Jesus and Job Descriptions

Job, Jesus and the Holy Baptism of Amberliz Pedraza-Rosado

November 10, 2019

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Episcopal Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA

 

From the Book of Job

Job said,

“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!

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.”            –              

                                                                                                                     Book of Job 19:23-27

 

From the Gospel According to Luke

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

                                                                                         -The Gospel According to Luke 20:27-38

 

This is a very special morning! Today Amberliz Pedraza – Rosado will be getting a new job description.  Today she will be baptized, a sacrament that will bind her to a new, but lifelong job. The job of living as a Christian. Not an Episcopalian, but a Christian. Baptism is non-denominational. And although baptism is a sacrament of the church, it binds us, not to live into any particular church tradition, but into the mission that was inaugurated with the baptism of our brother Jesus; the first among us to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

If we take Jesus’ baptism as the blueprint for our own, then the generally accepted reasons for baptism are moot. If, as our tradition says, baptism is a cleansing of sin and an initiation into the Christian church, then Jesus’ baptism meant nothing. Because he had no sin to be cleansed. And there was no Christian church.

Jesus was baptized at the very start of his wholly human and wholly divine ministry. It was  the kick-off, as it were. The initiation of a brand new job. And Jesus’ baptism is the both the first thing that all four Gospels tell us about Jesus’ ministry. And the first of few things on which they all agree.

That Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan, a sinless Jew, to stand in solidarity with every one of God’s children. His baptism was the beginning of his impossibly difficult mission to live the rest of his life reflecting the image of God that was endowed at his birth. Reflecting the work of pure love that is, was, and will always be God’s hope for every human being. Always. Every day. In every situation. To live the law of love. And that was, in a nutshell, Jesus’ baptismal job description. To love all ways. Always.

When it was easy and when it was hard. When people praised him as their messiah. And when they cursed and abused and reviled him for threatening their ….own power and privilege. Jesus’ baptism was the start of his life lived according to God’s pure love.

It’s a mission that sounds fairly genteel. But as we all know, it is fraught with difficulty and danger if it is done with integrity. But that is exactly the mission into which we will inaugurate Amberliz this morning. Her baptismal covenant will serve as her new job description, the same job description that guided Jesus.

As you know, I typically like to preach on the scriptural readings for the day. But I must admit that at first blush, this morning’s readings looked dubious for the task of illuminating a baptism.  Dubious at best. And maybe even flat out inappropriate.

First a reading about the suffering of Job. And then a bizarre reading in Luke about……who can say? The status of women and the men who own them?  The reality of resurrection? Who knows? It’s a hard reading.

However, after some more careful parsing, and a lively exploratory discussion at this week’s Wednesday Bible study, I now think that both of these readings, especially when taken together, might be just right for this morning’s glorious occasion.

Both of these readings invite us to think deeply and seriously about what it means to reflect the image of God that is etched on our hearts; the image of love and divine intent that God created us to uphold, no matter what, when it is easy and when it is existentially hard. And even when we are bound and distressed and disheartened by our own suffering and oppression. Even when we are tempted to think ourselves above the fray of those who suffer…..and especially for reasons that do not apply to us.

In our tradition, that job of reflecting God’s image is undergirded by a mutual covenant that binds us to God without question or qualm. The promise that is about to be made by the parents and god parents of Amberliz, to trust and love God in every and all ways for all of her life. And the promise made by God to Amberliz. God’s unequivocal promise, short and sweet, first articulated to Jesus at his baptism: You are my beloved. And with you I am well pleased. Full stop.

This is the covenant that baptized Christians have with God: The promise from God that we are loved and worthy, no matter what we say or do or believe, no matter where we have come from or think we are headed, no matter what. And our promise to do our best to reflect that love and worthiness in every thought word and deed. No matter what.

That is the full and complete job description of a Christian, in my humble opinion. But it is beyond hard to accomplish.

And that is where Job[1] and his own job description, the job description to be faithful to God no matter what, comes in. Job does not promise to reflect the image of God, but he does promise to trust God. Always. It’s a trust that is tested…..mightily.

It is a hard job to get our heads around Job’s job. Because the story of Job is challenging, to say the least. It is a story that stretches us both theologically and existentially. A story that raises direct questions about our relationship with God and the nature and cause of our own suffering. Universally. It is a non-denominational story.

And it is unique in our Hebrew Bible. It is the only full Book that focusses on the suffering of a single person, without a real and significant reference to the fortunes of the wider community. This story is only and all about Job.

It’s a story with which we are all probably at least tangentially acquainted. Every one of us knows what it is to suffer….and sometimes to suffer unjustly…..or so we think. And so Job’s story is in some ways every story. It is the intersection of every experience of the infinite and every experience of the temporal all wrapped up in one. Job’s story is the story of human life….albeit writ gigantically large.

Job is a blameless and upright man who fears God and renounces all evil. Are you listening Amberliz? And one day (it must have been a very slow day) some “heavenly beings” and also “Satan,” presented themselves to God the Creator of the Universe.

And really without any prelude or preface, or even without any reason, God mentions Job as an example of a truly and thoroughly righteous human being. Sort of out of blue, but with a seemingly ungodly braggadocio, God says to Satan: “have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears [which in bible speak means he is awed by] his God and renounces all evil.”

