Sunday, October 28, 2018

October "Adventures"


Since moving here to Quincy in 2016, October is a month I look forward to.  Besides the beautiful colors in the changing trees, the cool nights, the fantastic fishing in our lakes and streams as the trout get fat for winter, and the smell of fireplaces in the air, it’s also when things feel like they are back in rhythm.  I’ll admit that in September after not having my regular routine during the summer, things can be a little rough.  But when October comes around, I’m back in gear. 

The period from October until January is one of the busiest times of year, as our lay leadership development team works on the leadership needs for the next year, planning for the season of Advent and Christmas is well underway, and several of us are working on reports for our annual church conference (aka Charge Conference) that will be happening sometime in November.  Even amidst the busy nature of Fall, it is always a source of joy to step outside and see God’s handiwork around us, as I always find a sense of awe and wonder during each season. 

Along with all of the activities taking place, I am particularly excited about A Blueprint for Discipleship.  As I’ve said before in past articles, discipleship is extremely important in our journey of faith, no matter where we are.  We all have to start somewhere, or as I like to put it, crawl before we can fly and we can practice our discipleship whether we’re still crawling or whether we’re already flying.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, highly encouraged the practice of being a part of small groups in order to grow as disciples by studying scripture, checking in with each other, ‘watching over another in love’ and praying over one another.  And it’s something that can happen even after we’ve concluded A Blueprint for Discipleship, as we cannot go the journey of faith alone.  We need the connection, even when life is super busy.  These small groups of ‘watching over each other in love’ can take place anywhere; at the park, the lake, the coffee shop, pub, cafĂ©, or your homes.  My weekly ‘coffice hour’ at our local coffee shops on Thursday can be one way to check in too!!  I highly encourage everyone to find a group of people in the church, and even your neighbors that you can practice this with. 

Finally, during worship this month, we will be talking about the mysterious ways that God works as we study the book of Job.  It’s not the easiest book to read or understand, yet in the book of Job, we encounter “vivid imagery, human emotion, and the mysterious nature of a God who created the entire universe.”[i]  Each week, we will discuss the following themes, although I also encourage you to read the text ahead of time and feel free to ask questions during the week:

October 7 Disoriented Job 1:1, 2:1-10 (World Communion Sunday; Special Offering for World Communion Sunday, a UMC Special Offering)
October 14 Deserted Job 23:1-9, 16-17
October 21 Silenced Job 38:1-7 (34-41)
October 28 Restored Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Let us embrace the mystery of God as we pray, study, enjoy the Fall season, and joyfully live our faith in this month to come!!

Peace & Blessings,
Rev. Andrew


[i] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 18 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Oct18_MysteryWorshipSeries.pdf.


"Mystery: Restored" - Sermon, October 28, 2018


Community UMC, Quincy
“Mystery: Restored”
Rev. Andrew Davis
October 28, 2018
Job 42: 1-6, 10-17

