Return From Financial Sins

Scripture Focus: Job 22.23-30
23 If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored: 
If you remove wickedness far from your tent 
24 and assign your nuggets to the dust, 
your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines, 
25 then the Almighty will be your gold, 
the choicest silver for you. 
26 Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty 
and will lift up your face to God. 
27 You will pray to him, and he will hear you, 
and you will fulfill your vows. 
28 What you decide on will be done, 
and light will shine on your ways. 
29 When people are brought low and you say, ‘Lift them up!’ 
then he will save the downcast. 
30 He will deliver even one who is not innocent, 
who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”

Psalm 32.3-5
3 When I kept silent, 
my bones wasted away 
through my groaning all day long. 
4 For day and night 
your hand was heavy on me; 
my strength was sapped 
as in the heat of summer. 
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you 
and did not cover up my iniquity. 
I said, “I will confess 
my transgressions to the Lord.” 
And you forgave 
the guilt of my sin.

Reflection: Return From Financial Sins
By John Tillman

In 2008 the subprime mortgage crash caused the loss of $30 trillion dollars of wealth. Millions of people were affected, losing homes, jobs, and savings. Some committed suicide in the aftermath. In some ways, we still feel its effects today. Some even fear our economy is heading towards a repeat performance.

Perhaps this is because, for most of those who caused the crisis, the only punishment was the inconvenience of a government bailout or a corporate bankruptcy. Only one person went to prison, serving a thirty month sentence. 

Greed is good,” is still the mantra of our culture. Financial sins have to be outlandish before anyone cares, yet the poor are often sentenced to life in prison for non-violent offenses that harm no one.

One rarely hears sermons on financial sins that approach the passion and zeal of sermons about sex or drugs or pornography…unless one reads the Bible. We may consider them frivolous but when it comes to financial sins, God means business.

Eliphaz accuses Job of a litany of financial sins: taking financial advantage of the poor, leaving widows empty-handed, withholding water and food from the needy, crushing the orphan… 

Eliphaz is wrong about Job committing these sins. However, it is notable that these sins are the ones for which Eliphaz assumes Job is receiving just punishment. His sores, his lost family members, his lost wealth…all because of financial sins.

Eliphaz is right about something. Eliphaz believes Job has sinned greatly but he also believes that anyone can be forgiven. After his false accusations, Eliphaz launches into a beautiful section describing the mercy of God for those who repent.

Most Christians believe that “sin is sin,” but we each probably consider some sins greater than others. We must remember that whether violent offender, venal embezzler, or vain powerbroker, any sinner can turn to God and be forgiven. Our justice system may be unbalanced, but Jesus calls both the corrupt tax collector in the tree and the thief on the cross to be with him where he is. (Luke 19.5; 23.43) Who are we to stand in their way?

May we gently and honestly tell sinners the truth about sin. (Not just the sins we most despise, but all sin.) May we also energetically and enthusiastically tell them the greater truth about forgiveness.

Our bones will waste away if we keep silent, but God will forgive any who approach him in humble confession. (Psalm 32.3-5)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 22 (Listen – 2:54)
Psalm 32 (Listen – 1:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 23 (Listen – 1:43), Psalm 33 (Listen – 2:08)
Job 24 (Listen – 2:56), Psalm 34 (Listen – 2:14)

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Read more about Incest, Greed, and Idolatry
Paul would have us as uncomfortable with greed and idolatry as we are with incest and other sexual sins. But are we?

Crushing Bruised Reeds

Scripture Focus: Job 21.2-3, 7
​​2 “Listen carefully to my words; 
let this be the consolation you give me. 
3 Bear with me while I speak, 
and after I have spoken, mock on. 

7 Why do the wicked live on, 
growing old and increasing in power? 

Psalm 31.5. 9-11
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; 
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; 
my eyes grow weak with sorrow, 
my soul and body with grief. 
10 My life is consumed by anguish 
and my years by groaning; 
my strength fails because of my affliction, s 
and my bones grow weak. 
11 Because of all my enemies, 
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors 
and an object of dread to my closest friends— 
those who see me on the street flee from me. 

