Jobbbb: Blessing

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 42:1-6, 10-17

This week the Tuskawilla Family concludes our study of Job with a lesson on blessing. It seems a bit jarring, knowing what we have walked through with Job and perhaps experienced through our own reflections during this study, to now speak of blessing.

Job has been through the ringer. Like Jacob, Moses, others before him, and others after him, Job struggled with God. After the struggle he carried the lasting marks of that encounter with him. His physical wounds healed. Hisfamilial and material wealth was restored. Yet, this restoration did not return Job to his Job 1 self. His restoration was a new beginning, bearing in his heart, mind, soul, and strength all that had transpired and allowing that to guide but not define his future.

Job’s discourse with God comes to an end in the first six verses of Job 42. His last words to God before the narrative prose of the epilogue begins are “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” according to the New Revised Standard Version (Job 42:6). Kathleen O’Connor observes that the “in” in this translation of Job 42:6 “reinforces a theology of fire and brimstone, of human inadequacy and divine capriciousness as Job despairs and gives in.”* But other translations of this verse capture Job repenting “of” dust and ashes. Some may question, “How big a difference does this two-letter preposition make?” For O’Connor and myself, “in” versus “of” makes all the difference. Repenting “of” dust and ashes suggests that “Job gets up from his ash heap of sorrow and loss to get on with his life.”*

Job’s witness teaches us that we will experience suffering and that even in the midst of suffering when we feel that God is most silent, our faith – that God will speak again or that our God is already speaking in ways that we are not yet equipped to hear, understand, or interpret – draws us out of suffering, out of dust and ashes, towards new, altered, and continuing life. But to experience that blessing, to allow its transformation to reign and renew, Job had to vacate the ash heap. He had to release his anger and confusion toward himself, his family, his friends, and his God. He had to get up and continue walking forward.

Consider an ash heap in your life. Are you still there? Have you walked forward from it? What blessings did you receive in doing so? What lessons did you learn about God and yourself through this experience?

Join us this Sunday as Todd Zimmerman joins me in co-preaching and shares with us the blessing through and beyond life’s trials. His witness is a powerful testimony of leaving and learning beyond life’s ash heap. Our service will conclude with a special time of reflection and prayer. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “O worship the King, all glorious above, O gratefully sing God’s power and God’s love; our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise. Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, in thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail; thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.”**

*Thoughts from Kathleen O’Connor in Feasting on the Word Year B Volume IV 196.

**”O Worship the King,” The United Methodist Hymnal 73.

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Longing for Spring: Early Stories of Intentional Community and Church Renewal

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 29:11-13

Jeremiah 29:11 is quoted prolifically throughout graduation season. It is a verse that offers comfort and hope as young people venture forward having completed one stage of life and transition to the next. It is interesting that this verse would serve as a sort of mantra for hope and expectation for the future because of the context in which it was originally given.

Hope was probably one of the last thoughts on the minds of God’s people in Babylon. They were in exile and were reluctant to see beyond their own circumstance. They wondered how they would “sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land” (Ps 137:4)? Would they ever return home? What would be waiting for them there if and when they did?

God through Jeremiah begins to speak words of hope about coming home. Home was not determined by place or possession. Home was and is where God is. While aliens in Babylon God says, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29:5-7). “Take up residence,” God says. “Establish yourselves because we will be here for a while.”

And then we arrive at our Scripture text for this week. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11). God knows the plans and God is already bringing about the future in the present. Even in exile God poured out blessings instead of curses. Yes, God’s people were in a strange place, but that alone was their burden. They were not without a future. They were not without a way forward. They are not without a home. They are not without their God.

God’s future for God’s people continued in Babylon. For so long God’s people thought that their God was contained within the boundaries of the Promised Land; their faith was intimately connected to their geographic location. Through this time of exile God’s people learned that our God is not landlocked. Our God is present everywhere in every moment in every circumstance. In all things God seeks our welfare – in sickness and in health, in feast and in famine, in the known and the unknown – God seeks our welfare. Our God is bringing about good things even when we cannot see them, especially when we cannot see them.

