is less sympathetic and criticizes Job’s speeches as grounded in his sin, not his anguish. He doubles down on the belief that pain, despair, and destitution are characteristics of a sinner. Job responds with increasing insults towards his friends, and greater criticism towards God. Job continues with his legal argument and calls for witnesses for him, including heavenly ones. Job repeats his desire for death, cynically noting it is the only possible place of refuge.

Bildad resumes his speech, with less patience for Job than ever. He says the way of the world is the way of the world, and the created order will not make an exception for anyone, not even Job. He emphasizes how Job will be completely cut off from his family, and children and all memory of him will be lost, an exceptionally devastating thought in the ancient world. Job accuses Bildad of verbal abuse swearing that God has done him wrong. He complains that he is looking for pity from his friends and all they have given him is accusation after accusation. Now he wants to write his argument in stone so it will last forever. He is looking to the future when he will be proved right For I know that my Redeemer lives (Job 19:25). It helps to know for Job a ‘redeemer’ is a family member whose job is to protect the interest of the family when normal protections fail. He says he wants his words preserved, what he really wants is for him to be proven right, while he still lives.

Zophar speaks for the second time; he fears that Job’s view is threatening the basic principles of reward and punishment that is the ground of their way of life. He notes how the wicked may appear to be happy and wealthy, but that will all disappear quickly, and the wicked will get their just rewards. Job rejects the traditional idea that the wicked are punished and he does “overturn the foundation of the moral order of the world” Job’s vision of the moral order is based on his experience not from tradition and wisdom teachings of the ages; thus, he pronounces that “reward and punishment are random without reason.”

Eliphaz Speaks for the third time. He begins by saying that human piety can neither hurt or benefit God, therefore, God is the perfect objective judge of humanity. He contends that Job’s sin is seen in moral, social, and economic persecution of the underprivileged, echoing a theme so prevalent in the prophetic writings. He goes on to contend that Job’s view puts God so high in the heavens that what is happening on earth is invisible. He gives a final warning to Job not to side with the wicked but learn from their punishments.

This morning we heard most of Job’s reply. He will seek God. He will argue his case before God. Only he cannot find God. It’s the opposite of my favorite Trinity Hymn, St. Patrick’s Beast Plate (The Episcopal Church, 371) with its musically different 6th verse:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

For Job, God is not with, or within, or behind, or before, or beside, or beneath, or above. God does not comfort or restore or win. There is no divine presence that quiets, or in danger, or in loving hearts, nor words of friends or strangers. But even in divine absence Job knows that God knows he righteous; even so, God does as God does, and that terrifies Job.

People who come to seek pastoral advice and counsel for many reasons. Frequently there is a sense of insecurity born of a loss of belonging. Whatever made their world make sense is gone and they are at a loss. They may feel like Job, they cannot find their previously trustworthy presence of God, but they know God still is active in the world and the knowledge that God works independently of their worldview is terrifying. I have encouraged some of them to talk to God, with the full range of their emotions, as Job has and will do. I also tell them to beware, God will reply, as we will hear.

But this morning I want us to take a look at ourselves, not as Job, but as Job’s friends, who are unable to let go of their view of how the world works, how God works, because to do so terrifies them. We know Job is righteous, and that the disasters that have come upon him are the results of a heavenly bet between God and the heavenly attorney general ha-satan. We know what has happened to Job is not fair. His friends do not, which means they are unable to hear Job. Even though they hold to God’s presence in the world and that the righteous – wellbeing scheme is true, they sense that God acts as God will act and that terrifies them. So, I wonder why we are unable to hear a friend, or an acquaintance, or a work colleague, or a stranger? There are times when our need to hold on to our vision of society, the world writ large, the cosmos, or God bumps into God acting as God will act is so terrifying that it gets in the way our being the image of God we are. It is that terror keeps us from hearing a friend, acquaintance, or a work colleague, or a stranger in need.