            On the last Sunday of every month, I often find myself wondering where the heck the month has gone, as this month has flown by like all the others have this year.  Lately, I’ve been feeling the crunch of not enough time in the day or enough days in the week.  It always seems to happen at this time of year too with preparation and putting together charge conference reports, along with the first of the big holidays on Wednesday with Halloween, Thanksgiving a few weeks away, then Christmas in less than two months.  Thankfully, the choir will be ready for Christmas, although not so sure this pastor will be.  A week ago, I was starting to wonder if donations would come in for our participation in Quincy Chamber’s Safe Trick-or-Treat along Main Street on Wednesday, but thanks to the generous donations, which are great appreciated, we will be participating and there with bells on. 
            Along with all the festivities happening around town this week and beyond, we come to the end of our series, “Mystery” and the end of the book of Job.  In some ways, this month has been the book of Job abridged, as we have been reading and hearing about how Job was tested by the ha-satan or adversary by losing everything he had, sat in deep grief with minimal clothing on an ash heap, while his three friends came along and tried consoling him, although their words were less helpful and almost mocking.  Job felt disoriented, then as he kept making his case before God, felt deserted and that God wasn’t listening, until God spoke and left Job silenced. 
As you have seen this month, Job is not an easy book to read, nor an easy book to preach on, understand, or interpret.  And it’s okay if we don’t have any neat, tidy, easy answer, and it’s okay if we have more questions about the book, as we have to wrestle a bit with this text and question of why such crummy circumstances happen to a good person like Job.  After all, Job avoided sin and evil of any kind in every way he could. 
The book of Job also touches on limits of testing, the silence of God’s presence that is still there amidst all that is happening, and how Job and his friends respond to his suffering.[i]  Until he finally accuses God of ignoring him and demands a trial, Job’s friends insisted that Job did something to make God angry, although this is where the mystery comes into play and where we sometimes have to wrestle with the text, and even wrestle with God a little bit too.  Still, amidst everything Job went through, he never gave up his faith in God and after his direct encounter with God in the whirlwind, Job is humbled and restored as we heard in the text that Janet read for us.  God didn’t give Job any neat, tidy answers like Job’s friends attempted to do, although Job now acknowledges that God works in mysterious ways, too great for any of us to understand, even today. 
Rev. Nathalie Parker explains that like Job,
There are moments in life where our sight is limited because it is gauged by the perception of our experiences. Often, we look not with our eyes, but behind our eyes. We see the world, ourselves, and one another through the sum of our experiences, and we are unable to witness the world with new, subjective eyes. Job could see justice only in terms of what he deemed was right and wrong. He judged God and himself within that small category of “righteousness.” However, the same God that allowed Job to be persecuted is the same God that restored him. “Then the Lord changed Job’s fortune when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord doubled all Job’s earlier possessions” (10).[ii]

            It’s like this last week, we see suffering happening in our world and some of us may even be dealing with suffering in one way or another, or even struggling in one way or another and yearning to be restored.  Or, some of us may even be blind to seeing others’ suffering, in which we need a change of perspective.  Just like Job, we may be asking why we or our friends, or family are going through something difficult, whether it’s a physical ailment, losing a loved one, why family situations must be so difficult, and so on.  Job can be any of us. 
As I’ve shared before and maybe ad-nauseum, there have been times I’ve asked God why things happen the way they happen, only to hear silence.  I’ll often ask God why our world is so divided, why people harbor so much hatred, why there are shootings and violence with yet another mass shooting a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.   Even when I decided to walk away from the faith for a time, I would ask God why people who call themselves Christian act anything.  Even amidst asking God, I did not get any easy answers, but had to learn to chance my perspective.  I had to learn that we have choice and our choices have consequences.  I had to learn that people are broken or hurting in their own different ways, in which it’s been said that people who are difficult are usually deeply hurting.  Even with a changed perspective, I’ll admit that I still want an easy answer, just like Job’s friends try to offer him.  At the same time, the worldview that Job and his friends held onto, the mechanistic worldview which correlates faith with well-being, “cannot explain the human condition of God’s way in the world,” which in turn challenges us and our assumptions about how God works in the world, even when it comes to humanity.[iii]
            As Job is restored, he is changed as a result of everything he went through, in which he is humble, and accepts the fact that he’s not going to get an easy answer from God in the midst of what he’s gone through.  The use of repent in this case, according to Hebrew Bible scholar W. Dennis Tucker is a changing of his mind, particularly as it pertains to the human condition and God’s way in the world.[iv] I know after walking away from God, God never left me and Job realizes that God never left him, even amidst feeling deserted and disoriented.  W. Dennis Tucker further explains that as Job is restored, he “fears God without any assurance of a subsequent blessing.
Understood this way, the restoration of Job reflects God’s faithfulness to those who fear him. Job does not fear God to receive a reward, but in fearing God, Job discovers the faithfulness of God.”[v] Just like seeing his life restored, along with his property, animals, having new children and grandchildren, and seeing life restored back to how it is, God’s grace works a lot like that, as it’s a gift we do not ask for and Job did not ask God to restore all his stuff for him.  It’s how we respond in faith, and Job did not give up his faith and did not curse God. 
            I do tread with some caution with this ending, though.  While Job saw everything restored twofold, we need to be careful about expecting similar.  I believe that faith does help us along the way and can help sustain us through many situations in life.   When we talk about restoration in the case of the ending of Job, and perhaps in our own lives,
Restoration in this text is not referring to the external or the temporal understanding of material means, but it is translated as the state of being full, abounding, and being content. Ultimately, Job illustrates that in spite of our personal pain and hurt, when we cannot change our situation, we can change our perspective. Although, we may not fully understand the mind of God, the right thing to do is to trust that God is within us and will never fail. Moreover, God is present in that small voice saying “Go my child, go. You can do this!”[vi]

