Freedom

Job Finishes His Defense

29 Job again took up his discourse and said:

2 “O that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me; 

3  when his lamp shone over my head, and by his light I walked through darkness; 

4 when I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent; 

5 when the Almighty was still with me, when my children were around me; 

6  when my steps were washed with milk, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!

7  When I went out to the gate of the city, when I took my seat in the square, 8  the young men saw me and withdrew, and the aged rose up and stood;

9  the nobles refrained from talking, and laid their hands on their mouths;

10  the voices of princes were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.

11  When the ear heard, it commended me, and when the eye saw, it approved;

12  because I delivered the poor who cried, and the orphan who had no helper.

13  The blessing of the wretched came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.

14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban.

15  I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame.

16  I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger.

17  I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop their prey from their teeth.

18  Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days like the phoenix;

19  my roots spread out to the waters, with the dew all night on my branches;

20  my glory was fresh with me, and my bow ever new in my hand.’

21  “They listened to me, and waited, and kept silence for my counsel.

22  After I spoke they did not speak again, and my word dropped upon them like dew.

23  They waited for me as for the rain;
    they opened their mouths as for the spring rain.

24  I smiled on them when they had no confidence;
    and the light of my countenance they did not extinguish.

25  I chose their way, and sat as chief, and I lived like a king among his troops, like one who comforts mourners.

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Oh, for the good ol’ days. If only things would get back to normal. It’s not like it used to be.

Never in our lifetimes have we missed so much the way things used to be.  What we used to take for granted is now dangerous or awkward or unavailable.  We are caught in a tornado of information and misinformation, with little guidance to bring us through this storm.  We are riding in a bus without a steering wheel and the brakes are failing.  

I could go on and on with the metaphors. But the fact is, we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has changed the parameters on nearly every aspect of our lives. 

In today’s scripture, Job is living through his own one-man pandemic.  He has lost everything but his life, which is an emotional, physical, mental torture chamber.  In Chapter 29, he is remembering how great things used to be for him.  He remembers how people respected him; he remembers the relationships he had with the members of his community. 

Job was one of the most respected people in his community, by young and old, poor and rich.  

Job’s recollection of his interaction with the community brings to mind what I’ve been studying in my seminary classes.  I’m completing a class in Ethics.  Our behavior is guided by our ethics, so studying what makes us act the way we do is fascinating. Christian Ethics has its foundation in Jesus.  Even though this story was written hundreds of years before Jesus walked among humans, Job’s way of being reflects the ideal Christian lifestyle.

In verses7-10, we learn that Job was greatly respected among the people of his community.

 7  When I went out to the gate of the city, when I took my seat in the square, 8  the young men saw me and withdrew, and the aged rose up and stood;

9  the nobles refrained from talking, and laid their hands on their mouths;

10  the voices of princes were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.

You may think that he is respected for his actions: 

When the ear heard, it commended me, and when the eye saw, it approved;

12  because I delivered the poor who cried, and the orphan who had no helper.

13  The blessing of the wretched came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.

14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban.

15  I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame.

16  I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger.

17  I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop their prey from their teeth.

  Job was not respected for WHAT he did, but for WHY he delivered the poor, why he helped the orphan and the widow, why he broke the fangs of the unrighteous.  Job did not go around helping people so that other people would praise him.  Job helped other people because those were the values, the ethics by which the entire community lived. In a culture where community, rather than individualism, was valued, Job was admired by others because they recognized the values to which they themselves subscribed.  The good life was not about individual achievement but about the good of the community.  

In my Ethics class, we learned about how Jesus embodied that sense of community in his own teachings.  And how many times have we been told, in Sunday School, in the pew, that we should be like Jesus?  And what percent of your life is the perfect model of Jesus?  I know it’s not 100%.

However, reducing Jesus to a model ignores his purpose in our lives.  We have all had plenty of role models, among our friends and families, in our communities, and in the visibility of public figures.  But none of them can help us to be better people.  Why?  Because we are sinners.  We are so easily tempted, so easily fooled into doing what is best for our own selves that we go through life doing what is expedient, what is “natural.” Unfortunately, what is natural is our sinful nature.  Certainly, we know better, but sometimes we don’t realize the better choice until after we’ve committed the sin of hurting someone, of wasting something, of pretending God doesn’t care.  

