Job 34: 1-4 (read congregationally) Philippians 3
A Summer Review
May the Lord be with you! (And also with you…)
As I would expect, most folks will recall that we spent pretty much the entirety of this past spring looking at the story of Saul and David as laid out for us in the first book of Samuel. Lots of history there, but then of course mixed with that history are found very foundational glimpses into humanity; glimpses of how we have continually put high-bar expectations onto folks who are actually, at the end of the day, simply human like us. Glimpses that teach us that we all make mistakes, that we all have those episodes in which we feel sorry for ourselves and feel ourselves the victim of those around us. Glimpses too of times when we dig in and get stubborn and refuse to see beyond the nose on our own faces, thinking that only we are correct and that everyone should be listening to the brilliance that comes forth from our mouths. And, just as often, there are times too when we are then proven wrong and simply need to swallow hard our pride and self-centeredness and return to what we know we must do for the greater good of the community we call our own. Those are very much the lessons heard in First Samuel, and very much the lessons that we should be continually learning ourselves for the lives that we lead.
First Samuel began of course with the birth of the prophet Samuel, the last great judge of the Israelites before God allowed the people their demand to have a king. And then the book ended with the death of that first king, that of course being King Saul. And you’ll remember I hope the drama that unfolded there between King Saul and the person of David. I think it safe to say that First Samuel really is the world’s first example of a pretty riveting soap opera. Next Sunday, we’re going to begin our review of Second Samuel, which really will be a continuation of the soap opera, although truly a soap opera filled with lessons that really we must hear and must realize are not just historical story, but truly are verses filled with lessons for us today, as was First Samuel too.
And you’ll clearly notice that in my planning, that we did not move from First Samuel to Second Samuel immediately. What of course we did do instead was to take the summer months to explore a particular topic that I think has traditionally had some pretty incredible confusion to it. And so today, being essentially the last Sunday of the summer season, I’d like to do a little review of this most important topic, and this most important topic that we’ve looked at from various sides and angles over the course of the summer is centered on our basic and foundational belief in God and perhaps moreover, just what exactly our relationship with Him should look like. Who is God to us, and what is God to us, where can God be found and perhaps most importantly, why should we even attempt looking for God. These are questions that I realize most church goers will think they know the answers to, but I’d say that that’s the case only until we give those questions more than a hesitant quick thought.
Who is God? Well clearly the Creator of everything… But what really does that mean, that answer can really seem almost flippant; ‘the Creator of everything’. If God created everything – and we do say that he did - than that means clearly that God also created us. God created our physical forms, God decided upon and created our skin and hair color, God decided where we’d be born and who our families would be – ..yes, God can have a sense of cruel humor sometimes. What does it mean to us to be a work of creation by such a force of power in the universe? And do we really picture God in our mind’s eye as the Greek god Zeus? (I hope you still remember that Sunday conversation that we had?)
Remember the Apostle Paul’s words on the subject when he was speaking in front of the Athens city council, he said, “God’s purpose is for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and to find him – though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.”
And so what does it really mean to us when we state that we are a child of God? ..That should be a very deeply thought about question, and not one that is flippantly and superficially answered. What does it mean to us to be made, to be a product of something else? And then if we think about that question really thoroughly, and the answer clearly is going to be different for all of us individually at least to a certain extent, the answer to that next question shouldn’t be as hard or as difficult to approach.
So what is God to us? And when asking this question, this is not so closely connected to the ‘Who is God?’ question, but rather this question is more about our response. If we say that God is the Creator, essentially our parent, ..and that would be our parent in big bold capital letters, then what is our reaction, what is our role in that relationship? Do we respect all that that is and do whatever possible to maintain or grow that relationship, and do we respect that relationship and do anything to help others grow in their relationship? Do we respect and act respectfully toward the rest of this amazing creation that God produced for us to be existing in, or do we truly just not care about that, do we disregard such a gift? And if we do disregard than what does that say about how, who and what we are?
