Sermon for 20th Sunday after Pentecost - October 7 2018

Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
October 7, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Job 1:1; 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

It’s not just about divorce or marriage; but it’s always about children, or more accurately, the utter dependence of children on their nurturing environment to provide for them whatever they need.  And that means it’s always about God, the Creator of all things, and Sustainer of all things, who continuously is making all things new, providing, through grace and sacrifice, what we need to thrive and grow and love.

Although at this stage of the proceedings, we might wonder, were we in Job’s shoes, if we would agree.  Job might, though, even though grace seemed to be denied him: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?”

Job is assailed for no reason but the whim of The Satan, who in this tale is more like God’s prosecutor or investigator than the wicked devil, fallen angel, and tormenter of humankind that is ensconced in our popular imaginings.  Job is, in short, being tested by this character, and God just lets it happen, trusting that Job’s faith will not fail, no matter what.  The lectionary skips the first part of Job’s trials, when he loses all his flocks and herds, and all his children are struck down, until only he and his wife are left; today we hear that the measures are being stepped up again, with Job losing his own health and living in constant pain.

Is there no end to his sufferings?  Is there no end to his trust in God?

Notice, in the weeks to come as we delve more deeply into his situation, that trusting in God does not mean Job can’t complain, grieve, or appeal for relief and release.  In fact, who better to trust than God in our dark times, who better can sit with us in our pain, who better can be patient with our cries and accusations and anger?  All Job’s friends, even his wife, are unable to accept his truth, yet God hears it all.

This story of Job has two parts – and if you look at the story in your Bible, you will see them:  Most of the book is presented in verse, or poetic form, not prose.  The only parts written in prose are the opening and the closing.  Biblical scholars have concluded that the poetic portion – the main story line, if you will – was developed first.  If you leave off the beginning, you lose the reason for his suffering; if you leave off the end, you lose his redemption.  All one is left with are the railings of his so-called friends and his wife, his own complaints, and, finally, the answer of God, which really seems to leave out any personal considerations whatsoever.

The original story, indeed, is so stark, that when the book was added to those making up the Wisdom portion of the Jewish Bible, the compiler or compilers apparently demanded an explanation – any explanation – that would satisfy the question “Why?” did Job suffer?  And they demanded that his sufferings be brought to an end.

The story rejects the idea that Job was the cause of his own suffering, so it must have come from another source; and since God is seen as Creator and Sustainer and Savior, it had to come from not-God; and so we have “the satan,” the prosecutor or examiner who tests.

With this addition, the story thus becomes more about testing faith, and less about why there is suffering.  It becomes more anthropocentric; more about our righteousness, if you will, and less about the burdens of living in a world that is constantly changing, a world that doesn’t really seem to care about human beings as such, at all.  Even in the end of the poetic book, when God responds to Job, it’s still not about human beings.  It’s only in the prose ending, added on at the back, that Job’s sufferings end and he is restored to wholeness beyond his former state.

There are, then two stories in Job:  One that says God doesn’t care about specific people, and one that says God does.  Or, alternatively, both/and.

If that doesn’t bend your mind…

But isn’t it true?  When we stop to consider the state of the world – whether it’s the physical systems of geology and weather, of flood or drought – there’s not a lot there that places humanity above the other creatures that fly, walk, swim, or crawl. 

And when we consider the state of the human world – cultures, traditions, habits, laws, and behavior – we would be justified in thinking that human beings pick and choose who is favored, who is not, and who can be safely ignored – there’s not a lot there that places others above ourselves, our group, our tribe, our family, or even my job, my house, my life, my being.

In the one case, it’s dispassionate; in the other it’s self-centered; but in either case, there’s not a lot of evidence that anything or anyone values humanity on a global scale, or even, in far too many situations, on a personal one.

Too often, we think we are in charge.  After all, didn’t God tell Adam and Eve to subdue the earth?  But even God didn’t tell them to subdue other human beings.  That’s one we picked up all on our own.  That’s the universal principle governing our lives – use the earth, use its resources, use each other, use whatever power you can grab hold of, to hold on to, come what may, hurt whomever it hurts, just so we – so I – can be in control.

And somehow, we have concluded that this is what God wants for us.

Isn’t that what free will is about?  Isn’t that what the church is for – to bring others into the kingdom of heaven?  But what is this kingdom of heaven?

A Caribbean history says that most of the people of the Greater Antilles “are familiar with the story of Hatuey, the chief who organized to fight the Spanish and who was, when captured, burnt at the stake.  Repent and go to heaven, they told him as they lit the fire. If there are Spaniards in heaven I would rather go to hell, he replied.”[1]

Archbishop Tutu has said he has no desire to go to a homophobic heaven.

As long as we get to define who goes to heaven, there will be those who refuse the offer.

Job’s vision of heaven, and of God, was wider than that of his friends and that of his wife.  Notwithstanding his view that his troubles came from God, notwithstanding all his complaints about his situation, he still had faith to ask the question, WHY?  And he still had faith to demand the answer.

There are things that are our responsibility; and there are things that are solely in God’s purview. 

In our lives, the rule is one of respect, honor, and love; not judgment, not mockery, not ignoring, and not casting aside. 

In God’s purview lie creation, renewal, wonder, and, the greatest wonder of all, mercy.  Mercy enough to hear Job’s prayers.  Mercy enough to answer Job, mercy enough to show him a wider perspective!  Mercy enough to renew – the losses were real, his children were gone, it is true, but there were still pleasures to enjoy and more children to love.  There was mercy enough for rejoicing.

Let the children be our guide; they who stand in greatest need of our mercy, our love, and our wisdom – they show us, if we are observant, our own continuing need for these things, and Job, and even Jesus, show us whence they come.



[1] Accessed October 6, 2018.

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