Job 42:1-6, 10-17
A recording of the sermon is available here.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines restoration as: “the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it, cleaning it; the act of bringing back something that existed before; the act of returning something that was stolen or taken.”[i] Essentially, restoration is restoring back to the shape of creation. To restore something is to see the worth in its origin. Restoring is the process of recovering the blessing bestowed upon a person or object at the moment of conception by the Creator, and reissuing the ensuing charge. To bring about restoration is to see God’s image, and to desire it be brought to full glory.
God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature.He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28, MSG)
Today is Reformation Sunday. This is the Sunday when we celebrate our start as members of the Protestant Church. On Reformation Sunday we give leave of taking our worship service for granted and offer tribute to God for reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin and their desires for more frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper, along with affirmations of faith, access to the scriptures for ourselves, and emphasis on congregational singing.
Come, let’s shout praises to God, and raise the roof for the Rock who saved us! Let’s march into God’s presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns! (Psalm 95:1-2, MSG)
“On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther wrote to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting against the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” which came to be known as The 95 Theses. Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” He insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.”[ii] His 95 Theses were quickly translated from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied, and within a few weeks, copies of the theses had spread throughout Germany; and within months throughout Europe. Luther’s writings circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519. Luther’s works sparked the Protestant Reformation, during with the reformers noted their concerns: salvation by grace through faith, centrality of the Word (both preached and visible in the Lord’s Supper), and participation of all people in worship through congregational singing and vernacular reading of scripture and preaching.[iii] Reformation Sunday is when we give thanks for the bravado of the saints who’ve long gone before us because they began the work that would enable worshipers (like you and me) to engage fully in the praise of God.
51Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Although ordered to be quiet, Bartimaeus would not, instead crying out even more loudly above the objectors. His faith told him that Christ would offer compassion. And Christ does. In this final blindness miracle of Mark’s gospel, we see Jesus confronting both the physical blindness of Bartimaeus and, “more significantly, the spiritual blindness of his closest followers who have failed to fully grasp the upside-down kingdom that Christ has brought near to the world.”[iv] This story offers us another faith-healing miracle of Jesus, while also pointing to the journey of restoration that is the journey to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus asked to be able to see again, and Jesus responds: Go; your faith has made you well. The restoration that we think we need, and therefore, we seek from our limited human capacities is nothing compared to that which Christ offers. Our faith will make us well. Christ will return us to the glory of our Creation.
Job, a blameless and upright man, is the one who feared God and turned away from evil. Everyone wants to be Job, except at the same time no one wants to be Job. Job has the faith foundation of a rock, but also receives catastrophe upon catastrophe “for no reason.” Job is a revered man who eventually lives a life of pain and loss; he loses his property, his children, his health, his friendships, and he also loses his comfortable theological understanding of God. If it could be lost, Job lost it. If it could be experienced, Job experienced it. If it could be felt, Job felt it. The Emotional Guidance Scales used in hospitals, therapy sessions, and school guidance counselor offices were developed from Job’s story, I’m certain. Yet, through it all, Job somehow continues to mature. Kathleen O’Connor says this about Job: “…Job grows in confidence and keeps insisting on the inadequacy of his friends’ orthodox views. He trusts his experience and knows that he has committed no sin sufficiently heinous to evoke these terrors. In the midst of his dark night, he dares to tell the truth of his life to his Creator. By lamenting, complaining, and shouting his discontent to the God he believes to be attacking him, he keeps his relationship with God alive.”[v]
Being a man of faith, Job insists that God doesn’t follow any earthly laws, but is wildly free beyond any human calculation. Although he speaks his anger and grief openly to God, he allows himself the vulnerability and humility of being set straight by the divine. When God finally answers Job’s lamenting demands, the response is not what Job desires, but instead it’s exactly what Job needs. God’s response verifies Job’s faith; a faith that only waivers in the direction of deepening. God responds in a way that demands further reverence and strength of character from God’s most faithful. Job recognizes the challenge and calls God’s check with checkmate: “5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’” On the course of restoration, God the Creator is our director.