We talked a lot this summer about this point in particular. In part the question was geared to have all of us consider our commitment and role in the church, meaning what are we doing or not doing for Christ’s church, but even in putting the church aside, this continual question is still important. Knowing and hopefully seeing God’s blessing upon your life, how do you respond, how do you return such love to God? Do you see all of the various elements in your life as a blessing and treat them as such, even or maybe even especially those things that most would consider small or minute. Things like getting up out of bed in the morning without needing assistance, or if you do need assistance, having that assistance. What about food? Do you have food security, and if you don’t, do you give thanks to the places where such provisions can be gotten? I think that’s especially a good question in a time when food insecurity really is such a big issue for so many. Living thankfully for everything and everyone in your life can sometimes seem like not such a big deal, or perhaps even as a chore, but ask yourself this; ‘What are you learning about yourself, about God and about your relationship with God from all of those various elements of your life?’, good or bad. And yes even the bad can be a blessing, and yes, many will say that we hopefully learn more when the challenges are greater.
In those few short lines that we read together from Job, and the reason why I put for us just a few of those lines instead of more, is because Elihu, Job’s friend, is really getting pretty upset now with Job here and goes on for quite some time. This part of the conversation all takes place toward the end of the story of Job; Elihu is Job’s friend who speaks last and makes him realize that God is in his life and that sometimes God’s horrible tests are simply a way for people to prove to God and to themselves that we and our faith can ultimately be stronger than anything that can pull us down. Elihu’s speech to Job goes on for five chapters, hence the very few verses I included, but those four short verses that I did put out there for us really do bring home what Elihu was trying to say. Our mouths know what tastes good, our ears decipher what is heard, and so then let the brain that God gave us truly come to grips with what is important and just and correct. What is your relationship with God and his will for you? If you think clearly and put aside the superficial things that we so often chase after in this life, for sure, we will come to the correct answer that we are meant to arrive at. And I do fully know how that most certainly can be an amazing challenge, to just put the superficial aside, but I tell you, it is for this reason of deciphering relationship with God, that God has given most of us a brain to be able to think logically and decipher the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, and to have the required empathy to make life the positive reality that we all strive for…
You know, when I was a middle school teacher, I would often find myself getting rather frustrated because the boys I was teaching, in this all-boys boarding school, were often times off in la-la land and getting themselves so caught up and wrapped up in the craziest scenarios, but then at the end of the day they could never really understand how their issues even started or why. And I know that that’s typical of kids, they don’t often see the bigger picture and they often don’t consider clearly the results of their actions when doing them. I would see it over and over again, as I’m sure most of us can say we’ve also seen this with our own kids and in probably countless other examples. But then think about how that person may be then different after reaching at least a certain level of intellectual maturity. I’m going to say that we know that that hopeful result comes from consciously learning the lessons of life, and that that maturity may be marvelously in tune with God or not, our journeys toward God are clearly never complete and are at differing stages always until that day when we finally meet our Savior, but it’s as if suddenly the once immature becomes mature and they’re suddenly able to be thinking and considering and pondering logically. It’s an amazing thing to see a once immature person turn into a mature, thinking, considerate and logical person. What Elihu was ultimately saying to Job is that if he remains logical and clear in his thinking and reasoning, then his relationship with God will be one that brings joy for not only this life, but in the eternal life too.
And very interestingly, at least to me, this very focus was really the exact focus of Paul’s entire ministry to the Gentile and Jewish world, and that comes out one hundred percent in the Philippians reading we shared. Paul felt chosen to educate all people about the Gospel message, ..he had been a Pharisee, had believed completely in the Mosaic law and that we should all live for the adherence of that law. But then when approached by Christ on the road to Damascus, the lightning storm in his head clearly showed him that man was not made for the law, but rather that the law was made for man, there’s a very important difference there. In other words, use the law to understand how God can be in your life, not follow the law simply because the law exists.
And then in those verses to the Philippians, specifically verses 13 – 16, you may think that these words were coming from Job’s friend Elihu himself. He says, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven. I hope all of you who are mature Christians will agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must be sure to obey the truth we have learned already.” Paul wants us to continue to learn and strive for understanding in our relationship with God. And it’s not just a good thing to do, or something to do that is good for us. It’s something that really we must do in order to show our God, our ultimate Creator, that yes we do recognize, respect and strive to return love to our God that has already shown us so much.
This summer’s lessons, hopefully created some thought processes for us. Our responsibility to our God is our responsibility and not something that should ever be taken lightly. The church is not a fast food joint where you can get spirituality quickly and cheaply with little to no effort. The church and our relationship with God should always be so much more. And hopefully that has been realized this summer , if it hadn’t been realized already.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.