November 10th Sermon-I Know My Redeemer Lives

Sermon Bible Verse:

Job 19:23-27 New International Version (NIV)

23 “Oh, that my words were recorded,
    that they were written on a scroll,
24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on[a] lead,
    or engraved in rock forever!
25 I know that my redeemer[b] lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.[c]
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet[d] in[e] my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!

Sermon Text:

On Job 19:23-27a  Job & The Everyday Jobs

 

In our attachment to the word “redeemer,”

and all of our associations of that word with Christ,

it’s easy to hear these words from Job with our own feel-good biases.

 

We might sing of the redeemer,

perhaps with Handel, perhaps with our hymn of the day,

triumphantly, defiantly:

affirming God’s goodness.

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

 

It’s important to know that that’s not how Job spoke them.

 

You remember his story:

To test whether spiritual devotion is only motivated by reward,

God allows Satan to take away all that gives Job joy.

All his sources of wealth – oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels;

all the servants who helped care for them – are seized by enemies.  Simultaneously, all his sons and daughters are killed in a freak accident.  Next, Satan attacks Job’s very flesh:

inflicting “loathsome sores on Job

from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”

 

It is the story where scripture lifts up the topic of innocent suffering, with Job’s friends exploring the possible explanations for it,

trying to make meaning of it.

 

It is a story we think was written

when many of the Israelites were in exile,

and perhaps it speaks to the misery they endured.[1]

 

It is the story that speaks to every age,

where we are given permission to ask God, with Job,

the hard questions.

 

When Job finally speaks these words,

he is in the midst of arguing with his friends,

rejecting their assumptions that his pain was somehow deserved.

Even as they can’t get past the question of his guilt,

Job, sure of his innocence,

has returned again and again to an idea of a day in court with God.[2]

 

Religion professor Brian Jones summarizes,

“He wants God to admit wrongdoing and vindicate him.

But how does one drag the Almighty into court?

And what will it be like for Job to stand before God and argue his case?  He worries that a trial before God is doomed to failure.

God is both the judge and the accused.  How can Job prevail?

What’s more, Job worries that God’s presence

will overwhelm and silence him.

Who wouldn’t stutter into silence before the eternal judge?”[3]

 

Here in this passage, we see Job turning to the idea of posterity –

of history – ensuring that his story is heard even if he dies.

Perhaps to ensure against a history-being-written-by-the-victors scenario, he imagines inscribing his tale on rock,

the letters “lined with lead to protect them from wear,

an enduring, monumental testimony to his innocence.”[4]

 

I’ve never been as sure of my personal innocence as Job was

(and I am comforted that the book of Job falls more

in the genre of “wisdom literature” rather than “history,”),

but I still want to question God about suffering and justice and mercy.

 

Why was my dog hit by a car?

 

I want to ask on behalf of the suffering I see around me.

 

Why did a young person, full of life, slip on that easy scramble,

hit her head so quickly, and fall to her death?

Why did a marriage fall apart?

Why does a single family have to deal with

so many complicated health issues?

 

I want to ask on behalf of the suffering I see in the world.

 

Why is a child separated from a parent’s love?

Why is a woman raped, or abused?

Why is there hunger, or houses destroyed?

Why do forests burn for corporate greed?

 

Take a moment to ask your own questions.

 

 

These are the questions we often avoid,

or avoid asking of God.

The ones that make us uncomfortable,

or feel guilty for even thinking.

 

Because under the questions is accusation of the divine:

Where is God when such things happen?

How can we affirm God’s power or God’s goodness

when such things happen?

 

A hit song from a few years ago called “Prayer in C”

asks similar questions,

with the closing line of the stanzas alternating

between “don’t think I could forgive you”

and “don’t think I could believe you.”

As the song progresses, spiraling out to global fears of

“when seas will cover lands and when men will be no more,”

there’s a poignant wondering,

“Don’t think you can forgive you.”

It is Job’s question of God –

how, in the face of all this, are You the God You say You are?

 

 

Even when I want to turn away in horror, when I don’t want to know, there is a part of me that thinks it is important

when such suffering is noticed –

perhaps not inscribed on rocks,

but in the eternity that is our newspapers or even social media.

And not just for humankind, although I do hope that we might change,

or do what we can.

 

But in a Job-like way.

 

O that these stories were posted and haunt your facebook feed, God.

 

There’s an honesty in Job that describes some of the tragedies

we encounter or experience in our lives.

And scripture holds these moments of anger and despair as holy too.  As George Macdonald wrote, “complaint against God

is far nearer to God than indifference about Him.”

 

 

So this is where Job is at,

this deep desire to have an accounting with God,

when we get to this “I know my Redeemer lives.”

These verses are notoriously difficult to translate.

Biblical scholar David Clines offers an insightful translation:

 

“But I know that my champion lives and that he will rise last to speak for me on earth, even after my skin has thus been stripped from me.  Yet, to behold Eloah [God] while still in my flesh – that is my desire, to see him for myself, to see him with my own eyes, not as a stranger.”[5]

 

Job is comforting himself with the tradition of the champion or redeemer – where the person’s nearest kinsman

takes up the rights of the deceased and fulfills their obligations

(for reference, you might remember how Boaz took on this role

in the story of Ruth).

 

But ultimately, this sense of vindication after death is not satisfying.  Job yearns for this reckoning to be while he still has eyes.

 

Strangely, wonderfully[6], that prayer is answered.

God shows up at the end of the story,

answering Job out of a whirlwind (Job 38:1).

For the reader, the details of their encounter

don’t neatly answer or rationally take away our questions.

But for Job, it is enough.

His trust in God’s goodness and power are restored.

He says, “I know that you can do all things,

and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted,”

and tries to describe this wondrous experience

as he withdraws his complaint,

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you –“

 

The story ends with Job’s health and fortunes being restored,

and more daughters and sons.

 

But it is God made manifest, the presence of God,

that transposes Job’s lament into praise.

 

 

How does that work for us?

 

I wonder if, for the sake of story-telling,

the author made Job’s encounter with the divine

so one-time and definitive.

Sure, I know one or two people whose faith

leans on a single profound experience.

But I think the every day Job like you or me might encounter the divine more subtly, and yet still, somehow in a way that satisfies.

I wonder if the average Job maybe didn’t ask or experience

all the questions at once, but went through bouts

where his trust was shaken, and other times where it was restored.

 

We don’t have to bury the questions.

We bring them straight to God.

We refuse to let God off the hook from God’s promises,

but also refuse to give up on God.

 

And I think our answers, our peace, still comes with God’s presence.  Perhaps not like we expect – if how, in our gospel lesson,

Jesus discards the whole idea of marriage in the afterlife

is any example.

For Christians, God is made manifest in Jesus Christ –

the historical Jesus, who lived, died, and was resurrected

and also the Christ whose body we now know in bread and wine,

or the hands and feet of those around us.

 

May God open our eyes to see,

that we might be comforted and strengthened

in every good work and word.

 

Amen.

[1] James L. Crenshaw, Harper Collins Study Bible “Job” Introduction

[2] Brian Jones, workingpreacher.com citing Job 9:3, 16, 32; 13:3, 6, 13, 17, 18; 23:1-7.

[3] Brian Jones, workingpreacher.com

[4] Ibid.

[5] David Clines in Brian Jones’ workingpreacher.com

[6] Drawing on Jones’ phrasing here

 


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