When the Dust Settles

Job 14:7-15

Job 19:23-27

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.

July 17, 2016

We are in the middle of the Book of Job, the parable prose poem that addresses what happens after tragedy strikes. For Job, who has lost his family, his flocks, his fields, his everything—Job’s first response is to grieve. And then to despair. And to scream at God. And cry out for answers.

Job’s friends have come to sit with him in the silence and the dust. And then to argue, and wonder, and challenge him, in some good ways, in some bad ways. And today’s passage comes from the midst of the lengthy conversations between Job and his friends.

The words we hear are all Job’s though.

Job, for all of his railing against God, and his screaming to God, appears to have not quite given up on God. Elie Wiesel said of Job that he may have lost his mind, but he hasn’t lost his faith. I’m not sure Job thinks he will live through what he’s going through. In the passage from chapter 19, Job says he wishes his words were written down with an iron pen, engraved on a rock, forever. It seems he thinks it may take that much time to get an answer from God. And he knows mortals don’t live forever, even if they wanted to.

Job calls out for his Redeemer, in a beautiful passage we know better, perhaps, from Handel’s Messiah. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the dust…

As Christians, we hear “I know my Redeemer lives”, and we think of Jesus.
Which is fine. It is who we are. And Jesus is our “redeemer”, the person who saves us.

Job did not know about Jesus. Job was not predicting Jesus.

Job may have known about the Old Testament usage of the word as “buying back” something so it would not get lost. In Ruth, Boaz is the redeemer, a male kinsman who steps in to keep the inheritance in the family name once Ruth’s husband, brother in law, and father in law die without children to inherit. Boaz is the redeemer.

Since Job is written with courtroom language—the idea that he’s taking God to trial to answer for the wrongs that have been done against Job—it can also mean someone who will take up your cause and speak for you, on your behalf—even to avenge you.

I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last, he will stand upon the dust.

Which, perhaps, is a much more hopeful way to deal with dust than to sit in it, as Job has been doing for these last chapters, scraping away his sores with a potsherd.

I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last, he will stand upon the dust.

Job is counting on someone else to be there for him, perhaps after his death, to continue taking his case before God when the dust settles.
He ends that passage with:

and without my flesh
I shall see God.
For I myself shall behold,
my eyes will see, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

He continues with his confidence that after all is over, once everything is removed, including his flesh, Job will see God. How much more hopeful and vulnerable could Job be? To come before God without even flesh to hide his soul?

We don’t know who is redeemer is, exactly. But we see it is a sign of hope for Job, even in the midst of the despair he is still battling. He has faith he is not alone and that even in this lawsuit against God, he has someone at his side. He knows his redeemer lives. Thankfully some hope has started breaking through.

The author writes in chapter 14:

‘For a tree has hope,
though cut down, it can still be removed,
and its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the dust,
from the scent of water it flowers,
and put forth branches like a sapling.

It is such a hopeful image for me. This idea of a tree stump still having hope. That at even the scent of water, it will bud, and put forth branches like a young plant.

That, my friends, is hope.

And it requires playing the long game. Just as Job wants his argument written in stone so it will last forever and carry on after he is gone, here too is a sign of hope that is not fast and shallow.

It is deep and long.

For Job, hope is a gift of grace and an act of courage, trusting that where there is hope, there may yet be life.

This section ends with

“If mortals die, will they live again?”

I used to hear this verse as being about eternal life, or life after death. If Job though, feels like he has already died, maybe this is a question about life right now.

If mortals die, will they live again?

I’d like to think I could find this kind of hope in the midst of that kind of loss.

But here’s the bad thing about hope when you’re in the midst of this kind of despair: Hope can hurt.

Remember how last week he was cursing the day he was born?

When you feel like you’re already dead, or soon will be; when you feel like you’re finally able to come to terms with the “ending” that has happened, whatever it is; when you’ve given up; you experience a certain numbness. You’re dead to feelings. You wall yourself off from the things that hurt you. Which leaves you walled off from the things that can save you too.

And then hope breaks in.