I think we often tell ourselves “If I can just get beyond (this), then circumstances or the future will be different.” I think this mentality is limiting because it is so I/me centric. This mentality does not leave much room for recognition of what God is already doing. Am I aware of how God is creating space for me rest, providing strength for me to continue working, offering wisdom as I write and study and craft? Am I so caught up in feeling distracted or separated or even in exile from the life I think I should be living that I miss the blessings God is pouring out right in front of me?

God is seeking my welfare. God has a plan and a future. And I do not have to wait to cross some threshold or check some task off the list to receive that blessings of that plan and future. God’s blessings are present now – even if I, even if we – feel like we are in a strange land. Wherever we are, whenever we are, we have hope and we are home with our God.

Holy God, open our eyes that we may see, open our ears that we may hear, open our hearts that we may receive. Your mercies are new and bountiful each and every day.

Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”* Amen.

*”Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 707.

Plot From The Plain: Woah and Woe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:17-26

This week Reeves will begin a sermon series entitled Plot From The Plain based on lessons from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain found in Luke 6.  Jesus’ first sermon in Luke begins similarly to Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew – with a sharing of beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are Christ’s promise of coming blessings.  The blessings will arrive when the Kingdom of Heaven is in it’s fullness and completion on earth.

The Beatitudes are not the first blessings we encounter when we read Scripture.  Old Testament and New Testament texts are punctuated with blessing.  Each blessing is an authoritative pronouncement of God’s favor.  In some of our Bibles handy-dandy editors have come through and organized the Scripture with headers that somehow indicate “find a blessing here!” and then you read that blessing.  Other blessings in Scripture are not as easily noticed at first glance, but they are no less powerful and gracious in their gifting.

One of my favorite blessings that I return to again and again is Isaiah 46:4b.  God says, “I have made and I will bear; I will carry and I will save.”  I believe this blessing from God is pure gift.  And it is this blessing that beckons me, draws me, and inspires me into service for my God who has made the commitment through my creation to bear, carry, and save me.

No. Matter.  What.

//

As I ponder blessings this week I can’t help but think about how we have limited blessings in our lives.  Yes, we can read them in Scripture, but where else do we encounter blessings?  Sadly, I feel that we have limited blessings to words before we eat, sneezes, offertory prayers, and worship service dismissals.  You may participate in a faith community where clergy regularly steward the sacraments – there you will also encounter blessings.

But where else do we encounter blessings?

I am drawing a blank…and I think that shows the graveness of this predicament.

Which leads me to my next question – how can we develop a culture of blessing?

The Beatitudes are Christ’s promise of coming blessings – but I believe that we are presently in the world of Christ’s blessings and anticipating their completion.  We don’t anticipate idly.  We anticipate actively knowing that we do not bring about the completion of Christ’s blessings ourselves, but that we are helpmates in the completion and pronouncement of those blessings.

Through blessings we affirm people.  Through blessings we affirm the worthiness of others; we affirm our appreciation for their gifts, their presence, their dedication.  Through blessings we also encourage.

When we practice giving blessings – blessings from our own experience of others or speaking blessings of Scripture into the lives of our neighbors – I believe we develop a culture of blessing.  This culture of blessing could start with one – with me – with you – and grow exponentially.  I believe this is the task that Christ calls us to as helpmates in the Kingdom.

God bless you my friends.  Now go and do likewise.

Reflection: Who has blessed you in this life?  What was communicated in that blessing?  Was it spoken, written, expressed physically through a hug or some sort of service?  Who have you blessed?  How did you communicate it?  Who is someone that God is calling you to bless?  When will you communicate that blessing?

Prayer: “Blessed assurance; Jesus is mine!  O what a feeling of glory divine!  Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.  This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”*  Amen.

*From “Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 369.