Sermon number eightthousandfourhundredwhydotheystillaskmetodothisandtwentytwo.
It has been a no good very bad week. A no good very very bad week. Literally, this has been one of those weeks that will be forever burned in my mind as one of the most challenging. I’ve been thinking about this sermon for a month or so. I’ve been thinking about Job a little, not that I’m comparing my week to Job’s life. I’ve been thinking about the way in which we jip Job. Do you feel like Job gets jipped? I mean if you flip back a few pages in your bibles to the beginning of the story, Job has it good. He has abundant worldly wealth, and great faith in God. As a matter of fact, his faithfulness is what gets all of the play in Job’s story. When I was a kid all I heard about was Job’s faithfulness to God during a time of trial and tribulation. So much so, in fact, I went looking for a children’s bible story about Job to make sure I wasn’t crazy. I found this book in Narcie’s office, and for those of you who didn’t attend children’s church as a child I thought I would share this story with you today. To give our text a little context. (Blog readers–Go find yourself a child’s book of bible stories. I’m not interested in any copyright lawsuits.)
I think the way that Job’s story is portrayed is just so interesting. We talk a little about his trials, and for some reason focus on the boils and him being covered in ash, and then we talk about how it is all made better by God because of the faithfulness of Job. The end. What we often skip over, and not just in Job’s story, is the middle part. The struggle. And BOY is the struggle real.
This storybook gives us a quick little bit about what all Job lost, but I want to really spell it out for you. The Sabean people killed all of his oxen and donkeys and servants, save one. Then fire fell from heaven and burned up all the sheep and the servants with them, save one. The Chaldean people stole all the camels and the servants that were with them also perished. And ALL, every single daughter and son, were killed when the house of the eldest son was literally blown down, big bad wolf style. When Job did not falter in his faithfulness, the devil was still not satisfied and gave Job what my translation calls, “Loathsome Sores” from the soles of his feet to to the crown of his head. At which point his wife encouraged him to “curse God and die.”
Job was having a seriously bad week. The text goes on in poetry, which I kind of love because in many ways there is no better medium to convey such deep emotion, and you hear of Job’s deep and profound lament. While he is not cursing God, neither is he passively untouched by the deep and despairing grief of his loss. In the 10th chapter of Job today we get but a snapshot of the extent of Job’s pain. I can just hear Job’s voice filled with his troubledness…
I loathe my life;
I will give free utterance to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
2 I will say to God, Do not condemn me;
let me know why you contend against me.
3 Does it seem good to you to oppress,
to despise the work of your hands
and favor the schemes of the wicked?
4 Do you have eyes of flesh?
Do you see as humans see?
5 Are your days like the days of mortals,
or your years like human years,
6 that you seek out my iniquity
and search for my sin,
7 although you know that I am not guilty,
and there is no one to deliver out of your hand?
8 Your hands fashioned and made me;
and now you turn and destroy me.[a]
9 Remember that you fashioned me like clay;
and will you turn me to dust again?
10 Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese?
11 You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
12 You have granted me life and steadfast love,
and your care has preserved my spirit.
13 Yet these things you hid in your heart;
I know that this was your purpose.
14 If I sin, you watch me,
and do not acquit me of my iniquity.
15 If I am wicked, woe to me!
If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head,
for I am filled with disgrace
and look upon my affliction.
16 Bold as a lion you hunt me;
you repeat your exploits against me.
17 You renew your witnesses against me,
and increase your vexation toward me;
you bring fresh troops against me.[b]
18 “Why did you bring me forth from the womb?
Would that I had died before any eye had seen me,
19 and were as though I had not been,
carried from the womb to the grave.
20 Are not the days of my life few?[c]
Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort[d]
21 before I go, never to return,
to the land of gloom and deep darkness,
22 the land of gloom[e] and chaos,
where light is like darkness.