What did Jesus do that is so different? He defeated death, thereby throwing our sins into oblivion.  We are forgiven of our sins and we are freed. Now here is a concept that wasn’t presented to me very clearly or emphatically until I took this class in Ethics.  I want to share it with you because I find that it has given me an attitude shift that clarifies my attitude toward community, that clarifies what I can be if I call myself a Christian.

The theologian Martin Luther, basing his thoughts on the Gospels and the writings of Paul, expressed this new clarity in terms of freedom. Jesus’ death and resurrection has freed us from sin and freed us to love our neighbor.

We are freed from sin, through forgiveness made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we are freed from the burden of sin, from the remorse, the guilt of our sins, we are freed to love our neighbor.

The neighbor is our community.  Just as Job was motivated to care for community, so we are freed to serve our neighbor, to build our neighbor up, to help, to befriend, to provide for our neighbor.  

Notice that nothing is “deserved.” We certainty do not deserve to be forgiven of all our sins, especially when so many are committed through intention or carelessness.  Forgiveness is a gift of grace, of mercy, undeserved, but nonetheless as real as if we had purchased it ourselves.  We didn’t; Jesus purchased our salvation.  But salvation does not release us to a life of idleness or meaninglessness or selfishness. We are freed to manifest the values that ring through the Old and New Testaments.  

Deuteronomy 24:19

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.

 Micah 6: 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

    and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

    and to walk humbly with your God?

James 1:27

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

What if, in the year 2020, every person acted for the benefit of the community? What if, in the year 2020 every leader acted for the benefit of the community—not just of the benefit of a chosen community, like a political party or a ball team, but for the benefit for the community from the richest to the poorest, from the reddest to the bluest, from the most ignorant to the most curious.

As we approach our national holiday of independence, we recall our individualism, our initiative, our rebellion against oppression.  It is great fun to celebrate with red, white and blue decorations and sparklers and barbecue and rousing band performances. 

My concern is that we have embedded that independence into our own psyche as an individual victory that implies autonomy over every other individual. My Way or the Highway could be imprinted on our coins instead of In God We Trust.  “Pull yourself up by your own boot straps is a long way” from“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)

We live in a post-Christian world, even though the word “Christian” is thrown about like a badge of honor in the media.  To be Christian is not to be admired or praised for one’s beliefs or good deeds. To be a Christian is to be freed, not from a government or a prison, but to be freed to love all neighbors. All neighbors matter, we might say. In our land of the free and home of the brave, we know that not all are free, not all are brave. To those still bound by the chains of fear, we are free to minister.  In fact, Martin Luther would tells us we have a vocation, given to us at baptism, to minister to those who need what we take for granted.  That vocation is not to be ignored.

Maybe you want to argue “what about?” what about this injustice? what about that injustice?  Don’t limit your argument to the people like you. You are free, not to just to minister to the people with whom you’re comfortable. You are freed, if you claim that freedom, if you believe that Jesus has freed you, to embrace the different, the angry, the hurt, the misguided, the overwhelmed, the despairing people. You do not have to walk in protests or give money to a thousand charities or run for Congress. You can start with the 8th Commandment. In contemporary English, You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

What is false testimony?   It’s stereotyping. All protestors are looters.  All people with guns are violent.  All people with white skin are smarter.  It’s assuming that people of one group all have the same characteristics.  All black people are poor.  All white people are mean. All Jews are money-hungry. All Muslims hate Americans.  

The way this commandment is written sounds like it only applies to people we know.  That is ignoring God’s sense of community, the senes of community that Job had, the sense of community Jesus had.  Jesus did not confine his healing miracles to his own Jewish community; he healed among the Gentiles.  The apostles were not sent to spread the good news exclusively among the Jewish community; they were sent EVERYwhere.  

