Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People

Sermon – October 4th, 2015

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Hebrew Scripture: Job 1:1; 2:1-10

By Roland Legge

I am fascinated by the tale of Job.  The Bible tells us that he was a good and righteous man.  He followed all the religious laws.  He never spoke against God. He was good to his friends and family.  In fact Job was perfect!

Job and his contemporaries believed that God would reward the good and righteous with good health and the comforts of life.  No one doubted he was righteous because everything in life was going so well for him.  He had good health.  He had a healthy and strong family.  He was blessed with great wealth.  Life couldn’t be much better.

But then disaster strikes.  The story tells us that God had been showing off to the angel Satan.  God tells Satan how righteous Job is and that nothing, not even famine and illness, would turn Job against God.  So Satan asks for God’s permission to see if he could get Job to curse God by making him suffer terribly.   God agrees and allows Satan to test Job.  So everything in Job’s life begins to fall apart.  Life becomes a scourge of suffering and pain.  Initially, Job holds up his optimism but then moves into a place of feeling sorry for himself.

Now when we refer to Satan, he was part of the Holy Order.  His job was to report to God on the behavior of God’s people.  Satan wasn’t the enemy of God, as was believed many year later.  Satan was doing his duty by testing Job.  He was part of God’s team.

Job becomes more miserable to be around.  Eventually his family and friends begin to believe that he must be paying for some terrible sins he has committed.  But Job insists on his faithfulness to God and refuses to curse God, despite the wishes of his wife.

However, I wonder if Job’s wife deserves a little bit of credit here.  I think some of her womanly wisdom told her that if Job was going to be able to move on that he would need to let out the anger against God that she knew to be in him.  I don’t believe she was tempting him to sin but encouraging him to heal.

The story of Job was challenging the world view of the time.   The author of Job is challenging his readers to understand that blessing is not a reward for good behavior and neither is curse or punishment for sinfulness. God will do, what God will do, whether we like it or not.  We will suffer for what seems like no reason.  And often there is no reason other than being alive on this earth. At times of great blessing in our life we all need to do say thank you to God and not take any credit for it ourselves.  Sometimes we are just at the right place at the right time.

Even, with all the scientific information we have today, we still deal with blessing and curse in much the same way as Job and his contemporaries did.  How often have you caught yourself pleading to God: “What have I done to deserve this…?”  I still experience people blaming the sick for their own illnesses.  Does a person who smokes deserve to die of lung cancer more than a person who chooses to live in a large city with high amounts of smog?  Does a person living with HIV/AIDS who contracted it from their husband any more saintly than a person who caught it through a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex?  I don’t think so!

This same mindset continues on today in our economic theories. The god of capitalism, the “market” is understood/believed to act in the same way that world of Job and his contemporaries understood their God to act.  Yet many people in our country believe the same today.  The idea is that if you work hard you will benefit.  If you don’t work hard you will suffer.  So if anyone is struggling in life it must be their fault.  If you are poor then it is your fault.  If you are rich you deserve it.   We blame the victim so do we don’t have to take any responsibility for the inequities in the world.

If we really think about it Capitalism is not perfect.  Sometime it is very destructive. During last economic crisis our economies collapsed because of poor choices that were made out of greed.  It wasn’t the people in the high positions who were hurt.  It was the little guy, who paid the consequences.  It was the ordinary people like us who paid the price.

Obviously there are consequences for choices we make.  Yes a person who smokes is more likely to die of lung cancer.  Even a person who drives everywhere and never exercises probably has a higher risk of heart disease.  Yet each of us have and continue to make a mixture of choices.  There is no perfect person out there.  We all have our vices.  But the consequences of our poor choices are not punishments from God.  Many destructive things happen in our lives that are beyond our control.

The truth for me is that each of us has to take full responsibility for ourselves.  Once we are able to open our hearts again we can consciously co-create with God to help to make the world a great place to be.  To care for each other.  To celebrate and share our success in the good times and hold each other up during the hard times.  We are in this life together.  We cannot do it without each other.

The God I believe in has promised to journey with us through all the ups and downs of life.  For me God does not want us to suffer, but will help us to journey through the tough times and may even show us signs of resurrection through bringing out new life out of pain and hurt.  God will continue to bless us in ways that boggle our minds and fill our hearts with joy.

Job

Whom do we choose to live by?

