What is better than a Sunday morning sermon on a Monday morning?! Still getting my autumn act together. I am very fortunate that I have been able to set aside almost every Monday from now until Christmas Eve as Study Days. I am entitled to – it has just taken me 2 years into my Curacy to actually do it. It is a time of change and this sermon reflects some of what I said in my Harvest sermon last week. Some credit to Debie Thomas’ wise words from the ‘Journey with Jesus’ lectionary essay.
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
We have some big readings this morning! So much going on in each of them and so little time to really dig in!
Autumn has always been my favourite season of the year – I love the smells, the colours, the change of light and mood. I also love the change that autumn brings to life more widely as activities and programs start again, kids back at school.
Our bible readings in church bring stories to challenge us and stories of celebration. The people in the readings today want a change of circumstance. Maybe some of us do too.
How many of you are good with change? Some of you might embrace it with enthusiasm while others might be slower (ahem) to embrace. I am good with change – you know that I was a nurse before I was a Priest. As a nurse you learn early that sometimes things change quickly, and you need to response to change really fast.
Not all change is bad or negative either. Sometimes change is actually a very good thing – we may not see it at the time though. I also find that those things I want changed – never seem to change. And the things that I don’t want to change – always do!
In our readings this morning we see two people – Job and the rich young man seeking change in their lives. Both are calling on God – a very good thing to do. But neither of them gets the answers that they want!
Starting with Job – he is in some real trouble! He has lost everything – children, money, land, possessions, status and reputation. Job is described as a blameless and upright man in chapter 1 – just living life. Then one day some heavenly beings presented themselves to God and they brought Satan with them. They had been wandering around the earth and decided to test God. A conversation ensues and before we know it – Satan could do whatever he wanted to Job (except kill him) to see if Job will curse God.
It all goes badly wrong for Job and he is left with his 3 close friends and his wife for comfort. The friends start well – come and sit with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights. Then they start to talk. The rest of the book of Job is the back and forth conversations between Job and his friends. This morning we find Job at a really low point – ‘today my complaint is bitter’ he starts off.
Job has this battle going on inside of him. He is asking big questions like ‘Who is God?’ ‘Where is God?’ What can human beings reasonably expect from a life of faith?
For Job, God is nowhere: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him.” And yet God is everywhere: “His hand is heavy despite my groaning… I am terrified at his presence.” Job also wants nothing more than to confront God face to face: “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!” Job wants to literally bang on the door of God’s house! Yet he’s desperate to leave God’s sight: “If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!”
As this inner battle rages on, Job maintains that he has followed God’s rules: “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips.” I did all the right stuff – Job is saying. And yet he finds (to his bewilderment) that this goodness, following the rules, will not protect him. The formula Job had organized his life around (If I do A, God will do B) has failed. Either he must step into change or lose his faith altogether.
Job wants God to change his situation – but that is going to require a big change for Job and how he views life and God. His friends are trying to help – but the wisdom they offer is stale and old as they still believe that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. To suffer mean to experience God’s displeasure. This doesn’t hold up!
Eventually God shows up to meet with Job and the end of the book they have a conversation and Job begins to be restored – both in his relationship to God as he sees life and God differently. He is also given back some of the things that he lost.
Let’s fast-forward a few centuries as we see the rich young man kneeling at Jesus’ feet. This young man is looking for a change too. Like Job, he has all the material goods and does all the right stuff but unlike Job he still has it all. I think that having the stuff and doing the right stuff has made life boring for this young man. He wants more of something – so he goes to Jesus!
Jesus looks at him and loved him. I love these little verses that get tucked in – we almost always overlook them. Jesus loved him. He loves you.
Now Jesus could have gone a few ways with this young man’s question of how to have eternal life. It would have been easy for Jesus to secure a new convert. ‘Great!’ Jesus could have said ‘come on! You already follow the commandments, you’re already calling me ‘good’ so you must know who I am because only God is good. You’re in!’
Jesus could have also worked him in more slowly – easing the young man into the values of God’s kingdom. ‘How about you write a small cheque to charity this year? Nothing scary – just a token?’
But Jesus is not interested in convenience or comfort. That is what I (maybe we) are concerned about. Remember that Jesus loved him – because he loved him and said the truthful thing, the hard and unwanted thing he knew would cause the young man’s excitement to disappear on the spot. “Sell what you own, give to the poor and follow me.’
This was not what the young man wanted to hear and so he goes away shocked and grieving. This was not the change he was looking for! He was probably shocked because he considered his wealth an entitlement – a symbol of worldly accomplishment and of God’s favour.
The young man had not found true happiness despite the trappings of life. He seems to be after life in its fullness as we all are. Maybe he thought that he could buy his way to eternal life by observing a special commandment.
Jesus welcomes his desire but also knows his weakness – his attachment to possessions and this is probably why he invites him to give it all to the poor – so that his treasure and his heart – will be in heaven and not on earth. But the young man decides (as far as we know) to hang on to his wealth which will never give him happiness and eternal life.
In this season of change – God is offering us change. Following Jesus will challenge us to lifetimes of change where we are invited to encounter God in new ways apart from tradition, memory and resting on history.
Like Job we might be tested by a change is our circumstances beyond our control. When this happens, do we shake our fist and walk away – like people seem to do when they realise their idea of God is not that of a fairy godmother just waiting to grant whims and wishes? Or do we stand firm and seek out what God might be trying to stay.
Like the rich young man, we might want more from God but may not want to give up what God wants us to. We might choose to hang on to the familiar – even if it doesn’t bring us happiness or eternal life because it is comfortable.
Are we willing to risk being disappointed with the answer God gives – but choose his way regardless?
With this season of change – are we ready for the changes that God may have for us or are we wanting to make some changes ourselves? Like Job and the young man, we need to go to God.