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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, September 11, 2016: Season of Creation, Ocean Sunday

Texts: Job 38:1-18  +  Psalm 104:1-9,24-26  +  Luke 5:1-11

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To begin, consider closing your eyes and picturing the ocean. Have you been to the ocean? Have you walked barefoot along its shores, shoes dangling from your hand? Have you heard that sound, the ceaseless tide, washing the land with its salty waves? Have you sensed its infinite depths?

Standing at the edge of the ocean is like standing at the border to a country most people never truly enter. Our bodies ride the waves at its very edges like the tiniest pieces of flotsam and jetsam, not even driftwood, as its wet gravity takes us wherever it wants. Our boats skim the surface of its unseen interior the way dandelion seeds ride the currents of our breath without ever seeing the insides of our lungs.

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Next to the oceans, our continents seem petite. The oceans cover 71% of the earth’s surface, and the ocean floor extends miles below its waves. The land covers only 29% of the earth’s surface, and we live our lives on the thinnest crust of earth and sky. Imagine the largest animal that roams the Earth’s lands, the African bush elephant (weighing in at 3 tons), next to the largest sea creature known to humanity, the blue whale (weighing in at over 150 tons). But the oceans do not dwarf the continents only in terms of size, but in their diversity as well. For every massive blue whale there are an infinity of delicate coral reefs, surreal squids and octopi, strains of life that predate humanity by millennia, yet look like they must have come from another planet. Beyond the sandy beaches, beyond the metronomic waves, there is another world filled with neighbors we have yet to meet, though they have already been introduced to us.

Just yesterday afternoon, as Erin and I were preparing for this morning’s worship service, a man walked through the front door carrying a cardboard box and wearing an irritable frown. As I greeted him I could see that his box was filled with our trash: last week’s bulletins, copies of old newsletters, discarded mail. It was all clearly recyclable. In fact, we had tried to recycle it, but the trash bins in the alley are so full that neighbors have resorted to dumping their waste wherever they can find space. Failing that, they are setting it on ground, where the winds carry it away, blowing it down the alley. This is how our new neighbor met us for the first time, through our trash.

The same is true for our oceanic neighbors but with far worse consequences. By now it’s no longer news when we hear once again that “ships on the high seas routinely dump trash and sewage into the ocean,” or “that plastic pollution has permeated the entire ocean forming massive gyres, with plastic pollution being found even in the once pristine Arctic Sea.” But, beyond our trash, the massive levels of carbon dioxide generated by our automobiles and other fossil fuel consumption — coal, natural gas, and oil — are “dissolving into the ocean, making it more acidic.” Meanwhile, rising global temperatures have bleached vast swaths of the world’s coral reef in a matter of just a few years, endangering shoreline protections from ever-more-severe tropical storms and eliminating natural habitats for endangered species.

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The hubris we have displayed as a species threatens our very existence, but it is not new. In fact, it is the topic of perhaps the oldest piece of biblical literature in our holy scriptures, the Book of Job. If you’re at all familiar with Job, you know it concerns his quarrel with God over the justice of human suffering. Rather than answer Job’s complaints directly, God addresses Job’s mistaken notion that he is even capable of comprehending the wisdom by which God has ordered creation:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements — surely you know!

Or who shut in the sea with doors

when it burst out from the womb?

and said, ‘thus far shall you come, and no farther,

and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?” (Job 38:2,4-5a,8,11)

When we hung these rainbow banners back in June it was partially in recognition of Pride month, as a sign of our embrace of the sacred value of every human life at a moment when our nation was grieving the loss of those 50 lives that ended in a shower of bullets at the Pulse nightclub. This morning they speak to us of a different kind of biodiversity and remind us of God’s promise to Noah not to end the world by means of a flood. If only we had made the same promise in return. Instead, our lack of wisdom, our failure of resolve, our climate-change-denying “words without knowledge” (Job 38:2) have brought us to the precipice of a global disaster from which there may be no turning back.