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

Luther’s explanation of this commandment has always fascinated me, partly because it is so easy for me to break it.  It is so easy to bad-mouth someone, to criticize someone else’s opinion or words. But my vocation, my calling is to do the opposite: defend a person when he is betrayed; speak well of her when she is slandered; explain my neighbor’s actions, based not on his reputation but on his situation. 

Maybe this is a good place to repeat that we did nothing to deserve forgiveness; let this same principle apply to how we serve our neighbor.  Our neighbor does NOT need to deserve our kindness, our helpfulness, our support. Just as we have done nothing to deserve forgiveness, so we should not minister only to those who DESERVE our love.  (Read the parable of the unforgiving debtor in Matthew18:23-25.)

Perhaps that is our biggest obstacle to serving our neighbor: finding a neighbor who deserves our help, our empathy our attention, finding the neighbor who deserves the benefit of the doubt. Are we waiting for the neighbor who will appreciate what we do, who will show “improvement” as a result of our help?   If that is what we are waiting for, we aren’t going to be able to accomplish much.   

There’s a name for ministering to the neighbor who won’t turn a feel-good profit for us: it’s called unconditional love.  The same kind of love we receive from God every second of our lives.  The same kind of love we are freed to share because we are freed from death and sin.  

This is not easy. This is graduate level Christianity.  This does not come naturally.  Only sin comes naturally.  But we are freed FROM SIN to unconditionally LOVE each member of the community of Christ, freed to act in a way that may defy common sense, free to act in a way that may rub us the wrong way, free to serve, not God, but all our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen.

Never Abandoned

Job 14:7-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

7  “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.

8  Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, 9  yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.

10  But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they?

11  As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, 12  so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep.

13  O that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

14  If mortals die, will they live again?
    All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.

15  You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands.

Job 19:23-27  

23  “O that my words were written down!
    O that they were inscribed in a book!

24  O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!

25  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26  and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27  whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

God sees. God hears. God answers. 

Our God sees us.

Our God hears us.

Our God answers us.

I saw some answers last night. I attended a Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest last night.  I was there because a brave young woman saw the injustice that is a result of racism. On her own, she planned this event, contacted the city, the police, and the park & rec director and issued invitations.  She invited her grandmother, who invited me. In fact, her grandmother suggested that I help her, since I’ve organized quite a few events over the years. So Olivia and I met, first with the city manager and the chief of police, then in my office to plan the program for the evening. 

Our speakers knew about racism first hand, because they have been the targets of racist treatment and racist remarks. Olivia and I decided that the purpose of our gathering was to educate people.  Anyone who watches the news knows that injustice is the daily diet provided to black people and other people of color. We wanted to get past the “what” of racism to the “how.” How does racist behavior happen?  

One way is that we who are white take the privileges that our whiteness affords us for granted.  If  your skin color changed overnight, even if you continued to live in the same house, the same community, you would wake up to a very different world.  

Job woke up to a very different world. Most days he woke up knowing that his sons and daughters lived down the road, that he had thousands of heads of livestock and enough servants to care for them. Most days he woke up feeling great and in good health. That changed; in only one day, his family, his livestock his servants and his health were stripped from him. He woke up to a world where he had nothing left but a wife, three loyal friends, and itchy, burning skin.

One thing that didn’t change was God.  Another thing that didn’t change was Job’s trust in God. That trust was tested. Job argued with God. But Job never denied God.

In today’s text a theme of hope emerges.  

7  “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.

A tree, given the right conditions, can regenerate.   The human body cannot. It can heal, but it cannot become a whole new thing like the sprouts from a tree stump. There is no hope for a dying human body.

Job is so far from hope that he is hoping for hope. He cannot find hope, yet he grasps for it.But hope eludes him.  He is not a tree. So the only thing he can hope for is death. His friends try to give him hope; Eliphaz offers hope as the possibility of future good.  Zophar offers hope in a different package: forgetfulness. Someday, Job will not be able to remember all this misery.  That works sometimes.  Young mothers tell each other that the pain of childbirth will be forgotten. And indeed it is forgotten; intense as it is, it is temporary.  

Job’s loss is not temporary. The future is unknown, but there is no hint of a better day. His only hope is release from that suffering through death.  

