Don’t Forget Who You Are

Sermon based on bits from the book of Job, chapters 3, 4, and 7.

July 10, 2016

When have you grieved in your life? What did it look like? On any given day, it could have looked like anything, given that grieving runs its own course, seemingly on its own timeline, with its own rules. There are seven stages of grief and you can put numbers by them, but you cannot expect them to stay in that order or that you get to check them off once you’ve experienced them. Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance and hope all make up a whirling, chaotic reality and they play by their own rules.

We join Job today in the active grieving process. And this story couldn’t be more timely for us. Now, just in case you’re new to this story, the book of Job is not a factual, historical account of a guy who loses it all. Think of it like when Jesus tells us a parable, a story that tips all the usual players on their head so that we take a different look at things. In this story, Job loses his property, his children, his livestock all in one breath and his health. Yet the book of Job is no less true because it names the question that all of humanity shares in common: why?

So, now maybe you’re thinking well let’s flip to the end of this puppy and get the answer. We need answers. Let’s see what the solution is. Which is sort of how we’re wired. We are wired to want to fix things, to make things better, to avoid the discomfort, to tie things up neatly. My brother-in-law Lars is a commercial writer and we recently had a conversation where he told me that nobody sells products anymore – they sell solutions. So instead of writing potentially confusing language about “order and execution management software with natively integrated market data” he writes about a trading solution.

We want solutions and yet the more complex a thing, the harder it is to see a clear solution. The Orlando shooting is fading in my memory just as the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge kicked up. So Thursday morning I woke up to see that another black man died not in some far away place but in the neighborhood where I went to seminary. In the neighborhood my younger sister lives. All while we were sleeping, this happened. And then the shooting of multiple police officers in Dallas the next day at a peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter. The images and sounds of grief by the teenage son of Alton sobbing next to his mother as she speaks to the media; the cries of a 4 year old trying to comfort her mother after Philando was shot. The shrill screams of the panicked police officer. The chaos and swirl of grief is just settling in.

Violence has become the answer, has always seemed to be the go-to here in America. Especially when we are afraid and refuse to feel the full impact of our grief. To admit that we are grieving or that we need to be grieving for others.

And I want to fix this. I want us to fix the inherent racism in our culture. I want us to fix the systemic nature of racism that has black men dying at the hands of the law and living lives behind bars. It needs to be fixed. And none of us gets a pass here. I don’t have a solution for us here other than we’ve got to keep our eyes open, we’ve got to admit there is a problem, and we’ve got to be willing to be part of movement forward. Not in the further demonization of people who are not white and not in the demonization of the police. “Othering” people is not the answer.

We can learn from Job. Job knows he is grieving. Job is reaching out for help. And he has 3 approaches. First, he goes inward. He curses his life saying, I shoulda never been born. Then he turns to his friend for help who comments that he must have done something to deserve all this misery. And finally, he turns to God and says, “I’m angry at you. Why has this happened?”

Which is the perfect trajectory for Job. He moves from himself to a friend and then finally to God, letting God have it. Which is exactly what we can do in our relationship with God. I don’t care if you think you’re too far away from God or new to God or not good at praying. If you can speak, you can pray. If you can breathe, you can pray. Because God hears it and takes it.

The problem with Job, with this awful and persisting question of “why?” is that we are never ready for the answer.

Believing in Jesus Christ,

the answer to suffering is always yes.

The answer to death is always yes.

And what I mean by this is that we must die for the sake of others. It’s why we confess our sin each and every Sunday. It’s not so that we get God’s attention and God can pat us on the head or hurumph forgiveness at us. Confessing our sin is our way to death.

No, confessing our sin is for us to admit that we are not ok, that we are not our best solution, that we cannot fix this.

Confessing our sin wakes us up to the reality that we would rather create distance with those in our lives in order to be right.

Confessing our sin wakes us up to the reality that there is racism, yes even in us.

Confessing our sin lets us give voice to the epidemic of black men being killed or jailed at rates that are not common for white people.

Confessing our sin reveals that our silence is not the thoughtful, prayerful discernment that leads to action but instead is the silence that leads to nothing. It is the silence that is complicit to the injustice happening just 65 miles away. That is happening right here in Hutchinson. That is happening in each of us.

Confessing our sin is not about justifying our punishment. Confessing our sin is not so that a world gone mad can say, “See?! He deserved it!” Confessing our sin is admitting that we need to die so that our misconceptions, our stereotypes, our hatred can die and be transformed.

Because at the base of our confession and forgiveness is our identity as Children of God. We did not create this identity, God gave it to us and will never strip it from us. One of my seminary professors, Eric Baretto, who has brown skin wrote this on Thursday: What if the opposite of violence isn’t peace as much as it is a radical love that cannot bear the taking of life because the taking of life is a denial of whom God has said we are?[1]

Each and every one of us is a Child of God. The police officers in Baton Rouge and in St. Paul and in Dallas and in Hutchinson. Each one of us is a Child of God, including Alton and Philando. You and me. We have forgotten who we are: that we are the gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people who were shot and killed in Orlando. We are black men, Alton and Philando. We are the police officers.

This is what the identity as Children of God does: it gives us to other people. It changes the way we see ourselves, the way we see other people.

And so realizing this identity as Children of God, we can no longer be silent. We must follow Job’s lead and lament within ourselves, for our own complicit silence; we must turn to our friends and spouses and loved ones and chew on it together and have hard conversations; and we must, we simply must turn our questions and anger, our laments to God. We must realize we are in grief for others, since we are them.

And perhaps God is silent or seems silent.

Or perhaps we’ve never listened for God.

Perhaps God’s answer is uncomfortable.

But God’s answer is always one of love.

But God said the most to us when he sent Jesus who said yes to death for our sake and then sent us out into the world to love God and to love people.

Our foundation in Christ means we must put our belief systems of the way the world works at risk. For that is the only way forward to a life of faith that truly follows the one who on the cross, defeated our sin and shame with divine love and holy forgiveness.

The time to be silent is done. The time has come to admit we are suffering and suffering mightily. The time has come to give space so that the voices of grief, suffering and pain can be heard and acknowledged. The time has come for us to shape our lives in ways that genuinely witness to God’s ultimate love for every human being as Children of God. Amen.[2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.facebook.com/eric.barreto?fref=nf

[2] I stole these last 2 paragraphs from my good friend, The Rev. Ken Carrothers. I changed them a little, but they are his words.

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