Sermon October 4, 2015
Job 1:1, 2:1-10 and Mark 10:2-16
“When Things Don’t Add Up”
We are far from unicorns and rainbows in the lectionary these days. Job and divorce – it just doesn’t get any better than that! I have to be honest and tell you that I love Job. I took a class on it in seminary and I think it carries one of the most important messages in the Bible…but you have to be willing to read it all the way through to get there. It starts with Job, a good man with everything going for him. Job is the model follower. God gathers the advisory court and around and brags “Isn’t Job great? He’s so faithful. I am really proud of him.” At that point, the Satan (not the devil, but a member of God’s court whose job is to ask hard questions) says, “Of course he’s good. He has everything. That doesn’t mean anything. You want to know who Job really is? Take that stuff away. Make him suffer. Then you will see his true character.” So God agrees. If you are saying, “What kind of God is this?” remember that this is not a factual story. It is intended to help us make sense of questions about suffering, so for now, just go with it and see where we land. This will require a bit of patience on your part because we are doing Job for the month of October. I encourage you to read this book. You will gain lessons on how not to be a good friend. You will witness deep integrity. You will be drawn into the mystery of life and the vast God that we worship. You will begin to find your place in the grand scheme of things or as one of our text study members said this week, you will be invited to “get over yourself”. If you will stick with this book, I think you will find yourself reflecting on who you are and why you follow God.
Let’s be honest, this life of faith is not for the faint of heart. It requires us to dig deep and bring everything to the table. Sometimes that is the beautiful part we cherish and sometimes that is the vulnerable part that we try and hide from everyone. Nothing is off the hook.
Job is a good man. He is faithful. He trusts God. He begins to suffer and his wife (not quite the model of the supportive spouse here) says, “curse God and die”. That might be a lesson in what not to say. (There are many more of those to come in this book). But Job is not swayed. He is miserable, but he is clear that he does not turn against God when he suffers. His faith does not seem to waver.
We know how the math is supposed to work: good man+loves God=no suffering. What happened here? The question that plagues everyone when they reflect on Job is “why does God allow good people to suffer?” or “why doesn’t everyone get what they deserve?” Here is the answer to those questions: they are the wrong questions!
This belief that people get what they deserve will disappoint us. Our experience over time teaches us that people don’t get what they deserve and expecting that will only lead us to empty caverns of disillusionment. We may never understand suffering. Rather than putting our energy into understanding why people suffer, we might be better served by asking the question, “where is God when we suffer?” As we witness atrocities of various forms – refugees who have no place to go, natural disasters leaving a wake of destruction behind them, horrific accidents, a shooting rampage at a college in a sleepy Oregon town – we might wonder where is God?
We will hear more about Job in the coming weeks. While it is human nature to try and figure everything out so that we can put it in a box and close the lid tight, we would do better practice leaning into the mystery. Lids have a way of coming open and we are better served if we prepare to respond to the contents as they come out of the box instead of trying to shove them back inside.
We can’t ignore the gospel reading either. We can’t step over the landmine of divorce as if it isn’t there. I would be willing to bet that every person in this room has been touched by divorce in some way – either you have experienced it yourself or someone close to you has been through it. It is rare to come through this life without experiencing the pain of divorce or a difficult breakup. So what do we do with the gospel lesson this morning?
The question “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” is a test. I’m not sure what the Pharisees were hoping for, but they knew there was no good answer to that question. Someone will be offended no matter what Jesus says. There are many questions like that. I’ve seen this dynamic in many churches. Somewhere our personal agenda takes over and we lose sight of what is best for all. Jesus calls us back and asks us to think about the whole human family.
Divorce in those days could happen for any reason. A wife burns the toast one morning and the husband issues her a divorce decree that afternoon. The husband walks away with everything while the wife is left with nothing, struggling to survive. Jesus’ concern was about those who are most vulnerable. He was responding to the injustice to and the vulnerability of women in that culture. He was not telling someone who is being battered to stay because it is wrong to divorce. Jesus would not be trapped by a technical view of the law; he focused on the relationship. He was telling everyone to honor their commitments and when that is not possible, to be as caring and responsible as they can be.
I have performed a number of weddings and this is what I have seen…no one gets married thinking they will one day get divorced. Couples come in love believing that marriage will be beautiful and good. If anything, they are not prepared when things get difficult, and things usually get difficult. We spend a lot of time in premarital sessions talking about issues in a marriage – sex, money, extended family, work, children, conflict, spirituality, and communication. I’m sure it is helpful on some level, but I also see how difficult it is to imagine that things might be hard someday. Ted Loder says that he has reduced his premarital counseling to six words, “When you need help, get it.” (The Haunt of Grace, p. 70)
Here is the truth. Relationships are hard work. All of them. There are no exceptions. Even relationships that have relatively little conflict and both people seem to feel loved and equal are not effortless. They depend on both people working to create a loving space that will hold the strength and vulnerability of each one.
I went through a divorce several years ago. It was the most painful time in my life. I love my former husband and I am so grateful for him. We had a very loving marriage. I learned so much about love from him both during our marriage and during our divorce. I learned about a love that can let someone go even when it is something you don’t want. I have no desire to stand here and justify divorce. It is tragic.
Here is what I wonder as I read the passage again: is Jesus telling us how to be in relationship with each other? Is he telling us that we cannot divorce God? Is he telling us to choose love in all situations?
It is interesting that Jesus turns next to the children. They were the most vulnerable in that society. The disciples had no time for children and Jesus said that children are the way to God. If you want to be close to God, become like a child. If there is a thread in the readings today it may be this: God can be found in our vulnerability and weakness. They become portals that open us to God’s presence.
Today is World Communion Sunday. On this day, we don’t just take communion; we stop and acknowledge our brothers and sisters throughout the world. On this day, we come to the table and as we do, we make room for brokenness – others’ and ours. On this day, we open our hearts. On this day, we step into the mystery that we call God.