Sermon for October 28th, 2012
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
34 ‘Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
so that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go
and say to you, “Here we are”?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cling together?
39 ‘Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?
Where Were You?
For thirty-five out of forty-two chapters in the book of Job, God is either the subject of conversation or its target. During those thirty-five chapters, God listens silently while Job questions, complains, and attacks God, trying to make sense of his suffering. Finally, in today's text, God responds. Compared to the words of Job, God's response is mercifully short. And so, in my sermon today, I intend to follow God's example. Mercifully short.
Briefly, I need to move us from the work of God in the Book of Job, to the work of the 16th century Reformers that we celebrate today on Reformation Sunday, and finally to the work of the modern-day Reformers and Saints in our own church who we are also celebrating as part of our annual "Saints of Service" award. And all this in the span of about five minutes. No pressure.
Let's begin with the work of God in the final chapters of the Book of Job. Many people interpret this as God putting Job in his place: "Who are you to question me? Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Sit down and shut up, you puny mortal!" I find this interpretation a bit harsh. Job's loss and his pain are real, and his words to and about God flow from that experience. God knows this. God knows Job. God loves Job. If God is putting Job in his place, it is not done in anger, but gently. When I read this text, I see God calling Job's attention to some pretty beautiful things, cosmic things, and simple things, gently drawing him out of his inward focus and back into the larger world that we are all connected to as God's children, as part of God's creation. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? I don't think it's a sarcastic question. It's a question with an implied answer: You were with me, Job. You were there. You were part of me, though you didn't know it yet. Your children were, are, and always will be part of me, too. Let me show them to you. When God speaks of the morning stars singing together, and all the heavenly beings shouting for joy--I imagine he is showing Job more than just a word-picture.
Let's turn now to the work of the Reformers in the 16th Century. Today is Reformation Sunday, and we, as protestants and especially as Presbyterians, celebrate our heritage as the children of the Reformation; descendants of great leaders like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Anne Locke, and John Knox. If you heard and (mostly) understood the reading of today's passage from the book of Job, you should thank the Reformers, who fought to have the Bible translated from Latin into the common language of the people. They fought for a church that was governed by democracy, and not by Kings and Popes. As a matter of fact, our own form of government in America was largely based on and inspired by the Presbyterian church of the 16th and 17th centuries.
On November 1st, many churches in El Paso will celebrate All Saints Day, and they, too, will remember great church leaders of the past. But the Reformers of the 16th century had a different take on that title, "saint." They didn't believe it should be a title reserved solely for great Christians of the distant past. Instead, they taught that all who are saved in the name of Jesus Christ are to be considered saints. You are the saints of the church! And so each year, our tradition here at First Presbyterian Church is to recognize some of the saints and reformers in our midst. I can think of no better way to celebrate Reformation Sunday, and no better conclusion to a sermon than the work and witness of these individuals, most of whom have proclaimed the gospel with their whole lives and through their quiet service to others.