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  (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>.
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/>.
Mast, Stan. Job 23:1-9; 16-17. 14 10 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/>.
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>.
 All reference are from New interpreters 1 Volume Commentary