Reflection: Crushing Bruised Reeds
By John Tillman

The rising rancor between Job and his friends would have cooled if they were willing to soften their absolutisms. 

Job’s friends declared that scripture was clear: “God always cuts short the wicked! God always blesses the righteous!” Job pointed to prosperous wicked people and said, “not always.”

Job’s friends refused to moderate their positions or admit to a complex and nuanced world. They doubled down and denied, growing harsher in their words instead of softer. They lumped Job in with the wicked because of his arguments. It all feels very familiar…

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” 

Rupertus (Peter) Meldenius, a seldom remembered theologian, wrote this in the midst of a seldom remembered war. (It’s often attributed to more well-known names who quoted it, such as John Wesley. In fact, I nearly attributed it to Wesley before looking it up to check my memory…) 

Meldenius called for Christian unity during the 30 Years War (1618–1648), a semi-religious conflict. At this time, all governments were inherently religious in nature. (It can be easy to forget how new the ideas of separation of church and state and religious freedom are.) The conflict was mostly political violence painted with religious veneer. Similarly veneered violence still happens. The violence of the January 6th insurrection still rings in our ears and the hostage situation at Beth Israel was a mere six miles from my front door.

Meldenius was on to something. He would recognize our political and religious landscape and the potential horrors it could lead to. However, Meldenius’s statement loses efficacy as people add more and more issues to the “essentials” pile. 

When everything is “essential” there is no “liberty” and “charity” is called “heresy.” Christian leaders seem to be less and less willing to grant liberty to one another on any issue. Camps are moving farther apart and rancor has risen to the point that some decry religious freedom as “supporting hell.”

We do not need to abandon essentials to charitably embrace those in distress who struggle to define “essentials.” (Psalm 31.9-10) They need love, not contempt. (Psalm 31.11)

May we not snuff out smoldering wicks of faith with non-essential dogma or crush bruised reeds with a bootheel of “tough love.” (Isaiah 42.3; Matthew 12.20-21) May we use cords of loving-kindness to lead people to repentance rather than tie up heavy loads on the backs of the struggling. (Hosea 11.4; Matthew 23.4)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck. — Psalm 69.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 21 (Listen – 3:05)
Psalm 31 (Listen – 3:11)

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Read more about Responding to Political Violence
Despite our sense of moral superiority, we have not advanced beyond violence for political ends.

Self-Serving Rhetoric

Scripture Focus: Job 18.16-21
16 His roots dry up below 
and his branches wither above. 
17 The memory of him perishes from the earth; 
he has no name in the land. 
18 He is driven from light into the realm of darkness 
and is banished from the world. 
19 He has no offspring or descendants among his people, 
no survivor where once he lived. 
20 People of the west are appalled at his fate; 
those of the east are seized with horror. 
21 Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; 
such is the place of one who does not know God.”

Psalm 26.1
1 Vindicate me, Lord, 
for I have led a blameless life; 
I have trusted in the Lord 
and have not faltered. 

Reflection: Self-Serving Rhetoric
By John Tillman

Job’s friends grew harsher with him as the conversation continued. Contentious debate spiraled into more personal attacks.

Bildad answers, spouting truisms and generalities about things that will befall wicked people. However, he goes beyond just reciting commonly held beliefs. He personalizes them, using details similar to Job’s recent experiences. 

“He is torn from the security of his tent and marched off to the king of terrors…”
“It eats away parts of his skin; death’s firstborn devours his limbs…”
“Sulphur is scattered over his dwelling…”
“Fire resides in his tent…”
“He has no offspring…”
“His roots dry up below and his branches wither above…”

Bildad would not have known this, but Job’s spiritual tent of protection had been removed and he had been given over to Satan, a king of terrors. The other details he did know and he turned them against his friend. Job’s “roots,” the sources of his wealth, and his “branches,” his children and extended family, were dried up and withered. His security had been torn away by foreign kings. His children had been crushed in a collapsing building. His skin was being eaten away by sores and illness.

