Job 14:7-15; 19:23-27
(watch here: https://youtu.be/3qO0kKOKBDI)
‘For there is hope for a tree,
if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant.
But mortals die, and are laid low;
humans expire, and where are they?
As waters fail from a lake,
and a river wastes away and dries up,
so mortals lie down and do not rise again;
until the heavens are no more, they will not awake
or be roused out of their sleep.
O that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath is past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
If mortals die, will they live again?
All the days of my service I would wait
until my release should come.
You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!’
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a man who was driving home from a business trip. As he had a pretty low paying job, he didn’t have the best of cars. After a few hours of driving, he drove past a monastery. Unfortunately, his car broke down right in front of the monastery. Being a man of faith himself, he obviously figured, “I bet the monks will let me stay with them while my car is repaired.” So he went to the front gate and knocked on the door. A man in robes answered. The business man told the monk his predicament and the monk, being a monk, let him stay the night, and even helped with repair costs for his car. While the business man was sleeping that night, he heard this strange noise. It just perplexed him, and for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it was. He decided when he woke up in the morning, he’d ask the monks about it. When he woke up, he found the monk who he met when his car first broke down and asked him, “Can you tell me what that noise I heard was last night?” The monk replied, “I’m sorry, brother. I cannot tell you, for you are not a monk.” The man accepted this. He thanked the monks for their graciousness and went about his way when he got his car back. Three years later, he was driving on another business trip and wouldn’t you know it, his car broke down right in front of the monastery again.
Again, he figured he could stay the night. And, of course, the monks let him stay and offered him the same help as before. And once again, during the night, he heard that noise. He had no idea what it could be. He decided to ask the monk once again, with hopes that he would trust him more this time around. In the morning, he met the monk again and asked, “I’m sorry for asking again, but what was that noise!?” The monk replied, “I cannot tell you, for you are not a monk.” The business man said, “Alright! I’ll become a monk! What do I need to do!?” The monk replied, “I need you to travel the world, and count every blade of grass if you truly wish to become a monk.” The man swiftly accepted and left all of his worldly possessions behind him to travel the world on this mission. He went to all corners of the globe counting grass blades. After 50 years, he came back to the monastery. He gave the monk accurate numbers and the monks gave him monkhood. And obviously, the first thing he wanted to do was find out what that noise was. So he asked the head monk. The head monk beckoned him to follow him and he did. After a few minutes of walking through corridors and rooms, they happened upon a wooden door. The business man could hear the noise behind the door and he got all excited. The head monk handed him a brass key. He reached with the key to the lock and unlocked the door. There was another door though. This time iron. And the monk handed him an iron key. This happened again and again. So many types of doors and keys. Everything you could imagine. Glass doors, gold doors, lead doors, mud doors,…everything. Finally, they got to a door made of solid diamond. The noise was louder than ever. The monk handed the man the final key. He opened the door and finally saw what had been making the noise…but I can’t tell you what it was because you aren’t a monk!
Hope is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Hope can compel us to do some pretty amazing things, can’t it? Just look at what it compelled that business man to do. He quit his job, gave up all his worldly possessions, and traveled the world for 50 years to COUNT ALL THE BLADES OF GRASS?! And for what? To get to the bottom of the mysterious sound?! Granted, it’s a little exaggerated for effect but the message reflects something very much true, that hope compels us to do some pretty unbelievable things. And hope is quite contagious too. By the end of that man’s journey, WE want to know what the mysterious sound is too! Almost makes you want to take the same journey as the business man…give it all up to go count blades of grass for 50 years!
The thing is hope not only compels us to do some pretty unbelievable things but hope also compels us to endure some pretty unbelievable trials in life. Just look at our friend, Job. Job had it all: large family, large estate, good health, supportive wife, supportive friends, a sound perspective on life. And then he lost it all. Not that he lost a reasonable perspective on life and God’s work in it but it was a radically changed perspective. Sometimes suffering happens unexpectedly and unjustifiably. Not all suffering is explainable and/or merited and Job’s perspective just didn’t account for this. His perspective didn’t include the age-old adage, “expect the unexpected.” And because of this, he just couldn’t make sense of his suffering or at least accept it as a possibility in his life. That’s why he wrestles with his wife and three friends and God himself for as long as he does. That and the hope that one day his suffering will be explained. Job didn’t know why he had to suffer AND he had a high degree of hope that it would be explained, if not by his wife and three friends then by God. That hope is what kept Job hanging on. Hope is a powerful tool to use when the world seems to be falling apart all around you. Hope can hold your reality together…your perspective together…at least long enough for them to be transformed into the reality and perspective God wants you to have. A perspective never really goes away, it simply develops and evolves. And hope is the fuel propelling such development and evolution. Hope keeps us pushing through the good times and the bad times. Hope gets us closer to who and where God wants us to be. Make no mistake about it, hope is a powerful force in this world.
And hope was a powerful force in Job’s life too. Despite his seemingly unending anguish and sorrow, he did have moments in his suffering when his deep and abiding hope was revealed as we heard in our reading for this morning. Recall it began with Job reflecting on the hope found in a tree: “for there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.” Even in the midst of his sorrow, Job can’t help but reflect on the new life after death…the hope that pushes through death itself. Friends, Job was never without hope! Job was beset by despair but never without hope! It was Job’s beaming, radiant hope that enabled him to famously cry out, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” There are few passages in Scripture that compare in such raw, breathtaking hope! “No, suffering, you will not be the end of me! I will rise to a new life in God! You are but a means to an end…an end of which I gladly welcome! To be with God…what greater end is there?!” Only from the deepest pits of despair can one reveal such mighty and powerful hope.
What a blessing it is to have the gift of hope! Hope can carry us through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (12:12) We ought to rejoice in the hope born out of suffering. Hope can do so very much in this world…enable for so very much! Paul even took it one step further in his letter to the Romans: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (8:24-25) The businessman in that opening joke hoped for what he could not see. Job hoped for what he could not see. And, as Paul suggests, it is in that hope that we are saved. Hope and faith, so intertwined and dependent on each other. Christ is found in hope and faith…and a little bit of love. Aaah, the three gifts of the Spirit!
In his anguish and sorrow, Job was never hopeless. Perhaps that’s why God decided to answer his plea for understanding as we’ll hear about next week. For now, it is enough to lift up the power of hope in Job’s life and our own lives. Hope can do some pretty amazing things. If only Job had the same resolve as David did as he sang in his 39th psalm: “And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.” Let us give thanks for the beautiful gift of hope. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.