Once upon a time, there was a man named Job…
Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
According to the biblical text, “[he was] blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1).” If Job lived today, the world would have deemed that he did all the “right” things in his life. Yet, Job inevitably faces some of the toughest trials and challenges including the loss of his property, health and the death of his children. But why? He did nothing to “earn” this kind of suffering (which would have been the assumption in this ancient Hebrew culture). To this day, Job’s response to God in his suffering has become one of the hallmark examples of what it means to endure suffering and to lament in the process. While Job retained his righteous status through this immense loss, he also wrestled with God’s silence in his lowest state.
In this week’s lectionary reading, we see Job wonder about God’s activity in his suffering:
“(Job 23:8) If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; (23:9) on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. (Job 23:16) God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; (23:17) If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!”
Job’s suffering was so intense he wished he could disappear from the world.
I imagine that Job felt abandoned in this season in his life. While he believed that God was inherently good, he couldn’t see God, though he cried out for help in his time of need. His friends told him that God’s silence was because he must have done something to deserve this kind of treatment. Even his wife told him to abandon any “god” who would make him go through this sort of trial.
In the end, I wonder if Job felt alone, wondering if anyone else had endured such suffering. I wish he would have had an opportunity to attend Street Church.
Perhaps, he already has…
This week at Street Church, we reflected on what it means to encounter suffering and how do we explain it in our lives? I know this is not the first (nor will it probably be the last) time I have written about suffering among our Street population. Unfortunately, it is a lingering theme among us, especially as we have buried so many of our own this year and continue to care for those who are wrestling with terminal illness and mental health issues.
As we reflected on our collective trauma as a church, we recognize the ways that suffering has touched our lives and has negatively impacted our existence in the world. But, how do we reconcile suffering in tension with also believing that God is in fact, Good?
We started our service with a call to the worship in the form of Psalm 22, the same verse of scripture that Jesus cried on the cross in Matthew 27:46, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
In a weird way, I find comfort in this verse. I do not see Jesus’s question on the cross as a reflection of abandonment, but instead as a connection to the human experience.
Jesus poured out his divinity and suffered for our sake. We recognize that we too will suffer in this life, from varying degrees. If Jesus suffered, then God suffered with him and somehow, I recognize God’s presence and goodness even in the stillness of God’s action. Is it possible, then, that God is at work, even in the silence? Even when we cannot see what is to come?
I asked our congregation to reflect on the story of Jesus found in our lectionary text in Mark 10:17-31. The young rich man, who seemingly had done everything “right” came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to gain eternal life. I imagine he was ready to stroke a check for Jesus for a personalized one-way ticket to paradise.
But Jesus surprised him and told him to do the one thing he has not been able to do, “Give away your possessions and follow me.”
The man walked away. It is the one time in the bible where someone said “no” to Jesus.
For those who remained listening to his teaching, Jesus emphasized that those who think they are first will be last…and the last shall be first.
The idol of the young rich man’s life was too much to give away. He chose his devotion to his comfort, rather than following Jesus. The disciples asked, ‘if not him, then who can be saved?’
It’s a good question. Who can be saved from the suffering of this world? Whether it is our emotional tether to our “things” or the trauma’s of this life, we all will endure something. None of us will leave this life unscathed, but the irony of the gospel story is, the one thing that the young man walked away from (Jesus) was the only thing that could truly save him.
The good news is that this life is not a contest on who is the first or the last…
Because Jesus saved all of us.
[Image: Members of the newly formed “Entrepreneur Group” gathering with Income Navigator: Lauren Dracoules Rooney about how to support one another in this effort to build purpose and income through self-directed passionate work.]
It is the gift of God’s grace that occurred when Jesus suffered for our pardon on the cross. When we come to Jesus, we recognize our own human fragility and lean into the Spirit’s resilience, which makes us strong. When we recognize that suffering is a part of life, caused by the brokenness of this world, we have the capacity to ask God to see us through it. Being a believer doesn’t omit you from suffering, it simply gives you better tools.
God is the anchor that can keep us grounded, the vessel that carries us through, and the light at the end of the haze, guiding us home. It is God who helps us and gives us exactly what we need, in the moment. God reminds us in Joshua 1:9, to “be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.”
Wherever we go: through storms, trials, valleys and immense pain, God will be with us.
And when we take this journey as a community, we are stronger together.
With God’s help, Job proved to be strong enough to see the storm through to the other side. He recognized God was bigger and ultimately he submitted what he was dealing with to God to carry on his behalf. Whether it is on this side of eternity or the other, God is waiting for us to come and seek support from the One who created all, carries all, and loves all creatures great and small. We are not saved because we did everything “right,” or that we made the “most” in this life, none of that matters. Despite our shortcomings, Christ came to save all of us.
We believe in a BIG God who aides in our suffering and makes our already strong people, resilient through the power of community. It is okay to ask the lingering questions, it is human nature to wrestle with the suffering of this world and the trials we face.
However, we are reminded that God did give us an answer to our big questions…and his name was Jesus.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[Image: Fxbg Street Choir gathers after Street Church for rehearsal with UMW choir professor and director Dr. Chris Ryder. This initiative is a place where students, community and neighbors can engage in fellowship and sing uplifting music together. Lunch is provided by neighborhood volunteers Sundays at 12:30-rehearsals open to the public]
May we continue to sing despite our struggles, lifting our spirits in unity that we carry one another in this journey, because the circle never ends.
Grace and Peace,
Community Ministry Chaplain
Micah Ecumenical Ministries
PS please continue praying for us, our prayer list is below: