June 15, 2014
FIRST READING JOB 38:1-11; 42:1-6
GOSPEL READING JOHN 1:29-34
You know I have to say that God definitely has a sense of irony. Last Monday in preparing for this Sunday’s service, I realized that today is my 29th wedding anniversary, and I then checked the lectionary text for this Sunday and it was the Book of Job. God wasn’t kidding around.
Sort of like, “Hey, Jim, deal with your loss, now is the time.” And it’s been eight months since Annette passed, and so maybe that’s right. Deal with it, or maybe this might be an interim report to the community of faith.
And this isn’t just about me, all of us have lost something, a friend, a spouse, a child, we know what loss is, and it’s never easy, is it? I said to someone a couple of months ago–I felt lucky in life, but I wondered if my luck had run out. But I don’t know, I don’t think that’s really true either—what is luck or unluck, each of us, all of us, will face loss. It’s a part of life.
And so I’ve been thinking about this in relationship to our text, the Book of Job. If you haven’t read it recently, or if you haven’t read it at all, you must. It is a divine piece of literature, an incredible story that is breathtaking in every way.
And it starts with a righteous man, Job. In every way he has fulfilled God’s wishes and he is deeply at home in life, with a great family, great wealth, and not just that, but he has a huge, pure heart. He looks with love upon the stranger, the foreigner, the woman in need, the hurt, the helpless, young people. For Job, nothing human is foreign. He loves, and gives and he is generous. Read Job 29-31, Job is a magnificent man. He did not deserve this great trial. But do any of us? Do any of us deserve the loss that comes to us? I don’t think so, not me, not the students or parents at Seattle Pacific University in the latest horrible school shooting, not anyone.
So, in this story, Satan comes to God, Satan is simply known as the accuser, the faultfinder, the one who wants to catch people in doing wrong (you probably know these kinds of people).
So Satan says to God, “Hey, I bet Job won’t be so good if he loses the things that he has been given. Maybe he’s just being faithful to you and righteous to others because everything is going so well? May I test him?”
And then, God thinks for a while, “Hm… okay, I’ll let you do it.” And here, we might ask why does God let this happen? I don’t think its because God doesn’t know Job’s heart; it seems that God allows suffering to occur but that God doesn’t cause it, at least directly. But this, as they say, is a theological conundrum, and I don’t have an answer.
And so the test begins. Job loses everything, his children, his property, his identity, and his ability to care for others, to take care of those he loves. He loses his dignity, his pride, and his person. And then to top it off, his wife wonders out loud to him: “Why don’t you curse God and die.” Ouch. I don’t think Job’s wife is too happy either and maybe she is wondering what is this all about? Did I deserve this? What did I do to lose everything, my children, my home?
Job has a lot problems, maybe some of you are relating to him right now, you’ve lost a lot, a lot of what is good in your life, your health, loved ones, property, security, whatever it is, the faculties that you so prized. We all have lost something. It is always painful. Life, in this sense, is a long, strange series of losses.
And I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. How does one live with loss. What is that process about? What is it to lose, to be lost, to be at a loss?
One of the great things in life is to say to the one’s you love, “I’m home.” And to feel it; to know that this is a place I am known, I am loved; people know me and love me. I remember those first times coming back home to my parent’s house from college, and coming in the door, and nearly collapsing, emotionally, and physically, “I’m home.” And everybody is glad you’re home. And then we eat and sleep what seems like forever. That feels like home.
There is a beautiful phrase, which I came across in studying Sigmund Freud’s work on the psyche at the University of Chicago; home is to cathect—to make a home; to call something or someone one’s own. We cathect and invest our emotion in another; to set up a tent, a place or person, where we feel safe. Human beings, at their most fundamental level, need to attach; we need a safe place. And we get attached; sometimes we get very attached, so we can’t even let go if we want to. Our lives become cathected, sticky; sometimes too sticky. And we get in trouble because we get stuck, and getting released from these things or these people is sometimes necessary.
I have said that Annette was my home; she was home. I would see her and I would feel, ah, it’s okay, it’s going to be okay. I was stuck on her and she on me, and for 28 years we made a good team, and as I’ve said before, our lives together were an experiment in incarnation, we created a beautiful family. And for me, a big part of this is of course is our daughters, who, for me, are manifestations of that beauty and goodness.
And so, what happens when things get taken away from us? Sometimes really good things, what do we do, what are we about after that?
For Job, everything is taken away. The home he made as a leader in his city; the family he had constructed with his wife; his sense of self; his wife’s love, and really, in many ways, his trust in God. You can imagine that Job wondered where is God in all of this? Why am I being tested?
