Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ho-satan and Job, and God

Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Mark 10:35-45
In today’s readings from Job and Mark, we get a glimpse of God’s power and greatness, which is so different from our own human images of power and greatness, which is what John and James – and probably all the other disciples – had in mind.
Throughout most of religious history, including today, there has often been a cause-and-effect understanding of our relationship with God. “If I make the right offering, God – or “the gods” – will send rain, sun, children, wealth, power and reputation. If I’m good, then God will bless me. If I am not good, then God will punish me and my descendants.” One of the purposes of the book of Job is to challenge this cause-and-effect concept about God.
Another purpose of the story is to explain where God is in relation to human suffering. Job makes it clear that despite God’s infinite-ness, and human finite-ness, God does care about us.
… The beginning of the story of Job is a conversation between God and some heavenly beings – possibly angels. One of these beings was the questioner, the one who asked challenging questions. In Hebrew, this is ho-satan, (hoe- sah-TAHN) the satan, not a name, but more of a job description.
Ho-satan is not the being we now call Satan, whom we often imagine in red underwear, with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork. In the beginning, ho-satan was not even the personification of evil. Ho-satan was a heavenly being who was sent to challenge humans’ assumptions about themselves and their relationship with God.
Ho-satan says to God, “Have you heard the latest about Job? I don’t think he is as faithful as you think he is.” God gives ho-satan permission to test Job’s faith, by doing whatever makes sense. The only restriction is that ho-satan cannot kill Job.
Ho-satan starts by making Job sick. Then his entire family is killed. Then Job is made so ill he wants to die. We have to remember that in those days, wives and children were things, like wealth. It seems shocking to us that God would allow all of this killing his family with a new family, but that was how people of that time thought.
His friends come to comfort him, and then try to discover what caused him to have so much bad stuff happen to him. Through it all, Job prays to God and refuses to curse God or to turn from believing in God. But Job does wonder why God has allowed all this disaster to happen to him. He spends a lot of time lamenting all that he has lost.
In our text today, God finally responds by allowing Job to see and comprehend God’s infinite power and glory. God challenges Job, “Can YOU do what I can do? Who do you think you are to challenge ME and MY wisdom?” Not exactly the comforting words we’d expect from God! In next week’s reading, we learn that Job repents of his lamenting and regrets his failure to understand God. Job gets a new wife and plenty of children, and lots of stuff to make him once more a very rich man.
From this summary, it looks like God punished Job through ho-satan, brought him to his knees in repentance, and then rewarded him for his about-face in his attitude toward God. Cause and effect, crime, punishment, repentance, and reward.
As Lutherans, we assume that there must be other ways to understand this story. We look for the grace in the story and find it in the way God listens to Job and actually gives him a glimpse of the depth and breadth of God’s power. There is no one else in Scripture who has this kind of experience of and with God except Jesus! There is grace in the way God does not get angry with Job during his lament. There is even grace in ho-satan’s plan to challenge Job to bring him into a better relationship with God.
There’s even more to the story. Job prays to God as he laments his losses. He never abandons his relationship with God even though his friends encourage him to give it up. And, in spite of all the losses Job experiences, he chooses to live again, accepting the gifts of a new family and wealth. He does not dwell on how bad life has treated him; he celebrates his new circumstances.
… Since we start our annual stewardship campaign today, I want to use Job’s story to help us think about what we have and how we use it. In this story’s plot line, Job lost all of his wealth, and regained it, and celebrated what God had given him.
We tend to think about our financial resources in two ways. We think: money is finite; there is only so much money in the world, and there is not enough to go around. We never have enough of it, so we have to hoard whatever we get, so we can purchase what we want, and so we will have enough money when we retire.
Or we think, money is infinite; there is enough money for everyone, and God will help make sure we have enough of it. We can give generously, because we can always get more money.  
Some church and family budgets are created on the “money is finite” concept. We tell ourselves, “This is how much we have coming in, and we can’t count on there being any extra. Therefore, we’d better not plan on spending more than we know for sure we will have.”
Other church and family budgets are created with the “money is infinite” concept. We tell ourselves, “If we want to spend it, we’ll put it in the budget, and God will provide the income to cover the expense. We want to have these items or events, so let’s plan on having them.”
Of course, there needs to be a balance between these two positions when we are trusting God. We need to be realistic, anticipating probable income and expenses, and we need to leave enough room for God to do new things, without expecting God to fill in a gigantic gap.
In our story, Job never stopped trusting God, never broke his relationship with God. Do we trust God? Do we trust God enough to dare to give a little more to God through our offerings? Can we trust in God to make up the difference in our personal budgets? Do we dare to plan to spend more as we create the church budget for next year? Do we count on God to make up the difference? Do our personal and church budgets fit well together?
Job knew that everything he had came from God. Giving to God and receiving from God is not cause and effect. It’s more like, effect and cause. God gives to us everything we need and then some; and we give back some of what God has first given us. Out of our gratitude to God, we give to others through the mission and ministry of our congregation.  
Job was given a vision of the greatness of God, and the smallness of each human. And yet, God cared enough about Job to reveal God’s own self to him, and to restore Job’s fortunes to him.
Do we have a big enough image of God? Do we envision a God who is so huge, and yet so loving, that we can dare to trust that we are known to God and loved by God and that God will take good care of us?
This year, as you pray about your giving to God through the mission and ministry of Hope, will you dare to trust God? Will you consider how much you already have, and give as if your income is infinite even though the facts tell you it is quite finite?
Please pray with me. Infinitely generous God, it’s hard for us to realize how much of what we have comes from you. Please be as patient with us as you were with Job. Encourage us and help us to be generous with what we have, so others may know your infinite love and care. In Jesus’ name, Amen