Sermon – October 5th 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46

I don’t like today’s passage from Matthew!  It has such violent images.  Why am I using it?  I am using it because it has been used by too many Christians over the centuries to oppress our Jewish brothers and sisters.

First, I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew.  Jesus was an Israelite. Jesus never intended to start another religion he only wanted to reform his own.

The Gospel according to Matthew was written by a Jew in a time when there was a lot of pain between Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who didn’t.  It was a painful time—not unlike some of the conflicts we have faced in the United Church of Canada which divided congregations.  These conflicts divided many families, just like conflicts in the early days of Jesus’ ministry.

The parable of the Vineyard was probably adapted from a Parable that Jesus actually said.  In Jesus’ time he was simply wanting to his encourage his followers to keep on going despite the anger by those in power both the Roman Empire and the religious establishment.  I need to be clear that the religious establishment did not represent all Jews.  There were many who were opposed to their intention to keep the power in the hands of a few people—not unlike the Papacy of today or sometime even our General Council of the United Church.

Sadly, this scripture has been used as justification to abuse and kill Jews throughout the centuries.  We must change this way of thinking throughout Christianity.  This is why the United Church of Canada has been working hard to build relationships with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Through these relationships we can better understand each other and find ways to work and worship together.  This doesn’t mean we are always going to agree. No two Christians or Jews will agree on everything.  There is great diversity of views in both religions.

I love this re-telling of the Parable, told by William H. Willimon, which reflects on how Christians have treated Jews. He says:

The church in its dealings with the Jewish people has acted like the bad relations in this parable:
A family, who lived in a beautiful house beside a blue lake, was surprised to hear a knock at the door one morning. There stood at their front door a couple with two children. They were even more surprised when the couple told them, “We are your long-lost relatives from out west. We have come to visit you for just a couple of days. Can we come in?”
The family, though surprised by these relatives whom they had never heard of, graciously received them into their home, and began to graciously entertain them for the next couple of days. After two days had passed, the relatives said that they would like to stay a few days longer. The family graciously agreed.
But then, the family began to notice that their guests, their long-lost relatives, were beginning to behave less like guests and more like permanent residents. The relatives began to redecorate the room they had been given. In fact, they spilled out of the guest room and took over two additional rooms in the house, rearranging the furniture, taking pictures off the walls and putting different pictures there that they had brought with them, and in general, acting as if they owned the place.
Still, the family tried graciously to welcome them and make them feel at home. The trouble was, the guests were beginning to feel a bit too much at home. Two weeks went by, and still the relatives, whom the family thought were only temporary guests, were with them.
One day there was a knock at the door and the family was surprised to see six or seven people standing at the door, holding their suitcases. They had never seen the people before and were startled when their relatives called out from the four rooms they were now occupying in the home, “Oh, those are some of our friends from out west. We told them what a nice house you live in, and invited them to come stay with us and visit. We knew you wouldn’t mind because you are so gracious.”
Well, I won’t go into the rest of the story, but you can probably figure out how it ended. After a couple of months, the family had been reduced to living in only one room of their own house, while their temporary “guests” had taken over the entire house for themselves. Eventually, in dismay, the family – feeling like strangers in their own home – moved away, driven out by those whom they had once received so graciously.
Take this as a parable, akin to the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 21 of the wicked tenants in the vineyard.

 

Sadly, we Christian began to impose our particular ways on our Jewish brothers and sisters and tried to make them look inferior. We would go to great lengths to destroy their communities.  We must not let this happen again.

So what can we get out of today’s Scripture? I think we all fall short of following the way of Jesus and we need to reflect on ourselves.   It is against the ways of Jesus to put down his own people.

I believe the Spirit calls upon us in our families and communities to hold each other responsible for following the Great Commandment: love God with all your heart and soul, to love your neighbour as yourself and to honor and respect yourself as a man/woman of God.  We are the only ones who can change ourselves and we need to focus on ourselves rather than put others down to lift ourselves up.

Canada is becoming more and more a multi-faith country.  I hope we will seek to get to know people of other faiths and philosophies and recognize what we have in common. We can allow our differences to help each of us grow into being more understanding, compassionate and open minded.  May the Creator help us, of different faiths, to work together for a better world and let the Spirit lead us to a just, loving and sustainable world that will honor all of Creation.

 

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