60ed9c8ef85b5bbd6ea848b2411557261d6f4960In an essay published by The New Republic titled “A World at War,” Bill McKibben — environmental activist, educator, and prophet of the climate crisis — cries out for the world to wake up to the hour that is upon us, and to band together to address the devastation we have begun before it brings an end to us all. I’ll post his essay this afternoon, and encourage you all to read it closely as we begin this Season of Creation, as it offers more than a diatribe, but also a roadmap to guide us out of the wilderness. Or, perhaps more apropos to the day, a constellation of bright ideas by which to navigate our way safely to the shore.

The true north star of his piece is the observation that for us to have any hope of survival, we must agree that we are fighting for our lives and that we intend to win the fight. We need to move beyond optional, feel-good, individual responses to environmental degradation and demand that the world’s nations and leaders take swift, decisive action to reverse global warming and all its deadly effects. Which means “a fracking ban, a carbon tax, a prohibition against drilling or mining fossil fuels on public lands, a climate litmus test for new developments, an end to World Bank financing of fossil fuel plants.” Which means we need to get organized.

organize-fish-400x250One of my early images of the idea of organizing came in the form of a poster that hung in classrooms and on campuses when I was a high school and college student. It showed a school of tiny fish swimming in the shape of a giant fish chasing down a single fish that, while larger than any of them individually was clearly no match for them together. Under the illustration was the single word: Organize.

That image comes to mind as I hear the miracle story told in the gospel of Luke. Here again, we learn that the more things change, the more they stay the same, as Simon Peter tells Jesus that the people have been fishing all night with no luck. Just as factory fishing in our day has stripped the oceans of fish at an unsustainable rate, so in Jesus’ day the Roman Empire had transformed Galilee from a place of subsistence farming and fishing into an export economy to feed its legions in a manner that had impoverished the people and drained the sea of fish.

Then Jesus tells those who would follow him to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) When they did as he said their nets were filled with so great a haul that their boats nearly sank. At that moment Jesus drew a parallel between the power of these tiny fish, which alone were barely a meal but together could sink a boat, and the people of Galilee, who alone were dying of poverty, but together could change the world. “Do not be afraid,” he said, “from now on you will be catching people.” (v. 10)

The hour has come for us to lose our illusions and to shed our fear. The moment is upon us to set out into the deep waters, the ways of being and becoming that we have sensed are possible but have seemed too difficult. Now it is time to get organized, to fight not only for life on this planet but for the life of the planet itself, its lands and its waters. To fight like the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has fought to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from defiling sacred lands. To fight together. Organized into a body greater than any special interest, organized for the self-interest of the Earth itself.

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Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, October 21, 2012: The Book of Job, Pt. 3

Texts: Job 38:1-7, (34-41) and Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c  •  Hebrews 5:1-10  •   Mark 10:35-45

If you’ve been watching the political debates like I have, you’ve seen some heated exchanges between the candidates recently as each attempts to describe the state of our nation, and to persuade voters that he has a plan to improve upon it.  As they respond to questions from the moderator and attacks from their opponent, each tries to gain the advantage by framing the terms of the argument. Such has been the case with Job as well.

This morning we come to the final Sunday in our three week study of the book of Job and the themes it raises — particularly the themes of justice and suffering, and how each relates to the other.  In the first week we learned the set up, and heard that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (1:1)  In heaven, God has been in a debate with a member of the heavenly court whose role was to find fault with humanity, who has accused humankind of devotion to God based only on gratitude for God’s blessing and fear of losing it.  To test the merit of the accusation, God has allowed the accuser to afflict Job with every kind of misery.  In a day, all that he had — his livestock, his servants, his children, his health — was taken from him in order to see if he would curse God.

In the second week we listened as Job refuted the wisdom offered by his friends, who attempted to console him by providing rationales for his suffering.  They told him that God, who is good and just, punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous, and suggested that Job look to his own life to understand what he had done to merit this punishment.  Job tears apart their arguments, challenging them to find fault with his conduct, to explain to him what he could possibly have done to deserve such suffering and loss.

Not content merely to justify himself to his friends, Job takes his debate directly to God, imagining a trial in which God would answer Job’s accusations of injustice and malicious neglect.  Job imagines a debate more dramatic than any we’ve seen so far in this season of campaigning.  He imagines a debate on a cosmic scale, in which God would be forced to answer Job’s questions about why bad things happen to good people, and where justice is to be found.

