Job 29:1, 21-25 (from The Message)
Oh, how I long for the good old days, when God took such very good care of me. Men and women listened when I spoke, hung expectantly on every word. After I spoke, they’d be quiet, taking it all in. They welcomed my counsel like spring rain, drinking it all in. When I smiled at them, they could hardly believe it; their faces lit up, their troubles took wing! I was their leader, establishing the mood and setting the pace by which they lived. Where I led, they followed.
What can the poor tell us? How can the oppressed instruct us? Who among the suffering has wise words for the living? Do you know what my greatest fear was in all the years that I served local churches? It was getting sick in my first year as the pastor. I never missed a Sunday because I felt bad. I preached despite severe colds, sciatica, newly implanted stents in my heart, after family members had died, extreme fatigue, and (unlike some Carolina fans) I showed up when Duke lost! But I had to be strong. I had to be there.
Job bemoans his fate. He remembers the good old days...when all was rosy and bright. People listened to his advice and followed his wisdom. But when he lost everything (except his nagging wife), that all changed. In Job 30 it begins “but no longer. Now I’m the butt of their jokes - young ruffians! Whippersnappers!” Indeed. We only want to hear from those who have succeeded. We don’t want to hear from losers or scallywags or rascals or those who have abjectly failed at life. What can THEY teach us?
After years and years of refusing to listen to them, bemoaning their entitlements (while justifying ours), and discounting any wisdom that might come from them, perhaps we need to listen a little more. In the dark ages of my Divinity School career, there was something called Liberation Theology. Its basic premise was that we cannot truly experience God unless we find ourselves oppressed. The truth of God is always revealed MOST fully when things are dark. Alas, that theology never took hold in the church. Almost DIRECTLY on the heels of that came people like Jim Bakker (and have persisted through the decades) who said that God WANTS us to succeed.
Alas, though, we find ourselves in Lent and nearing Holy Week when Christ’s glory became a cross. It is in the depths of Good Friday where we might hear some of the most profound things of God.
We cannot (even though we try our hardest) avoid books like Job. I’m thinking that this pandemic has taken all of us into some dark places. We who resist bail-out packages have not found ourselves unemployed or without resources. The voice of the poor is their own fault; the result of their own bad choices. But I dare say that most of us have survived the bad choices we made because we had resources. Job forces us to consider those in the dark places and what we might learn from them; the dark places of death and suffering, of poverty and want, of minimum wage and need. Ecclesiastes says that the very rich and the very poor both go to dust. We learn from everyone...and from everything. I fear that we have not learned enough lessons from this pandemic. But time will tell. After all, time tells everything.
O Heart of God incarnate, Love-bearer to humankind!
From thee we learn what love is, in thee love’s ways we find:
God’s love to earth thou bringers in living deeds that prove
How sweet to serve all others, when we all others love.
Pastor Rick Moser