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.


References

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;.

 

 

 

 

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.

Amen


References

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;.

A Journey to Light, A Journey to Darkness

A sermon for Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41, Psalm 23

If you watch enough Disney movies, you begin to notice a pattern: you are introduced to characters with wonderful lives; life breaks, often involving death; there is terrible hardship;  and with unexpected help the hero or heroine prevails. Think about the book of Job, we are introduced to Job, his wonderful extended family, and  his righteous life. We see a side bet between the divine court accuser and God. This leads to a horrific set of tragedies in which Job loses everything. Three friends offer unexpected help, “Confess your sins.” He protests, “I haven’t sinned!” and we know he’s his right. His wife eventually tells him to “Curse God and die.” He doesn’t, he persist in his conversation with God, though sometimes with vehement vim and vigor. God wins the bet; and Job’s former life is restored. Now I mention all this, because Job shatters the link between sin and life’s afflictions. It appears that no one in this morning’s Gospel story, except Jesus, knows the tale.

The disciples see a man born blind; in fact all they see is his blindness. They don’t want to know why he is blind; they know that – sin, they want to know who sinned? his parent or him? Jesus replies: No one. This man was born blind. Let the works of God be known. Then he put mud, made of spittle, a common healing agent of the day, on the blind man’s eyes and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man does; and somewhere along the way his sight is restored, because when he returns, he can see. Notice, Jesus and the disciples are not there.

At this point the story has drawn me to the connection between sin and life’s afflictions. It is the belief of the day. Jesus completely rejects the idea. The maladies of life, horrid and inconvenient happen; let God’s work, God’s glory, or presence, be made know. I suspect that we don’t believe we connect sin to the afflictions and maladies of life as 1st century Jews did; but I’m not sure that is the truth. How often do we hear judgment in: that woman is unemployed, or this man is divorced, or she’s a single mom; he’s a high school dropout, he’s a failure; she’s an alcoholic, she has cancer, or he’s depressed. [i] How often do we hear an ideological or political position, regarding caring for the least of these, grounded in blaming the blind man? Listen for how we use phrases like nature or nurture, or nature or choice. How often do we respond to life’s maladies as our opportunity to reveal the works, glory and presence of God?

There is another gleaning about sin from John’s Gospel teaching. John posits that sin is not a moral issue, but a theological issue, sin is only about our relationship with God through Jesus. [ii] This results in a far greater change than one might think, because salvation shifts from association with Jesus’ death, to arising from Jesus’ life, in other words salvation is no longer sacrificial salvation is incarnational. Gail O’Day writes:

Judgment is therefore based not on what people do, as the disciples and the Pharisees in John 9 assumed, but on people’s embrace of God in Jesus. [iii]

At this point the story changes into two simultaneous journeys: the man born blind into relationship with Jesus; and the Pharisees into denial of Jesus. They are intertwined, but let’s look at them separately, starting with the man born blind.

The man born blind returns from the pool and he can see. His neighbors do not recognize him; at least there is a debate about who he is. It is as if they have never seen him before; as if all they ever saw was that he was blind. [iv] In explaining what happened the man born blind says:

A man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, told me, `Go to Siloam and wash.’  I did and received my sight.

 Next he is interrogated by the Pharisees. They ask how his sight was restored and he repeats the story. The Pharisees are also divided, so they ask the man born blind about Jesus. In spite of the implied threat he stands his ground [v] in answering: He is a prophet. Notice his relationship with Jesus changing from “a man called” to “a prophet.”

After the Pharisees interview his parents, they return to the man born blind demanding he give glory to God, and declare Jesus a sinner. The man born blind answers:

 I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

 
The interrogation increases, the threat is no longer implicit as the Pharisees try to intimidate him with their authority, but undaunted [vi] he answers:

We know that God … listens to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

As a result, the Pharisees drive him out, of their presence, of the synagogue, of life in the Jewish community. His life has changed. Notice how the man born blind relationship with Jesus is developing, he now professes that Jesus worships and obeys God will.

Jesus reappears, asking the man born blind Do you believe in the Son of Man? He replies: And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him. Jesus answers: I am He replies Lord, I believe. And he worships him.

