Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (June 24, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

Text: Job 38:1-11

So I just got back from our Northwest District convention last night.  Three days in Portland with our lay delegate Bill Burrows, our youth delegate David Otte, and over 300 other pastors and laymen from the largest geographical district in the Missouri Synod … Washingon, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and Hong Kong.  It was a time of worship, a time to deliberate on important issues, a time to hear about various missions and ministries in our region, and a time to elect new district leaders for another three years.  Foremost was the reelection of the Rev. Paul Linneman as our district president.

Friday night our synodical president Matthew Harrison was present with us.  For two hours he fielded questions from the floor on any topic and answered them.  Some of the questions dealt with controversial matters.  Now, can you imagine if President Harrison had replied to his questioners like this: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me!”  He may have been booed off the stage.  He certainly wouldn’t have helped his own chances at reelection next year at our national convention in St. Louis.

Well, the fact is … that didn’t happen. Pastor Harrison was his usual winsome, humble, straight-shooting self.  That is the way, however, that God answered Job in our Old Testament lesson today.

Seems a bit unfair from our perspective.  Consider Job’s predicament.  He was undergoing great suffering.  He had lost everything.  His property was gone.  His children were dead.  He was in great physical torment.  The stench of death hung over him.  And then, a whirlwind, a terrible storm, swept down and swirled around Job, threatening to destroy him.

You and I are given a glimpse behind the scenes at the beginning of the book of Job.  The curtain is pulled back for us so we can see the action that occurred in God’s heavenly court.  There we see how the Lord allowed Satan to bring all this calamity upon Job.  The Lord had pointed out Job’s faithfulness.  Satan claimed that Job would curse God to his face if all the blessings in his life were taken away from him.  In his mysterious wisdom, the Lord basically said to Satan, “Have at ‘em.”  In this way, Job was also certainly put to the test.  And in all this, Job never lost faith.  Oh, he had questions, that’s for sure.  So did his friends who came to visit.  But they also attempted to pull back the curtain and figure things out for themselves.  They didn’t have a glimpse behind the scenes, yet they tried to ascertain what God was up to.  They accused Job of some sin for which God must be punishing him. 

Put yourself in Job’s shoes for a moment.  You’ve lost everything.  Your possessions.  Your children.  Your health.  You are in great agony.  What questions would you have?  Where is God in all of this?  Is he even present?  Is he listening?  Is he for me or against me?  Maybe God really is punishing me for something I did.

Throughout the book of Job, we see evidence of Job’s faith.  Job is not given a glimpse behind the scenes.  He has no idea what is going on.  All he knows is that he is miserable.  He questions.  He listens to the questionable advice from his friends.  Yet we also hear him say things like this:

  •  “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:9)  This is not to say that God is the author of evil, but Job seems to know that even the evil things that happen serve God’s ultimate purposes.
  •  “I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God … though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” (13:3, 15)  Job had faith enough to be daring to speak with God, even to argue with him.  At the same time, Job also had faith enough to say that even if God killed him, he would still place his hope and trust in him.
  • And of course, you also know those most blessed words that simply burst forth from the pages of the book of Job: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (19:25-26)  Somehow, it had been revealed to Job that he would rise again, restored, renewed, looking at God with his own eyes.  With the hindsight of the New Testament, you and I know who this Redeemer is of which Job prophesied … our risen Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Job had faith.  But he was a sinner, too, just like you and me.  That sin is shown specifically in chapter 31, the last words of Job before we finally hear from the Lord.  Job attempts to justify himself.  He looks at his life and concludes, “You know, I’m not such a bad guy after all.  I have lived a moral, upright life.  People like me are the ones whom God should reward.”

After that, we hear from one more friend of Job, and then comes the whirlwind.  A tornado.  And if you’ve ever lived in the Plains states or the Midwest, you know the fearsome and devastating power of a twister.  Homes lifted off of their foundations.  Cars tossed in the air as easy as you and I throw a handful of pebbles.  Entire city blocks leveled.

Under the threat of death and destruction, out of this chaos and fear, the Lord answers Job.  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.  Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”

What is the Lord saying to Job here?  Basically this: “I’m God.  You’re not.  That’s going to have to be good enough for you.  Do not pry in to my hidden counsel.”  That goes for us today, too.  Don’t try to figure out what God has not revealed.  Too often we torture ourselves trying to understand why something is happening in our life.  But when we do this, we may end up attempting to justify ourselves before God like Job did … and forgetting that we are sinners who deserve nothing but punishment from our God whose “greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3).

There was a storm in today’s Gospel reading.  Death and destruction were imminent for the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.  The winds were rushing down upon them.  Waves were crashing over the gunwale.  The boat was beginning to sink.  The disciples cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  Where was Jesus?  Asleep in the boat, at rest, at peace, even in the midst of the storm.

“Teacher, do you not care?”  That’s often our question, too, when all we see are the wind and the waves around us.  Yet this has been revealed to us for sure.  Just as Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, he is present with us.  “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).

God answered Job out of the whirlwind.  Jesus answered the cry of the disciples during the storm.  The voice of Jesus is heard under the threat of death and destruction, in the midst of chaos and fear: “Peace, be still” … “Here shall your proud waves be stayed.”  The same God who prescribed limits for the sea and set bars and doors for it is the same God who stilled the storm with his mighty word.  And Christ’s Word, God’s Word, does what it says.  It is a “living and active” (Heb. 4:12) word, powerful to create, powerful to recreate, powerful to forgive.

Jesus came forth from his mother Mary’s womb.  The “morning stars”… the “sons of God”… sang at the birth of the divine Son of God.  His mother wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.  At the end of his life, he was swaddled in thick darkness and nailed to a cross.  Our sins nailed him there, our sins of trying to keep God at arm’s length.  “Thus far you shall come … I believe in you God.  I trust you.  Well, except for this area of my life.  Or this area.  Or this one.  Don’t go poking around there.  Don’t bother me here.”

But God wants total obedience.  He is your Creator.  He has every right to go poking around in your life.  And it’s not like you can hide anything from him anyway. He easily pulls the curtains of your heart aside and knows what's there.  In place of your disobedience, Jesus offered to God Father his total and perfect obedience, to the point of bloodshed, the very blood that paid for your sins, the very blood that is poured into the chalice from which you get to drink.

His work of salvation completed, Jesus burst forth from that rocky womb, the borrowed tomb, where his dead body once laid.  Job’s Redeemer, our Redeemer, is ever present, ever living, ever forgiving.  And bursting from that tomb come also the gracious waves of Baptism that roll over us, drowning the Old Man in us, and bringing forth a New Man who lives before God in righteousness and purity forever.  The whirlwind of destruction is stilled, and Jesus breathes his peaceful Holy Spirit upon us to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify his Church, making her holy, setting her apart for his purpose in the world.

At the end of the book, Job admits, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3).  There are plenty of things that we will never know about what God is up to.  It’s not up to us to figure it out.  It’s not our place to search out his hidden will.  We may never know why certain things happen to us.  Maybe we will finally know on the Day of Resurrection.  But thanks be to God that he has revealed to us the Good News of the forgiveness of sins through his Son’s death on the cross.  Thanks be to God that he did not consider that “too wonderful” for you and me to know and believe.


No comments: