Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
October 21, 2018
Text: Job 38:2, Old Testament: Job 38:1-7, 31-34, New Testament: Hebrews 5:1-10
Arial footage of Mexico Beach, Florida was stunning.
What had been a tourist destination for thousands of people was reduced to wasteland by a Category Four hurricane. Insurance companies cannot restore the community that once lived in the Florida Panhandle. FEMA cannot recreate the relationships that existed in Mexico Beach prior to Hurricane Michael.
Only faith, hope, and love can rebuild what had once been. Without faith the community can be rebuilt, no efforts will be made. Without hope the community will be rebuilt, no restoration can occur. Without love for the relationships, the life-together that had been, not enough people will commit to making a difference for what could be again.
There will be just rubble, and the memory of what once was but is no more.
It’s a metaphor for the Church.
The Church is enduring a Category Four hurricane.
Cultural winds are whipping mountainous waves against the sanctuaries across our land. The withering effect of court decisions against the free expression of Christianity in public spaces signals the victory of lobby-ists who have worked to silence the Church’s evangelism efforts for generations.
Consider this: Southminster Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon had 2,300 members in 1980. Today, its membership is 1261. Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair numbered 2,700 in 1980. Today, its just over 1,700. East Liberty Presbyterian Church numbered 3,000, in 1960. Today, its 732 members. Shadyside is under 1,000; First Presbyterian Church on Sixth Ave, 143.
Criticism of Christianity’s moral modesty is protected by law. Proponents of alternative values are reaping hundreds of billions of dollars in state-protected revenue from media exploitation of Christian faith. Music and video industries vie with sports and entertainment industries for American’s hero worship, at the expense of worshipping God, and Jesus Christ.
Educational critics of Christianity hide the Church’s positive contribution to Western Civilization that advanced ethical and social values in Jesus’ teaching. Instead, they teach topics on the Church’s sins that contradicted what Jesus taught, how He lived, and why He was raised from the dead.
Philosophers have used reason to diminish the Christian experience of the resurrected Jesus. They’ve advocated the end of parental oversight of their children in the Church and claimed the secular state is superior to Christian education. Scientific theories have replaced the public’s trust in biblical teaching. Technological marvels have distracted the public’s eye from the truly miraculous works of Jesus Christ, and how the Church grew despite its persecution.
Physicians are the new high priests of healing. Scientists are the new saviors of the world. Jurists are the new determiners of community. Corporate CEO’s are the new providers of our daily bread and our personal happiness. All depend upon the state for their adulation, their social prominence.
The average person depends on state benefits through a multitude of regulations that give special reliefs and rewards. Tax regulations, insurance regulations, retirement regulations, health care regulations, educational regulations, banking regulations, commercial regulations, transportation regulations provide tax benefits, insurance benefits, retirement benefits, health care benefits, educational benefits, economic benefits, commercial benefits, and transportation benefits. The state’s benevolence has made every man, woman, and child dependent upon the state’s laws for their daily bread.
Most of all, the state guarantees the average person the right to sin so long as it does no harm to the neighbor. We’re free to sin as long as our neighbor does not suffer the loss of life, liberty, or property. Of course, no one considers the loss of husbands, wives, and children when a family disintegrates in a courtroom.
There is no visible need for salvation or a savior. The state is the people’s salvation. It’s power to tax insures it satisfies the public’s expectations. The state’s wisdom is today’s high priest.
The state represents the wisdom in the peoples’ wants and desires.
When the state fails in its salvation, there’s a crisis of faith, hope, and love. People who have been away from worshipping God and have neglected their relationship with Jesus Christ for so long, are left to themselves to survive when the state fails their expectations.
Then, they blame God for the wasteland in which they find themselves.
The hurricane of failed expectations descends upon the Church in further criticism, greater alienation, more pronounced disdain. Beneath the rubble, God is scapegoated for the devastation and His community abandoned.
And there is no insurance company to rebuild the Church. There is no FEMA to reconstruct the lives of people who once had been the Church. There is no federal disaster relief to restore the community of Jesus Christ’s sanctuaries, to refill them with people who have faith, hope, and love in the image of God.
Such was the plight of Judaism at the time of Jesus. Such was the plight of Judaism when Job went before God. Such is our plight, today.
The Book of Job is referenced in Ezekiel 14. Its origin is before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Job speaks personally of the whirlwind that has torn apart his life in the battle between God and Satan for his loyalty. But Job also personifies God’s people who are faced with the destruction of their community before the whirlwind of judgment.
The Book of Job describes a trial that a faithful person endures when their lives are torn apart. How that person endures that trial shows whether they are faithful to God. That trial, however, is not simply personal. It’s a community trial about whether God’s people remain loyal to God whom they worship when the life of their community of faith is torn apart.
What is clear in chapter 38 is Job lost everything that was precious to him, with the exception of his life. He lost family, friends, home, and his means to make a living. He was still alive. But it wasn’t enough.
Job had not been protected by his nation’s worship of God. God’s covenant with his people hadn’t protected Job. Job hadn’t been protected by the high priests in the Temple sacrificing for sins. Job had not been protected for following God’s law. Job had not been protected by the institutions of his nation.
Job had practiced what he was taught about civic duty under God.
The nation’s laws, the nation’s education, the nation’s leaders had failed him. Judea was one nation under God, and it didn’t prevent what happened.
