Note - I am grateful to Journey with Jesus and enfleshed for the lectionary resources upon which I drew heavily for this week's sermon!
Scripture - Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
42Then Job answered the Lord: 2“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ 5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Don’t read this: 7After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” 9So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
10And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17And Job died, old and full of days.
So this is the part of Job I don’t like. I remember a class in seminary where we had to take a look at this passage and argue whether the ending was a good one or a problematic one. On the one hand, Job’s fortunes are restored, he goes on to have more children -it’s a happy ending. On the other hand, do new children ever replace the ones that were lost? Why does his restoration come after his acknowledgment of humility? Did God really think Job was going to forget his suffering? What do we do with it?
Debie Thomas: “I think we’re meant to engage it, talk back to it, question it, lament it. As with the rest of the Bible, we’re invited to approach Job’s story honestly, trusting that God’s Word doesn’t need our pious shielding.”
So let’s dive in.
Last week we mentioned how a lot of times the book of Job is framed as a book that explores the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” It’s written like a fairytale; Job is not a real person here, but rather a hypothetical scenario meant to explore a principle - as Min. Candace Simpson puts it, “once upon a time there was a man whose story is going to reveal something about the human condition and our concept of God.”
But back to Job - one of the points that the author makes is that Job was a wealthy man. The author even goes so far as to enumerate some of that wealth in terms of livestock and land and servants. So when Job loses that wealth, it’s not like he was an administrative assistant or like a cashier at the grocery store who loses their job. He was more like a Wall Street executive who loses everything when the market crashes - and much like happened in the days following the stock market crash of 2008 when banks were deemed to big to fail and we watched as Wall Street was restored, Job here at the end regains everything again and more than what was lost.
It raises uncomfortable questions, right? What happens for those who don’t have safety nets around them when their suffering hits? The unexpected diagnosis? The lost job? The unjust firing? The eviction? What happens if what others have lost don’t get “restored” in the way that is hoped or longed for? Or - what happens when there is such incredible social, political, spiritual even pressure to “get over” our suffering as quickly as possible and get back to “normal” living.
I was listening on Friday afternoon and NPR's Sarah McCammon talked with Patricia Oliver on All Things Considered. Patricia Oliver is the mother of Joaquin Oliver, a 17 year old who was killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla in 2018. The gunman pled guilty this past Wednesday. During the interview, Patricia talked about the wonderful healing work that had occured for her through a non-profit that she and her husband started called Change the Ref to bring awareness to the impact of gun violence through art. And yet - as Patricia was asked about the upcoming sentencing, she talked about the daily absence and suffering she and her husband experienced not physically having their son with them - and that no law or no punishment would ever fill that absence.
Nelba Marquez-Greene, a mother who also lost a daughter to gun violence at the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, and who is also a therapist specializing in grief, loss, and trauma, writes: “We are not good at sitting in the suffering of people, especially when there is no resolution for example in gun violence and other tragic losses.”
In the face of deep suffering - even when things look normal again, even after and in the midst of healing - the suffering still exists. The loss and its impact will never go away. The truth of the matter is - even though Job is this wealthy man who has so much more restored to him than what he lost - he still lost and suffered. The replacement of his wealth, the birth of additional children, does not negate the suffering he experienced; Job will carry that experience with him for the rest of his life.
Perhaps, in this way, the ending is meant to sound ridiculous - like everyone knows that life actually doesn’t turn out this way, despite our very human desire to have a nice, happy, rainbow ending at the end of every difficult stormy period in our lives. Perhaps the author of Job writes this ending to provoke this reaction in us. The ending is not prescriptive of the human condition; we’re not meant to take our suffering before God in humility so that God can bless us and restore us beyond our wildest imaginings because we know that this is not how life works.
Perhaps, then, the ending reveals how futile it is to have this desire...and invites us to reflect on why it is we want that so much -- and what, instead, can God do about it? And what, instead, can we do about it?
I think, instead, about resurrection - resurrection as something wholly different than restoration. We think of restoration as getting back to normal - something that was broken is now whole. Something that was missing a piece -- that piece has been found. Resurrection is something different entirely. We look at Jesus and we look at his resurrected body, a body transformed by God, raised to new life -- and yet he still had the physical evidence of his crucifixion scars. Restoration would have erased the evidence of those scars - brought him back to “normal.” Resurrection instead takes those scars and enfolds them into part of a larger story.
Suffering, pain, loss, trauma, grief - they stay with us, even as we heal. Those who have lost a loved one know this. Those who have worked through traumatic experiences know that these things never go away. They are embodied - the spiritual and emotional trauma I went through this summer lives in my body as well as in my memory.
Resurrection doesn’t erase the past - but makes a way forward that honors the suffering and hardship that we carry and enables us to bear them with resilience and hope - and in this we witness to a God that redeems, that brings forth life out of dead and barren places, that transforms the scars into a witness of something greater than we can ever fully articulate. Resurrection is a gift if we are open to receiving it.