I am convinced that the hostility of Job’s friends and their judgmentalism came from fear and insecurity. The friends are the appalled “people of the west” and “the east.” They were appalled that similar things might happen to them. Proving that Job’s sin brought this on himself was essential to their worldview. Bildad’s images pointed an accusing finger at Job and, by contrast, implied that he and the others were righteous.

Fire fell on Job’s life. Rather than comfort him, his friends blew on the embers to warm themselves.

Blaming others’ choices for their problems gives us false peace in two flavors. We can believe that bad things can’t happen if we are “good.” We can excuse ourselves from helping the suffering because we think their suffering is justice for their wrongs or correction for their foolishness.

In our lives, we can be quick to say, “consequences of your actions” when bad things happen to others and cry “persecution” when bad things happen to us.

Don’t fall victim to the same self-insulating, self-serving, victim-blaming rhetoric as Bildad and the other friends. No matter why fire falls on others’ lives, may we be found tending to the burns rather than stirring up the embers.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — Psalm 96.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 18 (Listen – 1:54)
Psalm 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)

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Read more about When Help Doesn’t Help
We all reap what we sow, don’t we? Unfortunately, this is a common view of pain and suffering, even in the Church today.

Hope In the Tree of the Cross

Scripture Focus: Job 14.7-9, 14-17
7 “At least there is hope for a tree: 
If it is cut down, it will sprout again, 
and its new shoots will not fail. 
8 Its roots may grow old in the ground 
and its stump die in the soil, 
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud 
and put forth shoots like a plant.

14 If someone dies, will they live again? 
All the days of my hard service 
I will wait for my renewal to come. 
15 You will call and I will answer you; 
you will long for the creature your hands have made. 
16 Surely then you will count my steps 
but not keep track of my sin. 
17 My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; 
you will cover over my sin. 

Psalm 22.1, 31
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
Why are you so far from saving me, 
so far from my cries of anguish?
31 They will proclaim his righteousness, 
declaring to a people yet unborn: 
He has done it! 

Reflection: Hope In the Tree of the Cross
By John Tillman

“At least there is hope for a tree…”

This phrase sparked a memory. I remembered the phrase, “I want to be a tree,” but I didn’t remember its source. When I looked it up I was reminded of the remarkably strange world of 80s British music videos and Tim Pope’s song, “I Want to Be a Tree.” 

I’m sure I heard this song during the early days of MTV (when they used to play music) and the phrase must have stuck in my memory. Pope is most well known for his music videos for David Bowie, The Cure, and others. 

Pope’s song is mostly tongue-in-cheek escapism but buried in the humorous lyrics are the roots of real issues. At first he wants to escape attention and life’s annoyances. He obliquely references the Eden narrative. He then hopes to escape “World War Three.” Today’s crisis-centered culture is fraught with uncertainty about many things but it is hard to explain how inescapable nuclear annihilation seemed to GenXers and how powerless we felt about it. 

Job’s lament is more desperate and is grounded in suffering that is more intense than Pope, or most of us, ever will know. Job’s thoughts also take us deeper into the promises of God. 

Job planted his hopes in God. The idea that God will raise humans to eternal life is a seed in Job. It develops in the Psalms and other scriptures and blooms in the gospels. 

Today we also read Psalm 22, referenced by Jesus from the tree of the cross. It begins, like Job, questioning God’s abandonment, but ends triumphantly, celebrating God’s victory. “He has done it,” Psalm 22’s last line proclaims. “It is finished,” Christ’s last breath from the cross echoes. (John 19.30; Psalm 22.31)

Our hope is found not in becoming a tree but in laying down our lives and being transformed by the cross of Christ. The cross—the cruel instrument of death—becomes a blossoming tree of life from which we are free to partake. (Genesis 2.16; 3.22-24; Proverbs 11.30; Revelation 2.7; 22.1-2, 14

At the roots of the tree of the cross, we find healing, peace, and power. As we follow Christ, we will become like this tree. Grafted into the Root of Jesse, (Romans 11.16-21) we bloom in deserts of suffering. We protect others under our branches and shade. We bless the earth, bringing up water of life and healing for the nations.

