Between Sundays: A sermon for Palm Sunday, and beyond.

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Matthew 21:1-11
21:1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,

21:2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.

21:3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”

21:4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

21:5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

21:6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;

21:7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.

21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

21:9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

21:10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

21:11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Today is the only day of the church year where you come to church and we give you not only your regular bulletin, but this palm frond too. If you aren’t expecting it, that probably seems a little odd.

Your palm fronds mean of course that it’s Palm Sunday. Which means we are getting close to the end of Lent, and are starting Holy Week. Next Sunday you’ll hopefully be here to help up celebrate the holiest day of the Christian year, Easter.

But today we have these palms to contend with, and what, from the outside, must look like a very strange tradition.

On Palm Sunday we remember Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We remember how he rode into the city on a donkey, and the crowds were waiting for him. They had heard about him. They loved him. They threw their coats on the ground, and spread their palms out on the road, and they cheered as he came in. They were looking for the Messiah and they were sure it was him.

So all these centuries later we Christians gather in churches and collect these palms and wave them. We celebrate a great parade that took place long ago, the coming of the Messiah to Jerusalem. And we are so, so close to Easter. We almost want to take this day as a warm-up, a celebration before the big celebration.

And if you read the story today knowing nothing about what happens between Sundays, you could. But you all know that something happens between Sundays. And the story isn’t as straight-forward as it seems. Stories about Jesus seldom are.

When I was in college I saw a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical traces the events of Holy Week and I was struck by the crowd, the chorus of singers that followed Jesus. As they waived palms on one Sunday they shouted his praises and sung and called out to him. But as the week went on, they changed. And by Friday, those same people once shouting their admiration were calling for his death.

It’s always stuck with me. That change in feeling. I think of it every year during Holy Week. Jesus goes from the exalted one to the one who is offered up as a sacrifice by the crowd. There’s something fitting about the fact that in many churches the palms from Palm Sunday are saved until the following Ash Wednesday, when they are then burned and turned into the ashes we wear as a symbol of our humaness and fraility and mistakes. Sometimes we turn from Christ, and we get it wrong.

We don’t like to dwell on that. We don’t like to dwell on the reality that Christ was betrayed, and denied, and abandoned. We like to stick with the Palm Sunday and Easter joy, not the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday pain.

Holy Week, fittingly, is the holiest week of the church year. It’s also the busiest. And many pastors, whether we admit it or not, know that when we announce the extra services that week there’s sort of a heavy sigh.

I get it. We’re all busy. Sunday morning feels hard enough for many good Christians. Thursday night, after a long day at work, is even tougher. You just want to go home, have dinner, and either tackle the pile of laundry or have a few precious hours to yourself. You probably don’t want to take the car out one more time, drive to church, and sit through another service, and one that’s not so joyful at that.

No one will blame you if you don’t. No pastor I know takes attendance, and, truth be told, we clergy all have our own Netflix queue and stack of unfinished novels that we might longingly look at on our way out of our own doors. But the occupational hazard of being clergy means we can’t call out on Holy Week. Which means the messages of the stories we hear on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday can’t go unheard by us.

That’s good because what we hear about Jesus on those two nights is the same as what we hear every day in our offices. But we don’t talk about that much. Because most churches are good at doing Sundays. But sometimes not so good at acknowledging what comes between Sundays.

On Sunday mornings we often focus on the joy. We sing uplifting hymns. We hear hopeful sermons. We smile. We shake hands. We dress up. We talk about grace and blessings and gratitude. That’s not a bad thing.

But when many of our parishioners leave on Sunday, they step into a different world. Between Sundays I visit with people who are facing a struggle that few in their lives  understand. They’re sick or injured. Dying or bereaved. Or depressed, heart-broken, betrayed, alone, and wrestling with doubt.

And if you come to church on Palm Sunday and Easter, you might not think we in the church know anything about that. But if you come between Sundays, you’ll find a faith that knows what that is like. More than that, you’ll find a God who knows what that is like.

