Questions from Suffering series (#1)
Job 1:1-22; Lk. 17:5-6
A sermon preached on July 3, 2016 for Brookmeade Congregational UCC
Where were you when the unthinkable happened?
When the unbelieveable crashed through your consciousness?
The gut-punching life-changer?
The life-changing, chronic struggle?
That life-event that divides a life into “before that happened” and “since then.”
What comes to mind?
“There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1)
In the beginning of the story of Job we find out some things in the first two sentences:
This is a tale — a story — a parable. Our Holy Scripture speaks through a variety of literary forms — including poetry, proverbs, historical narrative, legal documents — even sermons.
How do we know this is a parable? There is no historical “land of Uz” that anyone has been able to find. And there is no historical time attached to this story. The story of Job transcends time and place to tell the story of a man — Job — who had a relationship with God — Job, who had also intentionally “turned away from evil.”
The story strongly implies that Job had been rewarded for his upright living: seven sons and three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred camels, and many slaves. He was the richest man in the East.
All of these were rewards for hard work and good living — or were they? And still, no guarantees. No immunity.
Job’s life crashed mightily! He lost all the livestock, he lost all of his servants save the few who brought the bad news — and Job lost all of his children.
And, see what I did there? Job didn’t lose all of those animals, servants and children like he forgot where he put them and they didn’t “pass away” as if they drifted out of his life. We say we “lost” beloveds — or they “passed away” — because it’s so very hard to say “they died” or “they were killed.”
With loss comes change — change in status — change in identity — change in labels —
Job — an animal herder — had no animals to herd
Job — an employer — had no servants to boss
Job — a father — had no children to love, no children to pass on whatever legacy, no children to bail out of their trouble with God
We can imagine he had no money to manage, no job to go to, no schedule to keep, no table conversation in which to get a word in edgewise.
Who was Job now? The “before” Job had died along with the rest of them.
And that’s where our story stops for this day. With Job hearing the news and his first responses to what just happened.
When “what just happened” — has just happened — it feels like a pile of nothing we ever wished on our worst enemy much less on ourselves or our beloveds.
This catastrophic beginning of the story of Job states the obvious: Stuff happens. Really bad stuff happens.
And in that moment — is that moment — and it is a sacred moment —
A good meaning for the world “sacred” is “set aside for a purpose.” The moment of what just happened is worthy of being set aside for a purpose.
Which is to say, “Give yourself a moment.” Or longer.
The voices in your head might be saying, “Get up. Get out. Move on. Stop wallowing.” And my favorite, “There are people who have it worse off than I do.” Are those voices in our own heads? Or coming at us from well-meaning people?
Either way, the moment of our pain and suffering — whatever it is, however it came, every time it hurts — is a sacred moment — a moment set aside for a purpose. Denial is not a good approach. The only way through grief — horrific huge swallow-up-life grief and life’s daily pangs of grief — the ONLY way through grief is to go through the grief.
Take a moment and name it. Do something to mark the moment.
Notice what Job did: Then . . . then . . .
Job stood up.
He tore his robe.
He shaved his head.
He lay down with his face in the dust.
He tried to put some things into words.
He expressed a desire to keep God in there somewhere.
I love that only Job is there.
I love that this is Job’s moment.
He can do what he needs to do.
It may not help.
It may make no sense in any logical way.
It may even look weird and destructive — tearing his robe?! — and yet, it’s just a robe, right?
It’s as if Job is commanding this moment for himself. He demands it, requires it and he takes the time to do what he needs to do.
When it hurts — a little or a lot, how about we take a moment — or however long it takes — and name what just happened: “When that happened, it hurt. I feel pain. I don’t know what to do.”
In that moment, there is something that can be done to mark the moment of naming it. Take a breath, whisper a prayer, write something, make a phone call, dig in the dirt, clean out a closet — depending on the thing, the moment could last awhile and require more action and contemplation, even tears. Pain causes tears sometimes.
So, tissues. Today’s sermon extra is tissues. Before we receive your offerings today, you will receive a little pack of tissues. Tissues are a necessity for life’s journey, because real, live authentic people shed real tears when life hurts. One day, you might need a tissue. Another day, someone else might need one.
The idea is to take a moment to notice — take a moment to take care.
The gift that Job is given is that he manages to ground himself again in the God who had given his life meaning before that happened: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked will I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken; may the name of the Lord be blessed.” (Job 1:21 — Stephen Mitchell translation)
The story of Job has already given us a hint that this is not a story addressed to the part of us that finds ultimate meaning in right living, in personal best or in the resilience of the human spirit.
This is not a story about Job as a paragon of human virtue, in spite of what we may have heard about “the patience of Job.”
This story is set aside for a purpose whose light has already begun to glimmer through the dark and tragic events of Job, Chapter One. Chapter one started with Job and God, and Chapter One ended with Job and God. We might suspect that this is will unfold as a story about Job and God, God and Job.
And God and us.
Thanks be to God.
Because stuff happens. Amen.