St. Paul's Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | November 10, 2019
Job 19:23-27 | Luke 20:27-38
My focus this morning is taking on some of the weight on Job’s shoulders, some of the pain in his back and the blisters on his feet, some of the ache in his heart and the doubt in his mind. At some pivotal junctures in our lives, his walk is our walk, his road is our road, either yesterday, tomorrow, or two months from now…
Before our Pilgrimage with Job I do want to give a nod in passing to the Gospel Reading from Luke in which Jesus responds to the shouting crowds with a quiet introspection, simply sharing that we worship a Living God. His wisdom seems like a library to me in that when a person walks through a library without a soul in sight they feel connected to all the different voices represented on the millions of pages that they are surrounded by. The wisdom which Jesus brings to the table is this broad - this wide - this deep. You do not need to take a book off the shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. This is the wisdom of our Lord. Jesus did not ask us to worship him, but to live like him.
Yet Job’s story of new life after all of his suffering contributes to our understanding of the resurrection of the dead every bit as much – perhaps more – than the Gospel dialogue does.
The book of Job seems to be omni-present in our lives today, nearly 3,000 years after it was written. It is one of the strangest Books of the Old Testament, resting on the humanity of our souls which I do not believe has changed very much over this vast amount of time. We now know that the world is not flat, yet our hearts are still susceptible to being broken. It encapsulates so much of the doubt and hope of our Faith.
God accepts a challenge from Satan. Satan tells God that Job is only a man of virtue because he is well off with his family and his finances, and if he was to suffer, he would surely curse God to his face. God accepts the challenge and gives Satan permission to go about destroying Job’s life.
Do you remember the film 1980s film Trading Places? Then you have seen a cliff notes lightweight version of this Old Testament book starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as Job, with Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche sharing the role of Satan.
Literally all hell breaks loose for Job. Satan kills his children, destroys his home, bankrupts him, and gives him a terrible skin disease. His friends tell him he must be getting punished for some deeds he has committed and Job cries out for an explanation. This same tale of shame and humility was told by the Shaman to young teenage Dakota Indian children before the arrival of the white Europeans.
It is the Story of Jumping Mouse.
Here is just the beginning…
A mouse hears a roaring in his ears. The other mice think he is crazy. He goes to investigate and meets a frog living beside something called a river. The Frog asks the little mouse if he would like some of the medicine power of the river? Of course, says the mouse. Frog tells him to jump up as high as he can and tell him what he sees. The mouse sees the sacred mountains, but that is at the end of the story.
What I focused on in the Sermon is that the mouse (now called Jumping Mouse) lands in the river and is soaking wet. He makes his way back to his brother mice and they see that he is wet and it has not rained in a month. They think he must have been in the mouth of a coyote and been spit out because he was poison. So they ostracize him from their community. MY POINT is that Jumping Mouse becomes a Job-like figure. More often than not, the messenger who carries a difficult truth is the one that gets shot.
This tale touches on the stormy doubt which must have encompassed Job. He is a man, not a mouse and he is humbled by God who demands Job’s humility in understanding that he knows nothing of the true power of God.
The story of doubt and faith is indeed archaic as we have traveled from the Native plains of North America to the compressed valleys of the Middle East. Possibly there was really a man named Job and possibly this is an allegory of the entirety of humanity. His name could have been Peter, or Harriette, or Joan, or Kellie, or Kara, or Linda, or Raymond, or Maury, or Will, you feel me? Each of us experiences loss and believe we can fall no further.
No matter how many trials and tribulations we endure, we never quite understand what Job is going through. We never quite hit bottom and trust our faith, until we come to terms with these words by Barbara Brown Taylor,
“We get knocked down to the dirt floor basements of our heart.”
By the time we arrive at the 19th Chapter in today’s reading, we come across the concept of resurrection, and as we know a belief in resurrection was not a part of the world of ancient Israel. It was a later doctrine, developed in the centuries after the exile. Indeed, it was still a controversial claim in Jesus’ day as we cross into the world of the New Testament. In the Gospel Reading, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead; the Sadducee's did not.
What is this statement about resurrection doing in the midst of the book of Job? “I know that my Redeemer lives.” It is a striking affirmation, particularly given what comes before it. Job, who has lost his children and wealth, accused by his so-called “friends” and covered with boils, falls into the depths of despair. He wishes for his death in Chapter 3. He hopes for Justice in Chapter 9. By the time we arrive in Chapter 19 his friends and family have abandoned him. And God now has turned against him.