Though I have not felt the pain that Job experienced here, I certainly know what it is to curse your life a little. To try to understand the rhyme or reason to it all, though I know better than to think that all things happen for a reason. This week, like I said, has been the worst week to memory. Last Sunday after church I flew to Oklahoma, a place I had not been in over 12 years, to bury my mother’s brother, my Uncle Millard, who passed at the age of 36. This trip was filled with family drama and craziness, as a family filled with grief, tried to manage planning a funeral and trying to make sure that everyone was ok. Then after my flight back I was involved in my first car accident as a driving adult, that could have been a lot worse than it was. My car Rhonda is a little worse for the wear, and I’m now having to deal with all of the grown up stuff that comes along with a three car collision. On top of that, I found out that I have arthritis in my back and neck, and for good measure, I broke my favorite glasses on Friday. Sprinkled among all of this are some other crazy things going on adjacent to my life that I have not the room in my spirit to share here, but needless to say it has been a week.
There was a moment on the side of 295 where after the police had left, and everyone had driven away, my car wouldn’t start. I had about had it in that moment. If I could have cursed my life, if I had even thought to scream to the heavens, know I would have. Instead I experienced a quiet defeatedness that escaped in the three tears I shed before I got the car finally running.
Why tell you this? I mean, this is church, a place where the happy “perfect” people come. A place with a beautiful and clean sanctuary. Where everyone is dressed up and smiling. Where everyone is just fine, and having a great week. Where the pastor, which I am not, and the professional staff are people without real lives that don’t use curse words, or know the meaning of feeling down and out because they are so full of God and the Holy Spirit they only know joy. I know you know what I’m talking about. My dad if he were here would mention a certain tv evangelist that preaches a feel good gospel and says if life has got you down, you’re focusing on the wrong things. But I’m here to tell you friends, sometimes life sucks. Sometimes it really is one thing after another. It is family drama the week of midterms with breakups and a sprained ankle. Sometimes, whether it comes out in quiet desperation or cursing the heavens, we are in stormy places, in places of profound lament. And we often think that that has no place here in church. That these emotions have no place in my christian life. In fact some of you may be very uncomfortable right now about what I’ve shared about my life…with my sharing out of a vulnerable place. But friends, this book that we learn and teach from is FULL of really sad and horrible stories (and good hopeful ones too). Our friends in this room that went to NYC this summer experienced that when they were invited to dig past the children’s church understanding of Joseph’s experience (you know Joseph, the one with the cool coat), and reach the meaty middle part where Joseph was LITERALLY sold into slavery. There is an ENTIRE book in this bible called Lamentations. There are many Psalms that are full of expressions of sorrow when the journey gets hard. Jesus himself when he heard of Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus’ passing, in the 11th chapter of John, wept with the sisters.
In our lives as Christians, we will encounter the gambit of human emotion. It is not all highs and happy endings, though there is a lot of joy. I have so much joy in my life here with you all. But living a life centered on God often means living a life sprinkled with pain as we encounter the hurt in the world, in one another, and in our lives. And this place, this church and student center, this body of believers needs to a place in which saying “I’m fine” at the end of a long week isn’t going to cut it. It is my deep hope that it is a place filled with real people, not just those “perfect” people that fill some churches on Sunday mornings. People who rejoice in the wins and the beauty of life with one another, but people who also make room for the longing and the hurting parts of our lives too. That’s why we share not only praises during Evensong on Wednesday, but also prayers. As sojourners during this time in our lives, you will need one another in those desperate times and in the happy times, and I hope that we can be, together, that place where we all to come and share real life together. Because life that is anything less than silly and messy and crazy and sometimes sad isn’t real at all. And that, dear friends, is my challenge to you. For you, as a body and individually, to show up with your authentic selves all the time. The good and the bad days, and not just to stop there but to also be present with others in the midst of their lives. Not to pity or pass judgement, but to love and listen and be present with one another.
As for Job this isn’t the end of his story. Eventually through his faithful witness, God returned to Job all he had lost two fold (though I’m not sure how God made up for lost children). Job was greatly blessed through the end of his 140 years. As with Joseph, whose story doesn’t end with his life in slavery, this bad week is not the end of my story, and if you had a bad week, day or hour, it’s not the end of yours either. Life is full of the ups and the downs, and hope and grace is available to us all.
As we prepare to come forward for communion I pray that wherever you find yourself on your journey that you would give yourself grace to feel your emotions, and that you would be your authentic self with us always. Because this meal that we are about to partake of is for us imperfect people. Us people that are sinners saved by grace that don’t always get it right. And whether in the pit or on the mountaintop we are all welcome to this meal and this community. Amen.