NAMC Worship Service 06282020 – The St. David North Austin Medical Center Worship Service for June 28, 2020; Sermon is Where is God? and is based on Job 1:20-22; 2:9-10; and 42:1-6.
Where is God?
Job 1:20-22; 2:9-10; 42:1-6
NAMC Worship Service 06282020
We in the hospital have seen a trend that is alarming. As the state opened up because COVID-19 was not hitting us as hard as it seemed it might, the economy was suffering and people had to go back to work and drive the economy. And people were getting tired of being quarantined. So people got together, and the virus did what the COVID-19 virus does – it infected people; and the results were an increase in cases, more people hospitalized, and ultimately, more deaths. Is this the second wave – more of the first wave? Does it matter? It’s dark on the proverbial horizon, and we are going into the fray. The bright spot, so I’m told, is that we are better medically treating people with COVID-19, now that we are a little farther down the path with the virus.
At times like these, you might be saying: Where is God? It seems a God who loves wouldn’t allow this to happen. Or a just God wouldn’t allow this unless someone, some people, or some government did something wrong or sinned. Is it the United States? Is it racial injustice or injustice nationally? Is it that we – as a nation, state, community, or individuals - are not doing what God asked? Is it that we aren’t loving enough to our neighbors, or see injustice and are either taking part in it or doing nothing to stop it? You may have a different set of questions, but the point is: Lots of questions, no answers. So where is God when we need Him. Where is the Creator for the created; people, animals, plants, even the earth?
Have you read the book Silence, by Shusaku Endo? It was first translated into English in 1969. How about the movie by the same name that came out in 2017. It is a story of missionary Jesuit priests in the early 17th century – Sebastian Rodriguez and Francsico Garrpe - that sailed to Japan amid stories of persecution that were horrific and the teller of them – Christovão Ferreira – had apostatized after undergoing the torture of “the pit.” For the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits – they couldn’t imagine that Ferreira would “betray the faith,” no matter what circumstances in which he was placed. They got to Japan, and it was worse than they had feared, although there were some Japanese Christians trying to worship their God amidst the crackdown the government had against Christianity itself.
But the book isn’t about the story of the two Jesuits, although they are protagonists as the tale unfolds. It is about the spiritual walk of the entire cast, and what Christianity looks like and acts like in persecution, or crisis. It, at times, is not a pretty sight – after all, we are human, and have human tendencies; like the fear of pain, selfishness, and even the moral choice to humiliate yourself so that others may live.
In one of the scenes, Sebastian is thinking “apostatize,” when the Japanese Christians – who had already apostatized – were tied up and being thrown into the lake if Garrpe didn’t betray the faith. Garrpe jumped in, swam to the Japanese Christians, said “Lord, hear our prayer,” as he swam to them, and ultimately and drowned with them. Striking positions that only get more complicated if you read the book or see the movie. But I will let you – who haven’t heard the story of Silence – find out first-hand the diverse forms Christianity takes.
As the two – Sebastian and Francisco were coming to Japan by boat, they were looking forward to seeing Yokose-no-Ura, which was a village, harbor, and a great Jesuit church had been built on the hill, overlooking the harbor. There was a time when Christianity was welcome in Japan, and on Easter Sunday, Japanese residents would go up the hill, carrying lighted candles, and singing hymns as they walked in procession. There was a crucifix on top of the hill so large that they could see it from the distance. Only when they arrived there was nothing.
“Where is Yokose-no-Ura?,” the priest asked one of the guards. “There nothing left of it,” came the answer.
Listen to the author Endo’s words:
The village had been burned to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sounds of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us so completely? He prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? Even when the people are cast out of their homes have you not given them courage? Have you remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why? At least tell me why. We are not strong like Job who was afflicted with leprosy as a trial. There is a limit to our endurance. Give us no more suffering.
So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence. All that could be heard was the monotonous dull sound of the oars again and again.
Do you feel like that, at least a little bit? Where is God is all this suffering and crisis?
The Book of Job Lessons
There are many lessons from the book of Job that would take up a lot of sermons. So, I am going to focus on chaos, the faith of Job, – a little detour for the crying out of Job and his friends in grief and solace- , to not knowing sometimes what is going on in his (and your) world, and his “seeing” God amidst the chaos.
The Book of Job
The Book of Job in the Old Testament – or Hebrew Bible – is a part of the Wisdom literature. The Wisdom writings in the Bible are from a long history of wisdom literature that predates the Bible in written or oral form. The Book of Job – or at least the oral story - is thought to be from the 2,000’s B.C. or earlier, though the scholars vary in this issue.
Taking the wisdom literature from an international context, then, we see that it is larger than the Israelites – or Christians. In the Biblical wisdom literature alone, there are traces of the Edomites, the Arabians, and the Babylonians. The ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature has the same views and even nearly the same words. The Book of Job is thought to be remnants of the Edomite wisdom tradition. Indeed, Job is thought to have been an Edomite. One scholar – Hugh Ross - said the Book of Job is the oldest chronicle in the Bible. The story is given an Israelite view (probably during the period of the Divided Israelite Kingdom), but the tale is long before then.
So, the question remains – did the story originate from one place, or multiple places, or is it the universal attempt to cope with the problems of life when suffering or pain comes to the human being? While we can attempt to dialogue about the religious or faith aspects of it, the certainty is that it is the product of a search for meaning and purpose in life, the mystery of life and death, and the relationship between divine and evil that still poses questions to this day, and covers the entirety of human beings.
So, I’m going to do something different this week. Instead of having one Scripture or Section of Scripture, I’m going to have 3. You heard them before, but let me go through the story of Job – abbreviated – and throw the Scriptures in where appropriate. The Book of Job and Job’s story is great, and there’s – as I said before – a lot of lessons we could get out of it. But I want you to focus on the issue “Where is God?” and what does the book of Job show us in that respect.
