Sermon for March 10th, 2019
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.
Two Preachers and a Trucker: Introductions
NEAL: The idea for this sermon series comes from an old favorite party question: If you could invite two people (living or dead) out to dinner, or coffee, or drinks, etc. but mostly for conversation, who would you invite, and why?
For those of you who know me well, it should come as no surprise that I would choose my favorite theologian, John Calvin, and my favorite character from the Bible, Job. But I wasn't content just to answer the question. I really wanted to know what that conversation would be like!
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for you, I also realized it wouldn't be too hard to answer that question. We have Job's words, Job's feelings, Job's thoughts and reflections, right there in the Book of Job -- all 42 chapters worth of them. That's a lot of words. And we also have Calvin's words about Job, preserved in the 159 sermons that he preached on the book of Job. Yes, 159. For those of you who think I spend too much time on this one book, in my seven years as your pastor, I've only preached 26 sermons (and counting) on the book of Job. Still, that's enough words altogether between the three of us, to reconstruct what I hope will be an interesting conversation.
CALVIN: That is all well and good, Monsieur...Neal. This book, the Book of Job, is indeed an excellent example to show us all how we are completely in the hand of God, and that it belongs to Him alone to order our lives and to dispose of them according to His good pleasure. But before we proceed, I should like to ask one question: What exactly, if you would be so kind to explain, is a "trucker?"
NEAL: Ah, yes, a trucker. Two preachers (that's of course me and our friend Calvin here) and a Trucker. That's Job. Why am I calling Job a trucker? Maybe I should let Job answer that question.
JOB: Hi. I'm Job. These days, everyone calls me Joe Bob. In the old language (Hebrew), Jobab means Papa Job. That's because I've got a lotta kids, grand-kids, great-grand-kids, great-great-grand-kids, you get the idea. I'm the owner and CEO of CTS: Camel Transportation Services, LLC. We're a trucking company. We transport freight in big rigs all around the world. Before trucks, we used stagecoaches. And before that, back in the old country, in the earliest days in the East, we used camels.
Sometimes people read my story--you know, the five hundred donkeys, thousand cows, seven thousand sheep, whole lotta servants, an all that, and they think I was some kind of farmer. Wrong! There's only one reason a man livin' in the desert in the old country would have had 3,000 camels. I've always been in the transportation business. And I've always been the best at it. Well...except for those dark days when I lost everything. But I reckon that's what we're here to talk about. Ain't that right, preachers?
NEAL: Yes. Although that "loss" is actually the subject of next week's conversation. Today I just wanted to introduce everyone to our two preachers and our trucker. Altogether, we span two-and-a-half continents, at least four languages, and three thousand or more years, depending on how you date the Book of Job. Calvin, I know you have some thoughts on that...
CALVIN: We do not know, neither can we guess in what time Job lived, although it can be perceived that the book is very ancient. Yet we ought not to doubt that this man, whose country here is noted, whose name is given here and elsewhere in scripture by the prophet Ezekiel and Saint James, really was, that he really lived, and that the things which are here written have happened to him.
NEAL: We'll have to agree to disagree, on both points. Some new discoveries that were not available to you in the 16th century have made scholars re-evaluate how old it is. Some of the words used in the book are late words in the development of Hebrew. My own belief is that Job was written sometime after the book of Proverbs, probably as a response or an argument against some pretty shallow theology in the 6th century BCE. So it's ancient, but not *very* ancient.
For that same reason, I also have doubts about whether or not Job was ever a real, historical person. The whole book reads to me like a morality play, or like one of Jesus' parables, designed to teach and make a point using a story--a story that eventually became popular enough to be quoted by people like Ezekiel and James, just like today we talk about "The Good Samaritan" or "The Prodigal Son" without having to place them as actual, historical people. But whether or not Job was a "real" person certainly doesn't affect the powerful message, the truth and the wisdom that can be found in his story.
CALVIN: May God correct your ignorance in due time.
JOB: Uh, fellas, you do know that I can hear you, right? Look, I don't know about all this talk about parable and history and the like. I'm not even sure how real any of us are, yourselves included. I know that God is real. And I know that suffering is real, because I've experienced 'em both. Maybe that's all anyone can really say about anything--what you experience is real to you. And if my story--or yours--helps somebody to understand what they're going through, and where God is in the midst of it all, then you can call me whatever you want. I been called plenty of things, and that's just by my three best friends, Eli, Bill, and Zippy (we'll talk more about them another day)!
CALVIN: God, in his word, has called you blameless and upright, a man who feared him and turned away from evil. In this praise we find both an excellent example to follow, and a conviction for where we are prone to fall short. Indeed, I have a question for you, Monsieur Iob--
JOB: (Interrupting) Please, call me Joe Bob.
CALVIN: Yes, Monsieur Joe-Bab... I'm sure you were both an excellent example and conviction to your seven sons and three daughters as well. We read in the scriptures that they would often feast together at one another's houses, and that after the feast, you would rise early and offer sacrifices to God on their behalf, out of fear they might have sinned against you. Here is my delicate question: What did they do at these festivities?
JOB: What did they do? They fed each other. They took care of each other. They enjoyed each others company. They loved each other. That's all. The gettin' together and havin' a party was never what worried me. What worried me was that they were human beings. Everybody messes up from time to time. And at some point in your life, if you're a human being, you're gonna be tempted to curse God in your heart. Even if you're blameless and upright. I made sacrifices for my kids because I loved them, and because I wanted them to know how much I loved God, too.
CALVIN: So the feasts that they made were to no other end, but to testify of their brotherly love and agreement. In this way does the holy Spirit set a looking glass (or as you say, a "mirror") before our eyes, to make us all behold how true friendship must come from God, and must be returned to God in the end.
NEAL: I like that part of the story, too. In fact, we have our own version of this here at First Presbyterian Church every month, when we come together around the Lord's table to eat, to drink, and to remember the kind of love that God, our Father, has shown us in the sacrifice made by his own son.
Tables connect us to each other. They always have. In Job's story, in Calvin's Geneva, and in our church today. Calvin, I know you have some thoughts on this, which, like Job's, have certainly influenced my own. So you get the final word today, straight out of the closing lines from your sermon on this passage in Job.
CALVIN: Merci alors, Monsieur Neal. Prions nous (let us pray). Jésus, notre Seigneur, when we are gathered at Your table to drink and to eat, we beseech You in Your gracious goodness, to keep us in such sobriety, that being nourished by your gifts, we may be the better disposed to serve You. Amen.