When we don’t allow God help us change our perspectives or assumptions, we wind up frustrated, empty, disappointed, hurt, and discontent, especially when we ask God for material means.  Just like not getting what we want for Christmas or our birthday, God is not a ‘cosmic Santa Claus’ or “divine vending machine [in which] we slip in a prayer and out pops a miracle.”[vii]  The reason I say this is because when something doesn’t work out because of an assumption we may have about God’s ways or even prayer, we are left feeling disappointed or even angry with God, even though God is big enough to handle our anger and disappointment. 
During our Lenten study, Gifts of the Dark Wood, the author, Rev. Eric Elnes tells how he has counseled various people in his office who have taken the perpetual ‘leap of faith’ who felt “hurt and betrayed by God or the universe, vowing never to listen to the divine again” when things didn’t work out.[viii]  Suffering and extended periods of pain, or situations that lead people to feel hopeless after a while can have a similar effect.  While I don’t like suffering in any way and don’t like seeing others suffer, Rev. Adam Hamilton explains in his book, Why? Making Sense of the Will of God that “the sweeping message of the Bible is not a promise that those who believe and do good will not suffer.  Instead, the Bible is largely a book about people who refused to let go of their faith in the face of suffering.”[ix] I know people who have had their most profound experiences with God in the midst of suffering, or I think back to Pope John Paul II, who still ministered amidst suffering towards the end of his life, or Jesus’s own suffering for the sake of humanity. 
Furthermore, “it is easy to understand why so many people have turned away from God when they have been taught that every disappointment, every tragedy, every loss, and every painful experience was the will of God,” even though there is still that mystery to consider.[x] 
Even when we feel alone and in times of difficulty or suffering, God hasn’t left us, even though God may be silent at times or we may feel distant from God.  We need to hang onto our faith and trust God, even in the midst of such.  Our pain, our suffering, our grief, or the disappointments of life are not the end of the story just as Job’s wasn’t the end of the story for him.  Job’s faith led him to change his perspective and experience God’s grace in a profound way, leading to restoration and in the Gospels, Jesus’s death was not the end of the story either, as he rose from the grave three days later. 
As Job embraced and wrestled with the mystery of God, he
discovered his sight was limited, he shifted his expectations as well. Job, although the recipient of God’s blessings, was never fully in control of his health, his children, his wealth, or even with his relationships. God’s hand is at work in our lives, and it is up to each of us as disciples of Jesus Christ, to be obedient to God’s will. How does it feel to rely on things you cannot see? Why do we feel lost when we cannot secure our own lives? How ironic it is that the moment Job stops trying to figure God out and prays is the moment he is restored by God?[xi]
           
            And so, we leave the book of Job, embracing the mystery, or still wrestling with the mystery.  We may not have the neat, tidy, or easy answers that we might want as to how God works or God’s will, yet we have our faith and it’s up to each of us to act in faith and trust God, even when we feel disoriented, deserted, or silenced, as restoration is possible and hope is possible.  Restoration may not look like owning that fancy home, having a billion dollars, or fancy sports car, but instead, can be a sense of peace, a sense of wholeness, a new sense of hope.  Don’t give up your faith and keep trusting God, even when it feels like things can’t get any worse.  It’s a mystery how God works, but God’s mysterious ways are not always for us to know, only to trust and respond in faith. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!! 


[i] Ibid.

[ii] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed October 27 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Oct18_MysteryWorshipSeries.pdf.

[iii] "Commentary On Job 42:1-6, 10-17 By W. Dennis Tucker, Jr.". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed October 27 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3807.

[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid. 

