Transcribed from the sermon preached October 4, 2015
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Job 1:1, 2:1-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Have you ever felt that God is messing with you? Testing or challenging you? Have you found it odd how trouble and difficulty seem to coagulate together, like different things or situations are conspiring against you? Job knows how you feel. This week our weekly lectionary begins the book of Job. So over the next several weeks we will be entering the arguments of Job with his friend about the nature of God and suffering.
“Check out my servant Job,” says God to Satan. We get the sense God is proud, God is pleased with Job. In one sense it may appear that God and Satan team up to screw with Job’s life. But I really think this story sets up like a great prize fight. It is a contest between love, goodness and faithfulness versus hardship and Satan, the tempter and challenger. Satan is pretty good at what he does. He has so many tricks up his sleeve he is cocky. Satan doesn’t think much of Job, implying that he has it easy. Take away his prosperity and health and he will fold. Now the intrigue in Job is found in the conversations with his friends: who is the voice of God and who is the voice of Satan? Conventional theology is presented by his friends. Can Job’s faith stand up? God is betting that even when Job has nothing, the integrity of his faith will prevail.
As Paul Newman’s tenacious character Luke says after he winds a poker game by bluffing with an empty hand, “Sometimes noting can be a real cool hand.”
The test of faith is who we are when things become difficult. We get the same story, the same vision of the power of God’s divine weakness from Hebrews. Someone said that the doctrine of the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus doesn’t make sense: It is like saying a man is both rich and poor because he has a thousand dollars in his right pocket and nothing in his left. But if the power of God is found in the integrity of love, then the human one whose integrity of love is powerful in weakness, even the weakness of being hung on a cross, then that human’s integrity of love is divine.
It is one thing to be kind and generous when we are wealthy and prosperous; it is another when we have little to be kind and generous with. It is one thing for God to tell us to be loving and forgiving when God is all powerful judge up on high, it is another when God himself is kind and loving as a lowly peasant being hung on a cross.
Reinhold Niebuhr notes that power corrupts love. Therefore the power of God’s love becomes powerless.
“If the divine is made relevant to the human,” writes Niebuhr, “it must transvalue our values and enter the human at the point where man is lowly rather than proud and where he is weak rather than strong. Therefore I believe that God came in the form of a little child born to humble parents in a manger… This life in the manger ended upon the cross”
The cross shows us that God’s love needs nothing. Even when all is taken from it, especially when all is taken from it, its beauty and power are all the more apparent. When we get to the end of our rope, when all our own efforts fail and finally we cry out, God’s power and love are there to forgive and redeem us.
Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.
In the coming weeks we will look further into the arguments Job has with God and his friends, but today I leave you with a few paragraphs from Rabbi Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
“The heart attack which slows down a forty-six year old businessman does not come from God, but the determination to change his life-style, to stop smoking, to care less about expanding his business and care more about spending time with his family, because his eyes have been opened to what is truly important to him – those things come from God. God does not stand for heart attacks; those are nature’s responses to the body’s being overstressed. But God does stand for self-discipline and for being part of a family.”
“The flood that devastates a town is not an ‘act of God’, even if the insurance companies find it useful to call it that. But the efforts of people make to save lives, to risk their own lives for a person who might be a total stranger to them, and the determination to rebuild their community after the flood waters have receded to qualify as acts of God.
“When a person is dying of cancer, I do not hold God responsible for the cancer or the pain he feels. They have other causes. But I have seen God give such people strength to take each day as it comes, to be grateful for a day full of sunshine or one in which they are relatively free of pain.”
“Life is not fair. The wrong people get sick and the wrong people get robbed and the wrong people get killed in wars and in accidents. Some people see life’s unfairness and decide, ‘There is no God; the world is nothing but chaos.’ Others see the same unfairness and ask themselves, ‘Where do I get my sense of what is fair and what is unfair? Where do I get my sense of outrage and indignation, my instinctive response of sympathy when I read in the paper about a total stranger who has been hurt by life? Don’t I get these things from God? Doesn’t He plant in me a little bit of his own divine outrage at injustice and oppression, just as He did for the prophets of the Bible? Isn’t my feeling of compassion for the afflicted just a reflection of the compassion He feels when He sees the suffering of His creatures?’ Our responding to life’s unfairness with sympathy and with righteous indignation, God’s compassion and God’s anger working through us, may be the surest proof of all God’s reality.”