"Why Draw Conclusions?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 10/5/1997
Hebrews 2:5-12; Job 2:1-10
Job had already lost his herds, his servants, and his children through a series of enemy raids and natural disasters. Our lesson opens with a description of Job's next challenge, a body covered with boils. The opening scene of this drama finds him sitting on a garbage dump. His wife said, "You are still as faithful as ever, aren't you? Why don't you curse God and die?" Job responded, "You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when there is trouble?"
The story of Job has inspired many authors through the ages. The classic work in our day is Rabbi Cushner's book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People. Thousands of years ago, Job had already discovered that every event is neutral in value until we form a conclusion about it. Hence we see the wisdom in the saying, "One person's mountain is another person's mole hill."
Notice again the substance of his wife's criticism, "You are still as faithful as ever, aren't you?" Think about your lives right now. What could possibly happen to any of us that would sever our trust in God? Even though the quality of Job's life had deteriorated almost overnight, why would his wife offer such a suggestion?
The answer is that people of every generation in every age have searched for reasons why they experience pain and suffering. The prophets of the Old Testament capitalized on this concept and said, "God is punishing you because you turned away from God's commandments." Yet, in this story Job is innocent. There is no one to blame. Job taught us the wisdom of drawing no conclusions and assigning no meaning to our experiences. This is not easy to do.
The other day I struggled with this very concept. Once a year, ministers in the conference have the opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with their District Superintendents. My appointment was 2:30 p.m. this past Monday. Even though it was clearly marked in my book, I forgot it. What really bothered me was how I failed to notice something that important.
It is routine for me to show up for dentist appointments, wedding rehearsals and meetings. How could I possibly miss an appointment with my boss? It really affected me. My failure was attacking me because I had assigned a meaning to it. No conclusion I formed, however, could undo what I had done. Yet, I spiraled emotionally for several days.
I told the Staff-Parish Relations Committee about this incident and one of them said, "You may have been led to forget that appointment so that you would not be injured in a traffic accident on Rt. 450." That comment made us all laugh. What a great justification! But in a real sense there was truth in that comment. Can any of us ever know all the possible consequences from anything we do? My failure will infinitely help me to be more understanding when others forget their appointments with me.
Last week I was having lunch with a retired minister. She was talking to me about how challenging her marriage had been. Before he died, her husband had many physical problems that had been complicated by his abuse of alcohol. She said, "Had I not had the opportunity to work through all of that with him, I would not be the person that I am today."
When we know and thoroughly understand that we are loved by God, we then can become a channel for God's presence in every circumstance. Our very presence anywhere can make an enormous difference. Job's wife felt that he should forsake his trust in God. Isn't it interesting that Job never judged the quality of his life by his relationship with God? He had discovered that when he was okay with God on the inside, nothing attacking him from the outside could defeat him.
Some years ago, Leo Buscaglia had by-pass surgery. Leo is one of these effervescent personalities who dared to teach Love 101 and 102 at the University of California. He could have experienced fears and doubts that asked, "Why me?" or "What have I done?" or "Does this mean the end of my being who I am?" Instead, none of that thinking occurred.
After his surgery he spent most of his time going from room to room in the hospital visiting other patients. In fact, he was so enthusiastic that the medical staff had become frustrated with him. He wouldn't rest. What inspired others was the way he radiated optimism to everyone. His need for surgery never became a mountain because Leo had never assigned any meaning to it.
Think of the freedom we will have the moment we stop drawing conclusions about the experiences we face. Job's wife said, "Why don't you curse God and die?" Each time we form negative conclusions about any episode that comes, we deny what God could empower us to be in that circumstance. In a sense we do die. Job chose to remain faithful. He walked through every wall and every barrier that fear tried to build and he conquered them all.
To this day, the Book of Job stands as a beacon of truth and light for those of us who draw defining conclusions about our circumstances. Think what we could be if we understood ourselves as being capable of making God's spirit visible in all our experiences. God does not call us to be critics of our environment, but to stand forth as people of the light every moment of every day.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Ever present and faithful God, how grateful we are for the bounty that surrounds us, for the many relationships that nurture us, and for the inspiration that comes from all of creation. Yet, we confess how easy it is to feel forsaken when reversals in life erase the symbols that have given us meaning. How blind we become to your presence, when a goal on which we depended slipped forever from our grasp. How distracted we remain when our purpose for living becomes frustrated by circumstances we did not foresee. It is painful to realize, O God, how easily we fall prey to the minor changes that are made in our portrait. How easily we forget who the artist is. Help us to recognize the moments when we substitute thoughts of pain, fear and loss for our lack of trust and confidence in you. Help us live in peace when the sun shines and when the rain falls. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Gracious and ever faithful God, we are so grateful that in our blindness to truth, you still lead us. We are grateful that in our fears, you know that there is nothing of which we ever need to be afraid. We are grateful that when our minds are challenged by many of life's unanswered questions, we have the understanding that you have never lost control over any aspect of what you have made.
There are times, O God, when we are really troubled by people who appear to have no regard for the value of human life. We see children using guns when something they want is denied them.
We see innocence that suffers. We sense frustration when our world leaders have few solutions that might move all humanity to a lasting peace. No, God, we do not have the answer to issues like these, but we know that you have sent us into a world with a faith that you do. In our blindness, we still know that we have been called to be instruments of your peace.
Enable us to place our trust in you with such confidence, that we do not need to know how the story ends for us to be a participant, that we do not have to make sense out of our experiences for us to lift high the truth that we know, and that we do not have to have a clarity of purpose for us to be the healer in all circumstances.
As we come to the table this morning along with Christians all over the world, let us stand as one so that the barriers of ignorance might be pierced. Let each of us learn to live the light we have been given. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ who taught us to say when we pray...