Sermon: Proper 23 / Pentecost 20 RCL B – “Friends?”

A lady of society was gazing upon an image she had never seen before in the city’s art museum. “My dear fellow,” she said condescendingly to the Curator, “I have never seen this painting before. I find the image shallow, lacking in imagination, portraying a mean countenance, and rather crude in appearance. What do you call it?” The curator answered without giving the slightest expression, “That madam, is a mirror.”

You’ll remember from last week that the angels, both good and evil, came before God, Satan being one of them. God asked him, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Going back and forth tormenting those who lived there, causing them great pain and enticing them to turn from God. So God says, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Satan says to God, “Well of course he’s holy and righteous, you protect him. You give him everything he wants, but if you take your protection away, he will curse you.” God says, “Fine, I will remove my protection, but you can’t kill him.” Well, Satan doesn’t kill Job, but he does kill everything and everyone around him.

The oxen and the donkeys were stolen, and the servants killed. Fire came from heaven and killed all the sheep and the shepherds. The camels were also stolen and those servants were put to the sword. All of Job’s children and their family were in a house together, when a strong wind came up destroying the house and killing everyone inside. Job loses everything. But did Job shake his fist at heaven and curse God because of all this? Scripture says:

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

But Satan was not done with Job. Job is cursed with a skin disease, so he breaks a pot and uses one of the sharp edges to scratch himself. His wife then came to him and said, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Job continues to hold strong.

Into this mess strolls Job’s three friends. At first, they only sit with him, for seven days, not saying anything, but giving him fellowship in his misery, but then the advice begins. Each taking his turn, they tell him what he has done wrong and what it is he needs to do in order to be made right with God. His friend Elphaz says to him:

“Is it for your piety that he rebukes you
and brings charges against you?
Is not your wickedness great?
Are not your sins endless?

Therefore, he tells Job to repent, but as scripture has said, Job is a righteous man, he has not sinned. His only problem is that he can’t understand why God is doing this to him. And that is where we find him in our reading today. He is saying to his friends that if he could only speak to God, reason with God, he could prove to God that he was indeed a faithful servant, but because he can’t he makes his lament to God:

“If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!”

Like Job, there are days and seasons when the world or the devil comes against us. These trials can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or a combination of them all. Regarding God, we say with Job, “I cannot perceive Him. He is not there. I’m doing as He asked me to, but he is nowhere to be found.” And it is in the midst of these times and trials that our friends come to us. They too sit quietly for awhile, keeping us company in our misery, but when things near the bottom, they speak.

One of those friends will remind you of something you did decades before and say, “It is because of that incident that the Lord has abandoned you.” And another will say, “If you had only tried harder, prayed more, gone to church twice a week, this would not have happened.” And another friend comes along and says, “It really has nothing to do with any of that, the problem is, you’re just not good enough. You’re just a hypocrite and you know it.”

“If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!”

We all have friends like these. They are with us everywhere we go. These friends are like the wild bulls of Bashan that we read about in Psalm 22, circling us and waiting to destroy or the ravaging lions or the wild dogs that wait to feed on us. I call them friends, but they are not our friends. But I call them friends, because we allow them to remain so close to us. We let them speak to us when we refuse to hear anyone else, including God, but these are not our friends.

These are our own personal “demons.” And we let them hang around when we feel abandoned by God and those around us. Why? Because we have looked in the mirror and we know the reality of the person reflected back at us. They are shallow, lacking in imagination, portraying a mean countenance, and rather crude. That person in the mirror fully deserves all the misery that befalls them. They’ve earned it and it is no wonder that God has abandoned them. You see, these friends of our have a very specific purpose, they cannot steal our salvation, that was a victory that Christ won once and for all, but they can rob us of our joy and of our peace. They cause us to doubt Our Father and even question His love. And you know what? We let them. Instead of rebuking them, we allow them to whisper in our ears, and by listening, we forget the promises of God. What are we to do? The solution is not found by vanishing into darkness.

Hear again those words from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, “We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Will you experience weakness in your life? Yes. Will you stumble along the way? Yes. Will you be sinful. Oh, yes. Will you be tested in trials both great and small? Guaranteed. But during these times, do not sink into darkness or step in front of that mirror and listen to your friends as they spout their lies and deceive you into agreeing with with them. Instead, boldly come before the throne of Grace, before the throne of the living God and receive mercy and grace.

The state of our soul can be very much like Oklahoma weather. Hot and dry, beautiful and sunny, cold, windy, damp, pouring rain, and the occasional tornado thrown in to keep you on your toes, but even in the worst of it, we can find mercy and grace. We can find joy in and through the Resurrected Lord.

Hear this: You are loved by God. You are loved by God. Rebuke these so called friends of yours and remind them that you are a friend – a child! – of God Most High. Come before His Throne of Grace and know that you are loved by God.

Let us pray:
Gracious and Holy Father,
Please give us:
intellect to understand you,
reason to discern you,
diligence to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
a spirit to know you,
a heart to meditate upon you,
ears to hear you,
eyes to see you,
a tongue to proclaim you,
a way of life pleasing to you,
patience to wait for you
and perseverance to look for you.
Grant us a perfect end,
your holy presence,
a blessed resurrection
and life everlasting. Amen.

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