Finally, today, God speaks.

Before we consider the content of what God says when God finally enters the debate, let’s consider what is at stake.  Though the original test was designed by the accuser to prove the transience of human devotion, Job — through his profound wrestling with God in faith — has set up a test of his own, and it is we, the listeners, like the audiences that fill the halls or tune in on their televisions, who will decide who has won this debate.  Carol Newsom, my professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University, describes the situation like this,

No longer is the question simply whether unconditional piety exists; one needs to know how such a stance could be meaningful.  From the perspective of Job, who makes justice the central value, the notion of radically unconditional piety is at best meaningless and at worst monstrous, for it would appear to sanction divine arbitrariness and cruelty.  The task God faces is to articulate a theological vision that will make such a stance not only meaningful, but also profound.”

What Dr. Newsom points out is that, while the book of Job begins with a story about a test for humanity, over the course of our engagement as readers and listeners a different test has also been established.  It is a test for God.  Having heard, along with Job, the feeble rationalizations offered by his friends, the limits of their proverbs, we want to know if God can offer a defense for the reality of so much unmerited suffering.  We, like Job, want to know if we can continue to offer our praise and worship to the God who allows things to be as they are, painful and unjust, without in essence endorsing this state of affairs, the state of creation.  As we, with Job, wait for God to speak we realize that God is now being tested every bit as much as Job.

I think this is a tremendous victory for Job.

God speaks, but when God speaks it is not to answer Job’s questions, but to pose an entirely different set of questions.  God begins,

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (38:2-4)

Though it sounds callous, God’s opening statement signals that God will not be delivering the same speech as Job’s friends.  God does not defend God’s honor by questioning Job’s.  Instead, God signals that the very terms of the debate are about to change, and that Job will need to pay attention and keep up.

It’s also just funny, and I think we have to acknowledge this, when God says “gird up your loins like a man.”  It sounds like the biblical equivalent of “pull up your diapers” or “put on your big boy pants.”  We might be tempted to hear this as a bit of divine mockery or condescendence.  Instead, Dr. Newsom suggests that to “gird up your loins” was to tuck the ends of your robes up into your belt so that you could move quickly without tripping over yourself.  In essence, God isn’t saying “grow up” as much as God is saying “keep up.”  God is about to cover a lot of ground, rhetorically, and Job will be challenged to follow where God is going with this.

Throughout the book so far, Job has been charging God with a failure of justice.  Here, God replies that Job suffers from a failure of knowledge, that Job’s arguments are based on his assumptions about how the world is ordered, how it has been created.  Job, in his anger and grief at the chaos and loss that go hand in hand with being alive, has questioned the very nature of being.  In response, God asks, “where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”  And then, with a heavy dose of sarcasm, God continues, “who determined its measurements — surely you know!” (38:5)

We get only a few verses of what follows in the passage read in worship this morning.  We hear God ask, “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?” (38:34) and “Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?  Or who can tilt the waterskin of the heavens, when the dust turns into a mass and the clods cling together?” (38:37-38)  Of all the verses in God’s reply to Job, we couldn’t have picked better on a day when two of our sisters and brothers are being baptized into the body of Christ.  We are reminded that God is the creator, that God provides the rains we need for life, waters that transform the dust of the earth into clods of clay molded into the shape of humanity; and that, in baptism, God recreates us, providing new birth into a new life, taking the dust of our fragile natures and molding us into vessels for God’s holy spirit to be poured into and through for the sake of the world.

But it’s a shame that we don’t get to hear the fullness of God’s response to Job, which reads like poetry, because it is the way that God speaks just as much as the content of what God says, that finally moves Job.  God’s response to Job’s questions about the justice of creation washes over Job, wave after wave, as God asks:

Have you commanded the morning since your days began? (38:12)  Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? (38:16) Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail? (38:22) Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? (39:1) Is the wild ox willing to serve you? (39:9)  Do you give the horse its might? (39:19)  Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads it wings… (39:26)

For us, who live in cities and visit animals in their cages at the zoo, this might sound like a romantic call to consider the wild beauty of creation and to find our place in it.  But to people who lived in smaller settlements, close to the land and surrounded by the dangers of the wilderness, these images are less romantic and more menacing.  We might hear God as saying, “look around you at the world I have created, it is filled with powerful creatures that do not submit to your will.”