In the beginning of the book, God is on His throne and Satan comes before Him, saying man only likes God because of the blessings God gives human beings. God doesn’t believe Satan, and tells him to pick Job, who is righteous and wealthy. Satan can do anything he wants to bring harm to Job, only Satan can’t touch him.
So, Satan goes down and utterly destroys everything Job has – his vast land; his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, all taken by his enemies; his servants; his belongings; his 10 children. Job goes from being a rich man with lots of everything to destitute. Only his wife was there with him.
Now, the first part of Scripture, Job 1:20-22:
Job 1:20-22 English Standard Version (ESV)
20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Unbelievably, Job didn’t question God, or wonder whether God existed. He just did what people did in those times to grieve, and said the proverbial chant. The image is even more apt if you recall that in the ancient Near East bodies were often arranged in that time in the fetal position for burial. Thus the womb of the mother becomes the metaphor for the grave, and indeed for the earth, from which you come and to which you return. Job worshiped and did not sin, which is unbelievable to many.
So, Satan went to the Lord again, and said that Job hadn’t been tested because Satan wasn’t allowed to touch him. If he could touch Job, then Job would curse God. So the Lord said, do what you want with Job, only spare him his life.
Then, Satan inflicted loathsome sores on Job from his head down to his feet. So terrible were the itching soars that Job took a broken piece of pottery to scratch it, causing further burning and itching.
The second Scriptures:
Job 2:9-10 English Standard Version (ESV)
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”[a] In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
He received two disasters and still did not sin against God. Even his wife was turning against him – everything he had was taken away now! But Job still would not curse God. It is almost as if Job and Paul in the New Testament thought the same thing – God makes all things good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). Job sat on the ground, and his friends went – tore their robes and threw dust upon their heads; they sat with him for seven days and seven nights. No one spoke a word.
If that were all you heard, you would think that Job was a pretty righteous fellow, and might start to wonder what this sermon has to do with us, maybe even you. Could a person experience those kinds of disasters and be good with it? Can a human being – whether they walk with God or not – be that holy?
The answer is no. Job cries out to God, cursing the day he was born. His wife’s words seemingly become his own – though he doesn’t curse God. Grief – even at least 4,000 years ago was there. If you grieve in this time, don’t worry – you have a lot of company. The five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – can happen to us humans. Process through them and get counseling if you need it. And find friends to walk through it with you.
That’s what Job’s three friends did… until they opened their mouths, and said the wrong things. If you are a friend for someone in grief; be with them, listen to them, love on them, and care for them. Unless absolutely necessary to say something, keep your thoughts to yourself!
Back to Job
So Job’s three friends say the wrong things, to which Job’s retorts, his friend Elihu becomes angry and defends God, then the Lord speaks. You would think that God would explain why Job suffered as he did, for it was a heavenly battle that God won. Yet, God doesn’t explain why He allowed these things to happen; rather, He makes it clear that God’s ways are God’s ways. In two speeches, the Lord does more than that – He reveals Himself, and that relational presence restores Job.
Job “sees” God for who He is – God’s passionate overtures finally win him over. Job’s response is filled with humility, praises to God, and looking past his own hurt to see a loving Lord. Regardless of the outcome, Job will love the Lord.
It seems what Job did not understand was the nature of God. But God appeared to Job in his suffering, and Job saw wonderful things. Amazing though it may seem, God palpably showed Job God is loving and even just, after all.
Listen to Job’s response:
Job 42:1-6 English Standard Version (ESV)
Job's Confession and Repentance
42 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
2 “I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent[a] in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:6 Or and am comforted
Most scholars give verse 42:5 as the supreme lesson of this book.
God’s appearance in the whirlwind of Job’s suffering, changes Job’s perception of God. Job sees the Lord, and that makes all the difference in his emotions and intellect. Or said another way, Job’s knowledge of God came from the hearing of the ear – tradition of the wisdom schools, the testimony of the ancients, the words of the fathers. Job’s religion had been inherited, but his faith could not survive in destitution and pain, rejection from his friends and society, or even isolation from God Himself. Yet through the voice from the whirlwind, Job’s knowledge comes from a different source – he “sees” God for who He is, and loves Him.
In the end, God blesses Job and restores his fortunes (though he and his wife still lost their 10 children).
Have you seen God in this crisis? Has the whirlwind of your life caused you to miss the blessings? Has the pain and suffering of you or those around you caused you to miss God? On the other hand, has your struggle caused you to feel His palpable love? Has your pain or hurt been lifted by someone who is a light in your darkness?
Bring it to the congregation
I have witnessed love, care, and compassion this week. In the crisis, I see pain and hurt; but I also see great deeds done by people who have no regard for their lives, giving because they can, and being blessed even as their service heart blesses those who need love in the worst way.
Can you think of acts or deeds done selflessly? Done with love for others, care for those who need caring, and having compassion for those who are hurt or oppressed? If God is love, as 1 John 4:8 says, then God is here.
In these difficult times, people often ask, “Where is God?” The answer is, “He’s everywhere!”... Everywhere that brings the good – or righteous – out of situations. Even in the proverbial dark, there is light.
And here is the point: God is no farther from us than before the pandemic began, and He has palpable love for us in the struggle. If you can partner with Him, giving love to help the hurt and pain, and wait on His timing for good. If we can give love, care, and comfort to one another during this pandemic; If we can but lift our eyes from our troubles and gaze in trust and assurance in the direction of our good and perfect Father, He stands ready to sustain and minister to us, equipping us with what we need to serve and honor Him, no matter the circumstance.