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

Mother Wisdom: A Call to Transformation

Sermon – September 13th 2015

16th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Hebrew Scripture:  Proverbs 1:20-33

Epistle: James 3:1-12

Gospel: Mark 8:27-38

 

What does wisdom mean for you?  Today we read about Wisdom in the book of Proverbs.  Wisdom is personified as female energy.   Wisdom comes to us through the Spirit within us.  Wisdom is about equality. Wisdom is about resolving conflict non-violently. Wisdom calls upon us to listen to our hearts.  Wisdom calls upon us to think carefully.  Wisdom calls upon us to treat each other as we would treat ourselves.  Wisdom is always calling upon us to listen with our wholes selves.

We would all be better off if we would pay more attention to Mother Wisdom.  James expresses in his epistle, that same desire, to call upon the Christian Community to live more peacefully with each other.  James is calling upon people to be careful what they say.  James is calling upon his people to only speak in ways that build up rather than tear down.  James new that words can hurt.  Words can destroy people, churches, communities, and nations.  We too can learn from James because I believe there is just as much negative and destructive behaviour in our churches and communities today as there was in Jesus day.

Jesus had a very strong relationship with Mother Wisdom.  Through his deep encounter with the Spirit, throughout his life, he was able to see a path to restoring the world to the way that God had intended.   Jesus was trying to explain his mission to his disciples in today’s passage.

This was to be a mission that would transform the world from its ugly ways of violence, manipulation and the abuse of power to one of love, respect and justice for all.  Peter couldn’t believe his ears, because he knew that this non-violent path could have Jesus killed and maybe him too.  So Peter rebukes him!  But Jesus does not give up.  He knows that his followers were looking for a great king, like David, who would bring them a great military victory.  Jesus new his ways were revolutionary!

Jesus new he was a very different leader that comes from a very different premise of strength through vulnerability.  The cross became the symbol of strength through vulnerability. This is still a radical idea for our day.  We still think we can solve the world’s problems through our armies.  But history shows that wars are far from perfect.  They usually don’t resolve the conflict in the long run.

For us Christians the cross has become a very powerful symbol.  However, most of us have forgot what the cross was really about.  This is a symbol of suffering.  Dying on a cross was one of the worst ways to die.  It would be extremely painful!  Jesus new that in order to reclaim the world for God would require suffering.  He knew that the old ways of being that gave power to the few would not change easily.  If we are to follow Jesus we must be open to some form of suffering.

Jesus is not saying that God wants us to suffer.  But God knows that if we are to transform the hearts of the most greedy and violent people we must be willing to make sacrifices.  Some people might say that we must be willing to bear our cross. For some it will be an early death, but for the majority of us it will come through harassment, shaming, abuse, embarrassment, and other forms of demeaning.

No one can force us to bear our cross.  Bearing our cross is always a choice.  Bearing our cross is about transforming the world. So suffering that comes from parts of our life we cannot control such as domestic abuse is not bearing our cross.  Here is one story of women choosing to bear their cross.  Bill D Strayhorn shares this story:

Some women who live near Washington D.C. wanted to show God’s love to a special group of people.  They heard about a group of babies who were rarely held and destined to live and die in hospitals because they had A.I.D.S.  The babies didn’t get much attention, so they began to cry silently. No one had responded to their crying out loud so they stopped doing it.  But they still shed tears.

Even though these children would die by their second birthdays, the women took a number of the A.I.D.S. babies’ home.  The women would respond to the silent tears by holding and rocking the babies.  Soon these unloved, cast-off A.I.D.S. babies began to cry out loud again.  They had been spoken to in the only way they could understand. They had been spoken to in the language of love by women willing to deny themselves and take up their cross.

Billy D. Strayhorn Ministry Matters

The Good News is that when we say yes to the cross we don’t have to do this alone.

This is why for me why our faith communities are so important.  We need each other to do the work of the Creator.  We need to support and encourage each other.  We need each other to hold each of us accountable e.g. are we following through on our work.  We need each other to ensure that we all take care of ourselves so we have the good health to keep doing this important ministry.  We need each other to worship and play so as to keep the spirit alive in each of us.

As James keeps reminding us that faith without good works is useless.  So what cross do you choose to bear?   How are you trying to make the world a healthier and just place for all of Creation?  How are you trying to love those on the fringes who are often ignored or taken advantage of?   How are you trying to love your neighbour? How are you working on this with your congregation and community?

This is not to say we should not enjoy life. Jesus loved to have a good time.  Remember when he changed water into wine at a wedding.  Celebrating life together help us to recharge our batteries.  The wonder is that when we are able to experience hopelessness then we can truly appreciate joy.

I invite us all to reflect on why you call yourself a Christian.  For you what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?  How would you answer James when he asks you how you are living out your faith in the world?  What crosses have you chosen to bear?  What crosses are you being called to bear in the future?

May God continue to bless you on this journey.mother Earth-1