Job was in a personal crisis like Judea was after Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem. The nation was powerless to save the people. The government of Judea was powerless to save the people. The nation under God was like Job under God, reduced to anger and complaints.
Everything that meant something to him had been destroyed. He questioned that God had the power to prevent it. Job felt his life, with everything he had lost, had lost its meaning. As far as Job was concerned, God let it happen.
God had given Satan the ability to take from Job all that he held near and dear. God had stepped back and permitted Satan the freedom to test God’s most faithful worshipper at the deepest level of his devotion. God lacked the power and the compassion to protect his righteous worshipper from evil’s winds of destruction.
Job was left with the result. Like so many people, who have trusted in what they thought would save them, Job found himself bitter and angry. He felt his suffering was unjust and undeserved. By all he knew from his religious beliefs, and all that had happened to him, he felt a great sinner before God despite his confidence that he was a righteous man and didn’t deserve what had happened.
Job thought he was protected by God’s covenant with his nation. Job trusted the high priests of his nation were doing what they needed to do to keep him and his family safe. Job was sure he was practicing good citizenship.
But when the state couldn’t protect him from destruction, when the sacrifices for sin that were offered in the Temple couldn’t prevent him from losing all that he loved and wanted, when Job believed he was alone and could not rebuild the community he had taken for granted, Job was bitter and blamed God.
Job’s wisdom trusted he was saved by everything for which Judea stood – one nation under God, God’s Temple where sin offerings protected God’s people from judgment, God’s king who defended the God’s people from threats, with all the benefits that come from obeying God’s laws. It wasn’t enough.
Job was in the clutches of despair. The whirlwind had destroyed his life.
He was beyond the help from insurance companies, FEMA, national institutions, or his religious faith. It was then, when all was lost, that something happened to overcome the injustice, the wrong that was happening to Job.
God called to Job from the whirlwind.
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without wisdom?”
Who is it who questions God with words that lack God’s wisdom?
Blaming God isn’t a good idea when you trust in your own knowledge to live. Relying on common sense isn’t good enough. Relying on society’s common cause isn’t good enough. Relying on reason; relying on misguided thinking that’s dominated by worldly wants, worldly dreams, worldly ambitions – it’s the wrong kind of wisdom. It’s knowledge without God.
Friends, knowledge without God is life without God.
There will be no happy answer for our lament if that is all we have to bring before God about the condition of Jesus Christ’s Church in America today.
God calls from the whirlwind and reprimands us that God is the power that gives life. God is the power that animates life. God is the power that molds and shapes life daily. God is the power that shakes the wicked and overcomes their evil. God preserves life despite wars and rumors of wars. God is the provider of bountiful food and refreshing drink when the world is crippled by famine and thirsting in the toxic waste of its sin.
God is the one who preserves life and intends for us to have abundant life. Hear God’s voice calling and live before Him with gratitude and praise!
As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us in chapter 5, this world’s high priests are not THE savior of the world. The high priests of this world are but mortals who sin. They are subject to weakness and fail in making sacrifices that absolve the world of its sin.
You must not THINK or BELIEVE they are the saviors of your world. Everyone needs THE Savior, especially the scientists, the philosophers, the lawyers, educators, and physicians. Everyone needs THE Savior who is not our legislators, our justices, our political parties, our presidents or law enforcement officers. Everyone needs THE Savior who is not our religious leaders, or our communities of faith.
That Savior who gives life and generates community amid the wasteland of the Church today is our one true high priest, Jesus Christ!
Only Christ can save us. Only Christ saves us from death and destruction. Only Christ restores the dead to life. Only Christ resurrects wastelands into garden communities.
His salvation isn’t found in preserving earthly structures and human-made habitations. His salvation isn’t bound by human wealth, or human opportunity.
God possesses power beyond that which lays waste to the Church. God possesses power beyond that which threatens homes and families. God possesses power to create from nothing a new world.
God is the one, the only one, in whom to trust. We know that because God gave us Jesus Christ.
Christ and Christ alone enabled the early Church to be victors over their persecutors. Christ and Christ alone brought men, women, and children to the Church when the Church was marginalized by a critical culture. Christ and Christ alone explains the miracle of the Church’s existence despite its sin:
- thriving despite its public criticism;
- healing despite its internal failings;
- giving hope despite the fragile trust that’s too evident among God’s people.
Face the world about you with the knowledge that comes from God. Live above the circumstances of the whirlwind swirling about you. The measure of your faith is just how loyal you are to God when a Category Four hurricane has reduced all your hopes and dreams to rubble.
Then, and only then, will the world hear in your words who is the world’s only Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord!
For all the Church’s failures and that of her leaders, there are millions of Christians world-wide who embody and live the teaching of Jesus Christ. For all the criticism these millions endure each day, there are millions of Christian evangelists who aren’t afraid to share their faith, hope, and love in Jesus Christ.
For all of the federal relief agencies that exist, and all of the federal assistance that is given in domestic and foreign aid, there are Christian missionaries on the ground every day giving what money can’t buy – faith, hope, and love.
Those missionaries share the suffering with the poor and the needy. Those missionaries pray with the poor and the needy every day. Those missionaries teach lessons of faith, hope, and love to the needy to build a new community. They do it by sharing the world’s savior, Jesus Christ amid the wasteland.
God is calling to us from the whirlwind that swirls around us to be Jesus Christ’s missionaries in our community. Without our testimony to Christ, what will become of Bellevue? Amen.