To me, the most comforting part of Holy Week is not the waving of triumphal palms on one Sunday morning, or the flowers and joyous hymns on the next. It’s what happens in between.

It’s Jesus on Maundy Thursday sharing a table with the people he loved the most. It’s him washing their feet, and showing that the mark of a true leader is whether they can serve others.  And it’s Jesus still loving those disciples even though he knew that, at best, they would abandon him, and at worst, they would betray him. And it’s Jesus in the garden, alone, heart-broken, and struggling between what he wanted to do and what he knew he had to do.

And on Good Friday, it continues. The world turns against him, and the ones who cheered his entry in Jerusalem instead cheer his death. He suffers. He calls out to a God who does not seem to answer. He doubts. He feels pain, and loss, and grief. And in the end he loses the life he knew.

I’m sometimes asked by those who are going through a difficult time whether God is angry when they have doubts, or when they wonder why God doesn’t seem to be answering prayers. They ask if God understands when we suffer, or when we feel alone.

When they do, I point first not to the Christ of Palm Sunday or Easter, but to the Christ of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The one who lived as one of us. Who loved as one of us. Who doubted as one of us. Who suffered as one of us. And who died as one of us.

And only then do I point to the Christ who rose again, and overcame the worst that the world could throw at him.

I sometimes worry that we forget the lessons of Holy Week the rest of the year. Some churches even cancel mid-week services due to low attendance, and instead roll all the stories into a “Passion Sunday” service on Palm Sunday. But when we forget Holy Week, I wonder if we are losing that time we once had to sit with Christ in his own human struggles? And I wonder if when we lose that time, we lose our ability to learn to sit with others in their struggle, and with ourselves in our own?

But what would Christian life look like if we took that time. What if we became known not just as the people who knew what to do on Sundays, but the ones who knew how to stay with you when your life was falling apart, just as Christ asks us to do on Maundy Thursday? Or the ones who could stand by and still love and respect you even when you call out your doubts, as Jesus did on the cross? What would happen if we weren’t just know for our Easter Sunday celebrations, but for our Thursday night solidarity? Our Friday afternoon compassion?

We have the capacity to be those people. We have it because Christ has called us to be those people. All we have to do is be willing to make the journey with him. Not just on Sundays, but on the days between. The world has plenty of Sunday morning Christians. It needs a few more of the weekday ones.

Today, we wave our palms. We shout Hosanna. We look ahead to the Resurrection. But when you leave, consider taking them with you. Consider keeping them this year as a reminder of who we are on Palm Sunday. And then, when the times get hard, and the week grows tougher, look at them as a reminder of who you could be. Not the person in the crowd who yells out what everyone else is yelling, but the person instead who believed what they said on Sunday, and who will follow Christ on this journey. Even a journey that continues between Sundays.

Christ is waiting for us there. May we join him on this holy path. Amen.

“Out of the Depths”: New Stillspeaking Daily Devotional

stillspeakingOut of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” – Psalm 130

My first call out of seminary was to a children’s hospital. I was a chaplain in a pediatric emergency room, and I spent most of my time meeting families on what were often the worst days of their lives.

The staff at that hospital were all exceptional. Thanks to them, most of the children who came through the trauma bay doors survived, and even thrived. But that was not always the case. And, for each family, for at least a little while, there was fear and pain and uncertainty.

I would sit with anxious parents while they waited for news. I always felt that it was a holy privilege. And I saw some extraordinary friends who would come and sit with them too, and try to give comfort. But, from time to time, sometimes a well-meaning friend would try a little too hard to make everything alright.

