Year C, All Saintsâ€™ Day
Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
Today is the celebration of All Saints Sunday. Saint Paul referred to all his fellow-ChristiansÂ as â€œsaintsâ€–meaning by that one who had been made holy through baptism and membership in the body of Christ. And so it is appropriate that we often baptize, and make â€œlittle saintsâ€ on this day.
But there is another understanding of saints, which may be more familiar to us.Â In his book, Making Saints, author Kenneth Woodward writes, â€œA saint is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like — and of what we are called to be.â€
Â I donâ€™t often preach on the Old Testament but in Job story I think we get both a glimpse of God and a glimpse of what we are called to be. So it fits very well with All Saints Sunday.
Job is a righteous man who has suffered one catastrophe after another. He has lost everything–land, wealth, health, and all his children. The basic understanding among the Jewish people had always been that God rewards and punishes in this life. But if God rewards the good and punishes the bad, how do you understand it when terrible things happen to good people and the unrighteous prosper?Â And was Job only righteous because he thought it would benefit him more to to be righteous than to be unrighteous? And if he were–is that true righteousness?
For that is how the whole story of Job begins, with this question: Who is God for Job if absolutely everything is stripped away?
When all is gone, Jobâ€™s despondent wife tells him to â€œCurse God and die!â€ But Job refuses. He insists he is innocent of wrongdoing and he wants God to show Godself and explain why these dreadful things have happened to a righteous man. Surely he has a right to an answer!
Job is waiting for God in a heap of dung, covered with boils, when his friends show up to comfort him–but their so-called comfort consists in telling him that he must have done something, perhaps something so terrible that he cannot even admit it to himself–and that even his questioning of God is a sin. Job is as adamant in insisting he has no secret sin and that it is not impious of him to ask God to explain Godâ€™s actions.Â Much of the book is an account of the debate rages between Job and his comforters.
And then, abruptly, God comes to JobÂ and speaks â€œout of the whirlwindâ€Â to ask in words of terrible beauty: â€œWhere were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding… who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy… Have you commanded the morning since your days began and caused the dawn to know its place… Have you entered the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deepâ€¦ Where is the way to the dwelling of light?… Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion?… Do you give the horse its might?… Is it by your wisdom the hawk soars?… Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes its nest on high?…â€ (Job, 38-39)
As the litany goes on and on, Job is utterly abashed by this glimpse of Godâ€™s Glory. He comprehends both the unutterable majesty and the terrible holiness that is God, and his own littleness. None of Jobâ€™s questions are answeredâ€”the mystery of why bad things happen to good people is not explained in Jobâ€”but there is a promise made, which our reading affirms. And that promise is this: whether we can see it or not, this glorious, holy, awe-ful, mysterious God is always working for Godâ€™s good purposes. ThatÂ those good purposes encompass all that is, including every human being born. And that suffering and death will never have the last word.
Job is righteous, but he is not perfect. An earthly saint is not perfect. No human being is perfect–that is our intended end, that we will be completed and perfected in God. Even an earthly saint may question or doubt or rail at circumstances. But in the end, a saint is one who has learned to live in faith in Godâ€™s promises regardless of circumstancesâ€”just because it is God who has promised.
And the glimpse of Glory that is given, from time to time, is what sustains that saint in all the hardships and trials of this life.
Job himself wishes that he could hold on to this vision of gloryâ€”he knows that while now all is clear to him, there will be times to come when life will again seem very hard and desperate, and he wants to cling fast to this revelation:Â
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 forever!
But he cannot hold onâ€”iron, lead and rock are not heavy enough to hold God in place. God is so much larger than any box we can seek to thrust God intoâ€”we must stand on the promises, with Job:
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 Godâ€¦
These are the words with which we bury our deadâ€”our completed saintsâ€”who go before us into the promises. And these words console us, and remind us, in the times that are as heavy and dull as rock and iron and lead, that God has the last, the Living Wordâ€”and that an eternal promise has been made to the saints of God that will never, never be broken.