Christina Kukuk Sermon: Kin to Sorrow 2 (October 25, 2020)
October 25, 2020 / Kin to Sorrow: Reflections on Suffering with Job #2 // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // Congregational UCC, Ashland, Oregon // “Telling it Like It Is”: Job 3:1-10
Last week, our scriptures introduced us to Job and his suffering. In two brief chapters of prologue, Job lost wealth, property, children, and – between last week and this week — his health. Last week, we noticed how much this once-upon-a-time story seemed like a set-up, some scheme designed by a God-Who-Pulls-Strings to make some point about faithfulness. But last week, the storyteller also left us wondering who really creates that kind of set-up. Whose idea is that kind of God? In Chapter 42, we’ll finally read how this sad story ends. In between, people say things. A lot of things. For 40 chapters, people talk. For 40 chapters, the storyteller gives us dialogue – between Job and his friends, and eventually between Job and his God. What could possibly be important enough that these characters could talk for 40 chapters? Well, people will say things. (Pause)
When tragedy strikes, people will say things. Sometimes people will say things about God. Sometimes that’s not very helpful. Our friend Job had three friends who set out together to “console and comfort him.” Pain has so transformed Job that when they see him, “they do not recognize him.” In their grief over the loss of who their friend was, they tear their clothes, dump ashes on their heads, sit down with him and join him in his grief. Wisely, they do not say a thing – not at first. They just go to be with him, to cry with him. In the story you heard this morning:
“Each of them set out from his home – Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar – 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 for 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)
These three friends also, at first, just listen. After the sores break out all over his body, after Job’s wife tells him he might as well curse God and die, after all of that Job opens his mouth and laments. Loudly. He curses the day he was born and raises his complaint in a loud voice. But it is after that Job’s three friends start to say things.
You reap what you sow, they say.
You must have done something to deserve this, they say.
Only the sinful suffer and perish, they say.
Everything happens for a reason, they say.
When God closes a door, God opens a window, they say.
God is testing you, they say. (Pause)
Job’s three friends are not trying to be mean. They didn’t set out to hurt their friend. But people will say things. As each round of this dialogue continues, the three friends become less and less polite, and Job grows less and less forbearing. (Pause)
It is not just Job’s friends who will say these things. We do the same. We say things in an attempt to make sense of tragedy. Very often, we say things to insulate ourselves from that tragedy and the chaos it brings. The brutal reality of undeserved suffering challenges the worldview in which, good or bad, everyone gets what they deserve. And if we are religious, sometimes we even say things to protect God. “They built their house in a flood plain,” we’ll say. “He wasn’t watching his child closely enough,” we’ll say. “She lives in the wrong neighborhood,” we’ll say. When tragedy strikes, it’s amazing how far we’ll reach to find some way to explain or blame, some way to reason, some way to assure ourselves that it can’t happen to us: “My kid won’t drink and drive.” “I’ll be active all my life and eat my vegetables.” As if by saying these things we can keep the car crashes or the cancer away. We say these things because we don’t know what to say and because these things help us feel safe – even if they are not true. (Pause)
People will say things in the story we have here in our sacred text. But Job will not accept it. A little bit later, in chapter 13, Job will say, “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes, your defenses are defenses of clay… See, God will kill me. I have no hope; but I will defend my ways to his face.” (13:7-12) And here is the crucial move that Job makes. While his friends speak only about God, Job moves from speaking about God to speaking directly to God. Around chapter 7, Job cries out: “Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard of me? What are human beings that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment?” Job tells it like it is: nothing justifies this suffering. Job stops theologizing and starts lamenting. Job stops talking about God and instead demands a hearing with God. Job moves from God the object to God the subject. “It is a move that Job’s companions never make,” Kathryn Schifferdecker writes. “They claim to speak for God, but they never once intercede for their suffering friend.” For this, God scolds the friends in the end (42:7-8). But God commends Job, for speaking to God directly, honestly. God will – after all of this talking ends — commend Job for telling it like it is, for speaking all his anger, pain, grief, and despair. In the end, God gives Job a job: to pray for his friends. Between now and then, Job will say things, too. But the difference is he will say them to God.(Pause)
The most faithful thing we can do in the face of suffering is not talk about God, but create a place where we and others can talk to God – where we and others can be human beings before the Source of Life, here on this planet face to face with the Source of Creation, the Creator, and tell the truth. The most faithful thing we can do in the face of suffering is make room for lament. Within that lament, the possibility of hope is born. Not yet in Job’s story. And maybe not yet in some of our lives either. In Job’s story, it will come in two weeks. For now, we end our reflection sitting on the ash heap with Job, with friends and family, and neighbors here in the Rogue Valley. With neighbors and siblings throughout our country. And with people around the world. But we sit on the ash heap having learned the art of lament that starts in the gift of silence, of just listening. Lament is a gift that comes when we are willing to tell it like it is, when we insist on talking to God – addressing the source of our hope, sitting in the holy Presence — rather than yammering on about God.
This week, may we have all the room we need to sit on the ash heap. May we have the courage and strength to sit with our friends and our family. And may those of us who are in the midst of grief find companions to sit with us. For in that lament, the possibility of hope is born. Amen.