Read the rest here: http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/out-of-the-depths.html

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger?: Sermon for May 26, 2013

Text: Romans 5:1-5

When I was in my freshman year at my college, I was in a leadership program. It was a little like Outward Bound, we climbed rocks, and did high ropes courses, and pushed ourselves past what we thought that our limits were. And the joke throughout the whole trip, whenever we were about to do something that seemed dangerous or impossible, was that someone would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

It was a good joke for the weekend, but for a while after that trip I began to really embrace that way of thinking. Young adult years are often full of change, and it seemed like a good life outlook because it meant that everything was an opportunity for growth. Whenever I faced something difficult or challenging I just shrugged and said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

And then I finished college, and then seminary, and took a job as a chaplain at a children’s hospital. And all of a sudden things got a little deeper and a little more real. I spent a lot of time with parents who had lost, or were loosing, children. And I saw their utter devastation. And all of a sudden, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” sounded pretty trite. Because these parents, they were alive but, at least in the aftermath, they weren’t any stronger. In fact, the exact opposite was true. This wasn’t the challenge of a rock wall set up to build character. This was something far more devastating, and far less deliberate.

At first reading, today’s passage from Romans sounds sort of live that motto I heard back then. Paul gives us this sort of chain reaction where he tells us that suffering leads to endurance, and endurance leads to character, and character leads to hope. And this passage could be mistaken to mean, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Just live through something tough, and you will be better for it

But the meaning is much deeper than that. Paul is writing to the church in Rome, where he has never visited before, and he is telling this community about himself. And he is talking to a divided people. Some members of the church there come from the Jewish community and believe that the law they have known their whole lives most be upheld. And others are Gentiles, and they don’t understand why they are being told that they have to get circumcised and keep certain commandments. And the community is divided, which means that is is susceptible to false teachings. And so Paul writes this letter to the Romans to talk about grace and how we are not saved by what we do, but instead by what God does for us. And he writes this particular part about hope.

Now, hope is something you can’t buy, and yet hope sells like nothing else. The people who write ads know this, and so we will buy anything that promises us a sliver of hope from a new medication to a new laundry detergent to a political candidate. But Paul is talking about something deeper here. The sort of hope you can’t buy. Authentic hope, which comes from God.

And we have this very brief passage about hope that out of context is misleading. It seems to say that you will be better for your suffering. And on some level, ultimately, that may be true. But we have to be careful not to reduce it to “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And we have to be sure that we are not saying that God wills suffering upon us to teach us lessons or to make us better people

In the wake of the tornado this week in Oklahoma, it’s important that we make that distinction. After every disaster, natural or human-made, there are always a few voices that pop up in the media saying that God did this and that this happened for a reason. Usually they say it’s because God wants to teach us something. That’s always rubbed me the wrong way.

One of the best sermons I ever read came from a minister named William Sloane Coffin. And he was preaching the Sunday after his beloved son was killed in a motorcycle crash. And he tells this story about the first days after the crash and how a woman he didn’t really know came in carrying these quiches she had baked for him, and she sighs and says “I just don’t understand the will of God.”

He was grieving, and it rubbed him the wrong way, and he got up and flew after her and said, “I’ll say you don’t.” And he went on to say that God doesn’t go around causing accidents and crashes because it’s God’s will. Coffin says God doesn’t go around with a hand on a trigger waiting to inflict pain. And he says finally that when his son’s motorcycle went into the water, “God’s heart was the first to break”.

It’s a good reminder. God does not make tornados hit Oklahoma. God does not give children cancer. God does not will us to kill one another. God does not cause car accidents. Instead, diseases happen, wars are fought, and accidents occur. And in the midst of it, God cries with us.

At this stage in Paul’s life, he had suffered mightily. He had lost everything, been imprisoned, and been beaten. And yet, he had found hope. Not through his suffering, but through the knowledge that God had upheld him in the midst of it. And it was that knowledge that made him such a convincing advocate.

It is because of what he had endured that he was able to talk about how suffering had transformed him, and had shaped his character, and had given him hope. It was not suffering for suffering’s sake. It was instead a place where God’s grace became most real to him. Strength did not come from pain, but from an experience of finding hope in that pain.