Job cries out, “He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree. He has kindled his wrath against me, and counts me as his adversary.” Where is Job to turn? Abandoned by friends and family, he turns to the only source of help left – he turns to the God whom he has just accused of destroying him and we read from our reading today:
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Job clings to the God whom he also at the same time accuses -- this is the paradox of our lives today. We hold on to God with one hand and shake our fist at God with the other. We, and Job, will not let God off the hook for one minute, but wish to stay in relationship with the same God. Job is an example that we refuse to give up on God. This leads to moments of irrational hope in the midst of our overwhelming despair when events in our lives knock us down and grind us into the pavement. Through the understanding of the book of Job we are able to unlock our doors and venture into a new day, to see some light in a brooding darkness.
We muster the courage to each build our journey forward out of chaotic and shrouded darkness. Carlos Castaneda wrote these words about Heart and Path:
"Look at every path closely and deliberately, Try it as many times as you feel necessary, Then ask yourself, and you alone… Does this path have a heart? And if it does, the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no good."
I am writing these thoughts as I have just returned from a two week Pilgrimage to Portugal and Spain to walk the Camino dos Faros (the Lighthouse Way). For 10 years I have had this quote on the back of the front door of the Art Building so I have seen it every day, coming and going:
“Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino el andar.” “Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”
My friends, reading that sign was much easier than walking that Coast de Morte, the Coast of Death. For six days my brother Richard from Baltimore and our friend Dave from Cardiff, Wales walked 10 miles a day for 10 hours a day. That’s right, one mile per hour. At times we walked through eucalyptus forests and hazelnut groves, with the smells of orange and apple, pear and lemon in every breath. Parts of other days we scrambled up and down narrow rocky paths through spiny gorse bushes way up above where the Atlantic crashes into boulders which have not changed one bit since the Apostle James had spread the Gospel of Christ in this Galatian area of northern Spain 2000 years ago.
You know I thought I was a pretty tough fellow. I have been on some interesting walks in my life, as son, brother, husband, father, teacher, artist, and as a friend. My experience is that only when I accept my illusions and desires, both my wounds and my deceits, that then my true path will appear to me. I’ve buried my son and my mother and my father and offered loving words of support and wept with those gathered at those moments, but I have never experienced walking a prayer for 10 hours with the wind and rain beating me down, with the awareness that with one misstep, I would be in too much trouble to recover from.
Both my Walk and Job’s Walk remind me of something that Job and I could never experience, a woman being in Labor. In some manner we experienced a combination of fortitude in the long run and breathing in the present moment, the breathing, counting, pushing, breathing, counting, pushing, breathing, counting, pushing of bringing new life into this world.
At 62, this was a test of endurance, a test of focus and resolve, yet I felt engulfed by a spiritual presence. I close my eyes just several weeks away from this experience and my anxiety engulfs me again. With each step, with each breath, I prayed to be able to continue. With each step my prayers were answered. I do not know how this walk will change me, but I do know that in our lives we are either coasting or we are climbing. And when we are climbing we are learning. We trust, we pray, we build a foothold through falling into our faith.
Bob Marley never wrote any song lyric more important than these words of his, as he was suffering from a fatal heart condition, “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.”
I believe it is wise council to look for these predicaments of not quite being in control in our lives. 75 years ago Will Rogers said, “You gotta go out on the limb because that’s where the fruit is.” In her poem “A World of Want” Tina Schuman writes: I tried to imagine each life, the wounds, illusions, desires, and deceits... Walking new ground helps me contemplate these thoughts."
By the end of this Book Job finally does see God. God shows up and takes Job on a whirlwind tour of creation, Job says this, “I had heard of you by the hearing of my ears, but now my eyes see you.” Job’s hope has been fulfilled, not perhaps in the way that he expected, but fulfilled nonetheless. And it is the fulfillment of that hope that leads Job to embrace life again. The same is true for us.
At the end of the book, Job and his wife have more children. After these trials, Job makes the choice to live again, bringing more children into a world that is both heartbreaking and heartbreakingly beautiful. Though the book of Job does not preach an explicit belief in resurrection, then, it does participate in that biblical movement that eventually leads to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.
According to the biblical witness, God leads God’s people, again and again, from slavery to freedom, from exile to homecoming, and from life to death to life.
Job’s story of this new life after all of his suffering contributes to our understanding of our resurrection. Light and hope finally walk our way with us. We make the circular path with Job. “I know that my Redeemer lives!” Job clings even in the midst of despair and grief to the God whom he also accuses. And in the end, against all odds, his journey is made whole. He sees God; we see God, and having seen God, we are drawn back into life again. And step by step, we continue our climb.