Sunday, April 14, 2024
Sermon Audio
Full Service Audio

“In my flesh I shall see God”
By Rev.  Dr. Jason Byassee
Sunday, April 14, 2024
Reading: Job 19:25-27

What do we hope for as Christians? Like, what’s the point of all this?

One of you told me that growing up you heard lots of talk about heaven. Like the point of church was to go to heaven, the point of life was another life. But preachers today, we don’t talk about heaven as much. You’re right. Don’t worry, heaven didn’t go anywhere, it’s still there, but it’s not the point of all this. N.T. Wright likes to say, “heaven is important but it’s not the end of the world.” The end of the world is the Lord Jesus returned, all creation healed, everything made new. Jesus promises: “I make all things new.” Wait, you mean some of the things. No. Okay, you mean most of the things? No. Behold, I make all things new. Heaven is part of that, but not the whole. The whole is all things healed and ruled by Christ.

I was at a swanky reception once, and over food I can’t spell and drinks I can’t pronounce someone was imagining what to do in retirement. Your food bank line is growing at church right? Yes, fast, lots of kids, working families. Right, well, I’ve made a lot of money in business, and I think I can solve this thing. We just haven’t applied the business know-how to the problem of hunger in Toronto. That’s a certain sort of hope: technical entrepreneurial elbow grease to hustle a problem. I almost said out loud, “well bless your heart.” Like no one’s thought of that. Really smart people have worked hard on thorny problems like hunger for a long time. And will keep doing that. But it won’t get sorted in your retirement gig dude. It is a moral outrage that a city as rich as ours can’t feed everybody, but it’s not easy to fix, or it would be fixed already.

Now notice those two forms of hope: one totally otherworldly, heaven. The other totally this worldly: feeding our hungry neighbours. Both are right. But they need each other. Heaven without the homeless would be hell. Feeding the homeless without faith is just putting a band-aid on a massive open wound. I did warn this heart-blessed man of what a Catholic bishop from Brazil said: ‘when I fed the poor they called me a saint. When I asked why there were poor people, they called me a communist.’

Christian hope is outrageously this-worldly. So this-worldly that it requires that we get our bodies back. At the end, the dead rise to give God praise. Sure, we go to heaven as we wait for that, but we’re not entirely ourselves without our bodies. If you’re my age, you grew up with Michael Jackson’s Thriller video—the dead rising to dance with the king of pop. Christian faith worries sometimes: wait, if we die before Christ returns will we miss out on the party? No, scripture insists, the party wouldn’t be complete without you. Or your body.

There was an exhibit on death at the ROM recently. One station asked us to remember someone we’ve lost. What was their laugh like? What was their favourite dance move? What story did they tell so often you rolled your eyes at the first word? These are embodied things. Hard to laugh or dance without a body. God made us bodies in the first place. God even becomes a body to save our bodies. And God won’t save us at the end without our bodies. That’s what Job says: in my flesh I shall see God.

Now I know the resurrection of the body lands us in strange places. I had one old parishioner ask me, “do you really mean I’m gonna be raised with my replaced knee and my false teeth and my bald head?” Yes, every glorious inch of you good sir, just like Jesus was bodily raised. One old preacher was going on about wailing and gnashing of teeth. But one listener found a loophole. He asked, okay, what if I have no more teeth to gnash? The preacher thought, and said, “teeth will be provided.” We don’t know what we’re talking about. But we do know this. No hope that’s not this-worldly can save. Other religions may be purely spiritual, floating off in the ether somewhere, but Christianity is so embodied that our God even has a body, has a mom. In Genesis, God blows life into dust to make us in the first place. In the new creation, God will blow life into the dust we’ve become as part of making all things new.

And this is great news in the middle of an ecological crisis. There are Christians who seem to think creation will burn up anyway, why bother to steward it? The answer is God commands us to, and God is saving it. Till the earth and multiply, God says, and so we have ever since, not always well, but we’ve tried. Only recently did you start to hear some Christians despise God’s creation as if not to care for our grandchildren. The resurrection of the body is a sign God treasures creation. That’s why we love it well.