We all know God is all powerful. However, we typically understand that power as the ability to move mountains or manipulate molecules that could either prevent or cause, think Job, tragedy. And scripture gives us plenty of examples of mysterious super-natural power at work in the world. But more and more I don’t think that is God’s omnipotent power. God’s omnipotent power is love; love that forgives all, love that is freely given to all. The divine love given to all, the love that we are to reflect to all, terrifies us, just like God acting as God will act terrifies Job and his friends. Job’s friends are afraid to give up their vision of how God works because if they did it would mean they would have to love someone they’d rather not love. Divine love given freely to all is so powerful that it scares us into acting just like Job’s friends because we can’t conceive of how we could love someone we believe is unworthy, by our standards.

I mentioned I’m not sure which class of Disney characters Job’s friends are. I’m not sure which class of Disney characters we are. I’m not even sure where we are in a typical storyline, except that we are at the point just before something unexpected happens. Between now and when the unexpected comes I sense we are called to go carefully and courageously look in the mirror on the wall, not to see whose fairest, but to see whose image we are. Is the image a reflection of God? Is the image a reflection of a world of our own imagination? It may well be a disturbing experience. But, when we see the truth, we will also see the step to freedom.


Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 10 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kesselus, Ken. Possessions, Pentecost 21 (B). 14 10 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Mast, Stan. Job 23:1-9; 16-17. 14 10 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

McCann Jr., J. Clinton. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis. “Commentary on Job 23:1-9, 16-17.” 29 7 2018. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.




[1] All reference are from New interpreters 1 Volume Commentary

Job’s Loves Labors Lost

A Sermon for Proper 22: Job 1:1; 2:1-10, Psalm 26, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16

 Beginning today and through October we will be exploring Job. Job is my favorite Disney story in the bible. Disney? In the Bible? Think for a minute about the structure of Disney movies. When the movie opens everything is great, nearly perfect, expressed in a musical theme. Then something tragic happens and perfection is broken. In most, if not all the stories, a character dies. Eventually, the hero or heroine prevails, perfection is reestablished, and frequently the musical theme from the opening reappears in grand style.

Also, in Disney stories, when you are 3, you hear one story, when you are 30, you hear another story.

To help us glean the most we can let’s establish some background, beginning with the characters. We are first introduced to Job who is described as blameless and upright, one who feared God and turns away from evil (Job 1:1). The description of his life shows perfection, everything totals to ten, ten children, 10 thousand sheep and camels, ten thousand donkeys and oxen. In the ancient world, ten is the number of perfection. He is from Uz, and its location is vague, at best. His name is not typically Hebrew. Whoever he is, where ever he is from, Job is not Jewish, (Tucker, Jr.).

The next character is the ha-satan, with a little ‘s’. In the Old Testament, the word is used to describe both heavenly beings and humans (Tucker, Jr.). In your insert you read “Satan,” capital ‘S,’ in the Hebrew there is the article ‘ha’ in front of the noun ‘satan’ indicating it is a tile or an office, perhaps a sort of divine spy or attorney general seeking out those who are not loyal to God (Tucker, Jr.; Epperly). The next character is God, who is really the central character in the book.

We also meet Job’s wife. She has one line in 42 chapters,

 Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die. (Job 2:9).

It is an infamously biting line. However, Elizabeth Achtemeier suggests it reveals a tragic character who is desperately trying to care for her husband while dealing with the same horrific losses he suffers. (McCann Jr.). I think I get Achtemeier is saying. Yes, Ms. Job is mad at Job; maybe mad at God. She also knows how much he hurts. She knows his pain is just as deep as her pain. She doesn’t shriek at her husband from anger. She shrieks out of her pain, the loss of prestige, the loss of status, the loss of wealth and ~~ the loss of ten children. And yes, I know I have said how little young children were valued in ancient days. These are not young children. Their children are adults.

