Job 42:1-6, 10-17
In these cold and snowy winter days, I find my mind wandering to warmer times…summers gone by and summers on the horizon. I do have to say, however, that not all summer memories are fond memories…
There was one day this past summer when a member of my family, who shall go unnamed in this sermon, was backing our minivan down the driveway and out onto the street. Normally, that task is fairly forgiving at our house. Even if you don’t back a car out in a straight line, you could take a quick detour onto the grass and then correct back to the actual driveway without causing much harm.
The time it’s more challenging at our house is when the trash can is at the end of the driveway. Even more so every other week when the trash can and the recycling can are side by side at the end of the driveway and the window of free space for backing out of the driveway shrinks by six or eight feet.
I think you know where I’m going with this story. In fact, I’d venture to guess a few of you have had a similar experience in your own driveway. Anyway, the unnamed person in my family was backing down our driveway this past summer on a trash and recycling day. And I’m not sure whether this family member of mine wasn’t paying attention. Or they weren’t looking in the mirror. Or they forgot the cans were both there.
But sure enough, this person I know and love dearly backed right into the trash can. And then compounded the problem by panicking slightly and accelerating, rather than braking on impact, pulling up the driveway, and backing down a second time clear of the trash can. (By the way, apropos of nothing in particular, I’ve discovered over the years that our South Windsor trash and recycling cans are virtually indestructible.)
It fell to me as the nearest warm body inside the house, to calm the perpetrator down. Which, in case you are trying to figure out who might be guilty, lowers the list of suspects in my family down to four. And it became my job to go outside and take a look at the minivan in order to assess the damage.
As I’ve already alluded to, the trash can looked absolutely fine. But the mirror on the driver’s side of the car was hanging by a thread at a grotesque angle. Like a child’s baby tooth when it’s holding on by a final root before a parent decides to yank it out.
Knowing the importance of a driver’s side mirror, I hoped I could just snap it back in place. When I quickly figured out that pipe dream wasn’t going to come true, I shifted to “plan b.” I opened the door to my garage and found the biggest roll of duct tape we own. I pushed the mirror back up to its original position and held it in place. Then I proceeded to wrap the duct tape around the base of the mirror so many times there was no way it was going to fall off the side of the minivan.
By the time I finished, the whole thing looked pretty good. Especially since the color of the duct tape matched the color of our minivan. In retrospect, I wish I had stayed with that duct tape fix for as long as possible. About a week later, I found out from our mechanic that I was the proud owner of the most expensive mirror I have ever purchased…
Any of you who have ever attempted a quick fix or a home improvement project know all about the virtues of duct tape. Small repairs all the way up to much larger repairs. You can go online and find literally dozens of uses for duct tape. Some people have utilized duct tape as fabric to create everything from wallets to prom dresses. Some people apply duct tape to warts and leave it on their skin for an extended period of time, believing, without authoritative medical proof, that duct tape will cause those warts to shrink and eventually disappear.
Duct tape has been used to cover up holes and prevent leakage from storm damage. I’ve seen people duct tape their bumpers to their cars in an effort to keep the bumper from falling on the road. I’ve even heard of duct tape being applied to airplane wings, although the thought of that is a bit disconcerting. Things in the world break all the time…thank God we have duct tape to patch it all together again…
If you read through the entire Book of Job from the beginning to the end, this morning’s forty-second chapter feels a lot like a patch job. Over the course of nearly forty chapters, all of Job’s possessions are taken away by God. Job’s children die. His body fails. And Job is left with absolutely nothing.
As a result of Job’s unrelenting hardships, the Book of Job gives us chapter and verse of Job and Job’s friends and God going round and round over who gets the blame and who has the right to complain and why God makes Job suffer the way God does and whether or not Job has a right to question God. Finally, we arrive at today’s forty-second chapter and it feels like God puts a bunch of duct tape over the massive cracks in Job’s life and calls it a day.
You can almost hear the beaten down tone in Job’s voice. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” When Job finally gives in to God, it feels like an ending. But it’s far from a satisfying ending. It’s like being put on hold for a long period of time and when the elevator music finally stops and a customer service representative picks up, they wind up telling you the problem is all on your end and they can’t actually help you.
I suppose there is some solace in the fact that God restores Job’s fortunes. God makes Job wealthy again. God gifts Job with a number of new children and Job lives into his golden years, long enough to see his family prosper. But when the Book of Job is over, the reader is left wondering whether Job ever truly recovered. No matter how much God blessed Job in the end, it’s hard to believe the good fortune balanced out all the misfortune.
An inconclusive, unresolved, patched together conclusion of the Book of Job is not exactly the ending anyone is looking for. No one wants to look out the window on an airplane and see a line of duct tape running from one end of the wing to the other. The Book of Job never quite gives us the answers we seek.
Yet, if the ending of Job is not the ending we want, it may well be the ending we need. (Sounds like a Rolling Stones lyric.) Because the ending of Job reveals something honest and important to us about having faith. Job doesn’t hear adequate responses to his questions. Nevertheless, God did appear. God did listen. And even though God failed to undo the extensive damage God caused, Job held onto his faith.
Job holds onto his faith in spite of his life left in shambles. Job holds onto faith in spite of the mess God creates for no good reason. Job chooses faith regardless of the outcome. Faith which enables him to move on. Faith which he carries forward.
And in Job’s persistent faith, he is our teacher. Faith doesn’t repair the cracks. It doesn’t resolve the questions. It doesn’t provide a tidy list of answers. It doesn’t automatically allow for happy endings. Faith certainly doesn’t repair the world’s brokenness. Instead, faith is a patch job. Yet, faith is exactly what we need…
A number of us were alive in 1970 when the Apollo 13 spacecraft almost didn’t make it back to earth. Or if we weren’t alive in 1970, maybe we saw the excellent movie recalling that space flight which came out in theaters in 1995. When one of the oxygen tanks exploded as Apollo 13 was approaching lunar orbit, the crew was forced into the lunar module for the trip home. And when they were inside the lunar module, they had to figure out how to attach a square carbon dioxide filter to the round opening of the lunar module’s filtration system just so they would survive.
How did those three Apollo 13 astronauts pull that miracle off? With the help of a crew of engineers back here on earth. And a whole bunch of duct tape. It was probably the most famous use of duct tape in American history. Millions of dollars’ worth of high tech spacecraft and equipment, assembled by some of the smartest people on this planet, and disaster was averted on the Apollo 13 with a cheap, low tech roll of duct tape.
As a result of Apollo 13, duct tape became standard issue equipment on every space flight for generations. And you have to appreciate the symbolism of that duct tape. Not because the duct tape foreshadows the worst case scenario in a spaceship. But rather because duct tape serves as a reminder that the spaceship can come home. Even if something goes wrong and there’s an explosion. Even if there is extensive damage which no one anticipated ahead of time. Even if astronauts look out the window and see duct tape on the side of their fuselage. There is a way to get home.
The faith in which you and I stand is the same faith in which Job once stood. It’s the same faith in which the Apollo 13 crew once stood. In the broken places, faith has the power to bring us home again. Not with simple answers. Not with full repairs. Not with easy resolutions. But with courage and resolve that with God we will get home again. And we should not be afraid.
So if you are a person this morning who feels like there are cracks in the foundation of your life. If you feel like you are in the fire or out in the cold or struggling in the dark. If you have too many questions and not enough answers. The truth is that God who has been with you from the very beginning will remain with you until the end and beyond. There is nowhere you can go this week and nothing you can endure where you will not be met by God.
Hold onto faith in God, then. It may not fix everything in your life and make it all perfect. But it can patch you together and bring you bring you home in one piece. Amen.