Monday, October 8, 2018

"Mystery: Disoriented" - Sermon, October 7, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Mystery: Disoriented”
Rev. Andrew Davis
October 7, 2018
Job 1: 1, 2: 1-10

            This month, we begin a new series as we explore the book of Job and mystery of God, particularly ways in which God works.  Now I need to be honest that this is not an easy series to preach, an easy book to of the Bible to read or interpret.  In fact, this series could challenge some of what we know or assume about God and how God works.  While taking Hebrew Bible in seminary with Dr. Denise Dombkowski-Hopkins six years ago, Denise encouraged my class to wrestle with how we see God, and even challenge our assumptions about God.  As the class studied the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament throughout the academic year, we came to see that there are indeed scenes in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament which portray God as angry, vengeful, and willing to test even the most God-fearing of all people such as Job.  Likewise, I hope that this series will open up some dialogue about how we understand who God is and how God works, as it is more likely going to lead to more questions, particularly in how we wrestle with the vivid imagery and intense emotions in the book of Job as we ponder how God works, embracing the mystery of God.  It’s okay to wrestle and okay to sit with the questions that we may have as well.    
            The book of Job is situated in a series of writings called wisdom literature, which includes the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  In the introduction to Job in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Carol Newsome describes wisdom literature as explaining “the nature of the proper moral and religious conduct of an individual and with the relation of such conduct to personal and communal well-being.”[i] Carol Newsome further explains that
wisdom tends to pursue such questions [that are raised in these texts] in ways that do not make use of distinctively national religious traditions so much as they employ the conventions, styles, and language of an international discourse of wisdom.  This orientation characterizes the book of Job, in which traditions about the non-Israelite Job are used to develop a critical reflection on the assumption that good conduct and well-being are related.[ii]

Throughout the book of Job, we will be challenged on this assumption.  Unlike the other wisdom texts of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the book of Job is an epic tale of a righteous and blameless character named Job in the first verse, who throughout the entire book, suffers and is tested, as God and Satan have a cosmic battle of wits, more like the cosmic battle of good and evil.  While we skip to the next chapter, Job had a lot of stuff; thousands of servants, animals, ten children who tended to party a lot, as Job is always making burnt offerings for God on their behalf.  During a gathering of heavenly beings with God, Satan, or in Hebrew, ha-Satan which means the adversary appears and Satan immediately “questions Job’s motives for being righteous, pointing out that it is easy to be blameless when one has divine protection and blessings,” as the ha-Satan in the book of Job functions as God’s “district attorney” and wants God to put Job to the test.[iii]
God allows the ha-Satan Job to be put to the test, the first in which Job loses everything to a robbery by a couple groups, the Sabeans and Chaldeans, loses his servants who all die, loses his livestock, then loses all of his children when their house falls on them in a windstorm.  Job does what is customary at that time by tearing off his clothes and sitting on an ash heap in grief, yet does not curse God and continues to worship God amidst all he has lost. 
            In the second chapter that Jodi read for us, Job is put to the test once again, as the ha-satan now wants to raise the bar higher and God tells the ha-satan not to allow Job to die.  Even though Job is already suffering with the sores that have developed on his skin, his wife tells him more or less to just give up, to “curse God and die,” yet Job refuses to, as Job remains steadfast and faithful to God even as he suffers the loss of his livestock, possession, and children (Job 2: 9, NRSV).  Once again, “the righteous sufferer is portrayed as uttering time-honored words of wisdom about God’s distribution of blessing and punishment and still resisting the temptation to sin.”[iv]  Although we won’t be getting as much into what I consider the juiciest parts of the story when his friends arrive (and give an example of how not to do pastoral care by offering different platitudes), his friends try to convince Job that he must have made God angry somewhere along the way, which ultimately agitates Job to the point of anger. 
            Nevertheless, Job has to be wondering why this is happening to him, although all of us may have been in that point of disorientation and even raise the same questions to God at one time or another.  Why me?  Why did my spouse/partner die so suddenly without any symptoms?  Why did I lose my job?  Why did I have to get this disease or injury?  Will I ever feel a sense of hope again?  The list can go on and on.  I know I found myself there twelve years ago at this time of the year when my back began going out on me after moving furniture around my room, yet I asked if I was being punished by God because I swore God off for a time when it went into full-blown sciatica.  Even a couple years later when I was constantly fighting management over serving God and working at the store and seeing my hours being cut, I raised a question if maybe God was punishing me because of my political and theological views.  When stuff really hits the fan in life, we begin wondering why bad things happen.  It’s a theological term called theodicy, as theodicy raises the essential question about why bad things happen to good people, as we see in Job. 
            For many of us, this does not sound or look like the all-loving God that we often associate God with, which can leave us a little disoriented.  Even though I believe that goodness ultimately wins in the end, it may not feel like in the moment and may not happen as quickly as we would like goodness to win, which is where the mystery of God is seen, even in our disorientation, confusion, and occasional disappointment with and even anger at God.  In his book, Why? Making Sense of God’s Will, Rev. Adam Hamilton writes that
our disappointment in the face of suffering and tragedy or injustice typically stems from our assumptions about how God is supposed to work in our world.  When God does not meet our expectations, we are disappointed, disillusioned, and confused.[v]

