21st Sunday after Pentecost
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
This morning, we revisit that ancient character in the Bible named Job. The author is quick to tell us that Job is a righteous man; blameless and upright. He is a person who fears God, which in this context means a person with awe and reverence for God. God loves Job and is confident in their relationship; so much so that a dialogue emerges between God and a creature called “Satan”, whom we most identify as the author and source of evil.
“Skin for skin,” Satan says, “people will give up everything they have in exchange for their lives. But stretch out your hand and strike his bones and flesh. Then he will definitely curse you to your face.” And the Lord answered, ‘There he is – within your power; only preserve his life.”
If you have not spent any time with this book, I encourage you to do so, for this character Job and this story helps us in our faith. His is a story of great extremes. Most of us will experience some kind of sorrow or tragedy in our lifetime; it just seems part of the human experience and by God’s good grace, we somehow find the courage and strength to persevere in faith.
But for Job, as reports come of one bad thing happening, someone approaches with an incident that is even more dire.
Job loses nearly everything within a very short time: sevens sons and three daughters, his camels, oxen, and donkeys, his servants, and his source of making a living. Loathsome sores break out all over his body from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head. And his wife fails to understand why he doesn’t just end it all, “Do you still persist in your integrity,” she asks. “Curse God, and die.”
His friends come, and when they see him, they too are dismayed. So shocked are they, that at first they do not even recognize Job; and when they do, they raise their voices and weep aloud at the sight of him. And then, they grow silent; for no one can speak or understand his plight.
My brothers and sisters, there are often moments in our lives and the lives of others that defy all of our best efforts to reason or to be faithful. We long for the loving God of the gospels: gentle, saving, and merciful; always present. We want God as shepherd leading us to green grass and quiet streams. The God who can be trusted to be with us, come what may; the God who is near.
But there are times when it seems like God is distant; so far away. The character Job stands in for those of us who feel that way sometimes. He represents a good person’s attempt to keep the faith amid great loss and sorrow; fear and anxiety. He represents a person who has tried their best to live the righteous life, and still awful things happen for seemingly no reason at all. Job represents the loneliness that we sometimes feel trying to make it through; and all of us who have cried “sorrow’s song”.
Even Jesus, on the cross, cried “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Where are you God? Why don’t you say something? Do something? Where are your promises? How could you let this happen when I’m trying my best?
By the time we get to today’s lesson, Job has had it. “Today also my complaint is bitter; his (God’s) hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me…God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; if only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face.”
And I love this because God lets Job have his say. I love it because there are times and circumstances in which we need our rants. We need to cry and scream aloud; and God lets us and loves us still.
On the other side of this story, we find our gospel lesson. There is another good man. He is a person on the journey of faith, and he wants to grow in his pursuit. From his youth, he has tried to do what is right. He is a rich man and comes to Jesus. “Good Teacher,” he says, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus responds, “You know the law; you know the commandments.”
I think the man is excited because he has been taught well. He knows the law, he has studied from childhood. He’s got this!
Thou shalt not kill; check. Thou shalt not steal; check. Thou shalt not commit adultery; check. Honor thou father and thou mother; check. He is in full compliance.
Mark tells us that Jesus looks at him with the eyes of love and says, “You lack one thing; so, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Sell all you have, Jesus says, so that others will have enough. Give it all away and make sure that the work of the gospel and the message of love goes forth. That those who find themselves like Job, with no home, no income, lacking good health, depressed and hopeless; those like Job – the poor and needy, sick in body, mind, and spirit; those depressed and empty – might have something; or even better, their fair share.
Money is a big deal, isn’t it? How we think about it all the time and are often consumed by it. What we do with it. How much we have or don’t have. The fear of losing it, or whether there will be enough. Our understanding of who we are in relation to it; how our culture thinks of us in relation to it; our family and friends think of us. We are consumed by it – because without it, our lives don’t seem to matter a whole lot in our culture.
We might be tempted to tell ourselves that Jesus would have surely not been speaking about us. No, the rich are the Warren Buffets and the Bill Gates; the Oprah Winfreys, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg of the world. But oh, Beloved, make no mistake about it, in the eyes of some, every one of us in this room is rich by some measure. We might tell ourselves that we don’t have very much and can barely get by. And perhaps, that is true but we are not completely lacking.
Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to go to heaven. Whether that eye of the needle was an actual gate in the walls of Jerusalem as some suppose, or a type of cord being threaded through an actual needle – the point is that it is near impossible.
Was Jesus making the case against wealth or success? Having things; planning for one’s future? Enjoying life? I hardly think so.
No, I think Jesus was calling the young man, as he calls us, to a new sensibility; integrity of the heart. How we think about things; their weight and value and how we use what we have.
What must I do, the man asked? What must I do? Get rid of the obstacles. Get rid of hindrances that are standing in your way. Lay aside whatever they may be: money, pride, stubbornness, hardened hearts, false security, self-sufficiency, anger, old wounds, and disbelief; get rid of it. Free yourself and come, follow me. This is true discipleship.
In the end – and you have to read all the way to the end – I am happy to report that Job was restored completely; and the author says that the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this, Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and his children’s children – four generations. And Job died, old and full. Full. Full of days.
And I like to think that the rich man went away, but somehow, he too was restored. I like to think he went away sad, disappointed, discouraged; maybe even angry, but he found his way back like we find our way back.
Make no mistake my friends, love is never free; it always costs something. The way of the cross is always the way of sacrificial love for the greater good. It always stretches us, and sometimes it stretches us beyond what our eyes see or we want to face. We walk by faith; not by sight.
We are called to follow Jesus Christ. You don’t give to Pastor Cathy nor to this building. We give because we love the work of ministry and what it can do; the possibility of lives changed and renewed. We give because Christ’s work is needed in this time and we are part of it.
Next Sunday is Stewardship Sunday. The stewardship committee and church leaders are asking us to bring our pledge card for 2019, and as an act of solidarity and faith, we’ll bring them forward to the front of the church along with our offering and place them in the offering plate. As an act of solidarity and faith about our hopes and dreams for this church in the coming year; the kind of ministry we hope to be able to do, and an awareness of what it takes. I hope you will spend time this week praying about it; really praying about it.
“For with mortals, Jesus said, things are impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”