Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Mystery: Restored" - Sermon, October 28, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Mystery: Restored”
Rev. Andrew Davis
October 28, 2018
Job 42: 1-6, 10-17

            On the last Sunday of every month, I often find myself wondering where the heck the month has gone, as this month has flown by like all the others have this year.  Lately, I’ve been feeling the crunch of not enough time in the day or enough days in the week.  It always seems to happen at this time of year too with preparation and putting together charge conference reports, along with the first of the big holidays on Wednesday with Halloween, Thanksgiving a few weeks away, then Christmas in less than two months.  Thankfully, the choir will be ready for Christmas, although not so sure this pastor will be.  A week ago, I was starting to wonder if donations would come in for our participation in Quincy Chamber’s Safe Trick-or-Treat along Main Street on Wednesday, but thanks to the generous donations, which are great appreciated, we will be participating and there with bells on. 
            Along with all the festivities happening around town this week and beyond, we come to the end of our series, “Mystery” and the end of the book of Job.  In some ways, this month has been the book of Job abridged, as we have been reading and hearing about how Job was tested by the ha-satan or adversary by losing everything he had, sat in deep grief with minimal clothing on an ash heap, while his three friends came along and tried consoling him, although their words were less helpful and almost mocking.  Job felt disoriented, then as he kept making his case before God, felt deserted and that God wasn’t listening, until God spoke and left Job silenced. 
As you have seen this month, Job is not an easy book to read, nor an easy book to preach on, understand, or interpret.  And it’s okay if we don’t have any neat, tidy, easy answer, and it’s okay if we have more questions about the book, as we have to wrestle a bit with this text and question of why such crummy circumstances happen to a good person like Job.  After all, Job avoided sin and evil of any kind in every way he could. 
The book of Job also touches on limits of testing, the silence of God’s presence that is still there amidst all that is happening, and how Job and his friends respond to his suffering.[i]  Until he finally accuses God of ignoring him and demands a trial, Job’s friends insisted that Job did something to make God angry, although this is where the mystery comes into play and where we sometimes have to wrestle with the text, and even wrestle with God a little bit too.  Still, amidst everything Job went through, he never gave up his faith in God and after his direct encounter with God in the whirlwind, Job is humbled and restored as we heard in the text that Janet read for us.  God didn’t give Job any neat, tidy answers like Job’s friends attempted to do, although Job now acknowledges that God works in mysterious ways, too great for any of us to understand, even today. 
Rev. Nathalie Parker explains that like Job,
There are moments in life where our sight is limited because it is gauged by the perception of our experiences. Often, we look not with our eyes, but behind our eyes. We see the world, ourselves, and one another through the sum of our experiences, and we are unable to witness the world with new, subjective eyes. Job could see justice only in terms of what he deemed was right and wrong. He judged God and himself within that small category of “righteousness.” However, the same God that allowed Job to be persecuted is the same God that restored him. “Then the Lord changed Job’s fortune when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord doubled all Job’s earlier possessions” (10).[ii]

            It’s like this last week, we see suffering happening in our world and some of us may even be dealing with suffering in one way or another, or even struggling in one way or another and yearning to be restored.  Or, some of us may even be blind to seeing others’ suffering, in which we need a change of perspective.  Just like Job, we may be asking why we or our friends, or family are going through something difficult, whether it’s a physical ailment, losing a loved one, why family situations must be so difficult, and so on.  Job can be any of us. 
As I’ve shared before and maybe ad-nauseum, there have been times I’ve asked God why things happen the way they happen, only to hear silence.  I’ll often ask God why our world is so divided, why people harbor so much hatred, why there are shootings and violence with yet another mass shooting a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.   Even when I decided to walk away from the faith for a time, I would ask God why people who call themselves Christian act anything.  Even amidst asking God, I did not get any easy answers, but had to learn to chance my perspective.  I had to learn that we have choice and our choices have consequences.  I had to learn that people are broken or hurting in their own different ways, in which it’s been said that people who are difficult are usually deeply hurting.  Even with a changed perspective, I’ll admit that I still want an easy answer, just like Job’s friends try to offer him.  At the same time, the worldview that Job and his friends held onto, the mechanistic worldview which correlates faith with well-being, “cannot explain the human condition of God’s way in the world,” which in turn challenges us and our assumptions about how God works in the world, even when it comes to humanity.[iii]
            As Job is restored, he is changed as a result of everything he went through, in which he is humble, and accepts the fact that he’s not going to get an easy answer from God in the midst of what he’s gone through.  The use of repent in this case, according to Hebrew Bible scholar W. Dennis Tucker is a changing of his mind, particularly as it pertains to the human condition and God’s way in the world.[iv] I know after walking away from God, God never left me and Job realizes that God never left him, even amidst feeling deserted and disoriented.  W. Dennis Tucker further explains that as Job is restored, he “fears God without any assurance of a subsequent blessing.
Understood this way, the restoration of Job reflects God’s faithfulness to those who fear him. Job does not fear God to receive a reward, but in fearing God, Job discovers the faithfulness of God.”[v] Just like seeing his life restored, along with his property, animals, having new children and grandchildren, and seeing life restored back to how it is, God’s grace works a lot like that, as it’s a gift we do not ask for and Job did not ask God to restore all his stuff for him.  It’s how we respond in faith, and Job did not give up his faith and did not curse God. 
            I do tread with some caution with this ending, though.  While Job saw everything restored twofold, we need to be careful about expecting similar.  I believe that faith does help us along the way and can help sustain us through many situations in life.   When we talk about restoration in the case of the ending of Job, and perhaps in our own lives,
Restoration in this text is not referring to the external or the temporal understanding of material means, but it is translated as the state of being full, abounding, and being content. Ultimately, Job illustrates that in spite of our personal pain and hurt, when we cannot change our situation, we can change our perspective. Although, we may not fully understand the mind of God, the right thing to do is to trust that God is within us and will never fail. Moreover, God is present in that small voice saying “Go my child, go. You can do this!”[vi]