It’s easy to be disappointed with God when things don’t go right either.  As we work through the book of Job, things will only get more intense as we get further in, as we will see Job’s disappointment, disillusionment, and confusion with God play out and see how God responds.  In fact, I would highly encourage reading the entire book through!!   
As Professor W. Dennis Tucker explains, we want to make sense of why bad things happen to good people, yet as we will see,
the book of Job [is] unsettling, at best, because it does not provide the kinds of tidy answers we would hope to discover. Because we want the book to say something about the human condition, we come to the text with a thoroughly [human-centered] focus. Yet the book is not really about Job, per se, the book is about God. In other words, the book of Job is unashamedly theological in the strictest sense of the word. The book ponders the nature of God and God’s ways in the world.[vi]

            And that’s where the mystery of God and how God’s work is at the heart of the matter, as there will be more questions than neat, tidy answers. 
The reality is that right now, we live in a very disorienting time, with rapid change happening around us left and right.  Or, because of a major change or loss, our lives feel completely disoriented because of things that have happened unexpectedly.  These last couple weeks, it has been very difficult to watch the news and because it has been very painful, especially this last week which may have opened up some old wounds, it’s possible to see how some of us may feel like Job, feeling like everything has been lost, and feel that it’s even hard to stay in love with God, much less do no harm or do good.  Especially when deep divisions exist. 
A week ago this last Thursday, I heard several moving stories from people who have lost a loved one to suicide at the Suicide Awareness Vigil at Dame Shirley Plaza.  And this last week, I have listened to the pain a few people currently feel because of life situations in conversations I have had in person and online.  In such times, I find myself wrestle and feel disoriented too, as there are a lot of things bothering me at the moment, although I still do not believe that God is angry and vengeful, even though there are those who do sincerely believe so.  Like Job, I’m trying to dig my heels in and trust God and the mystery of God, keeping in mind that in the end, goodness will prevail and that there will be sunshine in the morning, justice will flow like a mighty river, and peace will come to every nation, even if it may feel like sitting on the ash heap and being tested nonstop.
            As we embark on exploring the mystery of God and work through the book of Job, it will not always feel-good, and might even It will feel more disorienting as we get deeper into the series, but know that your questions matter, even when there will be no neat, or tidy answers.  Throughout the series, some other themes will include times when we feel deserted, even silenced or when God is silent, yet the ultimate hope is to be restored, trusting in God even through the hardships and challenges that come our way.  God is big enough to handle it, even when we angrily cry out or break down.  That is the mystery of God at work. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!!   

[i] Carol A. Newsome, “The Book of Job” in The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 326. 
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] “Study Notes from the Book of Job” in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Ed. By Walter J. Harrelson (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 705-706.  
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Adam Hamilton, Why? Making Sense of God’s Will (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011), 3.

[vi] "Commentary On Job 1:1; 2:1-10 By W. Dennis Tucker, Jr.". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed October 6 2018.

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