[vi] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed October 27 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Oct18_MysteryWorshipSeries.pdf.

[vii] Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Will of God (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011), 52
[viii] Eric. Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics and Other Wanderers (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 72
[ix] Hamilton, 4
[x] Ibid., 9

[xi] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed October 27 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Oct18_MysteryWorshipSeries.pdf.



Thursday, October 25, 2018

"Mystery: Silenced" - Sermon, 10/21/2018


Have you ever been in a time or place when you have been left totally speechless?  Perhaps you saw something in nature, something on the news, something happen in front of you in which you just don’t know what to say?  Being someone who loves to talk for the most part, it takes a lot to render me speechless (much to a few folks’ relief when I am), although if you get me out in nature, I’ll often see something in which I am overcome and don’t know what to say, except maybe ‘thank you, God’ or the words of Chris Rice’s song, “Hallelujahs” come to mind, especially the refrain that goes              
O praise Him all His mighty works
There is no language where you can't be heard
Your song goes out to all the Earth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah![i]

            I reflect back to last month’s series, “A Season of Creation” in which I find something in God’s creations around that will leave me silenced, especially when I see how small we are as human beings compared to God’s creation and the cosmos. 
            As we are in the third week of our series, “Mystery,” much of how God works or how we think God works, much like the way that God creates is a mystery, even when the mystery leads to a gazillion more questions that won’t necessarily have easy answers.  Although the mystery of God is in no way easy to embrace, especially in Job’s case because of the suffering he has endured, even when Job did nothing in his eyes to warrant such suffering.  While we have been working through the book of Job, Job has been enduring great loss, grief, suffering, tests by Satan, and platitudes by his friends, which all come to a head in this morning’s reading from chapter 38, as we hear God speak.  While there is a round-robin between Job and his friends in chapters 4-17, Job uses language of the court and asks God for a trial, as Job insists he is innocent and did nothing to deserve the suffering that his friends Eiphaz, Bildad, and Zophar insist he has.  Meanwhile, another character, Elihu comes into the picture and calls Job and his friends out, with Job being called out for being self-righteous and justifying himself instead of God (Job 33, 35) and calls Job’s friends out for their well-meaning, yet unhelpful words (Job 34). 
Amidst Job’s woe-is-me attitude, a good part of the book is the dialogue between him and his friends, with Job ultimately blaming God for all the suffering as he feels disoriented and deserted.  As Job rests his case and his defense and after Elihu calls Job and his friends out, God breaks the silence and speaks in a big way, leaving Job and everyone present silenced.  In many of the Hebrew Bible accounts of direct encounter with God, or theophany as it’s called in ‘stained glass language,’ God speaks in a way that would make anyone pay attention and left in awe, fear, and silence.  When God speaks to Job, God speaks through the thunder, the whirlwind, and the storm just like God spoke to Moses and Elijah respectively.  Instead of consoling Job and reassuring Job, we get a pretty ticked off God, telling Job and his friends to “gird up your loins like a man,” in other words saying ‘buckle up, as you’re in for a rude awakening,’ as God asks Job and his friends a series of rhetorical questions, asking them starting with, “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38: 4) and other forceful questions that we heard when Emily read this morning’s passage for us. 
            As we’ve been pondering God’s mystery, many of us, myself included, struggle with reading the book of Job because it challenges our assumption about how God works or how we think God is supposes to work.  We are challenged because we have been taught that we worship a loving, compassionate God, yet I feel like we get this image of an angry, vengeful God in the book of Job, an image that oftentimes comes up in the Hebrew Bible.  Although we as followers of Christ know God as this mysterious, loving force, this is not the view of God we get in parts of the Hebrew Bible and must own up to it, especially when people come to us with questions which is the mystery of how God works. 
Likewise, this morning’s passage speaks about the power of God and God’s majesty, which Elihu will praise in chapter 36.  God’s reply actually reminds me of the character of family patriarch, Ward Cleaver from the 1950’s sitcom, “Leave it to Beaver,” as Ward Cleaver loved his sons, Wally and Theodore, aka “The Beaver,” yet was also stern, and while I do not believe that God goes out to punish us with destruction and such, I do believe God can be stern and as I’ve encountered in my own journey, God does say no here and there. 
