The text below is the manuscript of my sermon for tomorrow morning. I opted for the lectionary text of Job 1:1, 2:1-10, while gleefully skipping the "women are bad and evil" texts from the Gospel among others. I decided to use this scripture with another familiar passage from 1 Corinthians 13 -- which I kinda like. It's a big sermon for me. The congregation votes me in after the sermon. I wish I was more confident about the sermon. Ah well. Here it goes:
What does your God look like? When you close your eyes and imagine God, what do you see? In your heart of hearts, when push comes to shove, when someone utters the name God, what do you see?
What does your God look like? This was the question posed by my minister when I first began Confirmation. My fellow confirmands and I looked quizzically at him. What do you mean? He smiled. What does your God look like? He said again as he handed us a box of crayons and some paper.
Uncertain what to do, we drew. I drew an old man – someone that looked a lot like my grandfather, but with less hair. He was a hearty man with a white robe that stood among the clouds. But even in all of my thirteen years, I was convinced that this was wrong. This must be a trick question. So, while I drew, I peeked at the other divine images on other pages. My minister was drawing something pastel. There were broad strokes, and he never asked for the flesh-colored crayon. I was convinced that this was another one of his endless jokes.
But, I was wrong. It wasn’t a joke at all. My minister’s picture revealed something that looked like a cell phone tower radiating with squiggles of color. It looked nothing like my picture. A cell phone tower? Squiggles of color?
I wonder how Mrs. Job imagined God when she uttered the seemingly harsh words: Curse God and die. It sounds so harsh, I know. And yet, she speaks to our confusion about what God looks like and even about how God might act. She speaks to our uncertainty, perhaps a little harshly. She speaks to her husband’s confusion by answering his question before he can even ask it. “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
It’s not quite the same question that my minister asked me. But, for most of us, Job’s question is the most difficult part of faith. Why do bad things happen to good people? Job gets it. Job understands the frustration of not having an answer to this question.
But, his wife interrupts. Curse God and die, she tells her husband. Perhaps what we need is a strong woman to push us toward some reality that we are not ready to accept. Perhaps her one-liner pushes us to “be real with ourselves and with God as we work through the pain of suffering that we do not understand.” And there’s so much that we don’t understand, isn’t there? There’s so much that we don’t know what to do with. There is so much that we don’t know how to draw when asked, what does your God look like?
While we hold the crayon limply in our hands and make puzzled faces toward the heavens, I thank God that we have Mrs. Job. Not because she can teach us to create our image of God. But, simply because Mrs. Job tells it how it is. With her harsh words, she challenges Job to break free of his old notions.
But, her words still make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, don’t they? I know. And even so, I wonder if Mrs. Job’s words might be just what we need. After all, haven’t we all found ourselves sitting just like Job on a pile of ashes? Or was it a garbage heap? It’s not clear, but what metaphor works best for your deepest despair? Sitting there on that pile and asking that difficult question: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
What does your God look like? Isn’t that Job’s real question? On that pile, Job is lamenting. And he should lament. “The only God Job can manufacture from his misery is a monster.” Skip ahead a few chapters and we can find Job’s drawings. One picture of God reveals lion hunting its prey. Another drawing reveals a taskmaster over his slaves. But, these don’t work – not for Job.
You can already hear Mrs. Job ringing in your ears. No matter how many times of you have found yourself on that pile, you can hear her shrill voice. She is someone you know well. Someone you love and care about deeply. Moreover, she is someone that adores you. Maybe she is your wife. Maybe she is your sister. Maybe she isn’t even a woman at all. Whoever she may be in your life, she is the one that you hate it when she’s always right. Her words are not always harsh. But, no matter how much you don’t want to hear it, she’s right. No matter how much you want to argue with her, you know she is right.
It’s that same nagging voice that urged me to peek at other drawings. Like Job, I knew that this wasn’t what God looked like. Not that there is anything wrong with grandfather-types. I just needed something bigger than that. I needed a bigger vision of God that made sense for all that I had known in my own life.
And so it happened for me. I was just seven when I sat on that pile asking Job’s tough question. I didn’t know what to do with the bad things, and I was constantly asking the question why? Why had my mother died? Why had she been so young? Why was there no cure? And like Job, I accepted blame. I thought it was my fault.
That’s when I hear Mrs. Job ringing in my ears. For me, she wasn’t just one woman. I saw her in the loving embrace of every person – young and old – that told me that I was loved. I saw her in each person that saw me “face to face.” And they were church people – people that would probably never say “Curse God and die.” They were church people that loved me and allowed me to be fully known. With this love, I picked up my crayon to draw a divine image that was “faithful to myself.”
This is Mrs. Job’s hope. This is why her voice is still ringing in my ears. She wanted me to see the divine within myself. But, this is my story. And as I much as I thought about this sermon, I really didn’t want to tell you my story. Maybe you are hoping that I will talk more about myself, but I would much rather hear about you. After all, that’s really Mrs. Job’s hope when she says those harsh words.
Mrs. Job wants you to honor every divine moment you’ve had – in all of your stories. Mrs. Job hopes that you might find your own creative expression to answer the question: What does your God look like? You might draw a cell phone tower with squiggles of color. Or a bird. Or a tree. You might even draw Jesus revealed in crayon.
Or maybe like me, you’re still not sure. Maybe you are still trying to finish your picture because right now, you have a God that you “know only in part.” Just as Paul wrote, you are waiting for everything to come together. It’s not that you want to peek at other drawings – though it couldn’t hurt. It’s really that you know you can’t do it alone. You need to hear other stories of sitting on that pile. These stories will help to fill in the missing parts.
And “then we will know fully, even as we have [each] been fully known.” Then, we will draw together. And together, we can create an image of God that is faithful to all that we are. And can’t you just hear Mrs. Job and her joyful Amen?