Sermon for March 24th, 2019
Job 19:13-25 (Neal's translation)
13 My family bonds He has severed; I'm a stranger to ones who were close. 14 My kin-folk and friends are all gone; I'm forgotten by guests in my home. 15 Even the house-maids don't know me; In their eyes I'm an outsider now. 16 I call to my servant, but he's silent; Crying, I beg him to come. 17 My spirit is strange to my wife; And I long for the children we've lost. 18 Even the foolish revile me; When I rise up they ridicule me. 19 My closest counselors dismiss me; Those dearest to me close their doors. 20 This flesh hangs loose upon bone; By the skin of my teeth I am left. 21 Have sympathy, dear friends, have sympathy! For the fist of God struck me down. 22 Why do you hound me (as He does)? Unhappy with feasting on flesh? 23 If only my words were written! A witness inscribed for the world! 24 Lettered in lead with iron! Eternally etched in stone! 25 For I know my redeemer lives; And the Last One--He will rise on the dust.
Two Preachers and a Trucker: Community
CALVIN: God has joined us together and united us in order that we might have a community; so that one person may support the other, and that each may try to help his neighbor, and when we can do no better, that we may have pity and compassion for one another. This kind of community is a good and beautiful thing.
Sometimes, all this community, all of this support keeps our attention, our focus, here below; for our nature is entirely inclined this way, and we are much given to it. If I forget that God alone is my judge, oh I shall be happy when people applaud me, when the community holds me in high esteem! But what have I gained? Absolutely nothing, in the eyes of God.
NEAL: (The year is 1997. Tulsa, Oklahoma, my junior year of college). Hi! My name is Neal Locke, and I'm running for Student Body President. I'd appreciate your vote. Why am I running? I want to help take our student government to the "next level." (pause) Why am I really running? Well, I suppose I could do a great job, and it would look good on my resume and... Why am I really running? Okay. Fine. I want people to like me. And if I'm elected, I'll know for sure that they like me...at least 2,364 of them...well, at least I'll know that 2,364 of them like me more than the other two people who are running for student body president...this year. But that's something, right? Right?
CALVIN: (shakes head).
JOB: It ain't exactly true that I lost everything, not all at once. Camel Transportation Services, LLC, did go belly up. No fleet, no drivers, no company. No company, no money. But I still had my wife! Well, sort of. The loss of our kids hit both of us hard, and she became...distant. I don't blame her. I wasn't much help.
But I still had the house! That big, empty, house that used to be so full of life, and people. I lost most of the hired help, but a few of 'em stuck around. I couldn't pay 'em. I think they stuck around out of habit, mostly. They wouldn't look me in the eye. They wouldn't talk to me. Maybe they just didn't know what to say. Or maybe...Well, I still had my friends, my community! All those people who loved me, who used to laugh at my jokes and tell me how great I was. Yeah...I bet you can guess how fast all that disappeared.
CALVIN: Sometimes, God wishes to draw us closer to himself. But this is not an easy thing, for we are blinded by our belief that satisfaction comes from the approval of the community. And when this proves insufficient, we try harder to dazzle the eyes of men, forgetting God altogether. So, Monseiur Neal...I see you won your election as Student President at your University! Tell me...was it all you needed it to be?
NEAL: (The year is 2000. Dallas, Texas. Career fair for the Dallas Independent School District, and my first job interview). Hi! My name is Neal Locke, and I'm applying to be a High School English teacher. Why do I want to be a teacher? So I can help students learn critical thinking skills, and develop their appreciation for great literature. (pause) Why do I really want to be a teacher? Well, because I think I'd be great at it--I'll be the coolest teacher ever, and my students will love me, and... (pause) Why do I really want to be a teacher? Okay, fine. A captive audience every day, hanging on my every word as if their very grades depended on it. My students *will* love me...won't they?
CALVIN: (shakes head)
JOB: I lost the house. And the rest of the servants. And my community. And my wife. But just when I thought I had lost everything, my three closest friends showed up. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. 'Cept no one ever called 'em that. Eli, Bill, and Zippy. When everyone else left, they came. They stayed with me for seven days and seven nights. They didn't even say a word. They just sat there with me. That's real friendship, right there.
