Sunday, 08 May 2016
My Story in God's Story ~ Job
Pastor Adam explores the deep connection between love, suffering and humility.

5.8.16 My Story in God’s Story ~ Job 38:1-18

Today is mother’s day so I thought I’d talk about suffering.  I didn’t really plan this on purpose, truly.  Instead we here are going through the major stories in the Bible this year, and this week just happened to be the week we talk about Job.  So, Job and Mother’s day?  We will make it work.

And here is how this works.  Mothers and truthfully anyone who loves a child whether they are your child or not, anyone who loves a child has experienced a particular form of suffering.  And it is this:  You want so much for that child to have a great life and be good and free from pain and to stay innocent as long as possible and not get sick and have no problems whatsoever and live perfectly happy all the time.  That is the desire.  That is the love we have for children.  And then…

It doesn’t work that way.  This child, whom you love, gets hurt.  They fall.  They fail.  They make bad decisions that you can’t do anything about.  This child makes good decisions that you are proud of and other people take advantage of them.  This child of yours gets their heart broken, they get afraid, they cry, they push you, the source of love and help, away from them.  This child, whom you love, who you would take a bullet for, this child suffers and you can’t do anything about it and it tears you apart, breaks your heart, and makes you question everything.  Why should this child suffer?  Why? Why?  Why did this happen?  That is a particular form of suffering that mothers endure, that all who love a child must endure.  It is a particular form of suffering that only happens when you love.  The suffering that comes when you have to watch someone you love suffer.

You know what I mean right?  You know what it is like to watch someone you love suffer.  You have seen a child struggle, a spouse get sick, a friend lose a job, a couple get divorced, whatever, you know what it means to suffer the watching of someone else suffer.  And probably you don’t want to think about it.  This is NOT why you came to church today on Mother’s day right?  You wanted to think about spring time and roses and motherly love.

Fair enough, but today we are going to talk about suffering.   But what if I promised you that we are going to talk about suffering and it is going to be hard, but it will also be good?  What if I said, “What I’m going to tell you is not going to be easy to hear, but it will be life giving?”  Because today I want to talk with you about the story of Job.  A story that comes about in the middle of the Bible, but most scholars and historians think it was probably the first book of the Bible that was written.  This is probably the oldest scripture we have.  And I think it is amazing that the first book of the Bible written was about suffering and why do we suffer and what do we do about it.  That is how real and honest our Bible is.  It doesn’t sugar coat life.  It starts off by naming the reality of the suffering we all go through in some way in this life.

It is not a great selling point however, if you were trying to make up a religion, most of the made up religions sell you on how good life will be if you believe, how wealthy, healthy and wise you will be.  Not Christianity, we start our Bibles with the frank truth that life is hard and often quite painful.  Then we hold up as our central symbol a cross upon which our God died and felt pain and suffering.  That is where we start!  With honesty about pain and what it means to live life!  But, of course, that is not where we end.  Because while it is true that we all feel pain, we all hurt, we all struggle, we all have to watch others we love struggle.  What is also true is that we have a God who steps into our struggles our pain and even our death and transforms it into something new, and beautiful and good.

That is what we call the good news of the gospel.  The good news of Jesus Christ, what we Christians hold onto as our foundational belief, is that there is pain and trial in this world and in your life.  Of course there is!  But the good news is there is a God, his name is Jesus, who can make all things new, even the worst of things.

So today we are going to talk about suffering, we are going to talk about the story of Job, which all of us can relate to because all of us suffer.  And when we talk about suffering it is difficult, but in the end it is good.  Because God shows up and makes all things new.  Let’s pray.

Lord dear Lord above, God almighty Lord of love, please look down and see your people through.  Amen.

This past week there was another holiday.  Today is Mother’s Day, but we also saw Cinco de Mayo come and go.  I don’t know if you knew this, but last Thursday on May 5th, a group of churches and pastors gathered at City Hall for a prayer service.  I was late, I came out of Taco Hut, because it was Cinco de Mayo and I needed to eat a taco, and so there we were in the back of the crowd, listening to pastors go on and on about how prayer changes us and how revival comes to a city when we turn back to God.  And then…right when one of the pastors was talking about the need for all of us to have the attitude of Christ.  A woman walks by with her friend.  She clearly had no intention of stopping, but just as she was walking by us, she said, “I wish everyone had the attitude of Christ, then I wouldn’t feel so alone.”

