Sermon for March 31st, 2019
16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, 17 or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not eaten from it— 18 for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow— 19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or a poor person without covering, 20 whose loins have not blessed me, and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; 21 if I have raised my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had supporters at the gate; 22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket. 23 For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty.
Two Preachers and a Trucker: Humanity
NEAL: The story of Job, as we've seen, is a hard one. But this week I wanted to take a break from the main story, and focus on an aspect of Job that often gets overlooked: Long before tragedy struck, and long afterward, Job was a generous man. Not just to his family or friends, either. In today's scripture passage as well as several other places in the Book of Job, we learn that he made it a principle in his life to care for widows and orphans, to feed and clothe the poor, and to champion the cause of strangers in his land. So if it's alright with the two of you, I'd like to talk about that today--about what it means to be generous, what generosity looks like, and why it's important.
JOB: Well, for starters, it's not somethin' you talk much about, if you can help it. It's somethin' you just do.
NEAL: You make it sound easy, but that hasn't been my experience. In my very first week as a pastor, I got scammed by a couple who came to the church asking for money and help. I listened to their story; I gave them money, only to find out later they were lying about it all. What I hate the most about that experience was that it made me skeptical of everyone else who came to the church asking for help.
CALVIN: (chuckling) You should give thanks to God for this lesson! It is good that we should be prudent and look carefully to whom we give--for if we give without any wisdom or discretion, eventually we would have nothing, and then even the poor among us would be left helpless. But this wisdom does not come without experience, without making mistakes. Still, it would be a much bigger mistake to NOT take any risk at all, to NOT learn from our experiences, or...to disguise our greed and lack of compassion as prudence.
JOB: Think of it this way--If I hired you to work for my company, and I put you in charge of a big account, deliverin' a couple hundred truckloads of freight to a client who needed it, and you took possession of that cargo, but then you decided to keep it for yourself and not deliver it to my client...maybe you figured the cargo was valuable and by holdin' on to it for me you were doin' me a favor, or maybe you figured since it was in your possession it was yours to do with as you like. Or maybe you were just bein' careful. In any case, how do you think I'd respond?
NEAL: You'd fire me. It's not my company, not my cargo.
JOB: Right. If you keep the cargo for yourself, you're stealing from me. If you fail to deliver it to my intended client, you make me look bad. And if you think you know better how to run my business than I do, you're just makin' yourself look bad.
NEAL: Okay, but I'm still not sure exactly where you're going with this...
JOB: I've always believed that every dime I ever made in this life was on loan to me from the Lord. If I keep it all for myself, I'm stealing from him. If I fail to deliver it for his intended purposes, I make him look bad. And if I think I know how to run the world better than he does....I'm just makin' myself look bad.
NEAL: Okay, I get it. But who's the client in this metaphor? How do you know WHO you're supposed to deliver God's cargo to?
CALVIN: James 1:27. "True religion, that is pure and undefiled before God is this: To care for orphans and widows in their distress." Or Matthew 25:40. "Whatever you have done for the least of these my brothers, you have done to me." Or, Job 29:15. "I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger." It is not a great difficulty to know whom God wishes us to help with the resources he has given us.
JOB: Now, if you'd delivered my cargo to someone pretending to be my client without asking for any ID, I'd probably still've fired you. But if you asked the right questions, tried to be responsible, and your heart was in the right place--at that point whatever happens next is between me and my client. You've done your job, good and faithful employee.
CALVIN: This is a good saying, "your heart in the right place." When we observe someone in need, someone who has endured hardship, it is our heart that should leap out of us and toward our brother or sister, who is human, like we are. If the heart is open, then the hand will open next, and our help will follow willingly and quickly. But if our heart is not moved, but instead we grumble, drag our feet, or look to see what others will do first--if we cannot learn charity, then may God teach us humility...by taking away from us all those things we value more than our brothers and sisters in need.
NEAL: As a pastor, sometimes I hear people say things like, "I would help more if only I had more time." Or, "I'll give more when I get more...like if I win the lottery or something." I suppose one might say that it's easy to be generous when you're the CEO of a large company, you know, with 3,000 camels and 7,000 sheep, a whole lotta servants, and all that?
JOB: Sure, I know what it's like to be wealthy. But I also know what it's like to be broke. If you can't be generous when you're broke, you won't be generous when you're wealthy. And no matter how little you think you have today, you might have even less tomorrow. It's always better to help as much as you can right now, because tomorrow you might be the one askin' for help.
CALVIN: It is true that everyone cannot be like Monsieur Joe Bob, for we have not thousands of Camels like he had (thank God--they are ugly creatures!). But let us each look to our ability--though our gifts and deeds are not always what they ought to be, if we allow our compassion to lead us ever closer to those in distress, God accepts it.
NEAL: There's one more thing I want to ask about--I've always wondered about the meaning of the last three verses in this passage: "If I have raised my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had supporters at the gate; then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket. For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty." First of all, what's with the orphan and the supporters at the gate?
JOB: Back in the old country, the "gate" was what you might describe as "City Hall." The place where powerful people make laws, enforce them, and sometimes turn a blind eye to 'em. Havin' support at the gate--whether you earned it or whether you bought it--either way, makes it real easy to take advantage of people, but that don't make it right.
NEAL: And the dislocated shoulder? The broken arm?
JOB: It's a figure of speech. I'd rather lose my right arm than get away with somethin' wrong on account of my good reputation.
CALVIN: I am glad to see that you have retained both of your arms, then.
JOB: Sure. I guess. But you know that calamity from God I was so terrified of? Well, it happened. And that fear that I couldn't face his majesty? Well, I did. But I suppose that's what we're talking about next week, ain't it, preachers?
CALVIN: Mais oui! And may we all bow down in humble reverence before the majesty of our God, who is more terrible than we can imagine, more generous than we deserve, and more loving than we can comprehend. Thanks be to God! Amen.