When we don’t allow God help us change our perspectives or assumptions, we wind up frustrated, empty, disappointed, hurt, and discontent, especially when we ask God for material means.  Just like not getting what we want for Christmas or our birthday, God is not a ‘cosmic Santa Claus’ or “divine vending machine [in which] we slip in a prayer and out pops a miracle.”[vii]  The reason I say this is because when something doesn’t work out because of an assumption we may have about God’s ways or even prayer, we are left feeling disappointed or even angry with God, even though God is big enough to handle our anger and disappointment. 
During our Lenten study, Gifts of the Dark Wood, the author, Rev. Eric Elnes tells how he has counseled various people in his office who have taken the perpetual ‘leap of faith’ who felt “hurt and betrayed by God or the universe, vowing never to listen to the divine again” when things didn’t work out.[viii]  Suffering and extended periods of pain, or situations that lead people to feel hopeless after a while can have a similar effect.  While I don’t like suffering in any way and don’t like seeing others suffer, Rev. Adam Hamilton explains in his book, Why? Making Sense of the Will of God that “the sweeping message of the Bible is not a promise that those who believe and do good will not suffer.  Instead, the Bible is largely a book about people who refused to let go of their faith in the face of suffering.”[ix] I know people who have had their most profound experiences with God in the midst of suffering, or I think back to Pope John Paul II, who still ministered amidst suffering towards the end of his life, or Jesus’s own suffering for the sake of humanity. 
Furthermore, “it is easy to understand why so many people have turned away from God when they have been taught that every disappointment, every tragedy, every loss, and every painful experience was the will of God,” even though there is still that mystery to consider.[x] 
Even when we feel alone and in times of difficulty or suffering, God hasn’t left us, even though God may be silent at times or we may feel distant from God.  We need to hang onto our faith and trust God, even in the midst of such.  Our pain, our suffering, our grief, or the disappointments of life are not the end of the story just as Job’s wasn’t the end of the story for him.  Job’s faith led him to change his perspective and experience God’s grace in a profound way, leading to restoration and in the Gospels, Jesus’s death was not the end of the story either, as he rose from the grave three days later. 
As Job embraced and wrestled with the mystery of God, he
discovered his sight was limited, he shifted his expectations as well. Job, although the recipient of God’s blessings, was never fully in control of his health, his children, his wealth, or even with his relationships. God’s hand is at work in our lives, and it is up to each of us as disciples of Jesus Christ, to be obedient to God’s will. How does it feel to rely on things you cannot see? Why do we feel lost when we cannot secure our own lives? How ironic it is that the moment Job stops trying to figure God out and prays is the moment he is restored by God?[xi]
            And so, we leave the book of Job, embracing the mystery, or still wrestling with the mystery.  We may not have the neat, tidy, or easy answers that we might want as to how God works or God’s will, yet we have our faith and it’s up to each of us to act in faith and trust God, even when we feel disoriented, deserted, or silenced, as restoration is possible and hope is possible.  Restoration may not look like owning that fancy home, having a billion dollars, or fancy sports car, but instead, can be a sense of peace, a sense of wholeness, a new sense of hope.  Don’t give up your faith and keep trusting God, even when it feels like things can’t get any worse.  It’s a mystery how God works, but God’s mysterious ways are not always for us to know, only to trust and respond in faith. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!! 

[i] Ibid.

[ii] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed October 27 2018.

[iii] "Commentary On Job 42:1-6, 10-17 By W. Dennis Tucker, Jr.". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed October 27 2018.

[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid. 

[vi] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed October 27 2018.

[vii] Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Will of God (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011), 52
[viii] Eric. Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics and Other Wanderers (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 72
[ix] Hamilton, 4
[x] Ibid., 9

[xi] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed October 27 2018.

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