I didn’t hear another word of the prayer service that was happening.

I launched into an internal conversation with God about what I was supposed to do.

To tell you the end of the story…I did nothing.  I am not proud of this ending, I am just being honest with you.  Instead what I did was analyze why she would say that.  I wondered what I should do about it.  I pondered my options and in the end I did nothing.  I decided that she was too far down the sidewalk to go after her.  What I experienced was what I heard in a sermon recently, I experienced the paralysis of analysis.  I preferred to think about what I could do for her than do anything for her.  It is the paralysis of analysis.  I’m not sure God was pleased.

Here was this woman, passing by a group of Christians who were bold enough in their faith to have a public prayer service at City Hall, but we missed the person most in need.  I missed the person most in need.  I didn’t have the attitude of Christ.  When I think about Jesus’ attitude I know he was the kind of person who said, leave behind the 99 sheep safe in the fold and go after the 1 lost sheep.  It was Jesus who said he didn’t come for the healthy but those who needed healing.  Jesus who came and proclaimed that this was the year of rejoicing for the meek, the lowly, the hurting, the oppressed, the poor, the downcast.  And that IS the attitude of Jesus when it comes to those who are suffering in our society.  He had active compassion for those around him, especially those who were hurting.  Me?  I did nothing.  She was right.  This woman who passed this Christian by, if Christians had the attitude of Christ she wouldn’t feel so alone.

And this leads me back to Job.  Because where we find Job in our story for today is Job is all alone.  Everyone has abandoned him.  All his family are gone, killed really.  His friends are done with him.  He is left all alone and he is angry, upset and crying out to God in his suffering.  And when Job is finally all alone, everything that he once had is now gone, when he has nothing at all, no wealth, no family, no friend, no home, very little health, a just a sliver of sanity left, it is then that God shows up.

And this is the point where we think God is going to come in and save the day!  Hallelujah when Job is at his lowest point, God comes in and turns everything around.  But that is not what happens is it?  God does show up, starts talking to Job, and pretty much reminds him of how insignificant his complaints really are.  God shows up and doesn’t really raise Job out of the ash heap, instead God actually lowers Job a little bit more.  God reminds Job of his place in this world.  And the reason God does this is because it is the only way Job can be restored.

Let me show you what is happening here, but before I do, remember it is going to be hard to talk about this before it gets good.

Okay.  So Job has nothing, and then God comes along to meet him and offers these very uncomforting words.  In a nutshell God says to Job, “Who do you think you are?  You are nothing compared to me.  You are smaller than an ant.  You understand so little that when you speak you sound like you are a mumbling fool even when you are using words.  You have control over nothing.  You do not make the sun rise or the darkness fall.  You need to remember that I am God and you are not, and now if you think you have anything to say, go ahead and speak.”

Talk about kickin’ a guy when he is down right?

Well yeah, except God knew, there was one more thing that needed to be taken from Job, one more thing that would make his desperation complete.  Job had to die to himself.  This is the part that is hard, this is the part that Jesus will say like this, “You need to die to yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.”  What does this mean?  It does not mean that Job has to physically die, it means he has to spiritually and emotionally remove his ego and pride.  He has to die to his self.  And this needs to happen because it is the only way the old Job will be gone and a new Job can be reborn.

Now just in case you were wondering, dying to ourselves is not something we do naturally.  Our egos, our pride, our sense of self is all about self preservation.  We will fight and scream, we will deflect and defend our egos and pride before we will let anyone, even God touch them.  Even Job, he had lost everything around him, but not his sense of self.  He still, if you read his story, was holding on to all his pride.  His sense of being righteous, his indignation that this had happened to him.  And this pride and ego that he was holding on to lead him into a place where he was all alone.

God knows what Job doesn’t: that Job needs to die to himself.  God also knows that not a one of us does this willingly.  Oh no.  We hold on to who we are, we like the feeling of ourselves being the center of our own universe.  That I have it figured out, and that I am justified in my own sight.  Our egos and pride do not go down with out a fight, and they also never get tested until we suffer.  It is then, in the midst of our suffering that God can step in and do what seems to be the most cruel thing, wipe away ourselves.  Our sense of control.  God steps in to Job’s life and humbles him.  And God does this on purpose!  God does this as a gift.  God does this so that we might actually come through on the other side of our suffering reborn.  So God steps into Job’s suffering and God’s first move is humble him.

