(Reader’s note: the sermon was the 38th chapter of Job. The following is merely commentary.)
It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but I really like the movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s one of those movies that you never forget. I looked it up before I went on vacation, and the last surviving cast member died in May of this year. His anglicized name was Jerry, something or rather, and he was one of the munchkins, of which there were many. He was generally credited with handing Dorothy the lollipop, just as she was about to embark on her epic journey. “Munchkin,” by the way, is a made-up term created by the author, for his 1900 book, “The Wizard of Oz.”
Even though the movie is not a treatise on morality, nor not a commentary on the Scriptures, it does teach some very important lessons, from the very obvious, “there’s no place like home,” to to goodness always overcomes evil, to the main lesson that if we have a calling in this life, we’ve already been given all of the necessary resources to fulfill that calling. We don’t need to go on a pilgrimage seeking a no-good wizard to find those resources. From a biblical point of view, God has already planted them in our hearts. In the movie, the Scarecrow discovers that he already has insight and wisdom, the Cowardly Lion realizes that he is far more courageous than he ever imagined, and the Tin Man learns that he is filled with compassion and caring.
But the lesson that I want to focus on this morning is, how to sneak into a place in which you certainly do not belong. When I was a teenager, this lesson seemed particularly important, although I’ll not go into that this morning.
Near the end of the movie, just as all is looking extremely grim for Dorothy, who is being held captive by the Wicked Witch of the West, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, somehow, all manage to sneak into the Wicked Witch’s castle. And, exercising their newly discovered gifts, they rescue Dorothy and vanquish the Wicked Witch with only seconds to spare. Even though we may have seen this movie dozens of times, we still wonder, in those tense moments, are they going to be able to pull it off?
So, how did they get into the castle in the first place? It was the Scarecrow’s idea, of course and his good thinking that got them in there.
And they got in there undetected, because they disguised themselves in the costumes of the castle guard. We all panicked, of course, and feared that they’d be found out, especially when we noticed that the Lion’s tail was swishing back and forth from out of the back of his trousers.
There was once, a very long time ago, an intruder in heaven. Someone, or as I prefer to say, some “thing”. Some thing that did not belong there, somehow managed to sneak in. The Satan itself made an appearance in heaven. Now I don’t know for sure how the Satan got into heaven, but if one reads between the lines, in Job, chapter one, it may have been very much in the same way that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion got into the Wicked Witch’s castle.
In Job, chapter one, we read that one day, the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Satan came along with them. I ‘spose I ought to ‘splain this “Satan” thing. It sounds strange, doesn’t it? In the Book of Job, the devil doesn’t really have a name, it is merely called “the Satan”, which means, “the accuser”. And that’s just hunky-dory with me, because a name implies personhood, and I’m opposed to giving personhood to such a heinous creature as the devil.
Anyway the Satan got into heaven, along with the other heavenly beings, but unlike our heroic trio from “The Wizard of Oz”, the Satan was detected and found out immediately. The courtyard of heaven must have smelled really bad…a whole lot like hell-fire and brimstone. And the Satan, or the accuser is caught. And God shouts out thunderously at it, and says, “Where have you come from?” Implied in that question is, you are an intruder. There are smoke alarms going off all over the place, you do not belong here, why are you here? State your business and be done with it.
And the Satan replied, well, I’ve been spending some time on earth, checking things out, going to and fro, blah, blah, blah, and then seemingly from out of nowhere, God says, did you check out my servant Job? There’s nobody quite like him. He’s blameless, he’s upright, and a fine believer to boot! He’s a really neat guy.
Well, no wonder, the Satan shouts back, you’ve made Job your pet! You’ve taken extra special care of him, you’ve watched over him, blessed him, given him great wealth, why wouldn’t he be a goody-two-shoes? Tell you what, God, smack him around a little bit, work him over some, and this guy will dump his faith like yesterday’s Dunkin’ not so much Munchkins any more; mostly just coffee now. He’ll curse you until the sun goes down on his life.
Now I suspect that this challenge intrigued God some, because God said to the Satan, have at him. Do what you will with him, just don’t kill him.
