Monday, November 12, 2007

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 27 C November 11, 2007

For 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 19:25-27)

Perhaps it’s my age. Perhaps it’s the state of the world, or at least my take on the state of the world. Perhaps it’s just that I wake up every morning to the sound of the news—bad news more often than not. Normally I tend to be a bit idealistic; I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. But it seems to me these days that ‘hope’ is a commodity in short supply. Hope for peace in the world. Hope for the environment. Hope for relief from disease and hunger and suffering for the world’s poor—none of these seem very real right now and it’s all too easy to slip into a state of despair, to wonder what is going to become of us. And that makes it very easy to identify with Job, the main character of our Old Testament reading.

The book of Job tells the story of an upstanding, righteous man who has remained faithful to God, and yet a man who loses everything—his family, his life’s work, all gone for no explicable reason. Job loudly laments this state of affairs, crying out to God, proclaiming his innocence, only to have three of his friends tell him in turn that it must be his fault, that he must’ve done something wrong, that he must deserve his bad fortune, because such bad luck can be nothing but punishment from God. Job, however, rejects the counsel of his friends and continues to maintain his innocence and to rail against God—a God who seems to him to be indifferent to his suffering. It is in the midst of this suffering that we hear Job’s cry:

O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; (Job 19: 23-25)

For I know that my Redeemer lives. These words resonate deeply with us, but who was it that Job meant by his ‘redeemer’? In fact, scholars differ on what they think Job intended in this cry. The Hebrew word used here is “go’el” which connotes an avenger or vindicator as well as a redeemer. Go’el is sometimes understood to refer to the God who led Israel out of Egypt, but it also has a legal connotation for one who is responsible for avenging the unjust death of a family member. Job of course had no family members left at this point, but there is also little reason to believe that Job would see God as his redeemer in the midst of his cries AGAINST God.

For me, however, no matter to whom that cry was directed, those words speak of a deep hope, of a great faith. Job is in the depths of despond. His suffering is unrelenting, his friends offer no solace and his God seems to be indifferent to his plight. But in the midst of all that, Job still hopes, still believes that at some point, some how, he will be redeemed—if not by God by some kind of human intervention. The word that we most often hear used to describe Job is patient. But in fact, I’m not sure patience is the best word for this situation. What carried Job through this crisis was not patience so much as it was steadfastness—steadfastness in his faith. Job’s was a deep faith, the kind of faith that sustains in the dark times, and it is this faith that serves as an example for us.

Job continues with his lament, and finally God speaks to Job from a whirlwind—but not to apologize, not to console, not to explain, not to give the answers Job has longed for, but rather to proclaim again God’s power and majesty. But even without answers, this meeting with God is transformative for Job who ultimately says:

I know that You can do everything,
That nothing you propose is impossible for You.

I had heard You with my ears,
But now I see You with my eyes;
Therefore, I recant and relent,
Being but dust and ashes. (Job 42:2, 5-6, Tanakh translation)

In the end Job gets no answers, but he is nonetheless redeemed and he is redeemed by the very God he railed against. What he has learned perhaps is that true redemption can take place only in the presence of God. For whatever reasons, Job knew of God before his trials, but now he KNOWS God, and in that knowing came the difference

Job has struggled through the darkness, and he has come out on the other side. Job’s witness, his certainty both that he has not brought his suffering on himself and that at the end he would be redeemed can give us hope in our own times of darkness. Like Job, we struggle with understanding why we—and others—must suffer. Like Job we reject the notion that God is the cause of the suffering, but we too may sometimes wonder where God is in our suffering, if God is indifferent to our suffering. The story of Job assures us that God is not indifferent even as it warns us that we may never understand completely why suffering must occur.

I know that my Redeemer lives. That phrase takes on new resonance for us as Christians because we trust that Jesus Christ our Redeemer does live, and in Jesus we have a new life and a new hope—that same hope we hear echoed in today’s gospel (Luke 20:27-38). When the Sadducees set Jesus up by asking him about the resurrection—and it is a set up, because the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection—Jesus not only gives them a straight answer—in the resurrection such earthly matters as which husband gets the wife just don’t matter—he also and perhaps more importantly reaffirms that there is a resurrection, and grounds this affirmation in Hebrew scripture.

In his affirmation of the resurrection, Jesus holds out for us an eschatological hope—hope for the end times when we too will be living with God. That is good news for us, but it doesn’t stop there. We live in a time of realized eschatology—an “already-not yet” world. The kingdom of God is already here and the kingdom of God is not yet fully realized. God is with us –our redeemer lives—now and in the last day.

It is in living firmly in this hope of God—a God who loves us and is with us, who redeems us both now and in the world to come that we can go on in a world that sometimes seems hopeless. I’m not one who believes that God has a plan for everything, or that everything happens for a reason. But I do believe with all my heart and all my soul that the God who loves us can work through us and with us to redeem any situation, to find life and hope no matter how grim things seem. And believing that we keep on, working to follow Jesus’ imperatives to love God and care for one another, to be Christ’s body in the world.

I know that my Redeemer lives.


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