I don’t believe that everything on earth that happens is God’s will. I’ve stood in too many Emergency Rooms with grieving parents to believe that. But I do believe that nothing happens in God’s world that God cannot transform in some way for good.

When I was in seventh grade, a neo-Nazi subculture began to flourish in the area I was in school. It was sickening and it was deadly. And I had an English teach who announced one day that we would have a guest speaker. That day a woman with a slight accent came to speak to my class, and she told us the horrors she had seen in her life and about what the reality of human evil can do. And she rolled up her left sleeve, and showed us all that tattooed numbers that had been given to her on the day she arrived at a concentration camp

God did not will the Holocaust. God did not will her suffering. But in the aftermath of what was then unchangeable, God’s grace worked through her to give her strength, and to testify to what unchecked hatred could do. To show those few who embraced a movement they did not really understand what its logical end was. God had not willed her suffering, but God had transformed her character and used it to give the world hope.

The same is true in many of our lives though, thankfully, usually less dramatically so. Think of the people you most respect. Do you respect them for what they were easily given in life? Or do you respect them because there is something in their life that they overcame and were so transformed by that it affected who they were?

The people I respect most, have not had easy lives. They are the people who have faced adversity, and have been transformed by grace.They’ve overcome injury, or addiction, or hatred, or fear, or pain. And have tried to share the hope they received with others.

My dad would be embarrassed if I told you this story, because he’s not the kind who tells stories like this, but it’s Memorial Day weekend, and I just spent a week with him, and he’s on my mind.

Growing up I knew my dad had been in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. I had always assumed he had a desk job. Only in last ten years or so I learned that wasn’t the case. And sometimes he was really in the thick of things.

I asked him once, “Were you scared”? Because as far as I knew at that point my dad had never been scared of anything in his life. And he looked at me and said “of course I was scared”.

I realized then that this man who had always taught me to stand up to prejudice, to be myself, to forge ahead even when I was scared, who had taught me about hope, actually knew what he was talking about.

I think that’s what Paul may have been talking about. Because the people who have walked through the hardest things in life, the people whose characters have been tested the most, and the ones who ultimately emerge with hope, are the ones who manage, by God’s grace, to bring hope to the world.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

No.

What doesn’t kill us, simply doesn’t kill us.

But God’s grace in the face of our struggles is what ultimately makes us stronger. And through that grace, in the most difficult of times, we find endurance. And in that endurance we find character. And it is that character that gives the world hope. Amen.

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Journey Through Lent: Day 12

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Daisy, sleeping in the upstairs window last year.

I just got home. When I came down the road, I looked up to the window on the second floor, the way I always do, expecting our cat, Daisy, to be there watching. I knew she wouldn’t be, of course, but for just a second, I forgot.

I did not set out to be a cat person. When my wife and I first started considering dating, Daisy was part of the package. It was not long after that Daisy moved in with me, while my then girlfriend moved into seminary housing that didn’t allow pets. My friends joked that I must really be in love.

The cat and I spent a few months avoiding one another. And then we reached a sort of detente, likely fueled by the realization that neither of us was going anywhere. And then, a funny thing happened, I began to really love her. She was my buddy, and my companion. She sat with me while I wrote sermons, followed me from room to room, and headbutted me constantly until I would pet her.

But this morning my wife and I stood in the vet’s office and said goodbye. Daisy has had cancer for a few months now. It was localized at first, and the vet assured us that her quality of life wasn’t suffering. She said we would know when it was time. And, late last week, we did. I called to make the appointment, and then we spent a few days feeding her all of her favorite things, and saying goodbye.

In the end, it was both horrible and beautiful. Our vet is wonderfully kind and patient, and she let us bless Daisy before she gave her the sedative. We stayed with her the whole time, thanking her for being such a good friend to us. We told her it was okay to go. We told her we loved her. And then, she went home.