And Satan snidely replies,  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” as if to say  Game On! And they are off! God and Satan. Head to head. With the faith of Job as their pawn.

God insists…brags really, that Job’s righteousness is not grounded in anything other than his fidelity to his Maker. And, God Almighty claims that their servant Job will continue to be righteous and upright,  no matter what; even if he loses his blessings, even if he suffers painful afflictions, even if his health and livelihood and family are taken from him. So faithful is Job, that nothing, no hardship, no suffering, no injustice even, will be able to pull Job from his job description to ground his faith in God.

Go ahead,” says God to Satan…..hit Job with your best shot. And Satan obliges.

And so slowly but surely, Job loses almost everything; his possessions, his children, his health, his peace… and very nearly his mind. But the one thing Job does not lose, is his trust in God. Although, he never quite lets go of his trust in himself either. Job holds fast to his own innocence. He never quite lets go of Job. It’s a curious thing. But as the losses mount, Job seems almost less upset about what he is losing, than he is about why he is losing it.

For all of Job’s righteousness, this need to know why he is suffering, seems to me to be his weakest link. It is the part that saves him from being a hero who suffers humbly for God. Because he seems more focussed on knowing why he is being so unfairly persecuted, than he is on his faith that God abides for God’s own reasons. I am not proud to say that I resemble this obsession of Job’s; this need to be treated fairly and to understand the cause of any and all….suffering on my part. But I think that is why this story is so relevant in all ages.

Job’s wife and friends do not help. They insist that he must have done something wicked to deserve his fate. This sort of suffering does not just happen unless one has provoked it. We do not suffer unless we deserve it, says Job’s friends….from whence the adage comes: With friends like that, who needs enemies? And so if our own self- sabotage were not enough, this is how the world, and even the ones in the world who love us the most, sabotage our spirits with their own need to justify…..us, as worthy of our privilege. Our privilege to know why we suffer. Our privilege to be accorded a fair trial. Ou privilege to be in some semblance of control.

And so, the one thing Job want s above all others is a trial to prove that he is indeed innocent of all that has befallen him. And this is where we pick up the story in this morning’s reading.

Job wants his side of the story, his claim to innocence written down, in black and white…and not just black and white….inscribed forever on a rock with an iron pen.

‘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!

Job wants a record, an everlasting record of his defense. Oh yeah, and of his faithfulness that stands even in the face of injustice. He wants it known that he did nothing to deserve his suffering. And yet he remained “faithful.” …albeit ever innocent. As I said, it is a story to which I bet we can all relate.

And then there is the story in this morning’s Gospel according to Luke. As luck, or providence, would have it, the unique story of Job the individual is paired this morning with an equally unique story from Luke. This morning, in an amazingly difficult passage, Jesus directly addresses a group of folks who are questioning him about the bounds of human constructs – specifically about the relationship between what happens in this world and what happens in the next. These questioners, the Saduccees, do not believe in resurrection, and so they try to catch Jesus in a conundrum that will force him to agree that they have a point.

They ask Jesus this question: to whom does a woman belong (a woman who has been married several times) after she dies? The question is meant sarcastically and as a  theological trap. But in an extremely unusual turn of the tongue, Jesus replies with a straight forward response. It’s one of the only times in our Gospels when Jesus answers such a question directly. Maybe he is just sick of parables.

But Jesus says to them, you have it wrong.

The woman belongs to no one. And she never did. At least not in God’s realm.

In God’s realm no one needs to be married to belong or to be worthy.

In God’s realm, women belong just as they are, as does everyone else.

In God’s realm women are as worthy as are men, and everyone else.

In God’s realm, every human heart has equal value.

In God’s realm, God’s message to every child is the same: You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.

And so there you have it, dear Amberliz.

Two radical readings that seem to be custom ordered for this day of your baptism. Job’s message that invites us to stick with God always. No matter what, because God will stick with us. To that point, I think Job’s message is not about a God who controls all, but a God who bears all.  A God who sticks with us no matter what we say or do or think or believe. Even when we worship our own innocence over God’s good companionship.

And Luke’s message, Luke’s radical message that we are loved and accorded equally in God’s heart, if not in this world. That none of us are better or worse than any other. In God’s realm we all belong only and ever to God, and we should act accordingly.

But the promise that is about to be made on your behalf, Amberliz, will be a doozy to keep on your own. And so on this morning of your baptism, I offer you a mantra to go with your new job description. It is from German writer of the early 19th century, Johnanne Wolfgang von Goethe. It is a mantra that has held me in good stead since college – which seems like it was itself from the early 19th century. Here it is:

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aide.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Amberliz. And also the first day of the rest of our life as a Christian community. Because today we get another chance to serve as the mighty force of which Goethe speaks.

As you grow up and live into the covenant that your parents and godparents promise for you today, we will serve as your ever-faithful community behind the outrageous sacrament that is your baptismal promise. It’s why sacraments are never consecrated in private, only in community. Because they are just too hard handle. Too daunting to dare without the love and care and support of a village who loves us.

Welcome to the village, Amberliz!

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Job is thought by many scholars that Job was the great grandson of Abraham’s brother Nahor.

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