Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 24)

Text: Job 38:1
Then out of the storm the Lord spoke to Job.
ďWho are you to question my wisdom with your ignorant, empty words?Ē


The mysteries we canít explain

As I reflect on the ďstandoutĒ moments in my life as a pastor across the years there are many that bring a smile but there are some that leave me puzzled.  I think of the funerals that Iíve conducted for small children, some stillborn, others school age or teenagers who have died through no fault of their own, some were teenagers who were killed in car smashes, whoever they are or whatever their age, in the end the feeling is still the same Ė why do these things happen? 

Why does it happen that people are left so devastated when a beautiful child is suddenly ripped from their lives and their grief is inconsolable? 
When a healthy teenage footballer dies suddenly during the night; why is there no warning, no way to even attempt to stop this happening?

Iím left feeling empty when Iíve been called on by a funeral director to conduct a funeral and there is only myself and the funeral director present or at best 2 or 3 people who are clearly attending out of obligation.  How is it that no-one cares?  This person has lived all their years on this earth and no-one gives a hoot that he/she has died. 

Then there was the late night visit to a hospital to baptise a baby who wasnít expected to survive very long and when he did he was severely impaired from a lack of oxygen.  Why should this sort of thing happen before this little one had even begun life in this world?

Or sitting with a mother and her young family as the husband and father was taking his last breaths.  Looking around the room at those young faces, especially the boy only 15 who would now have to fill adult shoes on the farm, the mystery of it all was overwhelming. 

There was the couple whose first born baby died soon after birth.  If that wasnít sad enough and hard enough to deal with.  On the day of the funeral the rain bucketed down and I was told to make the service at the grave as short as possible because, as is the case with a tiny casket, the funeral director needed to climb down into the grave and there was danger of the grave collapsing and besides it was filling with water.  I drove home with a heavy heart.  These were really nice people.  ďGod, why couldnít they have at least a sunny day to farewell their firstborn child?Ē

I could go on but Iím sure you have just the same question of your own as I have.

Itís human to want to blame someone for what has happened.  We donít like to be surprised by mysterious events Ė there must be an explanation and so someone gets blamed.  Sometimes itís the doctors who cop it or the hospital or the nursing home and even if theyíve they done their best, it doesnít matter.  Sometimes itís God who is questioned, ďIf you are so loving, God, why do you let something like this happen?Ē

As we hear about how horrible people can be to one another in war time, and it doesnít matter which war we look into, the suffering that is caused is horrendous.  We know some of what is happening in the Middle East and how much the innocent are suffering so much cruelty. 
It would be easy to blame God for not stopping such evil in our world. 
It would be easy to wonder why God is so silent when itís clear (to us anyway) that this craziness has to stop. 
It would be easy while sitting by the bed of a dying child to question why God has been deaf to our prayers and has seemed so uncaring?

Sometimes it is hard to hang in there and to really believe that God is love.  Standing with college students who are forming a guard of honour as the hearse carrying their fellow student passes by is a hard thing, and the mystery of why now and why this person remains unanswered. 

I know it takes faith to say this and when I say faith I donít mean a blind faith but fidelity, faithfulness, commitment, sticking to what is true regardless of the circumstances Ė really hanging in there and holding on to the fact that Godís love and fairness never change. 

We measure what is fair and just by our own human standards of what is fair and just.  What happens in our world has nothing to say about Godís love or lack of love for us.  Iíve said it before Ė it's not God who is unfair Ė he is as loving and as just as he has always been. 

Itís life that is unfair Ė our world and our lives have been affected by the disastrous consequences of evil.  Itís the evil in our world that sucks and causes so much trouble.  It the wickedness that people choose to do that hurts and harms other people.  Itís evil that has invaded our bodies from the moment we are conceived and with it comes sickness and dying.

Jesus himself experienced the evil of this world personally as he felt the lash of the whip, the spit on his face, the thorns on his head and the nails pierce his hands and feet.  He cried out, ďMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?Ē  As the skies darkened, there was no answer.  Did the Father love his Son any less at that moment?  No! The Father suffered as much as the Son because of his love.  When his children suffer on this earth, the Father in heaven weeps.

And so we come to Job chapter 38, the Old Testament reading today.  Job had lost everything Ė his home, his family, his wealth and even his health.  Job struggled with God.  He vented his anger.  He questioned God and demanded answers.  He grappled with finding out what the mystery of God is all about.  He wanted to know. 

God answered but Godís answers took him on an unexpected journey.  God took Job back to the creation of the earth. God asks,
ďHow did I lay the foundation for the earth?  Were you there?
Doubtless you know who decided its length and width.
What supports the foundation?
Who placed the cornerstone, while morning stars sang, and angels rejoiced?
Did you ever tell the sun to rise?  And did it obey?
Job, have you ever walked on the ocean floor?
Did you train eagles to build their nests on rocky cliffs, where they can look down to spot their next meal? (Job 38:3-7, 12, 39:27-29 CEV).

Itís worth reading the 4 chapters where God walks Job through his work of creation and tells Job about the habits of wild animals that would have been a complete revelation to Job.  Job who normally has a lot to say, says nothing as he experiences the joy, the wisdom, the love and the struggles of the Creator as he brings order to the world and puts boundaries on its destructive forces and gives the animals and birds and sea creatures their uniqueness.  The Creator is in control of the enormity and diversity of the world. 

The journey that Job travels with the Creator brings Job to a whole new realisation that the whole of creation is special and unique to God.  Everything has his personal touch to it.  There is no way that God can be accused of being distant and uncaring toward his creation. 

Job isnít crushed and rejected for all his questioning.  Yes, he is humbled but he experienced a new relationship with his Creator.   

In the end Job admits, ďI was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me. Ö I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentanceĒ  (Job 40:3,6).
  Job sees all that has happened to him and all his questions about Godís motives in a new light. 
He is given a new life and a new relationship with God as he realises:
God is not the enemy; 
God doesnít have some grand scheme against any of us as individuals or against humanity as a whole;
God doesnít hide in the heavens and ignore what is happening on earth as if to let humanity punish itself for its own evil;
God doesnít send us trouble as some kind of payback for the wrong we have done.

God is on our side.  We know that he is on our side through his Son, Jesus.  He is Godís love come to earth.  He is Godís love that went all the way to claim us as his people by giving up his own life on a cross.  We read, ďGod showed his love for us when he sent his only Son into the world to give us lifeĒ (1 John 4:9).  Job and the apostle Paul, though separated by many centuries, shared the same view in the end, though Paul had the added advantage of knowing Godís love in Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote,
ďIf God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, wonít he also give us everything else? Ö Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? Ö No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved usĒ (Romans 8:31,32,35,37).

Even with such assurances of Godís love and understanding and the knowledge that we have a Saviour who knows what itís like to live in this world with all the pain and anguish that goes with it, there will still be times when we will look to heaven and ask, ďGod, what on earth are you doing?  Why are you allowing this to happen?Ē  And there will be no reply.  For the time being we are still citizens of this world with all of its corruption and wickedness and every so often the pain and the grief and the dying will flood over us and it will seem that evil is winning.  The Bible never belittles our pain and disappointment but it does offer hope.

We have the hope and joy of a perfect life and perfect healing in the life beyond this one. 
We have a Saviour who loves us and walks every painful step of the way in this life with us, giving us the strength to carry on even though we donít have any strength left in ourselves and we are overwhelmed with pain and grief.
Even when the chips are down and the pressure is on, itís wonderful to know that God is on our side - his love never gives up.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
18th October 2015

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