But let me back up. I’ve not preached to you on the book of Job before. It’s a long, repetitive book. It’s one that our culture sort of knows. We speak of the patience of Job. The suffering of Job. The haplessness of Job’s comforters. I had a stranger come up to me in a train station once. I was reading the Bible. Nerdy kid, sorry. And he asked what part I was reading? I forget what. He said, “I really like Job.” Oh no, I thought. “Because it’s in the storm, in the hurricane, that you know whether you have faith.” Oh God, I thought. I’m not getting on this guy’s train.

Job asks an important question. Do we praise God because God gives us good things? Or do we praise God because God is just plain ole’ good? Even if God doesn’t give us what we want? The book starts with a crapshoot between God and the devil. God says, “people love me. Look at my servant, Job.” Psshaw. He loves you because you bless him. Take his family, his livelihood, his health and he will curse you to your face. Okay, God says, you have a wager. Only spare his life. And Job’s perfect world is blown apart. He loses his children. He loses his crops and herds and house. He is covered with oozing sores. His own wife tells him to “curse God and die.” Job says, “I loathe my life.” Will he still praise God now that he is reduced to a ghastly horror? Will he limp into church oozing when people look the other way, hoping it’s not contagious?

There was a family in my home state with three beautiful little girls. The eldest got sick. Rare genetic disorder, nothing they could do. Then the next one got the same illness. Then the third. This couple went from a full house to childless. Here’s Job’s question: would they still praise God? Or is their praise conditional, on their prayers being answered? In lots of religion, ours included, in lots of the world, success is the sign of God’s blessing. Misery is a sign of God’s curse. But Job shows the opposite. What if God’s blessing is on the most miserable? What if the centre of faith is a man on a cross? What if he passes out crosses to the rest of us too?

Job’s friends come to comfort him. And at first, they do great. They sit with him for seven days and say nothing. That’s the right thing. When someone suffers, show up, be there, say nothing, make coffee maybe, or fetch a blanket. We say so many awful things to those who suffer. A great Canadian author Kate Bowler wrote a book called Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I have Loved. When she got stage-4 colon cancer as a 35-year-old mom, and people gave her the worst counsel. Hey, maybe just say nothing. Just offer to do the laundry. Her book was on the New York Times bestseller list for months, promoted by Oprah and Bill Gates. Isn’t it just like God to raise up a Winnipegger to be a voice for faith in the whole world? Job’s comforters do their work well at first. Then they open their mouths. Big mistake. And they insist, for 40 chapters, Job must have sinned. I mean, God is good. You’re miserable. You must be the problem, Job. Job defends himself. I don’t think so, not enough to deserve all this.

In our text for today Job puts his foot in the ground and insists on a few things. Hey. I know that one day I will see God. In my flesh. Job’s hope is as this-worldly as the man who wants to cure homelessness. Seeing God not in my flesh is no good. I demand that God make things right in this life, thanks very much. This is not a hope for heaven. It’s a scalding demand: there had better be a new world coming with my flesh and my bones and my God and some explanation. And that better be soon.

Well, that world is coming. In Jesus’ resurrection it’s here. Jesus gets his body back, remade, indestructible, the first bit of a whole new creation. The rest of the new creation is coming, and it’ll be just like his beautiful body: healed, healing, made new. Not much comfort to Job perhaps. He’s been in the ground for centuries. But he’ll rise too one day and give God praise. So will all lost children. So will everyone else. Unbelievable right? But maybe it’s too good not to be true.

Think with me of some major political movements. For centuries we wanted a Christian ruler who would make everyone behave and believe. It didn’t work. It takes violence and intolerance for non-believers—not very Christlike. Some of the history we’re most ashamed of now comes from such efforts to force the world into our image—crusades and conquest. In the 20th century we had communism. It wanted to make the world right without God. Religion is in the way—get rid of it and a social order that’s good news for the poor will rise up. The communists killed more people than the Nazis, and that’s hard to do. Communism, someone wise said, is trying to have the kingdom without the king. Historians are clear there would have been no communism without Christianity. It claimed to be atheist, but its origins were biblical: a new world of justice born from the ashes of the old. Today, our political moment has no grand ambitions. At least Christendom and communism could say their revolutions weren’t complete yet. What are we hoping for now? That interest rates might start to fall sooner? Really small potatoes.