Sight and blindness are not defined by one’s physical sight, but by one’s openness to the revelation of God in Jesus. The man who had been born blind confession is the culmination of his progression in faith. He received his physical sight, but his true sight came as he moved through his ignorance to recognizing Jesus as the Son of Man, as the light of the world. [vii] The man born blind has become a child of the light, and Christ’s light is shining on him.

The Pharisees’ journey could not be more different. The man born blind is brought to the Pharisees with his amazing story. The Pharisees are divided; some don’t believe Jesus is from God, he worked, made mud, on the Sabbath. [viii] Others say a sinner cannot possibly do such things.

They move on to the man’s parents. It is a court room like hearing. His parents acknowledge he is their son and that he was born blind. They disavow any knowledge of how he received his sight; perhaps out of fear of being thrown out of the synagogue and cut off, in all ways, spiritually, socially and economically, from their community. In short they protected themselves. [ix]

The inquest returns to the man born blind. This time the opening is accusative; they declare that Jesus is a sinner. Later they declare they are disciples of Moses, whom God spoke to.

The Pharisees have moved from questioning to denial. Is it any wonder they fail to recognize Jesus? Scott Hoezee observes that as soon as questions about the miracle arise, Jesus disappears. He notes:

The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus. [x]

In part the Pharisees are blind to who Jesus is because they are holding on to Moses etc. Their behavior is similar to Samuel grieving over Saul; he is having a hard time letting go. How often do we have a hard time letting go of what was, as good as it may have been, and fail to see how God is currently in our lives, [xi] how God is calling us to celebrate the grace and love the surrounds us.

And here we get to another gleaning in Today’s Gospel story. We know by observation and experience there is pain and misery and affliction in the world. We proclaim by faith, that God, in Jesus, by the Spirit over comes it all. And we have a vast ancient and not so ancient set of thoughts, liturgies, and physical settings we associate with God’s presence. And we hold on to them with all the vigor that Samuel is holding on to Saul, and the Pharisees are holding on the Moses, both of whom are of God. But life is not stagnate; it moves, it changes, situations evolve. What was is not what is. God tells Moses I am. Jesus tells the woman at the well and the man born blind:  I am. It’s a strange phrase that expresses both present and future being. God is in our present. God is calling us into a divine future. The man born blind journeys into the future Jesus revels to him, and he is healed, he becomes whole. The Pharisees refuse the journey, they reject Jesus’ vision of the future, and they cease being whole, they move into blindness, into darkness.

This is Lent, a time to reorient our lives to God. A time to let go of what was, as good as it may have been, and accept what is being offered. It is a time to see the world for what it really is, not what we are afraid it has become. [xii] It is a time trusts that though I may be blind, in Jesus’ presence, I can see.

 


[i] David Lose, Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher, Insights, ideas and inspiration by David Lose related to the coming week’s lectionary texts, Identity Theft, Part 2, Tuesday, March 25, 2014 8:42 AM 
[ii] Walter Harrison, New Interpreters Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003
   O’Day, ibid,
[iii] O’Day, ibid
[iv]  Robert Hoch,  John 9:1-41 Commentary by Robert Hoch – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1985 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 9:1-41 
[v] Sermon, worship resources and children’s sermon for March 30th (Lent 4) . March 30, 2014 John 9:1-41 Ephesians 5:8-14 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm Copyright © 1970-2014, SermonSuite / CSS Publishing Company, All Rights Reserved
[vi] O’day, ibid
[vii] ibdi
[viii] O’Day, ibid
[ix] Lose, ibid
   Gerard S. Sloyan, Interpretation  JOHN, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR      TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor 

John Knox Press, ATLANTA

[x]Scott Hoezee  cep.calvinseminary.edu , http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php,This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is March 30, 2014 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 9:1-41 
[xi] ibid 
[xii] Robert Hoch Michele Bilyeu “With Heart and Hands” (25 September 2012),  http://www.with-heart- andhands. com/2012_09_01_archive.html, accessed on 16 November  2013.
                Alzheimer’s Prayer: “I pray that [caregivers and family members will care] for their patients and loved ones as the                                    people they truly are . . . and not just who they seem to have become.”