At the same time, God’s reply reminds me of the time in the wilderness in Exodus when Israel was in the desert for forty years and reminded me a lot of children on a long car trip who constantly ask, “are we there yet?”      Unlike the language of the court that we get from Job throughout the book during his defense, we get vivid imagery, particularly in God’s creation and of the cosmos in God’s response to Job, which leaves Job silent.  As Hebrew Bible scholar, W. Dennis Tucker explains, “the rhetorical questions regarding nature are not intended as punitive, but instead as educative.  After all, Job is a wisdom book meant for instruction” as he is “asked to gird up his loins to do the hard work of reorienting his view of God and the world under God’s care.”[ii] I think hearing such words out of God, much less experiencing God in the whirlwind is enough to leave anyone silenced and in awe or even fear of God or the power of God.  At the same time, in the instances where God might say no or leave us silenced is used as an opportunity to show us something, even if it’s like a stern, yet loving father like Ward Cleaver showing tough love here and there. 
            At the same time, it’s still a struggle wrapping our minds around how a loving God could allow the suffering that Job experiences or Job’s loss, or even destruction to happen, as the term we use for this is theodicy, asking why bad things happen to good people.  It reinforces the mystery of God too, which may leave us in silence to ponder.  In the moments when Job feels disoriented, then feels deserted by God, God is now there and there in a big way.  As I shared last week, I sometimes question why I’m doing what I’m doing, only to get a reminder from God, although in a more subtle way, such as seeing the Milky Way Galaxy swirled in among the stars, which appear so much more vividly here than in the Valley, or when I see our town against the backdrop of Claremont Ridge, which leaves me silent for a time.  On Friday, when I was driving through Indian Valley and seeing all the Fall colors on the hillside and cattle grazing in the field, received yet another one of those reminders. 
As God goes on this lengthy speech to Job and his friends, God is giving a detailed outline of how God works, in which “we see an image of God that is meticulous about the details and precise in design of the cosmos, for the heavens, and even humanity.”[iii]  Essentially, we’re getting a better understanding of never underestimating the power of God, even in the moments when we feel disoriented or deserted.  Struggle is a part of life we will deal with at one time or another, and there will be times that we will feel disoriented and distant from God, just as Job has.  There will even be times we might get mad at God from time to time, yet there will be moments when we will see that God is there, even when we are silent.  ---
The late theologian Henri Nouwen in his book, With Open Hands tells of a student who was contemplating what silence means and while this is a long quote, silence can be powerful, especially when we take some time to be silent and listen for God’s voice, even if it may take a while to hear or understand:
                        Silence is night
                        And just as there are nights
                        With no moon and no stars
                        When you’re all alone
                        Totally alone
                        When you’re cursed
                        When you become a nothing
                        Which no one needs –
                        So too are there silences
                        Which are threatening
                        Because there is nothing except the silence.
                        Even if you open your ears
                        And your eyes
                        It keeps going on
                        Without hope or relief.
                        Night with no light, no hope
                        I am alone
                        In my guilt
                        Without forgiveness
                        Without love.
                        Then, desperately, I go looking for friends
                        Then I walk the streets searching for a body
                        A sign
                        A sound
                        Finding nothing.
                        But there are also nights
                        With stars
                        With a full moon
                        With the light from a house in the distance
                        And silences which are peaceful and reflective
                        The noise of a sparrow
                        In a large empty church
                        When my heart wants to sing out with joy
                        When I feel that I’m not alone
                        When I’m expecting friends
                        Or remember a couple words
                        From a poem I read lately
                        When I lose myself in a Hail Mary
                        Or the somber voice of a Psalm when I am me
                        And you are you
                        When we aren’t afraid of each other
                        When we leave all talk to the angel
                        Who brought us the silence
                        And peace.[iv]

