This day I am grateful for the gift of place. This week I found myself being grateful for the comforting, the healing, and the darkness, of this building. Specifically, in my office, and the narratives of the pastors before me who have guided the people and the Spirit of this faith community. The room is this wonderful space in which the holding of sacred rawness and woundedness occurs. This entire building has a beautiful way of reflecting the world around it. This place lives and breathes in the stories that are shared… here. Sometimes it is the light and joy that flows through the windows and skylights. Sometimes it is the shifting colors of the flowers and trees as the seasons change. This week? This week it was definitely the darkness. Yes, there were moments of sunshine, but as the week rolled on and the storms flowed in, I found myself sitting on the couch in my office holding sacred space. As the rain poured down and thunder rumbled, there was a need to hold onto, to hear, and to affirm, the rawness of all the personal stories that have been shared with me over the past two weeks. The world around us has unleashed a torrent. I needed to sit in that disquieting space. There, I was grateful for the presence of a loving, fierce, Mother God, and the healing presence of the Great Holy.
I am grateful this day for the gift of story. And, while challenging, I am grateful today for the story of Job. This deeply troubling, perplexing narrative. The wonder of the gift of trying to figure out just who God is. Who we are. How we weave into the world around us. In all of the questions, this is story that is shrouded in unknowns. We are uncertain today as to just when the book of Job was written, but our best guess is that it was penned around about 500 BCE. In the 2600 years since, over 85 generations, these characters have continued to ponder “the nature of this God and God’s ways in the world.”
Circling throughout the book of Job is a triangle of proof statements, the first of which is that Job is a righteous man (Job 1:1). By the way, did you happen to notice that today’s reading omitted verses? We heard the first sentence, but not the verses with which the book begins. There we read of catastrophe after catastrophe as Job losses everything: his economic livelihood, his home, his children. The overwhelming horrors have continued through today, and Job’s life has come to this—a raw, broken body, covered in sores. And then Job’s “friends” show up. As the book progresses, Job and four of his friends go round and round in a classic struggle with “why bad things happen to good people.”
And the Holy shows up, destroying their understanding… and potentially ours… of who God is. Why God is. With one aspect of truth rooted in Job being a righteous man, his friends point to a God who is good. And their belief that this God that is good does good things for righteous people. Yet these three truths do not hold up together when Job, a righteous man, suffers. If God is good, and God does good things for righteous people… then why doesn’t God do good for Job?
Who is this God?
Who are we?
And thus I come before you today with the gift of questions. For one of the questions a youth in the 5th-7th grade class posted on the Question Wall in the Sunday School room has been echoing in my mind. Reading Job, this young person’s question asks me, asks you, their mentors and teachers, “How did evil come about?” Now while this leads us into a whoooole ‘nother sermon, I can share with you that my response to that question can be found in Genesis 4, where we read about THE original sin—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. Another place, another time, we will dig into the dirt of original sin through the lens of fratricide, the killing of one’s brother. Yet the rampant violence and bullying rhetoric around the globe clearly marks the ongoing story as the Cain’s of today’s world continue to kill Abel.
And so we ask again and again: Who is God? Who are we?
Through the lens of the story of Job, the answer to that question is not very comforting. For there, in Job’s suffering, we do not get a complete response. If we were to take the time to read the entire book of Job (and it’s a loooong book), later in the story we do encounter God. But this God is an eternal, cosmic God that is not an anthropomorphic character made in our own image. In Job, God pushes back our understanding of God. In this text we are gifted. We are gifted with partial answers… and the ongoing quest to understand who God is. And who we are.
Thus, I sat in the Holy Rawness this week. I found that as I read through Job, all I want to do is grab that potsherd out of his hand and scrape my own body. I wanted to scrape away all the ugliness of the world. For the horrors cling all too closely. To me it felt like we are sitting in the pit of dust into which Job crawled (Job 16:15). And there I, like Job, weep. I weep for what I see happening near and far (Job 16:16). As I read through to chapter 17, I sat with a Job that is broken. Mocked by the crowds. A wounded person calling for help, but no one bothers to stop” (Job 17:8, The Message). Celeste Ng tweeted this past Friday that, “I feel like instead of a moment of silence when terrible things happen, we should have a moment of screaming. Mass screaming. Wherever you happen to be. So you can hear that you aren’t alone in your rage and fury and the sound will fuel us all to keep fighting.”
There, beyond all understanding, there… in that bottomless pit of despair… there is fuel. A raw, sacred space, where God is revealed to be a God beyond our fleshy imagination. There, Job says that in all of his woundedness, “Still, I know that God lives” (Job 17:24, The Message). Throughout the story Job wavers between hope and hopelessness, yet there is… in the deepest lament… shards of faith and great hope. Strength.
Pay attention to the gifts. The gifts of tears and hope. The gift of a God that shows up in the dust and holds our rawness. In this sacred space we are in the second week of an 8-week sermon series on gratitude. Gratitude which can be dangerously hard to notice in these days. Yet gratitude is that in which our faith is rooted. Gratitude for God’s abundance. God’s love. God’s hope.
Last week, the gratitude practice in which we engaged was to answer the questions, “For what are your grateful today?” and in particular, “For what are you grateful in this faith community?” It is here that we have entered into Job’s story—the weeping and the dust. We remember the impact that the simple faith practice of gratitude can have on our individual, and communal, lives. As we continue to delve into Diana Butler Bass’ guide to 7 different practices of gratitude, this week our theme is:
“Pay attention to the gifts.”
Beloved, your responses last Sunday that continued throughout the week, our communal responses, were gifts. I have carried these gifts with me throughout the week. And I… I have needed these gifts. In the drenching downpour of rawness, I know that God lives through the words you wrote down, posted on FaceBook, and sent to me via text. These have been my prayers.
Thus I want to end this morning’s reflection with the gratefulness words the high school students in confirmation and their mentors wrote down last Sunday evening. May their words be a gift to you:
I am grateful for…
- All the caring and loving people in this church and all that they do
- I am thankful, because Memorial UCC is a sharing, caring, and giving family community
- Memorial has given me a place that’s calm and away from all the hustle and bustle of the world
- It’s a safe and welcoming congregation
- I am grateful for a church that accepts many different beliefs, honoring the questions and helping individuals on their unique paths
- It’s a positive place where people listen and you can learn
- Good choir, music, unity, friendly people
- It is a save place for my kids to develop their faith and have healthy relationships with people of a faith community
- The kind people and the wonderful children
- I am grateful for Memorial UCC because MUCC is a caring, sharing, family community that I am grateful to be a part of and to add myself to, and to share with! Thanks be to God!
I invite you this week to pay attention to the gifts. May these be our prayers. Our actions. Our responses. Here, and outside of the walls of the church. And through the gifts around us, may we and the wider world be blessed with the hope, the life, the love, the joy… and gratitude… that shines forth with God’s Great Hope. Amen.
Reflection on Job 1:1; 2:1-10 offered October 7, 2018
 “Commentary on Job 1:1; 2:1-10 by W. Dennis Tucker, Jr.” 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 Commentary by Karla Suomala – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed October 03, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3788.
 Ng, Celeste. Twitter. October 5, 2018.