CALVIN: Without a doubt, friendship is as pleasant to God as anything can be. God draws us together, and obligates us to one another. A friend will be so much more bound to his friend than to any another person. However...Even wicked men bear an affection of love towards one another, and they sometimes join themselves together to accomplish their goals: but true friendship must come from God, and be offered back to God. Our understanding of friendship must begin with him, and aspire to him, as the highest and best kind of friendship.
NEAL: (September 2011. Princeton, New Jersey. My last year at seminary, in the office of my academic advisor). So, I think I've finally made a decision. I do want to be a pastor. Why do I want to be a Pastor? I want to walk alongside people on their journeys through life and faith. I want to help them connect to God, and to each other. (pause) Why do I really want to be a pastor? I'd be great at it--I'll be the pastor of a huge congregation, with lots of people! I'll preach great sermons, dramatic sermons, creative sermons, and everyone will love me...I mean them--the sermons. I mean God--people will love God, because of the sermons...that I preach. (pause) People love their pastors, right?
CALVIN: (laughs) No. Not always. Did I ever tell you about the time when my people, my congregation, threw me out of the city and banished me from the country?
NEAL: I've heard that story. And three years later, they asked you to come back. I would have said, "No...Hell no!" But you went back.
CALVIN: Sometimes, our Lord wishes to instruct us in humility by this means: that we shall be rejected by our community. In this way, we shall have to think that we are not so great as we may have supposed. In any case, I did not go back to Geneva to regain the favor of the people. They were the same people. I returned to Geneva because God is the same God, and there was work to be done.
JOB: There's a bumper sticker you might see sometimes on the back of one of my trucks--it says, "Lord, save me...from your people." Bless their hearts. I know a thing or two about God's people. My friend Eli was the first one of my three best friends to speak up. He said (and I paraphrase), "Life stinks, and then you die. Suck it up, Joe Bob."
Ol' Bill spoke up next. In so many words, he said, "Chin up, friend. Things'll get better. Someday. Maybe." And then there was Zippy. He said (and I quote), "It's your own dang fault. God don't make no mistakes, so you must be the problem." Thanks, friends. Lord, save me from your people.
CALVIN: To be destitute of all help in this world, to be troubled on all sides, to receive no kindness, and every cruelty from even our friends...this is very hard. But as long as we have even the smallest measure of support in this world, we shall not hope in God as me must. So God permits our friends, our communities, to fail us, so that in the end, we may learn to rely on him, alone.
JOB: The only thing worse than sittin' there listening to Eli, Bill, and Zippy carry on (and they carried on for nine whole chapters)...was listenin' to the silence when they finally stopped. Because then, it got really quiet. Then, I really had nothin' and no one. And somewhere in that awful, lonely silence, I first got the idea that I wanted to write a book. I wanted my story put down in words--everything I'd had, everything I'd lost, what all my work, all my sacrifices, all my soapboxes and pet projects and beliefs about myself and God and people all amounted to in the end, when it was just me, myself and I, sittin' there, on a pile of ashes.
I figured that maybe somebody, somewhere, a few hundred years from now or maybe a few thousand, might read my story and stop chasin' after things that can't last, things that can't fill you up, things that can't make you whole.
NEAL: You mean me, don't you?
JOB: In the old country, back in the East, in the old language, we had somethin' called a "go'el." A go'el was someone who came after you, after you were gone, and made things right again. Now, we say "redeemer" but it's more than that. A go'el could be your next of kin, or a distant descendant, but the idea was that if you died with unfinished business, your go'el would come after you, and finish it. If you had lost somethin', he'd find it. If your reputation had been ruined, he'd restore it.
In those dark and lonely days, all my "next of kin" had done run out. But somehow, I knew that if I could just put down my words, my story, that someday, someone might come along and read it. Someone might come along, and make somethin' out of it all. Someone would stand on the dust and ashes of my ruined life, and bring out of it something valuable.
I know my redeemer lives, and he (the last one) will rise on the dust.
It's funny. Nowadays people read my story, and they think I was talkin' about God. Maybe God was my redeemer in the end, but that's not what I meant back then. I was still pretty mad at God, after my legendary patience ran out.
I know my redeemer lives, and he (the one who comes after) will rise on the dust.
You see, I was kind of hopin' it might be...you.