            Sometimes, the magnitude of God, the power and majesty of God is enough to silence us, just like it has with Job when God speaks from the whirlwind.[v] So anytime you may feel a nudge, or see some kind of a sign that leaves you in awe or in silence, I encourage you to pay attention, pay attention to how God may be speaking to you, even in the midst of struggles, disorientation, because as I said last week, our struggles, our pain, our grief is not the end of the story.  There is hope possible and while Job hears from God in a big way, “God’s presence is undeniable, meaningful, profound.”[vi] As we will see next week, things will return to Job, as Job will be restored, and a little more humble, restored to righteousness even amidst all that he endured.  As Rev. Nathalie Parker concludes,

It is refreshing to know that in spite of all that Job experienced and all the pain he endured, he is not too proud to be silenced.  Job is silenced by the images of the morning stars and heavenly beings rejoicing in God’s glory.  Job is silenced by God’s grace that is uniquely woven into the tapestry of all God’s creation.  Job is silenced by God’s wisdom, knowledge, and love that is unexplainable and uncontainable.  Job is silenced as God reveals the unlimited ability to be present in all things.[vii] 

            Even if we may not get easy, or neat tidy answers, even if we have to ask more questions about how God works or when we consider the mystery of God, God always shows up at some point.  God speaks, whether it’s through another person, a soft whisper in the night, or through the non-human creations we get to see around us, it is important to keep the faith.  While Job might have had questions for God, even blaming God at one time for his suffering, it wasn’t the end of the story.  Job didn’t lose hope, and we should not either, even when we feel disoriented and deserted.  When we have the opportunity to embrace the silence, sometimes God will show up in a way that may leave us in awe, or silenced.  As we begin a new week, how are you listening for the voice of God, or how have you heard the voice of God that has left you silent or in awe? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, AMEN!!   


[i] "Chris Rice – Hallelujahs". 2018. Genius. Accessed October 18 2018. https://genius.com/Chris-rice-hallelujahs-lyrics.

[ii] W. Dennis Tucker, “Commentary on Job 38: 1-7, [38-41]” in Working Preacher, accessed 18, October 2018, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3798
[iii] Nathalie Nelson Parker, “Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost 2018 – Preaching Notes” in Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, accessed 18, October 2018, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/october-2018-post-pentecost-worship-planning-series/october 21-twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b/twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost-2018-preaching-notes
[iv] Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Open Hands (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1995), 23-26.
[v] Nathalie Nelson Parker, “Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost 2018 – Preaching Notes”
[vi] Ibid. 
[vii] Ibid. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Mystery: Deserted" - Sermon, October 14, 2018


Community UMC, Quincy
“Mystery: Deserted”
Rev. Andrew Davis
October 14, 2018
Psalm 22
Job 23: 1-7, 16-17

        As we continue our series on the mystery of God and working through sections of the book of Job, I came across this reflection by Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes from Unfolding Light called “Angry at God” during one of my morning devotions that I would like to share with you this morning:
How could God let terrible things happen?
OK, get it out. Say it.
God, you're a failure.

God can take it.
They've heard worse.

Now, what do you mean “let things happen?”
Should there be no suffering? No mistakes? No freedom?
Should God control every little thing?
No? Only the ones you choose?
Or by some obscure formula?
Only if you're good enough, or pray right?
Please, don't go there.

Stuff happens. Germs happen. Earthquakes happen.
Evil happens. People who hurt do awful things.

You know, don't you, God does do something about that.
God has sent you to heal, to do justice.

But who do you think God is anyway? Some guy?
God is not a person. God is Love.
Not just a loving person, but Love Itself.
The Divine Energy, the Heart of All Things,
not some guy at a control panel.
Love manipulates nothing but changes everything.
Love is the gravity, the light, the Oneness,
the air in which everything unfolds.
Even loss. Even evil.
Your very anger at God is God, loving, longing.