Now that we have been properly introduced, it is helpful to put today’s reading in context. So here is a summary of what has just happened.

God’s court of heavenly beings gather and God brags about Job to ha-satan, who replies

Have you ever thought Job is so righteous because he is so blessed?

They make a bet, ha-satan will take away from Job everything he has, only ha-satan cannot touch Job, and they will see if Job remains righteous. In a series of disasters, all his flocks and herds and fields are destroyed, all the attending servants are killed, except the one who brings the news. A great wind storm collapsed the house his adult children were in, and they were all killed. All the attending servants were also killed, except the one who brings the news. Job responds by tearing his robe and shaving his head, traditional acts of grief (Harrelson; Keener and Walton). He then says

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. (Job 1:21)

Today’s reading opens with the same heavenly council. God again mentions Job to ha-satan saying

 He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him (Job 2:3).

Ha-satan ups the ante by noting that nothing has happened to Job’s person. They agree to a second bet ha-satan can touch Job’s person, to see if Job remains righteous, but ha-satan cannot kill him. As we heard Job is afflicted with sores and boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Job, sitting in ashes, a sign of morning, where he may have been grieving for his children (McCann Jr.), picks up bits of broken pots and begins scraping his skin.

A note about skin disease in the ancient world. If you have ever had a bad rash or other skin diseases, you may have tried to hide it. There is just something a bit embarrassing a big ole red, scaly, blob on your skin. One commentator notes this is so because our skin is involved in the public presentation of our self. When our skin is all blotchy, scaly and ugly, it is often a source of social disgust. In the ancient east skin diseases were believed to be a sign of divine displeasure, the worse the disease, the greater the divine displeasure. There have been multiple efforts to diagnose Job’s body wide extreme acne, but that effort simply misses the point (McCann Jr.). Job is facing another tragedy, another social disgrace presumably caused by divine displeasure.

So, what is the point? Two came to the surface; one is the question “Why bad things happen to good people?” and its associate the prosperity gospel. We will get to those in the weeks to come. Today I want to explore love and labors lost.

Love is risky business (McCann Jr.). It is not 50-50 deal, it requires you to give all you have. And while love is a source of great joy, it is also a well of agony because love cannot guarantee the wellbeing of ones we love. All the prayers, all the advice, all the rituals (good and bad) cannot diminish the vulnerability of being finite, mortal beings (McCann Jr.). The concern and commitment we put into ensuring the health, financial stability, and security of those we love is a sign of our love for them. These concerns and commitments and our loved ones are so important Job’s story forces us to face the possibility of losing them. The loss of our loved ones, or those things that provide for their wellbeing, and our well being is tremendously disruptive. We lose our moorings, we get disoriented and angry, and find ourselves in a shadowed valley of hopelessness. Job’s story forces us to face our roles in their loss. Job’s story forces us to face the apparent randomness of such losses.

Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy about four companions who swear off the company of women for three years to be spent in study and fasting. Of course, they fall hopelessly in love with the princess and her courtiers. Shakespeare does not resolve the tension, between their commitment and falling in love. The play simply ends with the death of the princesses’ father which results in all weddings being delayed for a year (Wikipedia).

Like Shakespeare, I find myself in the unusual place of not resolving life’s challenges introduced this morning. The story began describing a righteous man and his perfect family life. With God’s consent, something tragic has happened and perfection is broken. The hero/heroine has not yet prevailed. My prayer is that as we continue our walk-through Job we will learn something about ourselves, and more importantly something about God. Between now and then let’s continue to take the risk and keep on loving, our families, our selves, and our God, who knows perhaps not all loves labour’s are lost.



Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 10 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

McCann Jr., J. Clinton. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Tucker, Jr., Dennis W. Commentary on Job 1:1; 2:1-10. 7 10 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Wikipedia. Love’s Labour’s Lost. n.d. 7 10 2018. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love%27s_Labour%27s_Lost&gt;.

