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.

[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.

[iv] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed October 11 2018.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid. 

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