Well, here’s a real hope: A kingdom presided over by Jesus Christ alone. A kingdom of nothing but peace. And all people invited to feast at his table. Don’t wanna come yet? Fine, no worries, we’ll wait cheerfully as long as it takes and keep a chair ready for you. The church bears witness to this coming kingdom. In the Lord’s Supper it’s already here: just a bite, a sip, an appetizer of a feast for all people, the poor first. That’s more radical than communism or Christendom or anything else.

Lots of Christianity has stopped being political. Like, we used to do politics, people got hurt, let’s retreat into spirituality and not bother with the real world. I get it. Churches shouldn’t be advocacy organizations; folks get enough manipulation in the rest of our lives. Christ’s kingdom is coming whether we want it or not, whether we help or not. We can’t stop it, hurry it, all we can do is join or ignore it. But he doesn’t need us to make it happen. He’s bringing it despite us. And when some churches decided to let go of politics in our faith, we started speaking of the resurrection in vague, spiritual terms. It’s a metaphor. A beautiful spiritual experience. A new state of enlightenment. The great John Updike wrote this:

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

Of course, resurrection lands us in absurd questions. Already in the early church people had questions: okay, someone dies at sea, they’re buried in the ocean, and eaten by fish. Those fish are eaten by bigger fish. How is God going to find their remains to resurrect them? Simple, we said. God made us in the first place. How hard can it be to gather us back up and remake us? Which one is harder? Making a universe out of nothing or resurrecting someone after they’ve died, and gotten a little scattered around? Uh, I guess making a universe is harder. Well God’s already done that! Everything you ever see is a miracle. How hard is one more little miracle to remake somebody?!

A buddy of mine died rock climbing a few years ago. Their kids are the same age as ours, grew up playing together. His widow is remarried now, has healed some and moved on. But for years you know what I remembered about Rob? The way he smelled. Isn’t that weird? I don’t know if it was cologne or deodorant or body odour or what. I just know it’s what I remembered. Such a bodily thing. And he’s not him without that. God will raise that smell. Just like God raises all that makes us us. I mean, I have a few requests for the resurrection: I’d like to be thinner. With more hair. A little less gray. You know. Plastic surgery without the indignity of needing it. Hope has to have skin on it. Because God does. After Rob died, his widow cut up his t-shirts and sewed them into blankets for their children, to wrap up in their father’s smell.

Job is afflicted in his flesh, family, livelihood. And so he expects to be comforted in his flesh, family, livelihood. He has some questions for God. And he expects a few answers. And he doesn’t mean in some other life. Heaven is not what Job’s asking for. He’s asking for restored flesh, family, livelihood. This is a bold prayer. God has some explaining to do. And Job will have nothing less than a personal answer.

Careful what you wish for. Job gets to see God. At the end of the book, there’s a whirlwind. And God speaks. And for three chapters God harangues Job. Not with answers. But with a few questions of his own.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?

It's a strange, poetic, non-answer. Job asks why’d this all happen to me? And God answers, you ever seen a crocodile? Yeah, I made that. You ever made an amphibian before Job? Didn’t think so. You ever seen the Pleiades? Yeah, I pitched those stars into space. You got some stars to throw, Job? God doesn’t even explain about wager with the devil business. Just asks, hey, get back to me when you create a supernova, okay?

And Job responds, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. And I repent in dust and ashes.” No explanation is needed. Which is good because none was given. Just an audience with God. A divine cross-examination and Job is silenced. Why is there suffering? No answer for that mystery in the Bible or anywhere else. It’s just the world. And it’s not fair, not rightly allocated in any way. But God is still good. Bless him when the worst happens.

Now at the end of this harsh, bracing story, Job’s life is restored. He gets his health back. His livelihood back. More children than he had before. Some of the rabbis insist that he doesn’t just get more children, but he gets his previous children, resurrected from the dead, plus more. A glimpse of a world restored. Lots of literary critics consider Job a masterpiece with a flaw. Because the end ruins it. Happy endings are for suckers, Disney movies and hallmark cards. But the Bible promises the greatest happy ending of all—a discordant note of joy in what’s otherwise a tragedy.

Because a later Job would come. And suffer the worst. And give us back resurrection. Life. A whole new world. One that includes bodies like his. Every injury healed. And all things made new. Amen.