Be Salty

A Sermon for Proper 21, Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124. James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50 

You would think that reading the bible would be a relatively easy thing. But maybe not. The bible was written in 3 different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek The Hebrew (and Aramaic) were translated into Greek, and then into Latin, and finally into the language of the people. Tyndale started the 1st English Translation. When he asked his bishop for permission he was told he could not produce such a “heretical” text. He decided to begin the work anyway and was only partially finished in 1535, before his execution. The King James Bible, completed in 1611, is the 3rd English translation. Today the complete Bible has been translated into 636 languages, the New Testament into 1,442 languages and parts of the Bible into 3,223 languages. Chapters were added in the 13th century, and verses were added in the 16th century; I’m not sure when the titles were added. All this help us by giving us standardized references. Or, do they?

As you know last week’s Gospel reading ended with Jesus holding a little child in his arms saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37) Period, next verse, and the heading “Another Exorcist” begins another story, or does it?

In my text, there is a period; a new line, a title, and the next line looks like a new paragraph. It looks like a new story that begins “John said to him …” Philip Ruge-Jones suggests that John actually interrupts Jesus, bragging about stopping an exorcist, “because he is not following us.” “Not following us.” Us! What happened to following Jesus?

It sounds as if John and the rest of the disciples are pleased with themselves for preserving the purity and orthodoxy of the Jesus’ movement (Epperly, Perkins). All of which is a bit strange because the disciples don’t yet know what Jesus all is about, and all the way back at verse 28, the disciples could not cast a demon out (Zee). Could they be afraid? Do they fear of someone, beyond their circle, who can cast out demons?

Jesus tells them “Do not stop him” and list three connected reasons (Epperly)

  • if someone uses my name to do a deed of power, they will not be able to speak against me
  • whoever is not against us is for us, and
  • whoever gives you a cup of water, because you bear the name of Christ, will not lose the reward.

Note that in two of Jesus’ reasons Jesus is central, and in the third Jesus is included in the “for us” making Jesus the center of it all, and he includes everyone, who makes Jesus central in their life, a partner in his’ work. In doing this Jesus rebukes the disciples exclusive thinking. He is not nurturing a clique. He stops or at least tries to stop, the disciples from falling into the trap of “us” vs “them” thinking. (Kesselus).

Jesus continues with a series of proverb style warnings about what happens to those who are a stumbling block to one of these little ones who believe in me (Mark 9:42). After saying it would better to drown that to be a stumbling block he gives three gruesome examples, in which Jesus says it is better to be without a hand, a foot or an eye than find yourself in hell, whether hell is a fiery pit or complete isolation from any being including God.

Part of hearing Jesus clearly is understanding who the “Little Ones” are. Possibilities include: the child who is still in his arms, (Mark 9:36-37) after John’s interruption, all children, those new in faith, those weak in faith, the helpless, the poor, Christians in general, and those otherwise marginalized, hurt or injured by another or by an institution (Zee. Ruge-Jones, Perkins). In some ways Jesus presents the little ones as a sacrament, they are an outward and visible image of an inward (invisible) presence of God’s grace.

No matter our thoughts on what it is worth to avoid hell, and whoever little one maybe, they are intended to be connected to Jesus and this connection rebukes the notion that the disciples are some sort of exclusive, orthodox, righteous group, with special privileges. John’s use of “not following us” is a sign of this kind of dangerous thinking. The sad truth is that in the centuries since, a similar frenzy that Christianity is a preserve of a privileged few has been all too common. It is also true that such thinking has been and still is pervasive today.

Now I am going to ask you to stay with me because my thoughts are not partisan, but they do apply to the current debate and vote in the US Senate to confirm a nominee for a Supreme Court Associate Justice. I invite us to take a step back from the deeply emotional trauma of the accusations of sexual assault and look only at the response of the institution of the US Senate. Not Republicans. Not Democrats. But the US Senate as an institution. What I see is an institutional emotional response to a threat. It is the same reaction of the disciples who witnessed someone “not following us” casting out a demon, they couldn’t cast out. The disciples got distracted defending their own status. So, do we. So, do institutions. So, has the US Senate.