When you look and can't find God
you're looking for a guy.
Stop. Look for Love.
Love isn't “somewhere.” Love is,
weeping, singing, pouring forth in the darkness.
Let even your rage be love.
Let go of complaining about the darkness,
and let the light pour.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve[i]
As I’ve been reflecting on our readings in the book of Job, I realize that we are hitting on some really heavy stuff that happens along our faith journey, as our faith journey is seldomly this straight, perfect line that we idealize.  Recently, I saw this picture on Facebook that has a bridge over a waterway that looks straight and perfect saying ‘how I want to see life,’ while a contrasting picture has a waterway filled with obstacles and a less than perfect path, saying ‘the reality of what life looks like.’ So often, we get this notion of perfection, along with the yearning for neat, tidy answers to everything, and perhaps certainty as well.  Except in reality, it doesn’t usually work that way, especially when we consider the mysterious ways that God works vs. our assumptions about how God works/is supposed to work.  Nevertheless, struggle is a natural part of our faith journey and things do happen without explanation, such as what is happening with Job.
When we began our series last week, we met Job, a righteous man who avoided sin and evil in every way possible.  So, you’d think that Job would have everything good in his life because of that?  Not quite, as Job suddenly finds himself being tested by Satan, as God and Satan engage in this cosmic battle of wits with Job caught in the middle and God asking Satan, “have you considered my servant Job?” in the first couple chapters.  As explained last week, the Hebrew word for Satan, ha-Satan, means ‘the adversary,’  in which the ha-Satan in this context is an adversary to both God and Job.  The ha-Satan wants to test Job’s righteousness, so Job is almost on trial, with the ha-Satan functioning as the district attorney in this particular context.  Amidst this cosmic battle of good and evil that is playing out, goodness and justice will ultimately win in the end, although it may not happen right away.  So, if this seems like a lot of doom and gloom right now, don’t worry, there is hope. 
Likewise, the readings we get to hear this month are not in one, neat, tidy bundle, but spread out, so we do skip over large portions of the book of Job, meaning there is a little bit more to unpack to get to where we are at, although as I said last week, I highly encourage everyone to read the book of Job in its entirety and feel free to ask questions during the week too.  To backtrack a little, in the first chapter, Job loses everything he owned, and all ten of his children.  In the second chapter, Job is inflicted with irritating sores as he sits naked on an ash heap and grieves his losses. In light of all that is happening to Job, he refuses to curse God and continues to turn from evil and sin, even though his wife tells him to “curse God and die” (Job 2: 9, CEB). Meanwhile, Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar show up and sit with Job in silence for seven days, although throughout chapters 4-27, we get an extended dialogue between Job and his friends.  In a case of how not to do pastoral care, Job’s friends more or less say that Job did something to tick God off, or as Eliphaz implies in the passage right before this morning’s reading, maybe Job is really wicked in some way and being punished by God, even though Job really didn’t do anything to cause his suffering. 
        Like Job, there are times in our own lives that along with feeling disoriented because of something that happened, there are times when it feels like we have been deserted, or where we feel distant from God.  It doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us in such times, although sometimes God’s silence can be disorienting.  Last week, we heard a term called theodicy, which essentially asks ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’  Whenever any of us experiences a sudden loss, whether it’s a loved one, a job, a relationship, a marriage, a troubling medical diagnosis, or when things feel hopeless, it’s easy to feel like Job; deserted and abandoned, even when God is still there or silent.  In his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner
Argues that God is not finished creating.  There are pockets of chaos to overcome that cause the innocent to suffer.  Job’s friends also attempted to provide reasons for his suffering, [mostly] for Job’s sake.  In reality, they wanted to protect themselves against the terror of unjustified suffering.  They argued the traditional worldview of Wisdom literature: Job had done something to deserve his suffering.[ii]

It’s what’s called a “mechanistic world view,” which Job will reinforce throughout the dialogue, he continues insisting that he is innocent if God will hear him out.[iii]  Last week, we touched on the assumption of the correlation of faithfulness and well-being as seen in the other wisdom texts of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, which is significantly challenged in the Book of Job given what Job is experiencing. 
Our reading this morning speaks to how like Job, we too may feel deserted in the bad times, especially in times of deep grief or in situations that leave us feeling distant from God.  I know in times of struggle in my own life, I’ve felt distant from God, maybe even deserted and have heard the same thing come up in conversations with people.  Then out of the blue, I get a reminder that God’s still there in a mysterious way.  During seminary and even as a pastor, there have been and still are times when I ask God why I’m doing what I’m doing, only to get a reminder from God.  Especially in those moments of feeling deserted, the words of lament from Psalm 22, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” come to mind and comes to mind when thinking about what Job is experiencing, and even our own times of struggle and difficulty.  Despite having time to praise God, there is the need for a space to lament as well; a space to cry to God, give God our anger, give God our fear, our grief.  God is big enough to handle it, as God is still there and goodness and light will ultimately return, even when things look dark, and even if it doesn’t happen in our lifetime. 
Amids all that was happening to Job, he still firmly believed in God’s justice, even when he felt deserted, and asks God for a trial.  As Rev. Nathalie Parker explains,