In both of our passages today we see stories of faithful being restored to life through the actions of God in response to their conviction. We see that Job receives health, wealth, family and age all restored. Bartimaeus receives his sight. While both of these stories offer the reader hope, they should give us pause. Upon reading these, we should ask ourselves: Is one ever really, fully restored to our original, created, blessed state? Do we ever return to whom we were when God breathed life into us? Or, are we forever changed? I think these stories of restoration, of being returned to original condition by repairing, are actually stories of transformation or reformation. Merriam-Webster defines reformation: “ the act or process of improving something or someone by removing or correcting faults, problems, etc.” Or, more simply, “the act of changing something or someone for the better.”[vi] What’s happened to both Bartimaeus and Job here is that they have been changed for the better. Even through a life of physical blindness or a dark night of great loss, both men emerged with greater faith and deeper appreciation for the blessings that God imparted them before and then again after the restoration. They have been returned to their former state, and they have also been made better.
Scholars suggest that Martin Luther never set out to confront the church, but rather saw his stance as a scholarly objection to church practices; the tone of his writing “searching, rather than doctrinaire.” However, heeding a call to change, Luther went on to defend his Theses to various royalties across Europe. He translated the Bible into German in 1522, which encouraged William Tyndale to translate the Bible into English in 1523. John Calvin, following the lead of Luther and Zwingli and other reformers, published his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. The first Book of Common Prayer was published in England in 1549, which brought liturgy to the people. The Geneva Bible is published in 1560 and is the first English translation to use chapter and verse notations. The King James Bible was published in 1611. The church (over time) has reformed drastically because of the initial actions of a few who were compelled to make changes based upon their spiritual encounters with God. It is the ongoing nature of church to reform, which is in continuity with the original impetus of the Reformation. We say that we Presbyterians are “reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God.”
O’Connor continues: “It is not true that good things always come to good people, but it is true, as Job discovers, that new experiences of life requires new ways of speaking of God.”[vii] And new experiences of life require new ways of responding to God in the world, too. Looking at God’s restoration of Job, we see a drastic social change in the last verses: “13He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.” All of Job’s children are mentioned, but only the women are named, meaning daughters carry equal significance to Job’s life as his sons. Additionally, we note in verse fifteen that Job willed his daughters an inheritance along with their brothers. Job breaks new social ground in Israel following his transformational encounter with God. That which is important in the world no longer is important to Job. Restoration is healing and freeing.
Bartimaeus’s story opens our eyes to the healing that Jesus Christ brings by offering new perspective. Wolfgang Stahlberg notes that “Transformation is liberation from being stuck, change from being self-centered to being God-centered. It is the giving way of blind eyes and a closed heart to the freeing perspective of compassion and hope. The perspective of Jesus and his friends changes Bartimaeus’ outlook on life…”[viii] The blind healing opens our eyes to see where we are blind to the work of the Spirit in our lives and congregations. Would we dare to yell louder when the opposition tells us to stop and be quiet? Can our eyes be opened to the restoration awaiting us when Christ enters Jerusalem? Or, more closely in our calendar year, as we await the coming of our savior’s birth in Bethlehem, will we open our eyes to the work of God in the world to shape us into more faithful Christians?
In his book Who is this Man?, John Ortberg speaks of Holy Week’s Saturday: “This isn’t Sunday. This isn’t Friday. This is Saturday. The day after his but the day before that. The day after a prayer gets prayed but there is no answer on the way. The day after a soul gets crushed way down but there’s no promise of ever getting up off the mat. It’s a strange day, this in-between day. In between despair and joy. In between confusion and clarity. In between bad news and good news. In between darkness and light.”[ix] Saturday is where we meet Bartimaeus and Job. Saturday is where Luther, Zwingli, Tyndale, and Calvin began their work. Saturday is the place where we know that change has to happen and we summon the courage to get going. Saturday is where we decide that “the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it, cleaning it; the act of bringing back something that existed before; the act of returning something that was stolen or taken”[x] is an important act. Saturday is where we realize when we hear the crowds telling us to stop, go away, and be silent that we must be louder. For Saturday leads us to Sunday. The in-between time is where restoration, transformation, and reformation take shape. Our Creating God craves our restoration to fullness of life. Our Saving God has shown us the way to life eternal. And the Holy Spirit is breathing new life all around us, waiting for us to inhale, and be restored – or better yet, reformed!
To God be the Glory, this day and every day. Amen.
[iv] McCracken, Victor. Theological Perspective on Mark 10:46-52 in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4 (Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2009) 214.
[v] O’Connor, Kathleen M. Theological Perspective on Job 42:1-6, 10-17 in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4 (Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2009) 196.
[vii] O’Connor, Kathleen M. Theological Perspective on Job 42:1-6, 10-17 in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4 (Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2009) 194.
[viii] Stahlberg, Wolfgang H. Pastoral Perspective on Mark 10:26-52 in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark (Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2014) 336.
[ix] Ortberg, John. Who is this Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2012), 175-6.