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.

Jobbbb: Back Up

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 38:1-7, 34-41

This Sunday Tuskawilla UMC and Montverde UMC will be participating in a “pulpit swap.” I will journey out to Montverde to share and worship and my beloved, Andrew, will walk around the corner to share and worship at Tuskawilla.

(Okay, he may not walk…but he will not have the usual trek out to South Lake County!)

I am so excited for Andrew to lead you in worship this Sunday! And I am thankful that TUMC’s services are recorded because I am definitely looking forward to experiencing his sermon once it is posted. Y’all welcome him warmly…and be sure to check out his shoes! That way he will feel right at home.

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Andrew continues our Jobbbb series with Back Up. When we last left Job in Job 23 he was seeking an audience with God to plead his case, but God was absent and silence abounded. In our text for this week God speaks…and it is as if the floodgates have been opened. Job wanted to interrogate God and now the tables have turned. Following his cursing Job wants to ask God – wants to know from God – why? In Job 38 through Job 41 God wants to ask Job – wants to know from Job – not why but who?

I confess that I am resisting the urge to begin watching all of my Christmas movies – don’t you just love Christmas movies?! A favorite of mine is The Holiday and in one scene a heartbroken Iris (played by Kate Winslet) is crying over her gas stove because the guy she has been in love with for.ev.er just announced his engagement to another girl on the same newspaper staff. *Disclaimer: do not try this at home* Having just turned on one of the stove’s pilots to heat her teapot she begins to inhale the gas seeping into her house, until the DING of a computer alert startles her out of that reckless behavior. *Disclaimer again: do not try this at home!* Throwing open a window and breathing in the cool Coventry English air, Iris smacks her own cheek and admonishes herself saying, “Perspective!”

In God’s speeches from the whirlwind, it is as if God says to Job, “Snap out of it! Be alert! Back up and gain some perspective!” God questions Job about the inner workings of the creation, how the stars were hung in the sky, how the seas collected, how animals hunt and care for their young, and most fascinating, about the mighty Behemoth and Leviathan, ancient mega-beasts that resembled a hippopotamus and sea monster, respectively. Through this interrogation God asks Job, “Who are you? And who am I?”

When I was in high school the band Downhere played a concert at my home church. I find their music to be genuine and profound. In their song “Great Are You” they sing, “Because I’ll never hold the picture of the whole horizon in my view, because I’ll never rip the night in two, it makes me wonder…Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? And great are you.” Like Job, we cannot say where we were when the heavens were speckled with stars or the instinct to care for young was knit into each animal’s heart. We will “never rip the night in two.” So perhaps then our role is not to question God. Perhaps our role – our primary role – is to know who we are.

I invite you to spend some time reflecting on that question this week – “Who am I?” Each of us will have unique and individual characteristics and all of us will share this characteristic in common. I am/We are created in God’s image. And I am/We are created to stand in awe of God, to stand in gratitude of God, and to stand in worship of God. There are so many things that we will never do because we are not God. We are not meant to be God. So why not take this invitation to focus on what we can do…on who we are. We can be and are awed by God. We can be and are grateful to God. We can and will worship God.

That, my friends, is our perspective.

Prayer: “To God be the glory, to God be the glory, to God be the glory for the things he has done. With his blood he has saved me; with his power he has raised me; to God be the glory for the things he has done.”* Amen.

*”My Tribute,” The United Methodist Hymnal 99.

Jobbbb: Bitter

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 23:1-9, 16-17

A question that I have become most fond of is, “What brings you joy?” And the great thing about this question is that after I listen to the answers of my friends and family, I have a chance to answer myself. Somedays my answer – and the answers from my conversation partner(s) – comes swiftly. Other days…not so much.

I would not say that I like to complain…but I find myself complaining more than I should. I have learned there is a difference between complaining and venting. When I vent I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and they are released. I state them and I move forward. When I complain I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and then I repeat them. Nothing changes. Nothing resolves. I do not move forward.

The consequence of the toxic cycle of complaining is bitterness. My outlook, my attitude, my interactions with others all sour and suffer. I become like Job. I want answers. I seek them. And at times the only answer I receive is deafening silence.

