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The Reverend Matt Gaventa
November 4, 2018
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
A Reading from the Book of Job
Then Job answered the Lord: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ 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.”
And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring.The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
Last week I told you about the perils of shoveling the driveway up the gravel road in the Virginia mountains we used to live in. And this week I want to confess that the house itself wasn’t exactly low-maintenance, either. In fact that little farmhouse, as large a place as it holds in my heart: the truth is that it was basically collapsing into the earth, either from the slow ravages of time or from some distant undocumented flood damage, but it was sinking into the earth, very slowly. This had a variety of ill-effects — no toy cars or balls would stay put when you set them on the floor. Furniture along the outer walls of the house had to be carefully selected so that it wouldn’t collapse in on us. Hanging pictures with alignment — never my speciality in the first place — became almost impossible. But mostly, after a while, you just got used to it. A few extra hooks would straighten the pictures. A few extra bolts would secure the furniture. And for the rest of it, like the time during one particularly cold winter that the heating duct just snapped off the vent underneath the living room, for the rest of it, we just relied on that most elemental repair tool. We just used duct tape. And yes, there was some specific pleasure in using duct tape to repair a duct. It worked perfectly.
Of course duct tape’s reputation precedes it. You don’t need me to tell you. These days duct tape has a bit of a magical reputation — for household repairs, yes, but also for construction on a grander scale. A quick glance online will unearth dozens upon hundreds of uses I’m sure quite unimagined by the folks who first brought this stuff to market: we’ve got duct tape as a fabric, with which folks have made everything from everyday wallets to prom dresses; we’ve got something called Duct Tape Occlusion Therapy, in which duct tape gets applied to warts and left for an extended period of time and the results of this treatment are in dispute. Not to mention of course the many, many ways in which duct tape has become a repair tool for projects far beyond the original scope of its charge: a tarp that covers over storm damage. A patchwork fix holding up a streetlight. Cradling a car bumper against the body as it cruises down the interstate. Even wrapped even around the wing of an airplane as it streaks through the skies. You don’t need me to preach this Gospel. It’s pretty well-attested on YouTube. The world breaks all the time. Our old house wasn’t the only place with a crack running through the foundation. Good thing we have duct tape to patch it back to gather.
If we’re honest, I think that’s what this scripture feels like. It feels like a patch job. We’ve been at this for a while now, four weeks spent in the Book of Job, the story of a man who followed all the rules and nonetheless, God dismantled his life and stripped him down to nothing, and we have come through forty-one chapters looking for an explanation, forty-one chapters of lament, forty-one chapters of argument, forty-one chapters of Job and Job’s friends and God going round after round after round over who gets to be angry and who gets to be in charge and who gets to complain and who does God think God is to make us suffer this way and who does Job think he is to question or wonder or struggle and why does the bread rise some days and some days it doesn’t and why do people come in and out of our lives as easily as they do and why of course why do bad things happen to good people and why does the world have this crack running through it and then in chapter 42, that’s ours, that’s the last one, chapter 42 is where the answers should be, chapter 42 is where the reveal should be, the curtain opens, look, I will show you a mystery, but instead. Chapter 42 shows up puts a little duct tape over the crack and calls it a day.
At the end of God’s speech that we heard from last week, Job relents: “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.” It’s an ending, but not a very satisfying one, like Job has been on hold with customer support for hours and hours and finally they pick up and tell him that actually the fire that erupted inside his computer and burned down his house really is his fault and eventually he just says, “Well, thanks for listening,” and hangs up. And then of course God does restore Job’s fortunes. His wealth returns. His estate returns. He has a bunch of new children, and he lives to see them all grow into prosperity and long life, the end, and somehow in these eight verses we’re supposed to forget the open wound carved through the heart of the story. Somehow in these eight verses we’re supposed to just let go of all the needless suffering. Something in these eight verses feels deeply unequal to the task at hand. Because we know that in Job’s story something in the world has cracked open and all we have at the end is somebody duct taping it back together.
It’s not the ending we want. Nobody wants to look out the plane window and see a line of duct tape running around the wing. In some ways the history of interpretation of Job is one long wrestling match with the abruptness of this ending, like even after forty-one chapters of back and forth somehow we still haven’t gotten the answers that we want. In 1945, the poet Robert Frost published a short play called “A Masque of Reason” which he bills as nothing more than the 43rd chapter of the Book of Job, the better, longer ending we never got to read: years later, Job and Job’s wife and God and Satan all reconnect and hash out all the unresolved stuff. Job gets to finally ask the questions we’re all asking: “I tried to think/ The reason might have been some other person’s / But there is nothing You are not behind. / I did not ask then, but it seems as if / Now after all these years You might indulge me. / Why did you hurt me so?” But even with more room to work with, God can’t give more than a half-answer — “I was just showing off for the Devil, Job.” Even Frost can’t put all the pieces back together. There’s something unresolved in this story. Something fundamentally unresolved. Something fundamentally un-resolvable.