The other day I said to myself, “I don’t want to ever get another cat. This is too hard.” But then I realized the hard truth: everything we truly love will at some point or another bring us pain. That’s the reality of life. People, and animals, that we love will die. Or, even worse, they’ll disappoint us. Or hurt us. Or leave us.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love them anyway. Because if we shut ourselves down to love, and to connection with others, we may as well be dead ourselves.

I loved Daisy, and my wife, who had her before she ever knew me, loved her even more. She had adopted her from a shelter eight years ago. Daisy had been abandoned while pregnant and abused. Every time we picked up a broom to sweep the kitchen she would grow terrified and run and hide. She had experienced the worst of what humans could do to her. And yet, she found it in her heart to trust again, and to, I believe, love us. Her ability to love and trust again, despite the pain and fear she had felt, is not lost on me.

In Lent I am particularly aware of loss. I am aware that we are preparing for the pain of the Passion, and the loss of Good Friday. But, I am also aware that we are preparing our hearts for what comes next: the triumph of love over the worst that the world can do. And the world can indeed do its worst; and it does. It will break our hearts. It will bring us to our knees. It will take our breath away, along with all we love. And yet, none of those things will have the last word in the end. Because, in the end, love rises again.

I give thanks for “all creatures great and small” and to the Creator who teaches us love through them. Thank you, Daisy. I love you still.

Journey Through Lent: Day 5

Before the biggest test of his life, Scripture tells us that for forty days Jesus went out into the wilderness. For Jesus the wilderness was literal. He literally went into a place where few went, a wilderness place. He was out there. But that wasn’t the only wilderness he was facing. It was also a spiritual wilderness. It was a place that few people spiritually dared to go.

You and I, hopefully, are not preparing for crucifixion. But we are here at the start of our own forty days, the forty days of Lent, and we are standing at the threshold of what to the world around us might as well be a wilderness. Lent seems like a foreign concept in our culture, and not just because of the religious associations.

Who wants to go into the wilderness? I’m not talking about camping and hiking, I’m talking about a real wilderness here. A place where we wrestle with ourselves, and our spirit, and our relationship with God? What good is it? You can’t put it on a resume. It doesn’t earn you any money. It doesn’t really make your life easier. It may even make it harder. So why would you do it?

But that’s exactly what Lent asks of us. It asks us for forty days to go into a wilderness place, and to prepare ourselves for the journey of discipleship. It asks us to wrestle with the hard stuff. To pray. To fast. To do something new. To face temptation and choose to follow Christ anyway.

It’s not popular. Easter morning the church will be full of people, some of whom we’ve never seen before but who go to church twice a year, and I don’t begrudge that. But Ash Wednesday, and Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday? Not so much. Everyone likes a party. Not everyone likes setting up for it.

And that’s okay. It’s a personal choice. But for those of us who choose to follow Lent, and who choose to make this forty day wilderness journey, we discover something meaningful along the way: we’ve often been in the wilderness, but now we’ve found Christ there too.

The reality of our lives is that we spend a lot of time lost. We spend a lot of time facing temptation. We spend a lot of time wrestling with God. And, spiritually, we spend a lot of time being alone with our demons. And Jesus knows what that was like. And so in Lent we have the opportunity to spend forty days not alone, but with one who has been here before.

Are you having a hard time with faith? Jesus knew what that was like. Are you struggling to make a hard choice? Jesus knew what that was like. Are you grieving? Jesus knew what that was like. Are you wrestling with demons? Jesus knew what that was like. Are you preparing yourself for something new, something you don’t know how you are going to survive? Jesus knew what that was like too. And I’m convinced that when we go through these wilderness times God looks at us with nothing but compassion and nothing but love. Because God watched God’s own child, Jesus, go through these days too.

"Temptation of Jesus" by Baredo

“Temptation of Jesus” by Baredo

“Once upon a time…” – A sermon on the Book of Job for October 7, 2012

Once upon a time…

How many books did you read, or have read to you, as a child that started like that? As a child when you open a book that says that, you know in the end that it’s all going to work out and be okay. Ten minutes later not only would everything be okay gain, but it would be better than ever.

