This sermon was preached on Sunday, October 28, 2012, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.
(Revised Common Lectionary, Proper 25B: Job 42:1-6,10-17; Psalm 34:1-8; Hebrews 7:23-28; and Mark 10:46-52. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)
So here we are at the end of the Book of Job and the last of our sermons in this series entitled The Patients of Job. Let’s review the lessons we have learned, the spiritual remedies we have found in the medicine chest of this book.
First, in the introductory scenes in which the character God gave Satan leave to torment Job in ways he did not deserve, we learned that stuff sometimes happens in a person’s life, as it does in the story of Job, that he or she does not merit and for which he or she is not to blame! Stuff sometimes happens in your life that you do not deserve, and you are not to blame for it! The first bit of medicine we found in the Book of Job was the lesson to give up the “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?” ways of thinking, and stop beating ourselves up over things we can’t control! We also learned from the first part of Job’s story that life is a set of questions and that if there is truth to be found in this book, or in any of the books of the Bible, it is to be found in the process of struggling with those questions.
You’ll remember that, in the second reading we heard from this book, Job had decided to take God to court but had a problem: he didn’t know where to find God. In contemplating Job’s quandary, we recalled that our Christian faith assures us that in our times of pain and suffering, God comes to us in the loving acts of others. In illness, for example, God comes to us in the ministrations of the medical professionals who treat us. In emotional distress, God comes to us through those who offer us encouragement. In moments of deep need, God is there in a mysterious way through those who care for us. This gives us hope and courage. We need not cry out as Job did, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him;” (23:3) God knows where to find us. This is the balm for our souls, the spiritual medicine that we found in our second lesson from the Book of Job, that in our times of need, God knows were to find us and that, indeed, God does come to us.
In our third reading, last week, God spoke to Job but did not directly answer Job’s legal complaints. Instead, God’s response to Job was an invitation to us to participate in creation, to get creative. God let Job and us know that the answer to life’s problems is to get creative, to do something unexpected, to think outside the box. That is spiritual medicine for us because neither our problems, nor our world, nor our God will fit neatly into our preconceived boxes.
So those are the Book of Job’s spiritual medicines so far: stuff happens – don’t let it get you down; life is a bunch of questions, not a set of answers; God knows where to find us; and think outside the box.
Between last week’s lesson and this week’s reading, God continues to speak to Job about creation, describing its wildness, its beauty, and its uncontrollable nature; in Chapters 40 and 41, God specifically mentions the great bests Behemoth and Leviathan which cannot be captured and which overwhelm any who see them. The descriptions of nature in these ending chapters are suffused with the love that God has for God’s creation. This overwhelming and uncontrollable world which God created and which God loves is the answer God gives to Job’s self-pitying “Why me?” a question which clearly makes no sense in such a world.
Which brings us to the end and the epilogue but, frankly, these don’t make much sense. They seem to contradict everything we’ve learned so far. The whole book up to this point has seemed to be an argument against the old “wisdom religion” with its system of retributive justice, its idea that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, that whatever happens to you, good or bad, is because you deserve it, so just accept it. But here at the end of the book that seems to be exactly what is happening: Job is rewarded for his righteousness by being reimbursed for his losses. “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job . . . the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Furthermore, God replaces Job’s ten dead children with ten new children, as if children are fungible commodities. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar seem to have been right all along.
But if that’s what this Book of Job is all about, then it offers no spiritual medicines to us at all, for we know that the world simply doesn’t work that way! The righteous aren’t always rewarded; the wicked aren’t always punished; in fact, it’s all too often the other way around. If we read the end of the story in that way, we must be missing something. And indeed we are.
The lesson to be learned here requires that we compare the Job who is “restored” with the Job who existed before all of his losses. That earlier Job was a man who sought to control his world. We are told that that Job “would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number [of his children]; for Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ This is what Job always did.” (1:5) The restored Job, having been shown how uncontrollable the world is, turns loose of control; even before his death would require him to, he gives an inheritance to his children, his daughters as well as his sons. (42:15)
Ellen F. Davis, Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke University Divinity School, in her book Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Cowley:Cambridge, MA, 2001), characterizes God’s speeches to Job, just the opening part of which we heard in last week’s reading, as posing for Job and us this question: “Can you love what you do not control?” (pg. 140)
You may be familiar with a popular saying that goes something like this: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was yours.” God’s admonitions to Job and his restoration of Job’s fortunes affirm the first part of that, but call into the question the bits about return. The point here seems to be that even if it does return, it was never yours, at least it was never yours to control. In God’s descriptions of nature, of the unruliness of the weather, of the harshness of the wilderness, of the violence of the seas, of the wildness of the beasts, God made it clear that God made Creation wild and free, but God nonetheless loves Creation. This new, restored Job has learned to love his family in the same way, respecting their dignity and freedom, not seeking to control their world.
So the lesson for us to learn, the spiritual medicine for us at the end of the book, like the first lesson at its beginning, has to do with our lack of control. From the early scenes, we learned to accept that we cannot control the world; at the end, we learn to love it anyway. Love it even its most out-of-control, darkest times, because the lesson at the end of this Book of Job tells us that when the dark, uncontrollable night is over, the sun always rises. There is always the promise of hope. That is not only the balm at the end of Job’s story, it is the recurring message of the story of God and God’s People told again and again.
In the time of Noah, it rained for forty days and forty nights; water covered the earth for nearly a year. There was nothing Noah and his family could do about it; they were not in control. But, eventually, the dry land appeared again and God hung a rainbow in the sky.
For generations, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. There was nothing they could do about; they were not in control. But then God sent Moses and they were freed.
For forty years they wandered the desert because they were not in control, but eventually Moses led them to, and Joshua led them into, the Promised Land.
The Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and carried away the leaders and a goodly portion of God’s People to Babylon. They were exiled for seventy years; there was nothing they could do about it; they were not in control. But, eventually, God raised up Cyrus the Persian who defeated the Babylonians and set the Israelites free to return and rebuild.
Bartimaeus was blind. There was nothing he could do about it; he was not in control. But, eventually, the Son of God happened by and his sight was restored.
The Son of God himself was beaten, mocked, crucified and killed, laid in a tomb that was not his own. There was nothing he could do about it; he had given up control. But, eventually, there was Easter!
The last verse of the Book of Job as we have received it is, “And Job died, old and full of days.” But in some Greek-language texts there is one more verse added, “And it is written that he will rise again with those whom the Lord raises up.” The end of the Book of Job is a reminder to love what we cannot control, to love what is wild and free, because as bad as things may get, as dark and out-of-control as they may be, eventually there will be something very much like resurrection. And that is balm for our souls, that we like Job “will rise again with those whom the Lord raises up.” Amen.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.