And with that, all hell broke loose over Job. The Satan unleashed its demonic fury and tossed out a brutal attack on Job. Marauding tribes attacked his cattle and killed his servants. A strong wind knocked down the house where Job’s children were eating, and they were all killed. And then, just for some satanic kicks, festering sores that refused to heal broke out all over Job’s body. Job was a broken man. No one would want to experience the horror that Job endured, but some of us have come close. Terrible things have happened to some of us. Our bodies have been damaged, our hearts have been broken, and loss and grief have been our companions. And like Job, most of us have had to live and struggle with the mystery of it all. We have never known or learned the reason why. Job had no clue that a cosmic battle was raging over his life. He did not know anything about the heavenly conversation that led to the disastrous events that put his life into such abject misery.
But that wasn’t the end for Job: things got worse. Some visitors showed up. Sometimes, in the midst of a trial, visitors can be a good thing. But not so in Job’s case. It turns out that Job’s visitors functioned as the very messengers of the Satan. Probably without knowing it, they were all a part of the Satan’s plan to further Job’s misery, and to undo and unravel the faith of this man of God.
And the worst thing is that Job’s visitors were studied theologians, to boot. And in this case, that’s bad, really bad. They had no love, no compassion, no empathy, no nothing. Just a whole lot of answers. Look out for people who have all the answers. Watch out for people who want to pump you full of their answers. Be very wary of those who seem to know the answers to life’s questions. Most of them are only half truths, and half truths are the devils best weapons. And usually it just means that they can talk until they can think of something to say. And for 36 chapters of this book, Elipaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite display their ignorance. Oh sure, they can discuss the nature of God, they understand the sinfulness of the human condition, and they hound Job with their foolish speculation that Job must certainly have committed some horrific sin to have merited such a severe punishment from God.
And their blather is all quite boring and all very tedious, because in all of their theologizing, they offer not one word of comfort or hope, or encouragement. All they have is those standard half truth answers that they keep trying to drill into Job’s head.
When disaster comes to our house, we want answers. We want to know the why, the why for and the how come. But we also desperately need comfort and solace. Many of us have caught ourselves wondering, what evil have I done to deserve all of this?
After a very long time, in the Book of Job, God finally shows up in chapter 38. But when God comes, he doesn’t come with any answers. Instead, he comes with more questions. At a time when God could have given some answers, and made everything all better for Job, God batters Job with a barrage of completely unanswerable questions. But held very firmly in all of those questions that come one after another, is a very profound and deep answer. God is in control of all things. God is God and we are not. And as far as God is concerned, that is all we need to know. Think about that for a minute. It is a far easier thing to believe that God is always in control when everything is just fine and dandy, isn’t it? Yeah, it is. But that’s when we need to learn it, so that we can know it when nothing is fine and dandy.
We know Job’s story even though he did not. We know his story from the very beginning. We are let in on the secret. We know that Job is in good stead with God. Job’s story begins with God’s strong affirmation of his faith and his righteousness. And that’s exactly how every one of our own stories begins. If we are a follower of Jesus Christ, our stories begin with God’s strong affirmation of our faith and righteousness, and nothing less.
Job never learns the “why” of his troubles, and I’m pretty sure that that is God’s intent for the rest of us, too. Job never discovers that his story has cosmic dimensions. Job does discover, however, that he lives in a universe where there is far more going on than he will ever see, know or comprehend in his life-time. Mysteries abound. And more importantly, Job discovers that God is present and involved in everything imaginable and unimaginable. And if God is present and involved in everything imaginable and unimaginable, then God is also present and involved in Job’s life. And that is very good news.
We need to lay hold of the good truth that God is present, and loving and caring when our lives go to pieces. God is not gone away or escaped our lives when normal living collapses. One of the tragedies of the story of Job, is that during his time of trial, he did not know that God was right at his side. Job kept looking for God, as if God wasn’t there at all. But we knew that God was there. We knew it from the very beginning of his story. And because we knew this, we now also know that God is with us, and that God will be with us through every chance and turn of life. God has always been with us. God is with us now. God will always be with us, forever and forever. Amen.