We don’t often get stories that start out with “once upon a time” in the Bible. But we do today. The book of Job starts with these words: There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. In other words…once upon a time. But this isn’t a fairy tale.

You probably know who Job was. Even if you don’t know much about the Bible, you’ve heard about it. Job was the guy who got a bad break. He was a good guy who had a lot of bad things happen to him. And now if a friend is going through a hard time, we might even say something like, “they’re a regular Job”. He’s our symbol of bad things happening to good people.

At the beginning of the story Job is a happy man, and a wealthy man. He has sheep, oxen, camels, everything. But more than that, he is blessed with a family. He has ten children. And they all like each other. They even share meals together.

And Job is good. He loves God. He does justice. He is righteous. Everything he has, he has gotten the right way.

But then the bad things start to happen. His wealth is destroyed, and he loses all his material goods. Even worse, while his ten kids are eating dinner together one night, their house falls in on the family. And he loses all of them. He mourns them mightily, but he refuses to turn away from God.

But not long after that, he loses his health too. He becomes covered with terrible sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. After everything else, the pain is so terrible, and finally his wife tells him “curse God and die”. And what she was really saying was “give up on God…and life”.

But Job says no. He won’t curse God. And instead Job, covered with sores, goes out and sits on a heap of ashes. And his three friends come, and sit with him. And for seven days they just sit them and mourn with him and keep silent. And then they open their mouth. And that’s their first mistake.

Job’s three friends were named Eliphaz, Bildar, and Zophar. We all know Eliphaz, Bildar, and Zophars. Not in name…but every other way. You may have heard the phrase “Job’s comforters” These are the folks who try to say something to make things better when something bad happens, but they really just make it worse.

Have you ever had one of those friends? I saw these folks a lot when I was a chaplain in a children’s hospital. They’d come in and try to comfort the parents of sick kids, and usually they said things only made themselves feel better. And I always waned to say to them, “Just, please…stop talking…”

But of course they didn’t. And neither did Eliphaz, Bildar, and Zophar. Job tells them that he wants to die. He says, “I wish I was never born” And their response is not to comfort him, but to try to make sense out of what happened.

Eliphaz goes first. He tells Job, “you must have committed some horrible sin for this to be happening. Then Bildad adds his thoughts. “You may not have sinned, but your children surely did.” Finally, Zophar chimes in: “You must have done something horrible, and really you deserve much worse than this, so be thankful.”

None of this sits well with Job. He grows angry and tells them they have no idea what they are talking about. He calls them “worthless physicians” and tells them they are clueless. But they still don’t stop. They go back and forth, again and again, the friends saying uncomfortable things, and Job growing angrier. And every time Job asks, “why isn’t God helping me”, the friends say something even worse.

Have you ever had a situation like that? Something hard has happened in your life and you’ve needed the support of your friends, but instead you got these sort of unhelpful explanations?

Sometimes I think this is why we don’t bring the hardest parts of our life back into the life of the church. We’re afraid that people are going to try to ascribe blame, or tell us what we are doing wrong, or judge us for it. We’re afraid we will run into Job’s comforters…well meaning people who just make us feel worse.

What are the things we aren’t talking about because of that? Because we’re worried others won’t understand or will somehow judge? Depression, infertility, addiction, divorce, post-traumatic stress, mental illness, abuse, suicide, financial problems, family fights?

You should be able to bring those things to church without fear of judgements. Without Job’s comforters. You should be able to bring what is going on in your life to this place, and feel like you will be surrounded with love. I know that’s hard though. When people come to talk to me, they often tell me about something going on in their life and they feel like they are the only one in the world going through it. And what I always want to tell them is that they’re not. Because often their are five other people in the parish going through the exact same things.