Humility in its purest form is this:  Humility is when you know your place in the vastness of the Kingdom of God and all that God has created you know where you sit.  This is the gift that God gives to Job, that Job is only really open to when he has lost everything around him, the gift of true humility.  False humility is when someone names themselves as less than they actually are to prop themselves up as more than they actually are.  True humility comes when we know our place in the vastness of the Kingdom of God and all that God has created.

And so what is Job’s place?  It is the same as our place.  We are created by God, loved by God, but we are NOT God.  We control a very small amount of things in this universe, even with our impressive technology and scientific knowledge, not a one of us has yet figured out how to make the sun rise or set.  We are one, small, but loved part of the vast universe and cosmos that God has created and God keeps in motion.  And God cares about Job and his suffering, but God also puts Job and his suffering in perspective.  God wants Job to know that his suffering is real, but compared to everything that is happening in the cosmos and in the Kingdom God rules over, Job’s suffering is very minor.  Paul will put it this way later on in Romans 8 when he writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

And everything in me wants to scream at this thought!

This is the hard part.  The humbling part.  Because what I want to say when I am hurting, is this:  How dare you diminish my suffering.  You don’t know how I feel.  No one understands.  I know that other people hurt, but not like I’m hurting right now.  My suffering is special.  My suffering is unique, my suffering no one else really knows about and what I’m feeling and thinking right now you can’t understand.”  And that is what I want to do and say when I am hurting.  That no one can help, no one understands, don’t you dare try to help me or talk to me unless I want you to, just leave me alone and stop!  And that is one route we all can take when we are hurting.  We isolate, we push loving people away, we go within ourselves, we stop being in community, and, then, we find ourselves very alone.  This is suffering that leads to loneliness, this is where God found Job.  His suffering had left him very alone.  This is what I heard from the girl who passed by the prayer service.  She said, “I wish I wasn’t so alone.”  Whatever hurt she had in her life had isolated her from everything and everyone else.

There is, however, another way.  The other route, the difficult and sometimes screamingly infuriating route we can take when we are suffering is the humbling route.  This route says, “I am suffering, and many others have suffered before.  They do understand.  They have been through this too.  They know exactly what I am thinking and feeling right now.  My suffering, it hurts, but it is not unique.  Others have been where I am and gotten through it and I will too.  I am going to seek those others out who have been through this.”

This route, the humble route, is the route that God offers Job, and truly offers all of us.  And it leads us out of ourselves, out of our isolation, and back into a compassionate community and back into the arms of people and a God who care.  Because once we humbly understand our place that we are one person in the midst of a universe, and once we hear from God the true perspective on our suffering, that yes it hurts, but it is not unique, it is only then that we realize that maybe we are not alone.  In fact, the only way to combat the loneliness that comes from suffering is humility.  The honesty to say, “Others do suffer.  Others do know what this is like.  Others can speak to my pain and hurt.  Others will care for me until I heal.”  That humility is the only way back into life.

It is a humility that knows and is honest about how we all suffer, in one way or another.  We all hurt.  We all ask why.  We all feel the pain and anger of grief and loss.  And because of that, we all are in this together.  In fact, this humility that says I know that you hurt and I hurt too.  This humility that leads us out of our isolation and lonely places back into community and life, is lived out when we are compassionate to each other.  When we suffer with each other.

Did you know that the original meaning of compassion was co-suffering?  That is what the word compassion originally meant.  It is a way of humbly coming along side of someone who is hurting and saying, “hey I hurt too.  Maybe not right now, but I know what it means to hurt.  Let me help you while you are hurting.”  That is compassion.  It is co-suffering.  It is born out of a humility gained when we are honest about our suffering and its place in this world.

Does this sound good to you yet?  I mean, I know what would sound good is a world totally free of pain and grief and suffering.  But we live in this world and none of us are exempt.  So maybe, realistically then, this sounds good:  we let go of our ego and pride so that we walk with each other through our pain and suffering, caring, loving, listening, until we each come through on the other side and find life again.  It is a difficult but good and compassionate path we can all take together.

And when we do remember that God loves you and I love you too.  Amen.