And I have to wonder - and perhaps the author of Job wanted readers to think about this too - is...what does life look like on the other end of deep suffering? What if we are invited to live again - and what if we take that invitation? Ellen Davis, author of Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, writes, “This book is not about justifying God’s actions; it is about Job’s transformation. It is useless to ask how much (or how little) it costs God to give more children. The real question is how much it costs Job to become a father again. How can he open himself again to the terrible vulnerability of loving those whom he cannot protect against suffering and untimely death?”
We see a Job, at the end, fully engaged with the present, though I am sure he carried the wounds of his suffering with him to the end of his days. Job chooses life. Courage. Love. Generosity - the bible specifically mentions that he gave his daughters an inheritance - a right normally reserved for sons.
What does choosing life look like when suffering has so long endured? What does choosing life look like for those for whom suffering is a constant companion?
Debie Thomas ends her reflection on this passage with these words, and I thought what she says is a helpful reminder - I know it has been a source of comfort for me this week, as this week, the pain and wounding of Annual Conference was a close companion. I hope it is a helpful reminder and a source of comfort for you as well. She writes this:
“This is the choice that lies before us, too. When suffering comes, when loss shatters our belief in a predictable world and a “safe” God, what will we do? Will we opt out? Will we close our hearts around our wounds and never risk life again? Or will we participate in the lavish, unbounded love of God, who adores a created cosmos that includes contingency, chaos, destruction, and disorder? We are free to choose — just as God is. We are free to risk our hearts or not — just as God is. Can we love what we do not control?
Job is a remarkable book. A difficult book. A book to struggle with. What I’ve found in these last few weeks of wrestling with this timeless story is that God meets me in my resistance and doubt, just as much as God meets me in my trust and surrender. The Spirit is more than equal to everything I bring to the pages of scripture, because my wrestling is always in the arms of God — and so is yours.”
May we know that in all things - times of struggle and challenge, times of suffering and hardship, times of faith and abundance - that we are all held and carried by the God who knows and loves and carries us and all of creation - that the suffering of one is the suffering of all - and that we are bound together with our creator as we move toward a world of hope, flourishing, and resurrection for each one. Amen.
Scripture - Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
34“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? 35Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? 36Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? 37Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, 38when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? 39“Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? 41Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?
There was an image I saw this week on Facebook - it was something that someone had shared on Twitter a couple years ago. If you don’t know anything about Twitter, here’s a quick run down - if Facebook is where people tend to share pics of their kids and grandkids, interesting articles, etc - Twitter is where you get more of the humor and satire and edginess.
So here’s the Tweet - an imaginary conversation between Job and God:
Job: Hey god you killed like literally all of my kids what’s up with that
God: How dare you speak that way to the inventor of the hippopotamus
It’s a little flippant...a little irreverent...but it does capture the essence of how things shake down in Job’s story. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the quick rundown:
It starts off with Job, an upright man who does all the right things - fears God, shuns evil. He’s got 7 sons and 3 daughters, a lot of livestock and servants and wealth. He was so righteous, that when his children would throw feasts, he’d offer proper sacrifices on their behalf in case they sinned.
One day, God and Satan - which isn’t, by the way, the devil with a pitchfork and red horns, but rather something more along the lines of “tester” or “adversary” - have a conversation in which God brings Job to Satan’s attention. Kind of boastfully - like, “have you seen how good this guy is?” And Satan is like - of course he’s good, you’ve protected him and blessed his hard work -- but if you take all that away from him, he will curse you to his face.”
So God says, “well fine then - you have free reign to do whatever you want to what he has, but you are not allowed to lay a finger on him.”
Satan takes away his livestock, kills his servants, kills his children - in this doesn’t sin by laying the blame at God’s feet. So after a second conversation with God, in which God gives permission to harm Job as long as he doesn’t die, Satan gives Job these painful sores and boils. Job’s wife tells him to curse God and get on with it, but Job does not. His three friends hear about Job’s troubles and come and sit with him in silence for seven days. The rest of the book is one long conversation between Job and the three friends in which the friends try to give him advice about why he’s going through this and Job laments and gets frustrated and angry - but again, never once sins against God. This goes on for 37 chapters.
Then, in the 38th chapter, God weighs in. And doesn’t respond to any of Job’s questions. Not one. Instead, God has a few questions for Job. Like, “where were you when I created the world? While the stars sang as I laid its foundations? Can you call forth lightning? Count the clouds? Make rain fall from the sky? Know the rhythms of the animals - like when they are hungry or give birth or where they live and how they grow? All of them?”
Can you imagine how Job might have felt with this barrage of divine power on display? I mean, how can you possibly deal with the immensity of one who tells you: “29From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven? 30The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen. 31“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? 32Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? 33Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?”
