Praise with music
Let us praise God in every place, every language, with every people around the world! Listen to “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” by Martin Luther, sung by the congregation of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA.
Call to Worship
L: The Lord has blessed us with all we have.
C: Blessed be the name of the Lord!
L: The Lord will not abandon us.
C: Blessed be the name of the Lord!
L: The Lord is present in all our struggles.
C: Blessed be the name of the Lord!
You long for your children to seek you at all times, not only when we are in need of something. Teach us the faith that reaches for our creator above anything else, and does not waver when life becomes challenging. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Job 1: 1-22
Job and His Family
1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.
Attack on Job’s Character
6 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 The Lord said to Satan, “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.” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Job Loses Property and Children
13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”
20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.
Because this is the first week of our new series I wanted to give you all the back story— the set up for the rest of the book of Job. Here’s the deal with Job— this is not a historical incident. It’s a narrative written to help people think through issues of faith. Uz, as far as we can tell, is not a real place. With the possible exception of Job himself, who seems to have been a legendary figure in ancient Israel, the folks in the story are not Hebrews. We don’t even know when exactly this is supposed to take place. And so the set up— the part we just read— reads like the set up to any legendary tale— one with a lot of truth and a lot of questions. We have a good man who does everything the way he’s supposed to do, and we have God and the Satan— a word that means The Accuser, rather than a name of someone— making a bet about him, and then awful things happen to him. This is the set-up for the whole story. The rest of the book is in reality a poetic parable about how Job deals with the situation he finds himself in.
So the question that comes up this week is pretty simple— do we love God for what we get out of it? or do we love God for who God is?
A young boy went to the local store with his mother. The shop owner, a kindly man, passed him a large jar of suckers and invited him to help himself to a handful. Uncharacteristically, the boy held back. So the shop owner pulled out a handful for him. When outside, the boy’s mother asked why he had suddenly been so shy and wouldn’t take a handful of suckers when offered. The boy replied, “Because his hand is much bigger than mine!” Is this why we love God— because we know God’s hand is bigger than ours? We know that it’s worth it to love God because of what we get?
As you probably know, the great majority of churches in our world teach us to Love God and love our neighbors, no matter what happens to us. But there are a few churches that really focus on another idea— that if we really love God, and if we pray enough and are righteous enough, that God will give us everything we want. This is known as the “prosperity gospel.” Years ago there was a book called “The Prayer of Jabez,” based on one verse in the book of 1 Chronicles, in the middle of chapters full of names, a genealogy of all the sons of Jacob— the verse is this: “Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!” And God granted what he asked.” The whole book was based on this idea— that if you ask God for more stuff- for more power and territory, and ask God to protect you, that God will give you exactly that, because that’s what Jabez did. The problem is that we’re basing our foundational truth about God on one verse in one chapter in one book of the Bible, and not on the grand sweep of scripture and the mighty acts of God throughout time. And this is the problem with the prosperity gospel. It’s not about God. It’s about what I can get from God.
And so we have the story that perhaps some of us can connect with— Job, who even God says is a good and faithful person, is stripped of everything he loves, and left alone. He is without possessions and therefore without work, without servants to help him and therefore thrown into a life that would have been foreign to the people of the day, and most heartbreaking of all, he is suddenly without his children. It’s a direct contrast to the idea that we simply pray for what we want and we get it because God loves us so much. As preachers have said for years, God is not a divine vending machine, and our prayers are not coins in the slot.
So what is it, then, that draws us to God? Why would Job stay faithful in the midst of this tragedy? And why would we ourselves stay faithful when our jobs are disappearing as Job’s disappeared, and the lives we’re accustomed to are just not there just as Job’s was taken from him, and most importantly when so many are dying around us, just as Job’s children died? How can we stay faithful when we can’t even gather in the sanctuary, and pass the peace to each other, and rejoice together with music and prayer and bread and cup? How in the world are we supposed to stay faithful to God when so much has been taken from us? That is the question of the entire book of Job. And here’s the answer: I don’t know. It seems impossible. But I know that someone out there is staying faithful. It might not be me— at least not all the time. It might not be you— but maybe it is. Maybe it’s me sometimes and you sometimes and this is how we’re a church right now— that when we’re feeling doubtful, when we’re feeling unfaithful, and when we’re feeling unrighteous— that we can be faithful for each other. You can be a fill-in for me, and I can be a fill-in for you.
The most important thing to remember though is this: that God is ALWAYS faithful to us, even when we’re not. This is why we sing, “Great is thy faithfulness,” not “great is my faithfulness!” Jesus coming to earth was God’s way of proving that faithfulness to us and assuring us that it was real and permanent. God- Jesus- also gave up everything— he had no house, no possessions— and God also lived a lifestyle which he was not born into, as an itinerant preacher traveling from town to town— and most importantly, God knew the pain of watching a child die on the cross, unjustly convicted for political crimes. In reality, God knew the pain of death itself, as he was beaten and nailed to wooden beams and left hanging until he was dead. God is familiar with our pain, and yet God remains always faithful.
In the midst of the pandemic and in all our times of need, every incident we have of grief or loss, God is surrounding us with compassion. God has been there, and God will be faithful to us.
I’m going to leave it at that for now— we’ll hear more about Job’s story next week. I hope we can give thanks to God for questions, even when we don’t have the answers. Amen.
Music and Offering
During this time, or after our prayers, you may make an offering to John Knox by going to our homepage and scrolling to the bottom where you will see a link to online giving. When you give this way, consider giving a little extra to defray the cost of this service. If you prefer, you may mail you offerings to the church directly. Even though we are far apart, the church's expenses remain the same. We give out of pure gratitude for what God has done.
Listen to this joyful offertory music, Victory in Jesus, played by Adam Quinn.
Prayers of the People
We pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.
(A brief silence.)
Your servant Job was faithful both when he enjoyed many possessions and also when he lost them. May we show even a fraction of his devotion to you when our lives don’t go as we wish. God of abundance, hear our prayer.
Comfort all who have experienced the unimaginable loss of a child. Reassure them that you hold their loved ones in your loving arms, and that they shall one day be united in your holy kingdom. God of abundance, hear our prayer.
Strengthen farmers and ranchers, and those who work the land, especially when they suffer losses which endanger their livelihood. Give us respect for the resources of this earth that we might use them wisely. God of abundance, hear our prayer.
Love of material wealth only damages our spirit and dulls our compassion for those who are less fortunate. Unite us with all your people and use our lives to bring about healing wherever it is needed. Be with those who need a special measure of your grace today, especially medical workers who are called to bring physical healing at this time and always. God of abundance, hear our prayer.
You remain the same always, O Lord, even when we are inconstant in faith. Hear our prayers and open our hearts to all the ways you are calling us to serve, for the sake of Jesus our Lord, Amen.
And now with confidence as the children of God, let us pray as Jesus taught his disciples: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
Benediction: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, and bring you peace. Amen.
Announcements: If you haven’t watched the video that Debbi sent out on Saturday I encourage you to do that— it helps to put the whole story together.
Today’s prayers are from Clergy Stuff Worship Resources, Bloomington, Minnesota, 2016-2019.
Rev. Becky Downs, Pastor