10 October, 2021 – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23
The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
One of the beautiful things about Hebrew Scripture when it was compiled into the written form that we have received the scribes rather than harmonizing a variety of viewpoints into one preserved a range of different voices. We find a different, a more critical perspective on David in Samuel than in Chronicles. For example, across the books of prophecy, we see voices calling for Israel to settle in and make new homes as exiles in Babylon. While other voices call for resistance, and return to Jerusalem. Jove may be seen as part of another set of voices, with a range of perspectives, those found in the wisdom literature. The story of Job stands alongside books such as Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations and Ecclesiastes, these, this collection of wisdom literature wrestles with questions like what is a good and righteous life? What does it mean to be in good relationship with God? Or and this is particularly at the forefront and Joe, the question of theodicy, if God is good, and just if God is all powerful, how then can bad things happen to good people? proverbs offers one way of thinking about these questions, we might oversimplify its message as you reap what you sow.
In Proverbs you can find Maxim’s such as the wicked earn no real gain. But those who sow righteousness, get a true reward. If we do the right thing, God will reward us. It’s not a big leap from that to something like, if bad things happen to you, you must have deserved it. So that in simplified form is one model were offered ecclesiastics these conveys a different sensibility on these questions. Well, Proverbs makes a connection between human morality and resulting outcomes. Ecclesiastes focuses on human limits. You may recognize verses from this school of thought, all is vanity. Or there is nothing new under the sun. We could sum up this teacher’s thoughts with this verse from Ecclesiastes.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun, a generation goes, a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. In a stylized way, it doesn’t really matter what we do, what choices we make. We all die in the end anyway. And it is in this context, that we encounter the story of Job. It seems to me that the presence of the book of Job may be telling us that neither of these two explanations is complete. So you know the story, we’re told that job is a godly man. He is blameless and upright. He is one who feared God and turned away from evil. He had many children, and was wealthy with livestock of all kind, including camels. One day God is sitting in the heavenly Council. And this character called this Satan shows up and hear that title the Satan it means something like the accuser. So God, very proud of job asks the Satan if on his wanderings around the earth, He has come across job. There is no one like him on Earth. God says, He is blameless and upright, to which the Satan responds. Yeah, well Would Joe really love you and be so righteous? If you hadn’t blessed the work of his hands and increased his possessions?
The Satan continues, challenging God. I bet he says, if you take away everything job has, he will curse you. He only really praises you and offer sacrifices, because life is good. So God gives the Satan permission to torment job. First he loses his livestock, his servants and all of his children. Then when job continues to worship God, the Satan starts to afflict him physically. He puts horrible sores on job from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, and still job refuses to deny God. Here job is sitting on the ground and ashes, he has torn his robe and shaved his head as a sign of his affliction and grief. And at this point, his friends arrive. What is it that they say with friends like that? Who needs enemies? So Job’s friends began to take turns explaining to him that he must have done something to offend God. That’s why these tragedies have overcome him, as one of them says, Those who plow iniquity, and so trouble reap the same. Sound familiar? This must be your fault, Joe, if you had been doing the right things, you would have had good fortune. You might hear in this, that proverbs version of wisdom. But Joe stands firm, through the assaults of his three friends, one after the other after the other, he balances praise and reverence for God and God’s power, while insisting on his own steadfastness, and uprightness. And this is where we find job in today’s reading. Far from the meek posture, implied by that phrase, you might have heard someone having the patience of Job.
Job doesn’t seem patient to me. If anything, he seems argumentative and persistent and feisty, calling out for God. He is grief stricken, he’s confused. He is engaged with his whole being continuing to try to be in relationship with God. Now Job’s situation is extreme. All of his children have been killed in a house crushed by a windstorm, all of as well carried off by warring tribes are burned by fire from heaven. Even his body is afflicted. Your situation in my situation, they may not be this extreme. But we have experienced the loss of loved ones, or the loss of a livelihood. The loss of control over the events that befall us and the lingering uncertainty with which we live. The sense of hopelessness, we might feel about environmental degradation or racial injustice, or the dysfunction of our national polity. We may have a sense of what Joe was experiencing. So what are we to do with this? How do we make sense of this provocative, challenging piece of biblical literature? God appears to allow the devastation of Joe, a righteous man in order to demonstrate that Joe will remain righteous, even as his life crumbles around him. What kind of an answer does this offer to the question? If God is good and all powerful, how can bad things be?
So yes, I’ll start by saying I don’t know what to do. With this, it seems to me the scribes who compiled the Hebrew Bible might not have known what to do with this. They just held tight to the question sharing from the tradition that was passed through the centuries to them a range of possible responses and then the final chapters of job. I wonder if they left us a clue when that I sometimes find myself forgetting I’m more often tend to focus on the justice of God. The unfathomable love, God holds for us the comfort and the solace that we can find in God. In other words, I tend to focus on the imminence of God, God with us. In the final chapters of the book of Job, though, the authors remind us of the transcendence of God, the overwhelmingly powerful God of all creation, who is so completely beyond our comprehension. When God appears following Job’s please this overwhelming, all inspiring power of God is on display. God responds to Job from a whirlwind. You have no idea, says God. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Have you job commanded the morning? The dawn to know its place? Do you job know? Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And where is the place of darkness? yet then, after rebuking job, God turns to Job’s friends and expresses anger at them. They did not speak what was right of God. But God says, Joe did. Joe was confused. He couldn’t understand why these things were happening.
But he remained steadfast. He continued to engage with his whole being, calling out to God. This side of God, the one I sometimes lose sight of this God is overwhelmingly powerful. So completely beyond our comprehension. We can’t know the answers, we can’t control the outcomes. So like the scribes of old, we can hold tight to the questions. I was talking through this text earlier this week with a few friends and one of them reminded me of a passage from the collection of Reiner Maria Maria Rilke, his letters to a young poet. I’d like to share that for us today. I want to beg you as much as I can, real code says, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. And to try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms, and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. Live the questions now? Perhaps you will, then gradually, without noticing it. Live along the some distant day into the answer. That my friends his faith, is it not holding the questions, holding the uncertainty holding the hurt and the grief while also holding hope, being persistent and maybe even feisty, engaging with our whole being as Job did especially when it seems that God is out of our reach. Despite our limited view of a transcendent, all powerful God, who laid the foundation of the earth who commands the sun to rise in the morning, who knows the way to the dwelling of light does despite our limited understanding, nevertheless we persist.