It’s a moment, I imagine, where Job might have been blown away by it all - both in that the One who orders the universe has taken the time to address him and in that humankind is only one small part of creation...and Job only one small part of humankind. In the first case, God here engages with Job and Job is free to question and argue and wrestle with God. Humans are free to have this kind of relationship with God, where we challenge God and doubt God and question God. There is something unique and special about that kind of connection with the divine, and that God would bring attention to Job certainly merits a view of humankind where people are able to handle the immensity and responsibility of divine encounter.
In the second case, God’s response to Job places things back in perspective - that Job and humanity by extension are important, but that God’s concerns aren’t just with human beings, but also with the stars and the lions and the hippopotamuses and the seas of the deep and so much more. As Debie Thomas writes, “Humanity’s place in creation is honorable but not exclusive, significant but not central. God’s perspective on justice for humanity is not bound by Job’s retributive calculus. Of course God cares for Job. But God also cares for the creatures of the forest, the movements of the planets, the patterns of the weather, the currents of the sea. God’s concerns are much wider, broader, deeper, and higher than Job’s puny mind can fathom.”
We humans like to place ourselves at the center of the story - we do this as individuals, we do this as a species. When it comes to suffering, well - we like answers, we like knowing that it is the result of something we did - a direct consequence of our action or inaction. We like to think that if we get the inputs right (the right job, the right relationship, the right therapist, the right grades - whatever), that life comes out right and if life doesn’t come out right, if we are suffering or if we are having a difficult time, then something must have gone awry. We just need to figure out what happened...and fix it. Or think about the world’s problems - the right technology, the right amount of money, the right ideology - we can fix the problems in the world. Everything is within our control.
Except it’s not. Things are laughably not in our control - and God’s response to Job here just draws that out. There are limits as we come up against the mystery of who God is and how God works. The issue of suffering here is not one to be fixed - it’s not something in our control. That isn’t to say God causes it or doesn’t cause it - it is to say, however, that it is a part of life, and the place where we do have control is how we sit with our suffering in relation to the whole of creation.
Job isn’t an object lesson in the fact that someone’s always worse off than you are - that in my suffering, there is always someone who is suffering more. Job isn’t also about meaningless suffering - though it may look that way because he has almost nothing left in his world but himself, his wife, and his friends. Job is, however, about the context in which that suffering takes place.
Our pain matters to God. Our suffering is seen by God, even as God has ordered, protected, sustained, nurtured, preserved, and cherished the entire cosmos. And I think God’s response to Job reminds him - and reminds us - that even as we navigate our own personal trials and hardships, that we are part of a whole - and that’s something I think it’s easy for us, especially in our culture, to forget.
Theologian Sallie McFague says, “We have lost the sense of belonging in our world and to the God who creates, nurtures, and redeems this world and all its creatures.”
We are not meant to relate to God solely through our individual lives and experiences. We are part of a glorious and wondrous whole that includes the ravens and the lions and the seas of the deep and the stars in their courses - we are caught in this inescapable web of mutuality and our personal suffering becomes one piece in the whole of creation which God cares for and tends.
As enfleshed writes, when we suffer, our experiences can almost always be somehow tied to the whole. When someone has a certain form of a cancer, it’s impossible to disentangle that from our collective systems around food,
medical care, production and pollution. When a single individual struggles to find to find housing or food, that’s part of an entire set of systems that has failed them/us. When someone’s life ends too soon, whatever the cause, it’s related to the actions of others whether those actions are morally good, bad, or neutral. Every storm that comes our way can be connected both to the realities of climate change in our time and to the simple fact of the ecosystem being what it is - a place where storms occur. There is simply nothing that happens in this life that is not related to the collective reality. In this text, we see a God who cares deeply for the individual - even the baby ravens hungry for a meal - but also for the whole of Life unfolding.
And carefully, we can be reminded that we are held by the hand of God but not because we are the center of things, but because we belong to the whole of things.”
It makes me think a bit about William Shatner this week - oddly enough - who became the oldest person to go into space. William Shatner, who played a captain of a spaceship on Star Trek Original Series - who went on the Blue Origin mission this week and had this transcendent experience - he was moved to tears by the vulnerability of the planet, the wonder of it, the beauty of the blue air transitioning suddenly to the blackness of space -- he said, “It has to do with the enormity at the quickness and the suddenness of life and death.”
We are part of a whole. God’s response to suffering can never be reduced to an if/then statement...and neither can our lives. Life is complex - and we together bear the wounds and the joys and the sins and the suffering of it all - the impacts of the individual weaving together to form the whole. The beauty of it however is that God is present with us through it all - breathing in and through all of creation since before time, drawing us forward in pathways of love and justice - and we are held in this deep love...we are held in this deep beauty...we are held in this deep mystery in the midst of it all.