Think of our young friends who spoke last night.  They personify hope. They spoke of examples of racism well known to us, they spoke of unintentional acts, ranging from rudeness to cruelty. They were not complaining.  There was no hint of self-pity.  There was anguish. There was incredulity.  There was anger. But they were standing, not on a platform of accusations, but on a platform of hope.

Why else would they invited the whole world to gather in a public space to hear them? Why else would they expose themselves to ridicule? Why else would they face a crowd of strangers whose agenda was unknown to them?

They have hope. They have hope that those listening want to do more than discuss the news.  They have hope that those sitting on the grass and at picnic tables want to be a part of something better. They have hope that every person sitting in that park will hope with them.  

Moreover, they trust that the hope represented by that crowd of seventy people will be the renewal of something that has died and grown and died and grown over hundreds of years.  They hope that the legacy of slavery will die and that from the stump, new life will grow, will flourish. What form will that new life take? We don’t know, but we hope, we hope, that it will mean that a day is coming when ALL LIVES MATTER becomes reality. Today, SOME lives matter. Tomorrow, next week, next month, only some lives will matter. But when those of us who have no doubt of our value claim the differences between our lives and the lives of people whose humanity has been disparaged, we are stepping closer to ALL LIVES MATTER. For now, though, we need remind ourselves that we live in a world where WHITE LIVES MATTER more than other lives.  We live in a world that takes for granted that WHITE LIVES MATTER.

By Chapter 19, Job has come to understand that his grief is caused by his unending suffering, but by being unjustly treated. It is not the suffering, but the cause that is most heinous, most painful, most difficult to accept. To be abandoned by God is the ultimate agony.  To be abandoned by your brothers and sisters in Christ is no less punishing, no less demoralizing, not less crushing. We know that Job’s story is only story. In real life, in the life that God gave us, God never abandons us. To be abandoned by the brothers and sisters of God’s Son is the ultimate disgrace, the ultimate agony, the ultimate sin of human beings.

The words in Chapter 19, “For I know that my Redeemer lives,” have been appropriated, even misappropriated by Christians. Perhaps the beautiful rendition from the Messiah is floating through your head right now. When this book was written, there was no Redeemer with a capital R, no Messiah, no Jesus. So these verses do not refer to Jesus.  The word that Job uses, in the original Hebrew, would refer more likely to  the family lawyer, who would take Job’s case to court, and restore his estate and his good name.  Job’s hope is that he will be vindicated after his death, which can’t come soon enough. 

Nonetheless, those words do have meaning for us, because God has vindicated us through that same capital R Redeemer. And because we know that our Redeemer lives, we live our lives out of gratitude, not duty. We have been baptized into a lifestyle, a calling, that we cannot ignore, at least not forever.  

Seventy of us gathered last night, not for benefit of ourselves, but for the benefit of all of God’s children.  To God, all lives do matter. 

Job mattered to God. Job was possibly God’s favorite.  Job trusted God; God trusted Job enough to let The Accuser test Job.  

We are not tested by God, by the Accuser. We are tested by our own sinfulness. When we fail the test, we are not abandoned. We are rescued, saved forever, by Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of our time and all time. 

God hears us. God sees us. God answers us. May we recognize that God hears all people, sees all people, answers all people.  May God use us to be the answer to the hope that all lives matter.   Amen. 

When Grief turns to Anger –Job–

 Job 3:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Job curses the day he was born.

3 After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 

2 Job said: 3  “Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said,‘A man-child is conceived.’

4  Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it.

5  Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.

6  That night—let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months.

7  Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it.

8  Let those curse it who curse the Sea, those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan.

9  Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none;     may it not see the eyelids of the morning— 10  because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, and hide trouble from my eyes.

Job 4:1-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Eliphaz Speaks: Job must have sinned

4 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:

2  “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
    But who can keep from speaking?

3  See, you have instructed many; you have strengthened the weak hands.

4  Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.

5  But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed.

6  Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?

7  “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
    Or where were the upright cut off?

8  As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.

9  By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.

Job 7:11-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Job speaks to God.

11  “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

12  Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me?

13  When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ 14  then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15 so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body. 

16  I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath. 

17  What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
    that you set your mind on them, 18  visit them every morning,
    test them every moment?