And yet…

Complaints pale in comparison to our joys. Complaints have a nasty way of obscuring joy and, through that obscuring of joy, they deprive us of joy. Now, I am not suggesting that we all start complaining about our complaining…that will not get us anywhere! But I am suggesting that we each take time to name what brings us joy.

I invite you into a time of reflection. What has been the topic(s) of your recent complaints? I encourage you to write them on a sheet of paper. For every complaint, I invite you to (1) write out something that brings you joy and then (2) begin to brainstorm ways that you can address your complaints. Perhaps after reviewing your list you may be able to easily identify steps that will lead those complaints to positive resolutions. Perhaps after reviewing your list all you are able to do is write PRAY in big bold letters. Once you identify ways to address your complaints, act on them. Take one at a time, but take action. Move forward.

My husband, my niece and nephew (first time saying that!), my family, my puppadoos, the growth in my yoga practice, the continued stewardship of our church, Tuskawilla’s faithful and faith-filled leadership, God’s call on my life, my mentors, my dear friends, and pumpkins – yes, even pumpkins, bring me joy.

What joys will you name today?

Release your complaints. Do not be overcome by bitterness. Unleash your joy.

Prayer: “Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry; while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by. Thou the spring of all my comfort, more than life to me, whom have I on earth beside thee? Whom in heaven but thee? Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.”* Amen.

*”Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” The United Methodist Hymnal 351.

Jobbbb: Battle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 1:1, 2:1-10

While in seminary I was introduced to the concept of spiritual warfare. When a person engages in spiritual warfare he or she takes an active stand against devils, demons, and/or other supernatural (meaning unbound by the laws of physics) or preternatural (meaning they are sourced in unknown places) forces.

At first introduction, I did not think much of spiritual warfare. I did not feel that I had experienced it in my life. But as I grew in awareness of it and talked with friends that believed they experienced it, my paradigm shifted and expanded.

In my experience I have seen people – as well as myself! – blame the devil or demons as the cause of their (my) transgressions. The devil or demons became the scapegoat. “The devil made me do it.” No, the devil did not make me do it; I chose to do that. And there are consequences for this and every choice. This personal awareness – and taking responsibility – was a huge eye-opener for me. My personal awareness helped me grow in accountability for my actions to God, myself, and others.

In my experience I have also witnessed the horror of evil in this world – evil that causes immense suffering – gun violence, substance abuse, infidelity, debilitating diseases, and prejudice. I have witnessed moral evil, natural evil, and radical evil. Sometimes I am able to “put my finger” on the root of the pain; that provides comfort and at least a place to focus actions of compassion and correction. At other times I am unable to put my finger on the root of the pain…it just “is” and that it “is” breaks my heart.

When will it end? Why does it happen? Where are you, O God?

I confess that my faith is not as strong in these times. I become angry. I doubt. I fall to my own pride thinking I will just take matters into my own hands, when really the only thing I should be left to doing alone is taking myself to lunch – and somedays I am not even successful with that.

It is interesting to see how Job engages in spiritual warfare – how Job takes a stand against the evils inflicted upon him and the suffering that it causes. He does not “raise his dukes” or “dig in his heels” in order to steady himself to fight back. He sits in ashes. He questions but does not accuse. He wonders aloud – perhaps rhetorically – “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad” (Job 2:10b)? Scripture tells us Job did not sin with his lips (2:10c). I believe he sensed God’s presence with him. He knew that God was walking with him…and as long as God continued walking, so would Job.

A song that some of my beloved students taught me is You Fail Us Not by 1,000 Generations. When I think of the trials in my life, I give thanks for God’s continued presence with me.

I invite you to listen to this song. Give thanks. In life – and especially in the battles – God fails us not.

Prayer: Holy God, “You’re bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle has ever been. Whatever will come, we’ll rise above, you fail us not, you fail us not. No matter the war, our hope is secure, you fail us not, You fail us not. You fail us not.”* For this, and so much more, we give you thanks. Amen.

*”You Fail Us Not” from 1000 Generations.