In our day and age, we might be less frightened and amazed by creation as it exists outside our bodies, and more frightened and amazed by creation as it exists inside our bodies.  I wonder if we might hear an extension of God’s reply to Job suited to our day and age that sounds something like,

Do you know when a cell becomes a life?

Can you tell when the division of cells will proceed along its course

to renew your inward parts as they slowly slough off their deadened layers day by day;

or, can you control when their multiplication will surge past their normal process, blossoming into masses that will burden your limbs, cloud your minds and stop your breath?

Job makes his case against God on the basis of justice.  God’s defense is given on the basis of creation.  The world as God has created it is filled with wonders.  The powers of creation are awesome.  The earth quakes.  The skies storm.  The seas rage.  The rivers overflow their beds.  The animals devour and are devoured in turn.

Perhaps it is even harder for us than it was for Job because we, with all our knowledge and technology, have shielded ourselves from so much of the chaos of creation.  We have come to imagine that someday we will engineer a way to shield ourselves from death.  To live forever.  We suppose that God’s creation will, finally, be supplanted by our own.  That someday we will write the rules, the terms that come with the precious gift of life.  That, in our hands, creation’s wilds would bend to our order.  That, under our management, there would finally be justice.

We need only hear ourselves speak these dreams out loud to know how false they are.  In our hands the creation groans.  In our hands death comes too quickly and too soon for too many people and places upon the earth.  Justice, in our hands, is life for those we know and love, and the devil take the rest.

As harsh as they may sound to our ears, and perhaps to Job as well, God’s response is not intended to put Job in his place in any kind of humiliating way, but to remind him of the lessons we were learning throughout the season of creation that preceded this series on Job — that we are a part of creation, not apart from it.  That we live and we die by the same laws that govern all of life.  That death is a part of living, and suffering too.

At its core, God’s speech refuses to answer Job’s question about the causes of unmerited suffering, because to do so would suggest that there is still some method or device that lies within our grasp, that we still might hope to evade the fate that comes for each of us.  God never says, “this is the ways things are so that some greater plan of mine can be fulfilled.”  We are never asked to accept that the sufferings of life play some part in a mystery that will someday be revealed.  God’s answer, such as it is, is simply “This is life.  Not centered around you, always responding to your actions, rewarding or punishing you.  Not responding to your wishes.  Not bowing to your will.  Creation is always being recreated, and you are a part of that, along with the rest of creation.  The process is chaotic and it is painful, of that you can be sure.”

Job, finally, accepts this.  Having pleaded that God would hear his case, Job finally acknowledges, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:5-6)  In the end, Job’s words become as enigmatic as God’s answer, suggesting as the book draws to a close, that any work left to be done will have to be done by each of us.  Does Job, in the end despise himself?  Is he signaling that he has withdrawn his case against God?  Has his mind been changed concerning his place in God’s creation?  It’s all, purposefully I think, left unclear.  Throughout, Job has not been comforted by the easy answers of his friends, and so — consistent with that theme — Job refuses to provide easy answers for its readers and listeners.  Whatever peace Job has found in the end has come through passionate engagement with his own life and adamant engagement with the God who created him, suggesting that the same may be required of each of us as well.

In praise of the God who created the world, who set the boundaries for the waters of earth and sky, whose floods have drowned us and whose hand has saved us and made us one with each other and with the whole creation.

Amen.

 

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, October 14, 2012: The Book of Job, Pt. 2

Texts:  Job 23:1-9, 16-17 and Psalm 22:1-15  •   Hebrews 4:12-16  •  Mark 10:17-31

It’s an odd mixture of moods in the room this morning, and a strange day to be preaching.  We began our worship by celebrating the baptism of our newborn baby brother, Evan David Abbo, into the body of Christ.  We’ll end by gathering around our dear friends, Heather and Ben Kulp to bless them as they take their leave of us and set off for new adventures in Boston.  And in-between these two events, we are midway through our three week study of the book of Job — a book of the Bible that explores the experience of suffering, the search for justice in a world filled with arbitrariness, and our relationship with God in the face of all that is most difficult about being human.