19  Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle?

20  If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?
    Why have you made me your target?
    Why have I become a burden to you?

21  Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”

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Job and his friends have sat in silence for seven days and seven nights.  Finally Job speaks—a healthy sign. He is finally letting go of the pent-up anger inside him. His loyal friends are willing to listen to him even if God isn’t.

Have you ever noticed that nothing can be done about suffering until it is given a voice.  When your kid falls down and starts crying, you ask, “Where doe it hurt?”  When your best friend starts crying, you ask, “What’s wrong?” 

Job has had plenty of time to think about his lost livelihood, his lost family and the physical pain of burning, itching boils covering his body.

His suffering is undeserved and he knows it. Consequently, his grief turns to anger.

Friends find it difficult to accept grief when it turns to anger. Anger is a frequent natural expression of grief, yet it is often suppressed.

Different cultures grieve differently. You may remember Bible stories where grieving persons ripped their clothes. Remember Dances with Wolves and how the new widow cut herself to mourn her dead husband? Have you ever seen grieving women on the news after a bombing in Tel Aviv or Kabul—-they are making terrible noises.  It looks strange to us because that is not how we grieve.  We grieve quietly, privately.We follow the rules of grieving that we’ve learned through our communities.

Job broke the rule of grieving.  He got noisy.  

The made Eliphaz, his dear friend, uncomfortable.  

One of our temptations, when grief or anger makes us uncomfortable, is to look for the causes of the grief or anger. 

After a long speech about how Job hasn’t done anything to deserve this misery, Eliphaz says: 8  As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. In other words, Job, you must have done something wrong or you wouldn’t be in this fix.

Analyzing  the mourner’s grief isn’t helpful either. The cause is no longer important: the grief is the thing that matters.

Perhaps those who grieve most loudly and longest are the most honest; they do not deny their grief; they face it head on, honestly, without denial.

That kind of grief embarrasses us, as it did Eliphaz.  Eliphaz came up with some conventional wisdom, but it was off-target.

Eliphaz had good intentions but his speech is rooted in fear—fear of what happened to Job and fear of Job himself.  Is Eliphaz trying to encourage Job to speak or trying to silence him?

He says what he thinks Job should be saying. It’s like saying to someone beside the casket of their dead child, “It was God’s will. God needed him in heaven.” Or saying to someone with Stage 4 cancer: “God works miracles.” Those platitudes stifle the parent or the patient. The person can say nothing to refute the soft words, because they sound religious.  Unfortunately, they fall into the category of religious BS.  Such platitudes deny the reality of the grief. 

The church offers conventional wisdom, too, and it misses the target.  The every-Sunday-praise-him-from-whom-all-blessings-flow God is irrelevant to deep anger or grief.  How can “Jesus loves you” speak to the person who has suffered pain, loss, humiliation, unending poverty, unending injustice?  The conventional language, like the platitudes we hear in the receiving line, over the card game, deny the deep pain of the mourner.

Job’s language is honest.  He is not trying to make his friends feel better.  He is not trying to rationalize his way into accepting his misfortune. Job feels betrayed and he does not soften his words to spare anyone’s feelings, including God’s feelings.  

Our country is now in mourning. The deep, centuries-old grief of oppressed citizens has become anger. The fruit of slavery and its master, white privilege, has morphed from internal agony to external fury. The grief is for loss of the American dream, for loss of human dignity, for the loss to enjoy the security that white Americans have taken for granted. Those rights were lost a long time ago. The grief can no longer be repressed.

Nearly seventy years ago, Langston Hughes wrote a powerful poem about this repression.   

Harlem 

BY LANGSTON HUGHES

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

The anger we observe from the safety of our own homes is the honest expression of real-life, real-time injustice. So we shouldn’t be surprised at what we see on the news, what we read in the paper.  We know that anger manifests in a variety of ways.  We should be angry, too, because we have done little to confront or comfort this deep grief. Some of the angry people, the majority, protest peacefully. That kind of anger doesn’t scare us.  But we are scared by the anger of looters and rioters.  Looting is also an expression of anger. It is not a shopping spree; it is anger, no longer suppressed, but openly expressed. 

