Sunday, October 04, 2009

Taking the bad with the Good

Job 1:1, 2:1-10
1:1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

2:1 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it."

3 The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason." 4 Then Satan answered the LORD, "Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.
5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face." 6 The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life."

7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.

8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. 9 Then his wife said to him, "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die." 10 But he said to her, "You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Some years back when I was going through a difficult time my Pastor, Betsy Steier-Goehrig, suggested that I read Job. She said that when I looked at everything that happened to Job I couldn’t help but feel better. I did, and realized that my life was blessed compared to what he went through, and he stayed faithful to God throughout all of it. No matter what happens to me, it’s never as bad as what Job endured in the pages of this book. It is the classic story of bad things happening to a good person. These days I recommend it to anyone I meet going through stuff. It really helps.

When I planned to preach on Job today I had no idea that I would have so many tragic examples of bad things happening to blameless people to choose from this week. Early in the week I got an email from Cisa Payuyo at Chapman University asking for prayers and assistance for the people affected by the typhoon in the Philippines. The next day a huge earthquake and tsunami hit the Samoan Islands. The day after that an earthquake hit Indonesia. Thousands of people have lost their homes, many hundreds injured, hundreds more are lost or confirmed dead. I heard horrendous stories – children playing on the beach one moment, washed out to sea the next, as their mother watches helplessly. A mother desperately searching for her son under the remains of his shop. A father sifting through the rubble of his home looking for anything to keep his family comfortable without a roof to shelter them. The images coming from the devastated areas are truly terrible.

I am sure there are people out there saying as Job’s neighbors did, “They must have done something terrible to deserve this punishment” while others sound like Job’s wife saying, “Curses on God! What kind of terrible God would make this happen to innocent people?” We certainly heard both those responses after the tsunami a few years ago and after Katrina. Some few surely also said, “This is a test of my faithfulness.”

The story of Job is the story of bad things happening to a good person. Job didn’t do anything wrong. He was faithful in everything, a good father and husband, a man whose every enterprise was blessed and who gave thanks to God for everything he received. And then Satan set out to test Job’s faith. Everything God had given him was taken away. Half of the first chapter, which we didn’t read this morning, tells us how all his property and crops and cattle were overrun and destroyed or stolen by enemies and how his children were all killed. But Job said only, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” God was pretty proud of Job’s faithfulness, but Satan said “yeah, but let me take away his health and see what he says then.” We know what Job said then. He said “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?”

It seems that Job stood out from the crowd, fidelity-wise. God bragged about his faithfulness! Job was the most faithful person in the world. Even after his property was destroyed by fire, even after enemies took away his servants and cattle, even after a house fell upon his children and killed them all, the Bible tells us “he did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.” Even after he was afflicted with a horrible skin disease, he did not sin with his lips.

I can understand Satan wanting to test Job, really. I must confess that there are times when I see someone whose life seems to perfect and I think to myself that if anything really bad ever happened they’d probably just fall apart. Not that I wish for anything bad to happen, understand. But that’s where I am less faithful than Job, because Job was blameless and upright and turned away from evil and I’m busy judging that other person. We get the sense that Job would never do such a thing, that he was compassionate and caring. He even prayed and made sacrifices on behalf of his children every morning just in case any of them strayed somehow! Satan couldn’t believe that he would remain faithful if things started to go wrong for him. And so, Job was tested.

A side note about Satan: Notice that Satan is doing the testing here. God is watching what’s going on, but Satan is the one doing the testing. That’s Satan’s job throughout both Old and New Testaments; to test people’s faith. He tested Job, and Job won. He tested Jesus, and Jesus won. He doesn’t try to take people away from God, he simply tests their faithfulness. He isn’t God’s enemy – we are told Satan presented himself to God along with all the other heavenly beings. In the way of royal courts of the time presenting oneself is what subjects and allies did to proclaim themselves loyal to the king. In fact, no where in the Bible does he appear as God’s enemy or even humanity’s enemy. His job is simply to test people, not to cause anyone to do evil. It is wrong to say “the devil made me do it” and blame Satan or any other outside influence for our own choices.

And may I just point out that God had faith in Job? “Go ahead, test away.” He did have a fairly strong talk with Job later on – we’ll hear more about that in future weeks. But God was confident that Job would remain faithful. We all know people like that, who no matter what happens to them, they continue to praise God. Through pain and all kinds of suffering, they keep on praising God. “Shall we receive the good at the hands of God and not receive the bad?”

In Job’s story, at the end, he received everything back that he had lost and more. In real life that may not happen. We know that folks in Louisiana and other areas affected by Katrina are still living in FEMA trailers. We know that it will take years for the villages in American Samoa, the Philippines and Indonesia to be restored. We know that the pain of losing family members in these tragic events will always be with those families. I won’t say these terrible events happened in order that good things could come into other lives, that would be to trivialize the very real suffering of the people involved. But it is true that there can be good rising out of these events – transformation of people lives, as we have seen in the wake of Katrina and other disasters around the world.. Look at all the people who went and helped to rebuild in Texas and Louisiana and Missouri, people who had never done anything like that before. Look at all the people who stretched their budgets to send a little bit for food and health kits where they were needed, people who had never been motivated to give before. Many of those same people were so transformed by the act of helping that they have continued to find ways to help others and they have convinced even more people to do the same.

When I made my plans to preach on Job I did know that today would be World Communion Sunday. In celebrating communion we are remembering the crucifixion and celebrating the resurrection. It’s Easter every Sunday. We speak the words of institution, recalling the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. We speak of the broken body and spilled blood of Good Friday and the crucifixion.

I have to tell you that every year as Holy Week approaches someone says to me “What’s so good about Good Friday? Jesus was killed.” And truly, there was nothing good about the way Jesus died. It was a horrible, torturous, cruel death. The only good thing about the way he died is that the soldiers helped him die more quickly than most victims of crucifixion by thrusting that spear into his side. We really don’t like to think about it much. We are resurrection people! We celebrate the Risen Christ! We try really hard to slide over the whole whipping, cross carrying, crucifixion part of that final week. But without the death there can be no resurrection. “Shall we accept the good at the hands of God and not receive the bad?”

We want to take the good – the ministry, the teachings, and resurrection of Jesus – and not accept the bad. We want to ignore the difficult parts, the suffering he went through, and the suffering of those who were left – the disciples and the women. Imagine what they felt at this tragic event. Their faith was rocked! How could he die? How could this happen to one so faithful, so true, to the very son of God? And we know that many ran away. The thousands that greeted him on Palm Sunday were reduced to just a few, a bit over a hundred of the faithful.

The good part of Good Friday is the resurrection. But it is also the faith of those disciples who didn’t run off for parts unknown no matter how afraid they were. Who stayed together, praying and grieving. Who walked through this most horrific kind of testing and were still there when Jesus returned. Who after the resurrection shared meals with the Christ, and learned from him everything that they would need to teach the world of God’s steadfast love and unconditional forgiveness.

As Disciples we come together every Sunday to share the bread and cup. To remember the most horrible day and the most wonderful day in the history of the world, taking the bad with the good. To share our love with one another that we might go out and share it with everyone we encounter. On this day, World Communion Sunday, we share this meal in the knowledge that Christians everywhere celebrate with us. My sisters and brothers, come, share the Lord.

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