If you were here last week, or if you’re familiar with the book of Job, then you’ll remember that the story begins by introducing Job, a man described as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”  Shortly thereafter, the reader discovers that Job is at the center of a debate between God and a member of God’s court whose task is to find fault with humankind.  This accuser has alleged that humanity is only faithful to God for the sake of the blessings God grants, or out of fear of what would happen if God’s wrath were to fall upon them, but that this is no true love.  The accuser incites God to test the limits of human faithfulness, saying “but stretch out your hand now, and touch all that [Job] has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:11)

God accepts the challenge, and in one devastating day Job, a wealthy man, loses all that he owns — his servants, his livestock, and all ten of his children.  Calling to him as he sits in the ashes of his mourning, Job’s wife issues the accuser’s challenge “Do you still persist in your integrity?  Curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9)  But Job remains faithful in the midst of his suffering, replying, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10)

But grief is long, as we all know, and complex.  Left alone with our thoughts and feelings, convictions give way to questions, and certitude becomes doubt.  For a while, people seem able to tolerate our pain, but in time we begin to feel pressure, to perceive cues, that it’s time to move on with our lives whether we’re ready or not.  The same is true for Job, whose friends travel to be with him in his grief.  At first they are the model of true friendship.  Scripture says,

“They met together to go and console and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.  They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:11-13)

Once Job is finally ready to speak, he curses the day he was born.  He would rather trade in any experience of this life than have to face the suffering of all he has lost.  Finally, hoping, perhaps, to comfort Job by offering an explanation for what has happened, one of the friends suggests that Job is responsible for his own fate — that somehow he has sinned and brought this terrible fate on his own house.  Job’s friend says,

“Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?  Or where were the upright cut off?  As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of [God’s] anger they are consumed.” (Job 4:7-9)

At this point, Job’s suffering is complicated by the efforts of his friends to make sense of it for him.  Maybe you know something about these sorts of complications.

Among the varieties of genres found in scripture, the book of Job is categorized as wisdom literature.  Wisdom literature itself is varied and diverse and not limited to Christian scripture.  The Bible contains both Lamentations and Ecclesiastes, both Proverbs and Psalms — all of which seek to offer insight about the nature of reality, the character of God, and the human effort to live virtuously in light of what we have experienced and can know about each.

Proverbs are a form of wisdom literature, not just the ones we read in the Bible, but the ones we hear and use every day.  Tig Notaro, the comedian I referenced last week, skewered the modern day proverb we’ve all heard, “God never gives you more than you can handle,” but there are others, each more or less helpful.  Working as a chaplain in children’s hospitals you hear a lot of them.  At the death of a child I often heard, “God needed another beautiful angel,” and “time heals all wounds,” or “everything happens according to God’s plan.”

The difficulty with wisdom literature is that it isn’t always true, and it certainly isn’t true in all situations or circumstances.  Time doesn’t, in fact, heal all wounds.  Some wounds defy healing.  Other sayings offer to explain away our pain with proposals that, if true, only raise additional problems.  What kind of God takes children from their parents to create angels?  What kind of God allows suffering for the sake of some master plan?

This is the suffering Job endures as his friends try to explain away his pain.  Perhaps their sympathy has run out, or maybe his suffering reminds them of their own and they are simply grasping at the kinds of explanations offered them in their grief, but it’s doing no good.  Job complains about the effects of their best efforts:

“My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed, like freshets that pass away, that run dark with ice, turbid with melting snow.  In time of heat they disappear; when it is hot, they vanish from their place… They are disappointed because they were confident; they come there and are confounded.  Such you have now become to me; you see my calamity, and are afraid… Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone wrong.” (Job 6:14-17, 20-21, 24)

Job hears the wisdom of his friends, but finds no wisdom it it — at least not for him.  And it’s at this point that I want to return to the question I left you with last week when I asked you to listen carefully to the prepared answers that come to your mind when you are caught up in suffering, or when you are attempting to comfort those around you in their griefs.  What have you been taught to think, to do, to believe in response to your own life’s suffering?  How have those actions and beliefs comforted you, shielded you, carried you or failed you as you negotiate life’s complex mixture of joy and pain?