Take another step back and look at the treatment of victims of sexual harassment and assault and notice how they are routinely denied their rights to due process by involved institutions redefining them as somehow in error or unworthy. I fear there is evidence of similar behavior within the #metoo movement where those accused are denied due process, because of the institutions involved are acting to defend themselves. The danger is that denial of due process for the accused legitimizes the denial of due process for victims of sexual assault and harassment.

One of the basic tenants of Jesus’ teaching and biblical thought is justice. A challenge to justice has always been and is the power of institutions, like religious authority, the very wealthy businesses and individuals, and governments. A way to help ensure justice, and ensure due process, is to promote social norms so that no institution oversees due process when it is involved in the dispute. So, no university, no college, no academy or school should investigate a charge of sexual assault or harassment made against a student, faculty, administration or staff member of that institution. All such investigations should be done by the appropriate law enforcement agency. No corporation should investigate a charge of sexual assault or harassment against an employee, a contractor or an affiliate. All such investigations should be done by the appropriate law enforcement agency. This goes for governments also, counties investigate cities, states investigate counties, the feds investigate state, and the FBI or appropriate the state law legal agency investigates the feds. The Senate should not have attempted to investigate the charges brought by Dr. Blasey Ford against Judge Kavanaugh. This investigation should be done by the appropriate law enforcement agency, which would be the FBI, or the Washington, or a Maryland police department.

Of course, as soon as I wrote this, literally, as soon as I wrote this, I learned of the agreement for an FBI investigation and a delay in the Senate confirmation vote. This is a good step, but it still falls short because the Senate is still adjudicating the evidence, the FBI will provide a report but as is the process it will not include interpretative statements.

The same investigative rule should be true for the Catholic church, The Episcopal Church, and all churches. All charges of sexual assault and harassment should be investigated by the appropriate law enforcement agency.

We have made some progress. As do most, if not all states, Arkansas has mandatory reporting laws for child and elder abuse. By the way, you call the child or elder abuse hotline. Were that we were all children and elders.

Since all of us are one of God’s little ones, I would support similar mandatory reporting laws for sexual abuse and/or harassment; with particular attention paid to the rights and responsibility of the victim, which can be complex. In our pursuit of Justice, we do not want to victimize a victim. I would also support every citizen being a mandatory reporter for child, elder, and sexual abuse/harassment, or any other kind of abuse.

One lesson from this gospel reading is the consequences of sin. This raises the question of how pervasive sin is? My experience is that sin is both less and more pervasive; i.e. the sin that gets our attention, mass shootings etc. are far less pervasive than presented by news sources. Institutional sin like deflecting sex abuse and harassment is far more common than reported; as we are learning. Our challenge as Christians is to hear this morning’s proverbial teaching of Jesus, which is not so much about consequences as it is awareness and prevention. Jesus closing words are: Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50) We understand be at peace with one another, but how in the world can we have salt in ourselves? in the Old Testament description of the Jewish sacrificial system salt in part of the process. Jesus’ admonition to have salt in your selves, suggests that we be worthy sacrifices and undergirds Paul’s calling for us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1) (Zee). Jesus wants his disciples, us and all God’s people to be salty, to be at peace with each other. He knows the true mark of an ethical society is not how it adjudicates problems but how it teaches its citizens, young and old the self-discipline not to be a cause of a problem. And that begins by knowing all of us are the child, the little one in God’s ever-loving arms.


Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 9 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kesselus, Ken. “Look for the Commonality, Pentecost 19 (B).” 30 9 2018. Sermons that Work.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 9:38-50. 30 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Zee, Leonard Vander. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 9:38-50. 30 9 2018.