It’s not the ending we want. But maybe it’s the ending we need. Even in its abruptness, there’s something refreshingly honest about these verses, something honest about what it means to have faith. Job doesn’t quite get the answers he needs but at some point he decides that he’s heard enough. Job never quite gets the conversation he was hoping for but at some point he decides that at least he’s had enough. After all, something has happened: God has appeared, God has engaged in dialog, God has spoken into the gap. Job has joined the very select company of Old Testament figures who get to see God face-to-face. No, God has not answered all the questions. God has not repaired the breach. God has not undone the damage. And yet Job has faith. Faith despite all of it. Faith born in this middling mess. Faith regardless of the outcome. Faith to move on. Faith to keep going. Faith to carry forward. It doesn’t repair the cracks. Faith isn’t something that repairs the cracks. It doesn’t end the questions. It doesn’t provide the answers. It doesn’t make for happy endings. Faith doesn’t put the world back together. At best, it’s a patch job. But still. Maybe it’s just exactly what we need.
The most famous duct tape hack in history is without a doubt the one that saved the lives of three astronauts aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft in 1970. Maybe you’ve seen the movie. As the craft was approaching lunar orbit, an oxygen tank exploded, which aborted the mission and sent the crew into survival mode and into the lunar module itself for the trip back. One of the problems they had to solve — with help from a crew of engineers back on earth — was how to attach a square Carbon Dioxide filter to the round opening of the lunar module’s filtration system. The solution, of course, involved the duct tape that crew already had on board, alongside some cardboard and a few plastic bags. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that for generations duct tape became standard issue equipment on every space flight. In fact, just a few weeks ago, some astronauts discovered a leak in the International Space Station — a hole two millimeters thick, caused probably by a micrometeorite, but big enough to drain the air out of the place over the course of a couple of weeks. Instead, they fixed it right up. First one astronaut stuck his finger over the hole to block it. And then they went in with the duct tape.
I would love to ask an astronaut how it feels to look around the station and see a pile of duct tape in one of the storage bins. I mean, on one hand. You are piloting multiple millions of dollars’ worth of technology put together by some of the smartest people on the planet. The International Space Station is literally the most ambitious assembly of global knowledge and production ever created. It is a little unsettling, or at least I might find it a little unsettling, to look back in the corner and see a bunch of duct tape, as if a project of this substance and of this deliberation might ever come to the point where we are using everyday household adhesives to put it back together. And yet. It has gotten them home before. And so I wonder instead if the astronaut looking at the duct tape thinks something else entirely. It’s not just a sign of the cracks in in the foundation. It’s also sign of the resolve of the mission. It doesn’t just say: look at everything that can go wrong. It also says: we are going to get home. We are going to get home no matter what. We are going to get home no matter what befalls us. We are going to get home no matter the miles and no matter the damage and no matter the cracks and no matter the cost. We’ve come this far by faith and we are going to get home even if we have to duct tape the wing onto the side of the fuselage but we are going to get home together.
This is the power of the faith in which we stand, in which Job stands, in which you and I stand alongside the saints of every time and place. It the power of faith that has carried us from generation to generation. This is, of course, what we are meant to do here on All Saints’ Sunday, not simply to remember and celebrate those who have gone before us and those for whom we grieve but rather also to claim the faith in which they stood and in which we stand and to recommit ourselves to power of that faith for this time, for this moment, and for all the times and moments yet to be. This is the power of Job’s faith, the power of our faith, the power of faith to carry us through the broken places, the power of faith to carry us home again.
It is not the domain of easy answers or of quick resolutions. It cannot repair the foundation. But it does come with courage. It comes with the courage of the children of God that says we will get home again and why therefore should we be afraid. It may not be that the week ahead finds you hurtling between the stars in a leaky aluminum tube. More likely the week ahead finds you in the more routine excavations of the crack that run through everything. It may find you in the fire of our current political anxiety. It may find you in the dark and lonely places of the night. It may find you in the cold embrace of grief and loss. But the Gospel is this. There is no place that this week may find you that does not also come with the faithfulness of God who has been there since the beginning and will outlast even the end. There is nowhere this week you may go where you will not also be met by the God who created all things and sustains all things and redeems all things, even the fire, even the dark, even the cold. So have a little faith. It doesn’t fix the foundation. But it will bring us home together.