Job’s friends are upset by his anger. They want him to be the suave, debonair gentleman they have always known.  Job shucks that persona like  a banana peel. He never curses God, though.  Amazing. After all, he has lived his whole life thinking that God is responsible for his rich blessings.  And in Chapter One, God indirectly takes credit.  Now, the same God who has been his constant source of pleasure and joy has allowed his life to be turned inside out and stripped to the bone. He curses the day he was born. If only he hadn’t been born, he wouldn’t be in such a miserable place. He complains to God, with a good deal of sarcasm.

13  When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ 14  then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15 so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body. 

Job can’t even get any rest while he sleeps. 

16  I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath. 

17  What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
    that you set your mind on them, 18  visit them every morning,
    test them every moment?

He asks God to leave him alone. He wonders why God even pays attention to him.

19  Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle?

20  If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?
    Why have you made me your target?
    Why have I become a burden to you?

How can my sin hurt you, God? Good questions. 

21  Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”

God, when you come looking for me, you won’t be able to find me.

Job is certainly the most uncomfortable character in this story, but Eliphaz is made uncomfortable by the destruction Job has endured, by Job’s physical repulsiveness, and by his anger. 

We an identify with Eliphaz. The grief of another make us uncomfortable.  Our culture has come up with a sort of  Alka Seltzer for that discomfort. We have several options.  We can send a greeting card.  We can make a phone call. We can go to a carefully scripted visitation or funeral, where everyone acts the same, going through the line, or sitting in the pew.  It used to be that you also took a casserole or a dessert for the funeral lunch afterward, but we’ve come to depend on caterers for that.  It’s all about comfort. All the mourners, form the immediate family to the random person who comes in off the street, are made to feel comfortable.

And what does that do for those who are most hurting?   It orchestrates their grief. The visitation, the funeral, the cards are signs that the mourning time only lasts so long.  

 On the one hand, life must go on.  There remain meals to be prepared for the rest of your life, furniture to be dusted, taxes to be paid, so this time of comfort is invaluable.  As one who is mourning the death of a parent right now, I am grateful for the caring attention of my friends. It is this ritualized recognition of our grief that makes a return to normal life possible. On the other hand, we know that grief does not end. Grief changes us. Loss changes us.

Grief can lead to anger. But anger can lead to change—change for the better. That is the hope of those mourners in the parks, at the rallies, who assemble not with fear, but with hope.

We Christians have hope. At our core, this hope is Jesus Christ, our Savior.  Paul says in his epistles that we are freed from sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Martin Luther explains that freedom as “freedom from” and “freedom to.”  We are free from the bondage of sin and we are free to live out our baptismal vocation to serve our neighbors.  May we rejoice in that freedom and use our freedom to serve our neighbors. You are free to renounce any angry thoughts with words of encouragement and prayer for your neighbor.  

Luther defined the Eighth Commandment for us: We should fear and love God so that we not deceitfully belie, betray, backbite, nor slander our neighbor, but APOLOGIZE for him (or her), SPEAK WELL of him (or her), and put the most charitable construction on al that he does.  

Eliphaz tries to put the most charitable construction on Job’s situation, but he finally fails. Perhaps we can do a little better in this time of grief and mourning and anger.  Amen.

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P.S. Was Job praying?  Are the words in 7:11-21 a prayer? I know you have had moments or days like this.  Feel free to borrow Job’s angry prayer.  It is not the end of your suffering. It is the middle; it gives you permission to be completely honest about how bad you life is right now. Job didn’t think God was listening; you may think God doesn’t listen to you.  God doesn’t miss a thing. You can be honest with God.   

When Bad Things Happen Job 1: 1-22

Job and His Family

1 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. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.

Attack on Job’s Character

6 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and The Accuser also came among them. 7 The Lord said to The Accuser, “Where have you come from?” The Accuser answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 The Lord said to The Accuser, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9 Then The Accuser answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to The Accuser, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So The Accuser went out from the presence of the Lord.