When grown to maturity, a Christian is like a tree. (Psalm 1.3)

Further Study: Humans are… Trees? From The Bible Project Podcast

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 14 (Listen – 2:23)
Psalm 22 (Listen – 3:49)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 15 (Listen – 3:23), Psalm 23-24 (Listen – 2:03)
Job 16-17 (Listen – 3:40), Psalm 25 (Listen – 2:18)

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Read more about Praise from a Stump
In Isaiah chapter 11, we see this shamed, humbled tree being miraculously restored.

Prayer When None Are Faithful — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 12
1 Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; 
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. 
2 Everyone lies to their neighbor; 
they flatter with their lips 
but harbor deception in their hearts. 
3 May the Lord silence all flattering lips 
and every boastful tongue— 
4 those who say, 
“By our tongues we will prevail; 
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?” 
5 “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, 
I will now arise,” says the Lord. 
“I will protect them from those who malign them.” 
6 And the words of the Lord are flawless, 
like silver purified in a crucible, 
like gold refined seven times. 
7 You, Lord, will keep the needy safe 
and will protect us forever from the wicked, 
8 who freely strut about 
when what is vile is honored by the human race. 

Reflection: Prayer When None Are Faithful — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

In Psalm 12 we see a cry and a response. The psalmist cries out about lies, deception, and boastful leaders. God responds, saying, “I will now arise…” God’s response also gives us a clue about who the lies targeted and who suffered under the deceptive and false leaders: the poor.

God says the “poor are plundered” and the “needy groan.” He says they have been “maligned” but that he will keep them safe and protect them from the wicked.

When we look around at our society, we can easily relate to the psalmist’s cries from Psalm 12. The costs of lies are all around us. Violence. Confusion. Desperation. Loss of life. They fill our news programs, newsfeeds, and memories. Over this weekend, reflect on Psalm 12 and pray this prayer based on its themes.

Prayer When None Are Faithful
Help, Lord, for no one is faithful!
Kings promise help but only help themselves.
Leaders demand loyalty, while planning betrayals
Braggarts call themselves “saviors” to boost their influence.

Boasting and flattering people rise up
They weaponize their words and destroy
They threaten and pretend to be joking
They cause death and deny responsibility

We are dismayed, Lord…
We are sheep among wicked shepherds…

Will only braggarts lead?
Will only the boastful hold sway?
Will deception take root and blossom?
Will disdain and derision take bows to applause?
Will people believe anything so long as it insults their enemy?
Will people deny any authority other than their own desires and their own words? 
Is there any loyalty left to the truth?
Is there anyone faithful?

Rise up, Lord, and protect the poor from the powerful
Sweep down, Lord, and shield those being crushed, defending truth
Speak up, Lord, and drown out boastful lies designed to deceive the elect
Step down, Lord, and make those that strut pridefully stumble into their own traps.

Come, Lord Jesus, the Way. Lead us away from wicked shepherds.
Come, Lord Jesus, the Truth. Cut down idolatrous liars with the sword of your mouth.
Come, Lord Jesus, the Life. Fill us with living water that heals us from the inside out.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 7 (Listen – 2:23) 
Psalm 11-12 (Listen – 1:59)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 8 (Listen – 2:09), Psalm 13-14 (Listen – 1:43)
Job 9 (Listen – 3:22), Psalm 15-16 (Listen – 2:03)

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Join us. Hear from God through God’s Word this year…

Read more about The Floodlight of Epiphany
May lies and liars be exposed.
May truth shine, expelling every dark, deceitful shadow.
May the darkness of violence have no shelter in our hearts.