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 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.
6 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 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.” 8 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.” 9 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Job 1:20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “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.”
Job 1:22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
There was once a man in the land of Uz…
There once was a man who planted a mustard seed.
There once was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me…
There once was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it…
There once was a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers…
A lot of “Once upon a time stories in our story.”
Once upon a time there was a man in the land of Uz, because of the wonderful things he does. He does, he does, he does, he does…off to see the wizard.
Okay, I added that last one, but the point is that there is truth in story. And our story is full of stories—of poems, of folk-tales, of parables, of saga. When Jesus told a parable there was no one was questioning if it actually happened, for Jesus was speaking of truth, through story. What I am getting at is that Job is a story—an ancient story—with meaning, and truth asking us what is it to be faithful when the storms come.
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. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.
Blameless and upright, a perfect example—someone to aspire to. Someone who is blessed, but if we can move past our shortcomings to see, one who through generosity and faithfulness is deserving of blessing. Every day he prays for his kids—he wants what is best for them. He is an exemplar who works hard and prays even harder, and whose life is a reflection of his prayers.
But what is the motive behind such goodness? This is the question posed from the satan—the accuser. For in this story, the satan challenges the question of motivation? Can anyone love God for God? Or is there ulterior motive? Sure, it is easy to love God when all is well, but what about when the storms come? And a wager is made.
The hedge is breached. You see, Job has been faithful. Job has worked hard. Together, Job has had opportunity. And this perfect life includes success. He is a successful and wealthy man. We don’t know all that preceeds this story. How much of this was self-made. But we know the protection the hedge of success provides.
Job loses everything. All that was perfect is gone, sure, his possessions. But the news gets worse as he next his livestock and his livelihood—all gone, and then his servants who he cared for deeply—lives lost. And last, his own flesh and blood—his own children. This is tragic beyond words. Servants who are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters are gone. And then Job’s own children.
I hear the voice of the servant that comes running to share the unimaginable. I hear the voice this week as we receive the news in our own community as Philando Castile is shot dead in a scenario where the hedge was breached a long time ago—and life lost through the hands of the one who was to be the protector. I hear the voice from the little girl in the backseat who tries to comfort her mommy saying, “It’s okay. I’m right here with you.” I hear the voice in the cries of the young son of Alton Sterling. I hear the voice as I see the scene unfold the shots begin to ring out—and as the protestors run for shelter, the police officers courageously run towards the gunfire. Protecting those protesting them. Protecting, twelve were shots and five died.
It’s exhausting. I have to turn it off. Everywhere we look, the world is hurting. I want words where words can heal. I need art that can help me to see through my fears. And when fear does settle in, Lord, I want to be more like Job. Poet Warsan Shire writes in her poem, what they did yesterday afternoon:
they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?
i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Everywhere. It hurts everywhere.
I share the story of friends of mine, Jim and Lori, both pastors and married to each other. It was approximately five years ago they adopted the most precious child from Ethiopia. Lori shares:
“Our beautiful boy turned seven two weeks ago. Seven is a marvelous age. Still a kid, but gaining independence all the time.
One night this week while I was at a meeting and after they’d taken [our dog] Russo to the dog park, Jim sent T into DQ to get a strawberry shake with two straws and two spoons. And T did it. So proud of himself! He’s had swimming lessons the last two weeks. This year, he wants us to drop him off and then go. On the one hand, this is great. His independence means more freedom for us. On the other hand, it is terrifying. The more independent T becomes, the more he slips out from under the umbrella of white privilege with which we have protected him.
At seven, T is still breathtakingly beautiful. And he looks less and less like a little boy every day. Adults don’t always smile at him in the store like they did when he was four and five years old. The older our son grows, the more potentially threatening he becomes to some people. And that is becoming more and more clear when we are out among people who don’t know him. (Google it if you don’t believe me–black children are viewed as threatening by alarmingly early ages.)
I haven’t had the heart/courage to tell him about Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, or the terrible shooting of police officers in Dallas. (We talk about racism, but not with these specifics. We’ll teach him the stories and the heart-breaking litany of names and incidents someday, but not yet. I just want him to have one more year of childhood. Please. He has the rest of his life to bear this burden of knowledge.)
Guess what T wants to be when he grows up? A police officer.
During weeks like this one, it’s a struggle to keep the panic at bay.”
Earlier this week, before all of the horrible news unfolded, I had included the parallel of the Good Samaritan for the beginning of this sermon. I was contemplating how Jesus uses the most shocking of examples to make a point through parable. You see, Jesus was just asked what was the most important commandment. He answered to love God with everything that we are, and to love our neighbor as ourself. And someone chimed in, but who is my neighbor?
You see, the good guy in the story—the Samaritan—the one who has become so easy to like in our lives as the moral of the story is to be a good Samaritan—but this would have been shocking as an example. Samaritans were the enemy—the unclean—the ones to be avoided at all costs.
For Philando Castille lay dying in the road. The priest walks around him—avoiding at all cost becoming unclean. The one who speaks so well of Jesus on Sunday walks around him—for “If only he obeyed the law.” So many walk on by.
How do we see him? Can we see my friends son “T” differently? Made in the image of God?
A police officer lay dying in the road, risking their life for the one speaking out against unjust systems. How do we see her? Mad in the image of God?
This is the story Jesus shares connecting what it means to love God and love neighbor. The one lay dying in the road is Jesus. Who is the neighbor?
Where does it hurt? Everywhere Job responds, Everywhere.
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “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.”
He tore his garment, a visible sign of sorrow connected to the tearing of our heart. It is an act of opening our hearts. Job shaves is head, a sign of mourning. And then Job falls down to the ground lying prostrate with his head touching the dirt. The same dirt that connects death with God’s breath of new life.
When the storms come, may we respond like Job by loving God, loving God for who God is. By loving God in how we love our neighbor.
Nobel Peace prize recipient, Elie Wiesel, knows the darkness of Job. He first lost his mother and sister in the horrors of the concentration camp of Auschwitz. He recalls that the one thing the helped keep him alive was to live for his father who was executed only one week before the allies defeated Hitler. Wiesel shares, “Look, if I were alone in the world, I would have the right to choose despair, solitude and self-fulfillment. But I am not alone.”
We are not alone. We belong to God. We belong to each other. How do we respond when the storms come?