Job Loses Property and Children

13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

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Human violence is not new to the world.  Natural disasters are not new to the world.  Human tragedy is not new to the world.  Humans have had cause to grieve and mourn since the beginning of time. 

It is in our nature to wonder why.  Why the storm? Why the anger? Why the disease? Why the hate? 

Harold Kushner struggled with the Book of Job when he was a theology student. Later, as a small-town rabbi, he faced similar struggles in counseling people through pain and grief.  Eventually, the grief would be his own: his son died at age thirteen. Kushner wrote a book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  The book was Kushner’s attempt to answer the question, “Where do we find the resources to cope when tragedy strikes?”  

My first reaction is to find blame. How do you react? I look for a target, someone who is the cause of the pain, the violence, the disruption in my world. Often, the target I seek is too small. I look for one easy answer and the answer is often simplistic, ignoring the complexities of the problem I want to go away.  Such is the case with our two biggest fears as citizens of the world: violence and disease.  

Furthermore, if I can’t find the cause, I offer a solution. In the cases of our current pandemic and the backlash of racial oppression I can flip it all off with the same solution: stay home.  Stay home so you can’t spread or catch the disease.  Stay home, so you can’t make me think about your grievances.

Perhaps we could learn from Job’s reaction to violence.

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.  

Most people would find a way to blame God if they had lost their livelihood and their family.  Most people would accuse God of abandoning them.  Job did not.  We more likely react in the way the Psalmist reacted in the first four verses of  Psalm 13: 

1  How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

2  How long must I bear pain in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3  Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

4  and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
    my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

Let’s first of all make sure we know what kind of story this is.  It is a made-up story, a parable, designed to teach us a lesson. At the same time, it is, like all fiction, rooted in truth.  It COULD have happened.  Parts of it COULD have happened. Like fiction, the parts the author doesn’t know for sure are created to fit the whole story.  So, the author starts with the premise that bad things happen to good people.  Like Harold Kushner, the author wants to figure out why?  Why can life be so unfair?  Is God unfair?

That is a dangerous question.  If God is unfair, if God can take away what we love, if God can cause us to contract cancer, if God can cause our children to make idiotic decisions, if God can let the climate change to our disadvantage, what’s the point in believing in God?  And trusting in God?  If God is unfair, there’s no way God can be trusted.  

Frankly, I know that there are Christians who believe God punishes them with disaster, with disease, with disorder.  That shrinks our God down to the size of each of us.  Our God is bigger than that.  Our God is so big that he loves us unconditionally.  God doesn’t need to punish us.  Punishment is not a part of God’s promise.  When we sin, God does not punish us. God forgives us, not sin by sin, not one by one, but for all sins, for all people, for all time. How? Remember that cross we hang on the wall, that we wear around our necks? That’s how. Jesus died and took out our sins forever.  

What does that mean? It means we can trust God to do what is best for us. It means that we need never fear God.  It means that we are free to walk in the world, free to be the people God created, free to bring about the Kingdom of God.

A caveat: we are not free to sin with impunity. We are still responsible for our own thoughts, our own words, our own deeds. To bring about the Kingdom gives us the ability to act and speak and think in love.  

It would be a good idea in these times to start the day with 1 Corinthians 13:  Love is patient, and so forth. But read it by substituting the word “love” with your name.  Dianne is patient; Dianne is kind; Dianne is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Dianne does not insist on her own way; Dianne is not irritable or resentful; Dianne does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Dianne bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

We can prepare for the future; we can anticipate the future; we can guess what is coming, based on prior experience.  We cannot predict our future. Our plans may become jokes, our preparations may turn into garbage. Let Job be our guide as we face an unpredictable future.

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

 The Psalmist, like Job, concludes that God is good and trustworthy.

 5  But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

6  I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Claim your faith boldly. Hold your Bible, not up in the air, but close to your heart. Keep your Bible open, on your kitchen table.  Put bookmarks between the pages, so you can find those precious passages at a moment’s notice. Read those passages to each other.  Share them on Facebook. 

We can trust God. God has done beyond the impossible. God has created us, created a world that sustains us and guaranteed that we will be with God forever, through the death and resurrection of our dear Savior.  Thanks be to God, in all times and all places. Amen.