Sermon from May 3
My Redeemer Lives
Easter IV; May 3, 2020
Sometimes we need someone to stand up for us. If you get hauled into court – you’ve been sued, or you’ve been accused of a crime – you really ought to have a lawyer. They say that those who represent themselves have a fool for a lawyer, and I’m inclined to agree. When I was the accused in a church case, I had a lawyer, even though I knew more about Presbyterian law than he did. He was a great help.
Sometimes at work you need someone to stand up for you. The Labor movement arose because working people needed someone to stand up for them before the power of great corporations. Sometimes in relationships you need someone who can speak up for you, someone who understands you and can put your case.
Job was looking for someone to stand up for him before Almighty God. That’s a tall order! But remember the story: God let the Accuser attack Job, essentially on a bet, and Job went through a host of sufferings. After complaining about it, and dealing with well-meaning but misguided friends, Job erupts with these words: If only I could write down my complaint so that people for ages to come would know how unfairly I’m being treated! But I know that somewhere somebody will stand up for me before God, and I’ll see God for myself.
If you’ve heard this Scripture before, that’s probably not what you heard. You may have heard the music of Handel, and a soprano singing, “I know that my Redeemer liveth…” It’s the first air in Part III of Messiah. Or you’ve heard a preacher read it at a funeral; I know it’s one of my go-to readings at a funeral. So, if you’ve heard this Scripture before, you’ve heard it as Job’s affirmation of faith, that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and so he would be raised too.
Well, no. That’s nice, and it’s true that Christ is raised from the dead and that is the source of our hope for Resurrection, and that’s what I’m trying to say when I read it at a funeral, but that’s not what Job is saying. If you read it in context of Job’s story, rather than as part of Handel’s Messiah, then clearly what Job is saying is: My accuser has had his say, now my defender will speak up on my behalf. And I’ll see God for myself.
That’s the truth, whether you or I like it or not. And I’m going to use that as an excuse to riff a bit about truth, before returning to Job. Maybe in the course of conversation about the current pandemic you have heard comparisons to the global influenza pandemic of 1918-19. There’s a lot we can learn from studying the history of that experience. Maybe you have heard that disease referred to as the “Spanish flu.” Do you know why it was called the Spanish flu? No, it didn’t start in Spain. We don’t know exactly where it started, but the place most often suggested is Kansas. So why is it called Spanish flu? Because most of the world was at war, and the countries involved in the war had a pact that they would not report any bad news. They didn’t want anything to demoralize their populations, and so as the flu raged through their cities, it was kept quiet. Except in Spain. Spain was neutral in the war, so in Spain they were reporting on the flu. The reason the 1918-19 influenza pandemic is called the Spanish flu is because the Spanish were the only people who were telling the truth about it.
We are, in the United States, always at risk of abandoning truth in favor of whatever makes us feel good. That may be true everywhere in the world, but I happen to live here. People will believe what they want in our political life because it makes them feel good. Sometimes they feel good feeling angry! Truth based on evidence seems to be irrelevant.
In religion, truth is hardly a factor anymore. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but if you poll pastors, you’ll probably find that we’re generally agreed that most modern American Christians are less interested in trying to conform their thinking to spiritual truth than they are in believing whatever makes them feel good. Stephen Colbert put this best when he invented the word, “Truthiness.” “Truthiness” represents something that feels true in my gut, whether there is any evidence for it or not. Those who live by truthiness, rather than truth, will ignore what public health leaders are saying and will do what they feel like doing. Those who live by truthiness, rather than truth, will ignore what pastors say about the worship and service of God, and will complain that they shouldn’t have to do anything they don’t like. And those who live by truthiness, rather than truth, will think something is so just because their favorite cable news channel or public official or other leader has said it over and over and it feels right in their good, whether there is evidence or not.
Okay, end of rant. But it takes me back to Job’s assertion that a Redeemer would stand up for him. The Scriptures make it clear that there is a Redeemer who stands up for us, and that is why, even though I get irritated at people’s reliance on truthiness, rather than truth, I can get through my day and continue to serve God. Because, ultimately, the truth will out. In public life, the truth will prevail. And in our life of faith, the truth will prevail. There is no staying power and there is no divine power in truthiness, but only in truth.
Job didn’t know it, but Jesus Christ is the Redeemer he was looking for. The Bible shows Jesus as the one who pleads with God on our behalf, the one who stands before the throne of God and makes our case for us. If you are afraid to come before God honestly, to admit the truth about yourself before God, then be sure that you have Jesus by your side when you go to God. Jesus is the Redeemer who speaks up for you. If the Committee that meets in your head has voices that accuse you, then be sure that Jesus is present in your head, so that his Redeeming voice will meet the voices of your accusers. Jesus knows the truth about us, and he speaks up for us. None of us is as good as our greatest fans believe, and none of us is as bad as our most vehement accusers claim. Sometimes it is hard for us to face truth, but Jesus Christ knows the truth about us, our warts and our beauty marks, our sins and our virtues, our good deeds and our failings. And the one who demonstrated love for us by dying now speaks up for us as the living Lord. I know that my Redeemer lives.
Even Job saw the truth about himself in his story. If you don’t know the story, we should study it together. At the end, Job did indeed see God for himself, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. He didn’t get the vindication he wanted, but he did get the vindication he needed. He wanted to convince God that he wasn’t so bad, and that he didn’t deserve all the bad stuff that was happening to him. That isn’t how it turned out. The way it turned out was that God showed Job that he wasn’t so all-fired important as he thought he was, that bad things happen to people whether they deserve it or not, and isn’t the whale a marvelous creature? In other words, Job learned that the world wasn’t all about him, and complaining that God should have treated him better was an empty exercise. But at the same time, God vindicated Job in a very surprising way, by saying that Job told the truth about God, and that all those who were trying to explain things to Job, trying to make God look good, were lying. God rewarded Job for telling the truth. It wasn’t what Job was looking for, but it was what Job got.
So even though Job didn’t know he was telling a great truth about Jesus Christ, in the end it turns out that he was. He wanted someone who would be his defense attorney before the court of God Almighty. He got that, and you and I got that, and we all got so much more besides. We got the One who knows the truth about us, and loves us, and takes our case again and again. His voice of love overcomes every voice of deceit or truthiness or accusation. I know that my Redeemer lives.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Stephen Colbert introduces “truthiness”: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/63ite2/the-colbert-report-the-word—truthiness