Midweek – 4 LSB #’s 715:1-2, 715:3, 729
Text – Job 14:7
There is hope for a tree! If it is cut down, it will sprout again, & its new shoots will not fail.
IT IS ENOUGH
[Sections of this sermon derive from a homily preached at Concordia Seminary by Dr. David Schmitt on October 8, 2010]
Billy Collins is a poet laureate. In his poem “(detail)” Collins invites us to sit in a room with a woman who is looking at a coffee-table book. She’s passing over landscapes & portraits of people she should know but doesn’t, until she comes upon a page of clouds in the sky.
Her eyes rest on the page. Then she looks up & says, “This one is my favorite.” She doesn’t know that it’s only a detail from a much larger painting. It’s one small corner of the sky from a much larger painting about heroes in epic combat. She doesn’t know that, but she does know that this one detail is beautiful. For her, on this day, it is enough.
I thought about this as I was preparing my sermon on Job 14. The chapter is filled with intense darkness & death. Yet there is one small part – one detail – that is amazingly beautiful. For us, on this day, it is enough.
Over the past month, we’ve been studying the book of Job. Most of you know the plot. Job is a prosperous & happy man, but Satan alleges that Job worships God for only one reason. Job has been bribed by God with so many blessings. Satan bets that if Job loses his blessings then he will curse God.
God gives the devil permission to do anything to Job he wants – except take his life. Job then loses his wealth, estimated to be about $45 million in today’s currency. Worse than that, his ten children are each killed in a storm. Job 14 begins with a sober description of life:
“Man born of woman is of few days & full of trouble. He springs up like a flower & withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” (Job 14:1–2) He then laments, “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months & have set limits he cannot exceed.” (14:5) Job is at the end of his rope. He had it all & now has lost it all. He is over-whelmed by darkness & death. But then, in the midst of the storm Job says, “There is hope for a tree.” (Job 14:7) Really? Did you catch that detail? “There is hope for a tree!”
This one small sprout – this little detail – is amazingly beautiful. And, for us, on this day, this one detail is enough. “Why?” you ask. A tree can overcome being cut down: “If it is cut down, it will sprout again, & its new shoots will not fail.” (Job 14:7)
Job was not only cut down by consecutive massive disasters, he was cut down deliberately, by other people. Sometimes they take an axe & begin cutting us down. Chop. Chop. Chop. Children can be bullies. Teenagers can be cyber-bullies. For adults, ex-spouses, ex-bosses & ex-friends can be bullies, all working away at chopping us down.
The people in Job’s life – Bildad, Zophar & Eliphaz – cut him down. They were a lot like Deborah Ricketts. She’s an independent researcher for the film industry. Deborah makes her living by pointing out mistakes. A film set in the 1930s can’t have a person reading a newspaper that didn’t exist then, or a band playing a song that had not yet been written.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark the map that charted Indiana Jones’s flight routed him over Thailand. Problem: The movie was set in 1936 & Thailand was “Siam” until 1939. In Die Hard II Bruce Willis makes a call from what is supposed to be a pay phone in Washington, DC. No one noticed that the phone booth read “Pacific Bell.” Deborah Ricketts lives to find mistakes.
So did Bildad, Zophar & Eliphaz. They had the bedside manner of drill sergeants & the compassion of chainsaw killers. A revised version of their theology might read like this: “Boy, Job, you must have done something really bad! We know God is good, so if bad things are happening to you, then you’ve been really, really bad!” No wonder, in chapter 16:2, Job calls them “miserable comforters.” His head hurts. His eyes burn. His legs ache & he can’t stomach any more hollow homilies. But there is hope for a tree! A tree can overcome being left for dead. “Its roots may grow old in the ground & its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud & put forth shoots like a plant.” (Job 14:8–9)
Job was left for dead: 1st by the accuser – Satan – who thinks Job’s faith is but a farce; 2nd by his wife “Curse God & die,” & 3rd, by Bildad, Zophar & Eliphaz. We know the feeling of being left for dead. Life does that at times, doesn’t it? After months at sea, life on a submarine felt like being left for dead. You do what you have to, but you feel like a zombie.
We say what needs to be said, but feel alone, abandoned, hopeless, dead; like a stump, waiting to die in the soil. That was Job. But even though a stump may be dormant for a long time, a good soaking rain often spurs new growth. A tree can overcome being left for dead! “There is hope for a tree” means there is hope for me.
Job 14:14, “I will wait for my renewal to come.” The noun renewal derives from the verb Job uses in 14:7 to describe a tree sprouting, leaving little doubt that with the term renewal he has hope. Job claims renewal in the midst of his darkness & death. It all comes from a single, solitary, seemingly insignificant sprout on the stump of a tree.
This one small part – this detail – is beautiful, & for us, on this night, it is enough. Otto Dix, a German artist, knew the power of a tiny detail in the midst of darkness & death. Dix served in the German army in WW I. He was wounded in battle &, after the war was over, he received the Iron Cross.
Yet, no medal or honor or talk of glory in battle could erase the horrific things he had seen. So he painted. Otto Dix composed what is known as the War Triptych. He styled it just like you would a painting that would grace an altar, with a center piece of the crucifixion & then two side wings filled with angels & saints. Only instead of the story of God & images of salvation, he filled it with the story of humanity & images of war. There in the center where the crucifixion would appear, he painted what was left after the war to end all wars. You can see remnants of civilization, sticking out of the ground.
The only living figure wears a gas mask since the air is poisoned by gas & by the smell of death, for he is surrounded by corpses. Into this picture of human destruction, Dix has placed one small detail. At the top of the painting is part of a bridge. Stretched out on that bridge is a corpse. Stretched out from the corpse is an arm. Stretched out from that arm is one bony finger.
If you follow that pointer, you find Him, buried upside down within the pile of corpses – Jesus. Betrayed. Beaten. Discarded. Dead & buried. Jesus had been cut down & left for dead. Yet, in the midst of history’s darkest & most deadly moment there was hope. The Son of God, on the tree of the cross, taking away our sin & wretchedness, is the ultimate sign of love!
On the cross Jesus identifies with our loneliness, rejection & pain. And then renewal came. Three days later the crucified One was risen! In the end, that’s why Job can say, “There is hope for a tree.” And that’s why, no matter how tormented we are, no matter how broken we have become, no matter if death hovers on our doorstep – we can say, “There is hope for me!”
That detail, a sprout on the stump of a tree, is beautiful, & it is enough. It is always & forevermore – enough. Amen.
I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus, trusting only Thee; trusting thee for full salvation, great & free. I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus; never let me fall. I am trusting Thee forever & for all. Amen. LSB 729:1, 6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet