Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hold Fast

This is the first sermon in a series on the Book of Job.





Job 1-2
July 10, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Every story that begins with “once upon a time” can be expected to end with, “and they lived happily ever after.” The story of Job is no exception. But what happens in between those two phrases is not a child’s storybook tale. The book of Job is an ancient folk tale, a compelling tale that tells us something important about suffering. The theological term for that is “theodicy,” the attempt to defend God’s goodness in the face of evil. Theodicy is an effort to sort how a benevolent God can cause or permit evil and suffering in a world that God loves.

Job does not give us any easy answers. In fact, the story is a complicated, difficult tale, and sometimes it sounds like two people trying to tell the same story. That may be a result of multiple authors working on the story over time – we just are not sure about that – but it can be confusing. For today, though, we start with the simple beginning, setting the scene in Job, chapters one and two.

Chapter 1

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.” 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Chapter 2

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 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. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak.
Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home— Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.



Here we have Job, an upright and blameless man.
Of course he is. When everything is going his way.
Let’s see how he holds up to some misery.
Let’s see how his faith withstands death and destruction and illness.
Let’s see whether he will turn away from God.
Let’s see how this upright man reacts to violence against his children.

This conversation between God and Satan – the Hebrew word is “Ha-Shatan – the adversary” -- it sounds like the beginning of a cruel joke, or a sardonic drama.
Thankfully, this is a parable, not meant to be taken literally.
Sadly, what happens to Job is reflective of literal suffering.

Set aside the seeming indifference of God to Job’s plight – we’ll deal with it later.
Descend into the depths of Job’s suffering.
It shouldn’t be hard, not after the week we’ve had.
You’ve no doubt been hearing about the gun violence.
As if that is not enough, here’s a sampling of CNN headlines from yesterday[1]:
· Iraqis retake air base from ISIS, PM says
· U.S., Russia expel each other's diplomats
· South Sudan Independence Day violence: Nearly 150 dead
· More than 200 bodies from migrant shipwreck, Italy says
· Germany: Iran may have tried to violate nuclear deal
· Shots fired at US embassy vehicles
· Bangladeshi police: Attackers fire on prayer group
· N. Korea fires missile from sub
· Typhoon Nepartak forces thousands to evacuate

Karl Barth famously said we should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other – advice I’ve found it hard to follow but even harder to ignore this week. I had different plans for this morning. I didn’t want to talk about gun violence, police shooting people, or people shooting police. I don’t want to talk about the suffering we’ve seen these past few days. I’m out of words today.

Job didn’t want to talk about it either. But he held fast to his faith. From somewhere inside himself, he drew upon a deep well of faith and trust in God.

He refused to curse God and die.
He refused to complain.
He refused to blame anyone.
But oh, how he was hurting.

When your children have been killed, what do you say?
When your sons and daughters have been murdered, what do you say?
When your friend is devastated, what do you say?
When your family, your town, your city, your country,
is crushed by the brutality of death,
what do you say? how do you pray?

When your son or brother or neighbor or friend is shot by the police,
what do you say? how do you pray?

When your son or brother or neighbor or friend is a murdered police officer,
what do you say? how do you pray?

Diamond Reynolds’ little daughter said to her mother,
as they sat in that car where Philando Castile was dying,
“It’s okay. I’m right here with you.”

In moments of despair, we have this same assurance from God:
It’s okay. I’m right here with you.

So let’s sit with this, but let’s not curse God.
Let’s hold fast to faith.
Let’s hold fast to God.
Let’s hold fast to the promises.

God did not cause this suffering.
This is not God’s will for us or for anyone.
God did NOT will this suffering!
God is weeping with us.

I don’t think there is anything more to say right now.
Tomorrow, we can begin to transform mourning to movement.
Tomorrow, we can change our anger to activity.
Today, let’s sit with this, with this sorrow, setting aside our explanations or rationalizations or justifications. Let’s sit with this, with this horror, and if we look at anyone with judgment, let it be while we are looking in the mirror. Let’s sit with our country, with ourselves, and with those we perceive to be our enemies, let’s sit in silence and listen, like Job’s friends.

“They met together to go and console and comfort him.
When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him,
and they raised their voices and wept aloud;
they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.
They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights,
and no one spoke a word to him,
for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

So we sit with this sorrow. And we hold fast.
Hold fast to God. Hold fast to faith.
Hold fast to one another.
Don’t give up. Hold fast.

Prayer (by David Gambrell, used with permission)
God of righteousness, justice, and peace:
we lament the tragic deaths of this week—
Alton Sterling, Philando Castile,
Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith,
Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa,
and others whose names are known to you.
We confess sin and renounce evil—
systems of racial injustice, patterns of power and privilege,
and cycles of violence that lead to more death and despair.
We give thanks for courage and service—
for law enforcement officers who risk their lives for others,
and for activists and protesters who struggle for a better world.
We pray for those who are suffering—
for the families and loved ones of those who have died this week,
and for all who live in fear of continuing violence.
By the power of your Holy Spirit
turn prayers into practice, anger into meaningful action,
silence into solidarity, frustration and fear into love.
In these troubling times, O God, uphold us by your righteousness,
transform us through your justice, and surround us with your peace;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Amen.
Amen.






[1] http://www.cnn.com/world accessed July 9, 2016

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