My hope and prayer for us is that we take this knowledge with us into the world, that it may give us greater compassion for ourselves and for others as we consider the wounds of the world, that we may be reminded of the God who not only holds us all but came down as Jesus to experience those wounds in his very body, even unto death, that our hearts may be stirred to greater action as we are drawn to offer ourselves in love on behalf of those who suffer - and that God may raise new life from our endeavors. May we be held in God’s love this day and always. Amen.
Note that I am very grateful for the UCC Worship Ways Intergenerational Service for September 26th, 2021 resource, upon which much of the inspiration for this service was drawn.
Scripture - Esther, selections, Psalm 124
Esther - Selections
So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. 4For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
20Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.
1If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—let Israel now say--
2if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,
3then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;
4then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
5then over us would have gone the raging waters.
6Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
7We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
So maybe this isn’t the most pertinent or relevant story from Scripture I could have picked for our celebration - after all, the story of Esther in the Bible is one full of political intrigue and wicked plots and less-than-ideal treatment of women and power-hungry eunuchs and potential genocide.
What does that have to do with us on this tiny little island, celebrating our new beginnings apart from the United Methodist Church?
The book of Esther tells the story of the survival of a religious minority - the fear of a cultural community that might not survive in the wake of large, oppressive structures. Certainly this is an important narrative for the Jewish people, who tell this story during Purim each year. We can also think of cultures in our modern era who would resonate with aspects of this story because of the threats faced to their survival - I think of especially our Indigenous peoples here in America as we honor and remember them this weekend.
And the fear and questions of survival also resonate with many congregations who wonder - will the church be able to continue for future generations? What will it take not just to survive, but to thrive?
What strikes me in the Esther story is how she was in the right place at the right time to work for the deliverance of her people. Her position - even though she came to it in a way not of her own choosing - meant that she could intercede on behalf of the Jewish people with the king. Her words and actions made an impact that lasted generations. What would have happened if she hadn’t done what she did? We get a clue from 4:14, which wasn’t included in our reading - words from Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, spoken to her: For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
We don’t often get to know the impact we make on others - how our actions have ripple effects in the lives of others. We also don’t often share how others make a difference in our lives with them. This is no less true when thinking about how we are the church together. It makes me think a bit about the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” where George Bailey has the opportunity to know the difference he has made by observing what his community would be like without him. We see story after story in the movie about how things would be different had he not been around.
In the church, we rely on more than just the gifts of others - what people do or contribute - people matter for who they are. We depend on people of all ages and abilities - each person here has made an impact on our lives, on our church, on our community.
Take a look around - and think about what your life and your community would be like without each person here in this space. Take a moment to draw the circle wider to include our seasonal friends who have already departed for the winter, to include folks who aren’t able to be here with us this morning.
I’m going to give you a minute or two in silence to consider this - about what your life, this community, this church would be like without those people here….
Now take a moment and note two or three people that are here -- and we’re going to tell each other what impact they have. Without Cathy, we wouldn’t have lovely pictures that share the joy and beauty in our gathering together. Without ____, we wouldn’t have
So begin your sentences with “without you, we/I wouldn’t….” and go from there - we’re going to take a couple minutes to do this.
[I Need You To Survive]
We need each other to survive - and we need each other to thrive. That’s the beauty of church community together - and that’s the beauty of this moment as we celebrate the Chebeague Community Church. We are stepping into this future together because of the daring to envision a church apart from a denomination that caused harm to so many. Each one of us is a part of the tapestry that God is weaving with the stories of our lives, our gifts, our belovedness. We learn and grow from each person here in this space, from the youngest to the oldest...from the generations yet to be born to the generations long past.
I want to turn back to our texts for this morning for a moment - both our story from Esther and the Psalm, which we haven’t really referenced in our time yet. It is interesting to note that in the book of Esther, God is not mentioned - at all. Queen Esther is proactive about her future and rescues herself and her people - while Psalm 124 praises God’s saving acts and rescuing us from danger. The tension between the two that we find - between making our own way and divine initiative - is part of our human experience, as we thank God for the opportunities that open up around us, as we understand God’s movement in the unfolding of the kingdom and as we make our own choices and responses in conversation with what God has placed before us.
As we step into this moment together, I’m especially mindful of that tension - that God has given us this great gift of a new beginning, of a fresh start, to set a new future beyond survival for this congregation as the Chebeague Community Church...at the same time, it is up to us to make the most of that opportunity. It is how we respond to this moment, how we connect with friends and neighbors, how we set priorities and visions, how we carry ourselves, how we study Scripture together and learn and grow together -- it is up to us to be proactive in using the gifts God has giving us toward a future of our own flourishing.
I invite us to hold these things - how we use our gifts and how we discern God’s leading - as we walk forward into the future to build the church together. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.