I spent a little bit of time on the phone with my parents this past week trying to sift through what we’d been taught about suffering.  Certainly, on my dad’s side, there was an almost stereotypically stoic response to suffering that is typical among those who are farmers, as was my grandfather and his brothers.  My dad remembers that complaints were quickly shut down by my grandfather, who would clip short the whining of his six children with “If it were any worse, I’m sure you’d tell us.”  Farm life wasn’t fair.  Weather was good, or it was bad.  The land was dry or it was wet.  Farmer spirituality didn’t grow out of an expectation of justice, measured in inches of rain, it proceeded from the observation that “it is what it is” and moved on from there.

The expectation of justice, however, sits at the heart of Job’s dilemma.  Although he rejects his friend’s explanation, that this suffering was somehow God’s response to his sin, Job does seem to accept that God is a god of justice — and it is this belief that torments him.  If God is just, then why do good people suffer?

The divide between God’s justice and the random distribution of human suffering plants an idea in Job that grabs a hold of him, and won’t let go.  There must be a trial.  At first, Job seeks a trial in which he would be the defendant.  He wants to prove his innocence, but struggles to put his confidence in any court over which this God presides, saying

“Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, [God] would prove me perverse… I become afraid of all my suffering, for I know you will not hold me innocent.” (Job 9:20,28)

Job still believes in justice, but he has lost faith in the cosmic justice system, and in this many of us can relate to Job as well.  As a congregation, we hold a strong conviction that the God we worship is the god of justice.  In our ministries to one another, in our advocacy on behalf of our neighbors, our nation, and even our environment, we invoke the message of the prophets and of Jesus that the God we serve is the God of liberation, of relief and release.  We root our passion for justice in the justice of God…

… but then we go to work and see those who cut corners or shift blame getting ahead.  We go to school and see those who keep quiet or flatter moving to the front of the class.  We go to the hospital and see good people suffering horribly, and negligent caretakers and guardians inflicting unconscionable harm.  We go to the court room and we see one set of rules applied to those with access and means, and another applied to those without access to adequate representation or advocacy.  We believe in justice, and we believe in God — but we wonder, does the absence of one suggest the absence of the other?

Here’s where it is helpful for you to have spent some time reflecting on what you’ve been taught about suffering, and how you were trained to make sense of it and endure it.  We may not all share Job’s vision of God as cosmic judge and arbiter of justice, but there are other images of God that shape our experience of God’s absence.

Perhaps you relate to God as the great physician, and long less for justice and more for an accurate diagnosis of the cause of your suffering, only to find that no one can tell you what is causing your pain.  Perhaps you relate to God through Christ Jesus as the friend who walks beside you, who hears and answers your prayers, and you are tormented by a sense of abandonment as you face new trials alone.  Maybe you’re among those who substitute talk of “the Universe” for the name of God, but now find that the universe is vast and ever expanding, and your personal agonies seem too small for the universe to pay much attention to with so many stars collapsing into black holes.  Or maybe you don’t think much about God or the universe, and you’ve always felt alone, but some new suffering has you ready to throw in the towel and you worry that there’s no one out there who will notice your passing.

This is the place that defies answers.  Every instinct in me as a preacher and as a friend, as a brother and a lover, wants to take this pain away from you.  Wants to toss off a proverb or a song lyric or some other bit of wisdom literature and make it all alright.  Except that when you’re truly suffering, you know that it’s not all alright.  You know that your world is not the way it was supposed to be, and you don’t need to be blamed for it, or explained out of it.  You need a person, or a people, or a baptized body to sit with you while you wait for your appetite to return.  You need your anger.  You need to rail at the injustice of life, or the inadequacy of science, or the failure of family and friends.  You need to be exactly as you are.

So, today — despite everything in me that wants to offer you the promise of God’s justice, the assurance of God’s healing, the steadfastness of God’s presence, the reliability of God’s good creation; despite the fact that I honestly, and unromantically, and unapologetically believe in all these things — today we will not end on a positive note, we will not wrap things up neatly, we will not answer the questions left open before us.

Because sometimes we know a thing best when it is missing, and sometimes it is a thing’s absence that finally makes it real.

Amen.

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