But the truth is, we will all get tested. It doesn’t matter how good we are or how righteous, it just doesn’t matter. The homes we create, those sticky places in our lives, will be tested and will be taken away. It’s a shock, really. To lose what we love is a shock.
This is the truth of life, and it’s a tough truth. So, here is my take on it. I don’t think its about Job’s righteousness, or whether God is good, or if Job deserved it or not. How can we determine who really is good? Everyone falls short. Too many times, in situations, the person who is the least worthy survives and how do you explain that? You don’t. And frankly, in the end, none of us make it out scot-free. We all lose those we love and the things we love.
I think the real question is how well do you grieve your losses? Maybe we have to learn to grieve our losses. Maybe that is what the story of Job is really all about. Those long speeches, that beautiful poetry, the most beautiful poetry in human literature, it is a long lament—a long story of grief.
Grief is underrated. We must do it. Otherwise it festers, and it builds up and we begin to feel resentful, and we despair, and start lashing out and we blame everyone for everything, and the world becomes a problem.
I felt that when I first came to the Wailing Wall on my weeklong visit to Israel. My trip to Israel was a pilgrimage. I dreamed many times of going to the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall to pray. I imagined myself there, falling on my knees, and praying. And the first time I went there, I told the tour guide to stand back, and I slowly approached that great wall, and felt its overwhelming presence; and I grabbed one of the stones, and I held tight, and went down on a knee, and my prayer was not a happy one.
I was angry, very angry, and I asked God, “Where is she? Let me know that she is okay.” And that’s all I said. That’s all I had. I was sticky, my home had been taken away; I felt like a wandering sojourner, with no place to call my home. It wasn’t a pretty prayer or a nice one.
And so I went through those next four days, traveling about the Old City, seeing the sights, Masada, the Dead Sea, I floated in it, I marveled at the history, the sense this too was a place of extraordinary loss, people have been stuck on Jerusalem for millennium, and they still are, and sometimes the harder you stick, the worse it gets, and on top of the Western wall is the Temple Mount, and at the center of it is not the Jewish Holy of Holies, the most sacred Jewish temple, but what sits on that sacred spot is the Dome of the Rock, one of the most holy and sacred Islamic sites. It is remarkable and beautiful. And under that Dome, you might say, is one of the stickiest spots in the world, and the three great world religions are fighting over that rock. And that is why you can feel a sense of tension in the air.
And so, I suppose, the question is where is our true home? Is there a sticky place that won’t leave us, that won’t forsake us? And how does our faith answer that question?
I don’t know for sure, but I will give you the best answer I’ve come up with so far. And it still really doesn’t cut it, but its what I have right now.
I watched Forrest Gump the other night. The death scenes of he and his mother and he and his wife are so tender. I balled my eyes out. And I often think of Forrest Gump’s reflection over his wife’s grave, he says: “I don’t know if we each of us has a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both are happening at the same time.”
And I think that’s true, or at least we don’t see our destiny ahead or in the present moment, we only know it as we see the tracks of our life unfold behind us. Just in these last several weeks, I find a new unfolding in myself, a new moment of ease, where I think—hey, maybe I’m happy. Maybe I can be that happy self that I left behind a while ago. Maybe the cloud, the shock, the terror, the wrenching pain is leaving me, I don’t know. Maybe.
At the end of my visit to Jerusalem, on the last day, it was Sunday, and I stayed at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Hospice, which is an awesome place, and I got up early. From the balcony you can see the Old City about a half-mile away. The sun hadn’t yet come up. The sun was just beginning to rise, and I got up and headed for the Wailing Wall, and I wanted to get there before the sun came over the wall from the East.
And I made it and I came to the wall just as the sun peeked over the wall, but this time with a much different spirit. I leaned in and knelt and grasped the rock, but not tightly this time, and what came up inside me was not anger, it was a spilling over of grace and love. And then I simply began to bring all the faces of the one’s I love to mind, my family, my friends, you all, everyone, the great communion of saints, the community of those who I love and who have loved me back into being, and I prayed for them each, and the sun and its heat spread and I felt—wow, I am a lucky man, blessed by so many, and loved by so many and it will be okay.
We all lose home, and maybe we have to. This does not make the loss any easier, but it does say, it will be okay and the sun will rise, and there is hope.
And the Bible says: Everything was restored to Job in the end and he lived a long life. Loss must come and we must learn to grieve, but that is not the last word.
In my wife’s Annette’s last day, she said, “I’m getting excited for what’s next.” She didn’t want to go, but she made her peace, and it was beautiful. The sun rises, she rises, Job rose, and we will rise too.
And I say these words, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lived, who suffered and died and then was resurrected on the third day. Hallelujah. In Christ, death is overcome, death is defeated; our victory is won and that is good news, but it is not easy. Amen.