And after the dust has settled, in the sliver of light that breaks into the darkness, all of a sudden, the depth of the darkness you’ve been avoiding is revealed.

Hope can hurt. Because it requires you to let down the walls and feel again. And it illuminates all the darkness you’d been trying to ignore.

And so hope, true hope, calls you to honesty about your reality. It doesn’t let you have vain, magical thinking. True hope, the kind that is an act of courage, attends to the pain of your life and still persists.

It matters where you are placing your hope.

If your hope rests in a candidate for President, or in the stock market, or in what you can purchase, or in your own gumption, it may not carry you where you need it to go. It certainly is not that hope for life after all seems dead, that Job is seeking.

This passage reminded me of the film the Shawshank Redemption, a movie from 1994 where Tim Robbins stars as Andy Dufresne, a man convicted of two murders he claims he did not commit. In prison, he refuses to let go of hope, once choosing solitary confinement as the price he is willing to pay for playing a recording of The Marriage of Figaro over the prison speaker system. He claimed hope is a “good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

One of their friends, Brooks, was released from prison after 50 years, but couldn’t find hope on the outside and hung himself after he was freed.

In this scene, Andy joins his friends at lunch after his release from 2 weeks in solitary for the crime of playing Mozart. Listen to what he says about hope:

His friend Red, played by Morgan Freeman, tries to tell him hope is a dangerous thing. Dufresne refuses to believe that. Over the course of 19 years, he would spend his nights in his cell, slowly tunneling through the wall of his cell. His hope was an act of courage that took the long view. At one point, he tells his friend Red, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

At the risk of giving away the plot of a 22 year old movie, one morning, it is discovered that Andy has escaped from prison, by crawling through the tunnel he had made, and then swimming through 500 yards of a sewage pipe.

If mortals die, will they live again?
It’s a beautiful image, of a man born again, brought back to life in water, and just the scent of the rain on his newly free body makes me think of Job.

shawshank-redemption-andy-in-the-rain.jpg

‘For a tree has hope,
though cut down, it can still be removed,
and its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the dust,
from the scent of water it flowers,
and put forth branches like a sapling.’

For Dufresne, the long view of hope, tunneling through a wall with a small hammer for 19 years, was supported by smaller acts of daily hope. Teaching other inmates to read. Building up the library in the prison. Playing Mozart. He got busy living, even when hope seemed a foolish and rebellious act in the face of the dying that was all around him.

We know about the dust of violence that seems to be coating our world these days, as if the ash from all of those fires of violence is settling on us.

A friend shared this poem with me the other day, from Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire:

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”

When we are faced with this kind of pain, our only response can be those small, rebellious acts of hope that trust that our redeemer lives and that one day he will stand in the dust of our lives and we will see God.

Writer Anne Lamott said this week:

“There is no healing in pretending this bizarre violent stuff is not going on, and that there is some cute bumper sticker silver lining.What is true is that the world has always been this way, people have always been this way, grace always bats last, it just does–and finally, when all is said and done, and the dust settles, which it does, Love is sovereign here.”

The dust hasn’t settled yet in Job’s life. He knows that. It may not feel very settled in your life either. And that’s okay. It doesn’t change our response to the world. It just reminds us of what our response needs to be.

To look for hope where people tell us it is too dangerous. To offer hope when despair seems easier.

There was a story in the news this week about a young man who rode his bike 6 hours with all of his belongings on his back in order to get back to college for his second semester. This homeless kid wants to go to medical school. So he was camping near the college and some police came up to his tent to ask him what he was doing. When they heard his story, they paid for a hotel room for him for a few nights. And other people heard his story and someone offered him a job. The owner of the motel is letting him stay there until his dorm opens in a few weeks. People have stepped up in many ways to offer hope to this young man. And it has led him to feel he has a community both to whom he can turn and to whom he is accountable.

There is still a lot of dust to settle in this young man’s life—a long journey from homelessness to medical school is still ahead of him. May he hang on to his hope.

Look for people in the dust this week. Be the hope they need, and we need. And after the dust settles, may we see our Redeemer, pointing the way to God. Amen.

And here’s the video with which we opened worship this morning, from David Lamotte.

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