Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 13, 2017
“Playing The Hand You Are Dealt”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Life is not fair!! I learned that when I was just a kid. We had a fat little dog named Candy and I was the one who had to clean up her poop!! Mom didn’t ask my younger brothers Danny or Bruce to do it – that was my job. It wasn’t fair!! And every week during the summer we had to hoe the garden and I had to do two rows and my younger brothers only had to do one, and might I add – not even very well. And little sister Beth – she didn’t do a thing. It wasn’t fair!!
You’re with me, right? You’ve been the victim, too!! Maybe I should get over this after 55 years or so, but I bet we can mention many things just like this where things weren’t fair.
If you remember my forgettable sermon from last Sunday, I told you the same thing. It isn’t fair. But, what I said last week, was that this inequity is a good thing. We are given grace, not justice. God is filled with mercy and not judgment. “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities…” (Psalm 103:10) The text last week was that word from Isaiah, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1)
In the most gracious and generous way it is not fair. We don’t get what we deserve. Through the salvation of Jesus Christ we receive grace upon grace. Free. Complete. Full. Here’s another sermon that you might have forgotten – my first one. I told you that there is only one way you can answer the question, “How are you?” – you can’t say, “Just fine”, or “OK”, the only acceptable answer is, “I’m better than I deserve!!” Life isn’t fair – it’s better than that – we have God’s grace.
But today in our conversation about Job the other page about life not being fair is turned. Life is not fair when tragedies occur and when suffering takes all the joy out of life. Last Friday in Wichita, Kansas, Rebekah Bouma and Austin Wesson took the vows, “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us.” On Saturday just a few hundred yards from her parent’s home they were in an automobile accident and both died. That’s not fair. That’s not right.
The book of Job is about the unfairness of life and the reality of suffering. In the opening chapter of this book we read this about Job, “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil…He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” (Job 1:1,3c)
Job was wealthy and had 10 children. Of Job’s faith and love for them it says, “Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God is their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular custom.” (Job 1:5b)
But life changed in an instant for Job. All his possessions, his means for his living, were either stolen, killed, or died. The place where he lived was destroyed. And the 10 children? He lost every one of them in a moment. Life was not fair.
And it only got worse. If you’re got your health you’re got everything, right? Job had his health, at least in chapter one. But that left him too. “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.” (Job 2:7-8)
But, at least he had his wife and his faithful friends, right? No. He could find some comfort in their presence and encouragement, right? His wife gave him this word, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9) Though his friends at time were friends, at times they offered little comfort and care. The longer something goes on, the more we realize we are alone in this struggle. Job was all alone in this unfairness of life.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “You have to play the hand you are dealt”? The phrase comes from playing cards. You get so many cards, and you can’t get different ones, (at least in some games), and you have to do what you can with the cards you are given. Job was dealt these cards – Job had this life to live, with all the loss and the suffering. How would he do it? I’ve been here long enough to know that many of you have been dealt a hand that is not a royal flush, not even two pair. What will you do the hand dealt to you?
Job had great moments, initially, to this suffering. “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.” (Job 1:21) When his wife told him to curse God and die, he responded, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) Or, Job speaking with faith says, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” (Job 13:15a) And you know His great word, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see Him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me.” (Job 19:25-27)
Those were His great moments. That is the time that he was filled with faith. He was dealt some crappy cards and he was doing ok. But that isn’t everything we know about Job. After a while he didn’t like the cards. Just a few chapters later, after getting a fresh piece of pottery to pick at his sores, Job says, “Even today my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling! I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.” (Job 23:2-4)
Job has quite a few words, as the suffering and loss drag on, that questions why God did this, or why He didn’t bring a solution to his pains. There is plenty of “Poor me!!” in this suffering. There is plenty of “Why?” in his life.
God doesn’t stay on the sideline. He doesn’t remain quiet. Job had given God an earful, now God gives him an earful!! “Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said, ‘Who is it that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?…Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!’” (Job 38:1-7, 21)
On those days when we don’t like the hand that we have been dealt, when we think that God doesn’t care about us and surely doesn’t know what He is doing, I have four things to say.
First. God causes us to be humbled in our ignorance and impotence. God is sarcastic with Job, maybe He had lost His patience with Job’s continued whining. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years.” When we don’t like the hand we have been dealt, know this – God is God, and we aren’t. We are humbled in our frailty.
Second. Our struggles with God’s place in our life leads us to repentance. After God had spoken to Job and asked him four chapters of questions, Job knew his place. He confesses to God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3b,6) Repentance turns away from evil, unbelief and blaming God for what occurs in life and it turns toward Him, seeking His face once again.
Third. Playing the hand that we are dealt means that as believers, God has good planned for us. Even in the midst of trouble, we see God for who He is. I’ve chosen three words that all start with the letter “P” to talk about God’s place in all of this. The “P’s” are powerful, purposeful and present. In the Gospel reading for today, the account of Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the water, only to take his eyes off of Jesus and beginning to drown, we see our Lord Jesus as powerful, purposeful and present. Jesus had all power over the wind and the waves, He was Lord and Master over all things. He is the one who gave His promise to Peter, and all those in the boat, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) The cards the disciples were holding got all wet, but Jesus didn’t leave in the midst of their worries and troubles, He showed His power over all things and His purpose was to build up their faith. All these things are seen in the account of Job, as well.
Fourth. (Finally!!) Trust Him. Even when it is all dark, trust His goodness and love. If you read God’s words to Job never once does He say why He let grief and pain into Job’s life. Never once does He answer the question, “Why”. He doesn’t need to. He just asks Job, and us, to trust Him. He has given His own Son, Jesus, to make us His children, to forgive us our sin, to promise us everlasting life. He says He will never leave us, or forsake us. He promises to be faithful to us. We play a hand that God has dealt us – filled with every gift from him.
Life is not fair. That’s ok. Everyone here is better than we deserve. And when things are dark we know that His presence and love will be ours. You can trust Him always. Amen!!