Job enlists the language of the court to argue his innocence before God as a way to defend his honor. He begins with a bitter complaint against a God who has given him a “heavy hand” (Job 23:1). He struggles internally, regarding if God is listening, present, or even concerned with his “argument” or “case” (Job 23:4-6). Job states, “There those who do the right thing can argue with him; I could escape from my judge forever.” (Job 23:7).  Job seeks God’s relief to uphold justice. However, the text implies that God does not govern the world with justice, because Job—in his innocence— still suffers. Job feels utterly deserted. He seeks to “discover” God in the east and the west; he looks in the north and the south and concludes, “I don’t see [Him]” (Job 23:8-9).[iv]

Job still searches for God, as God’s silence is a mystery, although will ultimately answer and speak to Job. 
Like Job, “no one is exempt from feeling isolated or deserted. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to transform this dark world with the light of Christ. However, it is human nature to feel forsaken when we lack support and encouragement.”[v] In the 1960’s during the Civil Rights Movement, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in a letter from jail in Birmingham that “there comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.” While striving for justice and goodness can be tiring and in the moments we may feel deserted and empty, or in the moments we may feel angry at God, always remember that it’s not the end of the story. 
While this week’s lesson leaves Job feeling deserted, he won’t be deserted for long.  Like Job, there will come a time when we encounter a time of suffering, a time of hopelessness, may grieve for what feels like eternity, as it’s not the end of the story.  That’s not the end of hope, because we CAN have a sense of hope in the midst of hope feeling like a fleeting fantasy.  Despite all that Job has to put up with in his suffering, his friends’ platitudes, feeling like he’s been deserted by God, and in his disorientation, Rev. Nathalie Parker writes that

Job maintains hope. Even though Job cannot see God, God is mindful of Job. Hope is an assurance in God, even when God’s justice is elusive and God’s presence is a mystery. Hope in this sense is not just a belief or an expectation. Hope is something that we live for, strife for, and long for, not just for ourselves, but for others as well. Job hopes for justice and hopes for God, even when he cannot exclusively see God and justice in his current state.

 

There will be moments when justice seems to be alluded by divine indifference. During the times we feel deserted, let us hold fast to hope. Because though we cannot see, God is present in our hope; and justice will eventually be attained.[vi]  


        When we’re being put to the test, or when the world feels like a perpetual dumpster fire, the good news is that God is still present, even when we can’t see God or in the times we feel deserted and disoriented, as God hasn’t left us.  God will eventually speak, and goodness will eventually win, although we don’t know how long.  It may take days, months, or years, but we can find hope again when we trust God.  We can still shout to God, give God our pain, our anger, as God can take it because God is so much bigger than all of us, just as Job is showing us.  AS followers of Christ, we are a resurrection people, and we are called to be the light in the darkness of those who are in the midst of darkness.  How are you going to be light this week?  How are you going to encourage those in your midst who are in the midst of difficulty to hold on to hope?  How will we continue to embrace to mystery of God this week and beyond?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!! 


[i] "Angry At God". 2018. Unfolding Light. Accessed October 9 2018. https://www.unfoldinglight.net/reflections/zraates8aze8c8tppyx3mzb5sxbar4.

[ii] Qtd. In Michael Koppel and Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, Grounded in the Living Word: The Old Testament and Pastoral Care Practices (Grad Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 127

[iii] "Commentary On Job 23:1-9, 16-17 By W. Dennis Tucker, Jr.". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed October 11 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3793.

[iv] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed October 11 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Oct18_MysteryWorshipSeries.pdf.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid. 

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