We can be the sort of place that you can bring those things. And we can be the place that helps you to do what Job does next. When Job has had enough of the arguing, enough of the blame, something happens. He begins a conversation with God.

That’s important. When things are going wrong in our lives, when nothing makes sense, sometimes we lose that connection to something greater than ourselves. We feel guilty or ashamed, or we hear the words of the Job’s comforters around us, and we stop talking to others about is going on in our lives. And then, we stop talking to God.

And, I think sometimes when things are really bad, we want to talk to God. But we’re just afraid of what we will say.

Have you ever been really mad at God? Have you ever wanted to demand answers? Have you ever been so angry that you wanted to shout out “don’t you see what is happening here?” And then, when you’ve done that, have you felt even more guilty about that?

If you’ve ever felt abandoned by God, you’re not alone. If Jesus himself, who was fully God but also fully human, could shout out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” on the cross, then what makes us think that we are immune to that kind of despair? And yet, even though Jesus did it, we feel like we shouldn’t.

But here’s the good news…God can take it.

Job turns to God and they begin to talk. And they have a long dialogue back in forth. Does Job get all the answers? No. But he talks honestly to God and he gets that relationship back. And he shows us that being faithfully vocal is better than being silent and losing the connection with God.

When we are going through the roughest times of our lives, that’s when that relationship matters more than ever. Even when we are afraid of what we will say. Even when we are hearing unhelpful words from the world around us. Even when nothing makes sense. That’s when we need it more than ever.

Job needed that. And in the end, though he never got all the answers he wanted, he got the ones he needed. And he got that connection to God back. And in the end, God even had some words for those friends Eliphaz, Bildar, and Zophar. God tells them that they didn’t get it right, and that not only had they hurt Job, but they had offended God. (And, just a side note…is there anyone in your life you wish God would say that to?)

The story ends with us being told that Job got back all the material things he had lost, and then some. He also became father to ten new children. Now, if this was a fairy tale, we would say “happily ever after…” But, I’ll bet he never forgot those ten kids he lost. How can you?

We all lose what we value in life, and God knows that. God mourns with us. And even as God continues to bless us, God knows our pain. If God knew Job’s surely God knows our own.

What is so telling to me, though, is that God continues to bless us even in our pain. God continues to be with us even when we hurt the most. And God refuses to bless the words of false and easy judgement from the world around us. God is inviting you into that relationship. If you are in pain, if there is something that is going on in your life that you cannot bear, if you feel alone…you don’t have to.

Start with God…and know that this place can sit with you in all of that too. There is nothing you cannot bring to God. And there is nothing you cannot bring here. We may not have all the answers for you here, but we can sit with you in the questions. We can keep silence when you just need someone beside you. And we can listen when you need an ear. And one day, maybe you can do that for someone else.

Once upon a time there was a was a man named Job. And once upon a time, there was all of us…living in a broken world, living in a sometimes painful world, but living in a community where we could support one another as we to turn to God in our hardest times. Amen.

A Prayer for Good Friday

Let us pray:

Prince of Peace, redeemer of us all, crucified God, we have gathered at the foot of the cross, and at the entrance to the tomb, and we have rolled the stone across it.

The world sometimes does it’s worst, even to those who don’t deserve it. You know that, because you once lived as one of us, loved as one of us, and died as one of us.

Tonight we leave, as your disciples did centuries ago, knowing our friend is gone, and that a good man has died.

The ones who knew you and loved you could find no consolation that night. They mourned. Just as there have been nights when we have mourned. Just as there have been nights we have looked for mercy that didn’t seem to come.

And yet, some would dare to look for hope…

God, as you send us out into the world tonight, stay close to us. As we wrestle with the big questions; as we ask why there is pain, why there is suffering, why there is loss, do not leave us alone. Help us to find you in our hours of greatest doubt.

And at the right hour, draw us back together. To gather at the tomb. To look for the light. To look for you. For hope, for you, we will be waiting. Amen.