"Is Faith Always Rewarded?"

Meditation Delivered By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 4, 2009

Psalm 26; Job 1:1, 2:1-10

     The Book of Job is a classic.  The portion that was read for us this morning contains a very profound faith-issue, an issue that sparked Rabbi Harold Kushner’s 1981 writing of the book entitled, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”  Kushner’s title captured the essence of Job’s responses to his life-changing experiences.  He also framed with his words the same orientation to life that Jesus observed throughout his ministry. 

     Faith always creates its own reward.  A faith-orientation toward life has nothing to do with the circumstances of our lives. For those of us who have cultivated our faith, it behaves like an inner gyroscope that keeps us balanced, centered and focused on our ability to trust God as our timeless and ever present friend.  A number of people have their faith designed around an unrecognized belief that God is an ATM or a life boat.  

     Consider what happened to Job.  Job was living a completely exemplary life when he was beset with all manner of misfortune, e.g., a band of roving raiders stole Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed all his servants except the one who reported the event.  Lightning struck killing Job’s sheep and shepherds.  Moments later another wandering band of raiders from the north stole his large herd of camels.  Shortly thereafter, while his children were having a large social gathering, a massive sandstorm swept in from the desert destroying their dwelling, claiming the lives of everyone inside.  The writer of Job declares, “In spite of everything that happened, Job did not blame God.”

     Where are we with our relationship to God when we think, “I did not deserve this to happen to me!”  Think of what has been in the world news recently.  A killer tsunami that hit the Samoa Islands was caused by an earthquake measuring a magnitude of 8, unleashing a series of waves that were 15 to 20 feet high.  This quake occurred along the same fault line that created the 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 in 11 countries.  A day later in another part of the world that has nothing to do with the seismic activity along the fault lines affecting the Samoa Islands, an earthquake measuring a magnitude of 7.6 occurred near Indonesia’s Sumatra Island.  Right now there are two back to back typhoons battering the Philippines. 

     Death and the disruption of life are everywhere whether due to fires deliberately set by an arsonist in California that scorched 246 square miles or by the category-five tornado that destroyed Greensburg, Kansas in May of this year.    

     Thoughtful men and women of faith can easily think, “We believe that God is a God of love and compassion, but the fact that God allows such disasters gives us pause.  What does it mean when we know that God has the power to intervene and God chooses not to do so?”  This was the thought pattern that plagued Jewish scholars and theologians during the Holocaust.  Job makes the point very clear that disastrous outcomes can happen to anyone.  The rains do fall on the just and unjust alike.

     A number of devout believers can become confused when a disaster terrorizes their personal lives.   We value our bodies even though they are temporary shelters for our infinite spirits.  We value the dream that we will grow old with our loved ones.  We value our faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings and with that faithfulness may be an underlying, perhaps unrecognized belief that we will be spared from personal disasters because of our faith. 

     Sometimes innocence suffers death because a thoughtless driver crossed the median line on the road while sending an unimportant text message to a friend.  In that split-second when the driver took his or her eyes off the road, several people’s unfolding life-histories were radically changed. 

     As though experiencing a further insult to his massive losses, Job discovered that his body had become covered with sores.   He sat discouraged on top of a garbage dump and took a piece of broken pottery and scraped his sores.  His wife said, “You are still as faithful as ever aren’t you?  Why don’t you curse God and die?”   Job’s response revealed that the quality of his spirit was not dependent on his creature comforts.  He said to his wife, “You are talking nonsense.  When God sends us something good, we welcome it.  How can we complain when trouble comes?”  Sometimes, life’s greatest challenges come as abruptly as they did to Job. 

     One of the very memorable men in my life was a tenor who sang in our choir at Cheverly.  He was a quiet man who most Sundays put a twenty dollar bill in my hand and asked me to find a home for it where it would do some good.  Mike was one of these rare men who knew the building trades well.  He was skilled at carpentry, dry wall, plumbing, electrical, heating and air-conditioning systems.  In fact, he spent several years building his dream house in Florida.  He did most of the work himself.   

     Mike was the superintendent of construction projects when bleachers and scaffold were erected for the presidential inaugurations.  On the last day on the job prior to his retirement, he was invited to inspect the scaffold by the man who was going to assume Mike’s responsibilities.  This occasion was the inauguration of President Reagan’s first term in office.   While Mike and his colleague were on the scaffold, a strong wind gust came out of nowhere causing the scaffold to collapse.  Mike was killed instantly while his friend walked away relatively unscathed. 

     Mike had finished building his dream home.  The movers were coming at the end of the week.  Everything was set for his retirement.  Just a simple acceptance of an invitation for a courtesy inspection one last time became a decision that cost him his life.  How can anyone understand such a thing?  The unique sequence of events leading to Mike’s death affected many of us in our church family for a long time. 

     Mike’s death caused many of us to think again about the existence of any linkage between having faith and the material rewards that come to us because of our strengths of character.  The corner stone to such an understanding comes from Jesus’ life.  He was the embodiment of what love looks like and he was murdered anyway.  Even so his spirit radiated what Job believed, “Even in all his suffering, Job did not blame God.”

     This same orientation toward life came into a sharp focus verbally when the author of the Book of Hebrews wrote, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for and to be certain of the things we cannot see.”  These are among the most profound words that can be found in the Scriptures.  As we gather at the table on this World Communion Sunday, let us pray for ourselves and for people all over the world that find themselves in circumstances that could easily put a basket over their light.


     Loving and always merciful God, we thank you that you created us in your image.  You have called us toward a perfection that appears to be well beyond our grasp.  Yet as we approach what we believe is impossible, we sense your presence and strength.  During our losses we learn that new beginnings are not far away.  We learn from life's reversals to trust you for outcomes we cannot imagine.  When the visible images of this world fail us, we learn to cling to the world we cannot see.  Such paradoxes, O God, teach us to look at perfection differently.  As we grow in confidence enable the spirit of our personalities to reflect your presence.  Inspire our desire to serve one another with joy as we patiently await the day when your will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.


     Loving God, we are so grateful that in our blindness to some forms of truth, you still lead us when we are willing to perceive your presence.  We are grateful that during the times when we do not understand life, you have given us the potential to trust in your reassuring presence that there is nothing of which we ever need to be afraid.  We are grateful that when our minds are challenged by so many unanswered questions, we know that you never lose control over any aspect of creation. 

     People who appear to have no regard for the value of human life trouble us.  We find the recurring theme of the suffering of innocent people very challenging to understand. We cannot make sense of what is happening in our economy when record numbers of people have lost the means to their livelihood.  We sense frustration when our world leaders find few solutions that might heal humanity’s lack of trust in each other.  What we do know is that we are guided by the trust that you do understand humanity’s poverty in radiating love without counting the cost.

     Loving God, we do not need to know how the story ends before we choose to be a loving participant in life’s drama.  We do not need to make sense out of our experiences for us to make visible the truth that we know.  We do not need to have clarity to any outcome before we become a healer with our responses to one another.  As we come to the table this morning with Christians around the world, help us to understand the power of our combined strength as we confront the ignorance of others with education about you.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray: