Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Out of the Whirlwind: Sitting in Silence

Today, we begin five weeks in the Book of Job. One of three Wisdom books in the Hebrew scriptures. Can you name the other two? Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs shows us that God has ordered the world so that it is fair. Then, Ecclesiastes observes that this isn’t really so. And it makes us wonder whether God is wise and just. This is one of the questions that is explored in Job. Along with a couple of others, including whether God runs the world with justice and why people suffer, especially why innocent people suffer. These are the primary questions we will explore over these five weeks in Job, which is where we begin today.

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

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

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing. --Job 1:1-22 (NRSV)

The story of Job opens in the make-believe land of Uz, an obscure land far away from Israel, in an unknown time. This seems to be on purpose so that our focus isn’t so much on the when and where, but on the who and the why. 

Job is a very wealthy man. Our story tells us that he was greater than all the people of the east. His wealth had not spoiled him, though. Job was a man of integrity - a sound and honest man, who feared God and shunned evil. He was so faithful in fact that he would proactively offer sacrifices for his children. Just in case they might sin and, in sinning, blaspheme God. 

Job’s integrity was noticed by God, which is where we move next. Into the heavens. 

And we see God surrounded by his team, his heavenly council.  Part of God’s team, too, was one called The Satan. This was more a job title than a name. A better translation of his title was, perhaps, The Accuser or The Adversary. He is like the chief prosecutor in the heavenly realm - the one who is to prevent any sentimentality from eroding the order of the cosmos. Including such sentimental things as faith or the love between God and humanity. The Satan thinks this idea of covenantal love - of sacrificial love - is a divine delusion. And so, when we hear this story in the context of the covenantal love between God and Israel, we understand that it is this that is at stake.

God, almost naively, points Job out to The Satan. "Isn’t he wonderful? Did you notice Job? What integrity! What a man of faith!" But The Satan won’t have any of it. “Do you really believe that? Do you think Job believes in you for no reason? Haven’t you blessed him with riches and wealth? Of course he would believe in you? But, take it away and see what happens? See then that he will curse you to your face.” And the experiment begins. And so, too, the destruction of all that belongs to Job.

He first loses his herds and his caretakers. Then it's his flocks and his shepherds. And, then, his sons and daughters.

We wait to hear Job curse God, but he doesn’t. He engages in acts of mourning, but, even in the midst of his grief, he does not curse God. In fact, he continues to worship God.

But, The Satan isn’t finished yet. The wager isn’t over. There’s another part. If we continue on into chapter 2, we see the heavenly scene repeated between God and The Satan. This time the wager is Job’s health. The Satan strikes his body with severe sores from head to foot. Even Job’s wife tells him to curse God. “Are you still clinging to your integrity?” she challenges him. “Curse God, and die.” But Job will not have any of it.

It’s a hard image for us, isn’t it? That God and Satan are up in heaven using us like pawns on a chessboard. Playing games with our lives. Or with our health. It feels like that at times, though, doesn’t it? We try to be good people. We worship regularly. We say we believe. But, do we? On what does our faith depend? On what we can get from God? “God, if I believe, you’ll give me that new job, right?” Or, “If I go to church faithfully, you’ll restore my health, won’t you?” Don’t we make the same kind of deals with God as in Job's story? Isn’t our faith often a transactional faith, believing in God only if God will give us what we want? Do we love God for what we get out of the relationship? Or do we love God for who God is?

After this has happened to Job - after he has lost everything, we read at the end of chapter two, that he simply sits in silence. But, he doesn’t sit alone. His three friends - Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar - come to console and comfort him. When they see Job they don’t recognize him - the sores have so engulfed his body. They weep for him. They tear their garments in mourning. And, then, they sit with him. Silently. Present with him in his suffering. 

Isn’t this what God does for us? What God does for us in Jesus? Who has entered into our own pain and suffering and that of the world. Who has taken it upon himself. Expecting nothing in return, no wager or transaction. All done in love. 

I recently watched a video of a young African-American woman - Kimberly Jones - who was in pain. Not physical pain per se, but the kind of anguished and angry pain that comes from a sense of hopelessness and despair. A young woman who recounted the pain of what it has been like to be black in America for 400 years. Shackled. Enslaved. Families broken apart and traumatized. And, every time her people try to move ahead, try to be free, they are again enslaved. Lynched. Massacred. Incarcerated. Shut out of systems of power. Traumatized over and over and over again. 

Perhaps the first step for us as people of privilege is to simply sit with our sisters and brothers of color. To enter silently into their grief with them. With no expectation of anything in return. No attempt to fly in and “save” them. But to simply sit with them. To be with them in their suffering and pain, in the way that Job’s friends did for him. The way we do it for each other. The way Jesus did for us, for everyone, and for all creation. To simply be with us. Out of love.

May we do this for our friends and family. May we do this for our community. May we do this for our sisters and brothers of color who have been in so much pain for so long. Amen.

Preached June 14, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
Pentecost 2
Readings: Job 1:1-22, Psalm 17

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