Can you imagine? What it would be like? To walk by God’s side? Will I dance for you? Or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all? I don’t know if I can even imagine!
What would you do if you had the opportunity to present yourself before God? Can you even imagine?
In the intro to the story of Job, the writer first tells us who Job was. A good man, a wealthy man. A very good man. A very comfortable very good man.
Cut from that scene to this one: the “divine beings” or “children of God,” depending on your translation, came to present themselves before the Lord. Also, the writer tells us, “the satan” comes along with them.
The way it reads “the satan” isn’t one of the “divine beings” or “children of God,” but neither does his presence in that courtroom scene bother or upset anyone. He fits, I suppose, but differently than everyone else.
And, as a reminder, since I haven’t mentioned this since the first sermon in the series, this character in this story is not necessarily “the devil” most of us have come to mind when we hear the word, “Satan.”
First off, this is a very specific character; so much so that he is “The Satan.” Second, and perhaps more importantly, the images we conjure of satan or the devil come less from scripture and more from legend and stories that have been spun long after the canon was closed.
For instance, there’s no indication anywhere in scripture that Satan is red with horns and a pitchfork. Or that Satan, or the devil, is in charge of hell.
And we have learned to read “satan” into places where he isn’t. For instance, the story in Genesis 3 of the serpent, the woman, and the man. No actual mention of Satan, or The Satan.
But we’ve got enough before us this morning we can’t really dig into all that.
It is enough for us that as these beings present themselves to God, one of them brings up a beef with Job.
The one who otherwise doesn’t exactly belong. Look carefully at the language in 1:6 One day the divine beings (or ‘children of God’) came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Adversary also came among them.
So the Adversary, as the CEB chooses to translate it, comes along with all the others. But the Adversary, in the Hebrew understanding the Adversary is the Accuser, isn’t there to stand in awe of God or to dance or to sing hallelujah. It doesn’t seem he is concerned about whether he’ll be able to speak at all.
He is there to start something. Specifically, to accuse Job’s love of God being a direct result of God’s favor and protection. Here’s how the Message puts it:
“So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart? Why, no one ever had it so good! You pamper him like a pet, make sure nothing bad ever happens to him or his family or his possessions, bless everything he does—he can’t lose!
If the Satan means “the accuser,” well, then, he is certainly living up to his name!
So, ok; stay with me on this for a minute: how does one get to the place where one can, in the presence of God, focus on accusing God and others about what’s wrong?
I mean: I think Bart Millard and MercyMe are definitely on to something here: When confronted with the presence of God, how can one not be humbled – humbled to silence, to absolute awe?!
How is it the accuser goes on accusing?
Actually, I know. Because, sometimes, I am he.
I mean, I can be in the midst of a beautiful worship service and get sidetracked by thoughts accusing someone else of doing something, or not doing something, that is distracting or thoughtless or whatever.
And I bet I’m not the only one.
It is, I think, actually pretty arrogant of us to sit here and wonder how someone could possibly stand in God’s presence and not be caught up in awe and wonder.
We do it all the time!
Some of us assume the role of the adversary or the accuser. We have become very good at accusing others of irreverence, disrespect, being inhospitable, dishonesty, cheating; all sorts of things. Whether or not our accusations are true, I am inclined to think that they are motivated more by the darkness we let take residence in ourselves than by the actions or attitudes of others.
Take a look at how quickly you accuse others!
At another church I served once upon a time, I was already seated in the chancel area for the start of the service when a man came in, his 3 small children in tow.
You may not have noticed this, but it is unusual for the father to be the parent bringing kids to church.
Anyway, this man comes in quietly, makes his way around the back and up the outside aisle, forward a few pews, and slipped in as quietly as possible with 3 kids.
Oh, and he was wearing a ball cap.
My first thought was, “please, God, let no one tell him he has to take his hat off in worship.”
This was in the day when I still deaned Sr High camp at GLC every summer. Whenever youth entered the chapel at GL, everyone knew you took off your hat. There was a large table there, front and center, in the narthex, for the hat collection.
All of which comes from 1 Cor 11, where Paul teaches that men ought not have their heads covered in worship. And that women ought to have their heads covered in worship.
In fact, in the church at Corinth, the assumption was women were expected to participate in worship every bit as much as men, but with their heads covered.
So, I know, generally, we don’t wear hats in worship. We have some women who sometimes wear hats in church – and that used to be a thing!
But for a visitor to a worship service, who happens to be wearing a hat, it seems to me the worst thing to do is to stop him right away and correct that behavior.
If not wearing hats is important enough to your church, then work it out over time. But you don’t lead with it.
I am thankful that, as far as I ever learned, no one corrected this young father who wanted to bring his kids to worship.
We make worship about so many things that it isn’t about! Worship IS about acknowledging the presence of God and coming into that presence in a way that is more intentional, more focused, than the general presence of God we all know we all live in every moment of every day.
Worship is not about hats or flowers or candles or images or electronic equipment or dressing well enough or not dressing to well or having coffee or snacks with you or not having food or drink in the sanctuary (except for communion).
Worship is about recognizing the presence of God and acknowledging God’s goodness, mercy, power, and love; about making some time to focus soak up God’s forgiveness and healing power.
When we enter God’s presence for the purpose of accusing someone else of something, I’m afraid we’ve really lost touch with who God is.
And who does the Satan accuse?
Job. And God.
It would be bad enough if the adversary, or the satan showed up just to accuse Job, but if you’ll notice, he is also accusing God.
He accuses Job of only revering or fearing God because God has this hedge of protection around him.
In so doing, he is also accusing God of protecting – favoring – one person over above others.
Which gives me pause. Because in some of my so-easy-to-hurl accusations about others, I may, indeed, be accusing God of something as well.
Every part of our worship service – even the announcement video! – is intended to support your feeling the presence of God here. We want every part of the service to be something that helps you connect with God’s presence here.
If part of it doesn’t, be patient; don’t be quick to accuse. God is here, and we are all here to worship God.
Take a look at the story from this gospel (Luke 18:9-17) reading this morning. 2 people went up to pray – a Pharisee and a tax collector. In prayer, the pharisee thanks God he isn’t like other people – bad people – even like this tax collector here. That’s self-righteousness, and it’s also accusing. The tax collector, on the other hand, prays simply, “God, show mercy on me, a sinner.”
I think the Holy Spirit wants to encourage us through the book of Job to be willing to question God without, maybe, accusing God.
There is a line between questioning God and accusing God, I think. The book of Job indicates that it is ok for us to question God. Some of Job’s questions border on, or maybe they do accuse God. Yet, God shows up. And, in chapters 38 through the end of the chapter, when God is present, Job’s attitude changes. He doesn’t get the answers he wanted. He doesn’t even seem to insist on them. Or remember them.
Rather, it’s like Job moved into an “I can only imagine” frame of mind.
The song, I can only imagine, was written by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard, not long after losing his father. Bart was 18. He was Christian, his dad was a good man of strong faith, but it can be hard to lose a loved one, no matter the age.
Bart says he heard “he’s in a better place now” so many times. Bart didn’t doubt that, but also shared that hearing that “doesn’t really do it for you.”
So the song came, not out of some super-spiritual preachy place, but, from wanting to flesh out the idea of “I can only imagine…” a phrase that had been on his heart for years.
I can only imagine reminds us of God’s greatness and goodness, and Job reminds us that when we feel far removed from the goodness, and maybe oppressed, or overlooked by the greatness, God comes to us not angry, but also not necessarily to answer our questions.
But God does come to us. And restores us.
God is here this morning! I don’t know if you’ve felt God’s presence – or if you’ve felt God’s greatness AND god’s goodness, but God is here.
Many Christians most feel God’s presence when we share the sacrament – as we are about to do. When simple elements bread and grape juice become, for us, for us who hunger and thirst for God’s presence, the body and blood of Christ.
May these bring God’s goodness to you this morning!