Submitted by Lyn on Mon, 13/07/2015 – 14:55
Bible Book: Job
Verse: 6 – 27
Job 4:1, 5:6-end, Romans 15:14-29
Our first reading this evening is from the book of Job. It shows us that sometimes what we believe does not always fit with what we actually experience. The book of Job reminds us that life can be unpredictable and random.
Job’s story is a kind of parable. It teaches us about the complexity of human suffering. It doesn’t try to answer the questions about human suffering but it gives us an opportunity to reflect and to think about how we should respond to suffering.
Job is a man whose life falls apart through a series of catastrophes. All his children are killed, his cattle and his crops are destroyed and then he becomes seriously ill.
But Job is an innocent man who has loved and served God all his life. He has done nothing to deserve this kind of suffering and yet he experiences disaster. Job’s friends decide to visit and console him and this seems to be a very helpful and comforting response, until they open their mouths and begin to speak. His friends are struggling to make sense of Job’s suffering but they don’t do this very well. If you read the story you will see the way in which they imply that Job must have done something wrong. They think he is suffering because of his sins. They think he must have deserved it.
And so their words to him are not really comforting at all. And perhaps it would have been better if they had kept quiet.
Eliphaz is the friend who first speaks to Job. He reminds Job about the goodness of God and of course there is truth here but Eliphaz does not see or understand the bigger picture. Now I am not going to explain the ‘bigger picture’ this evening but it is there in the story so do take time to explore the book of Job for yourselves and see what was going on behind the scenes.
You will be pleased to know that at the end of the story God participates in the discussion and vindicates Job. Job is eventually restored to health and wealth and is blessed with other children.
But this evening I would like us to think about our own beliefs and the way we respond to human suffering because the book of Job reminds us that it is very easy to judge others as unworthy of our compassion, especially when we think that people brought the disaster upon themselves.
And this attitude can paralyse us and prevent us from showing real compassion.
In the late seventies and early eighties young gay men in America started dying of a mysterious illness. It was initially described as a gay cancer. Over the years the numbers of deaths increased and eventually a name was given to this new and terrifying disease – AIDS cause by the HIV virus.
Unfortunately Governments and societies across the world were slow to respond to this growing crisis because HIV and AIDS mostly affected people who just didn’t fit.
It mostly affected people society disapproved of: gay men, people who sell sex, drug users, poor people, people who were unable to protect themselves. These were people the world just did not care about and it is a shameful thing, because at the time many churches didn’t care either.
In those early days of the AIDS crisis many people believed that AIDS was a punishment from God. They believed it was some kind of judgement for promiscuous living as if God takes delight in suffering and death.
And so initially many churches were paralysed or silent and they failed to respond to the AIDS crisis even though the numbers of the dead kept rising: men, women and children, white, black, gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian.
And thirty-four years later 36 million people are dead.
But in times of crisis those who appear to be weak are often those who are strong. We can see this with Job as he argues with his friends and speak out to God voicing his complaint.
And just like Job the people affected by HIV and AIDS did not remain silent. They challenged their Governments, they challenged their communities, they responded to those people who needed help and they challenged the Church.
And they still do this today.
Eventually attitudes began to change and some Christians began to respond to the needs of those who were affected. Today we have Christian ministries all over the world devoted to the care and support of people living with HIV and people affected by AIDS.
But those early judgemental attitudes still persist in our societies and some of our churches, and as a result people who are affected by HIV and AIDS still face all kinds of stigma and discrimination.
This is just one example of how we as a church acted like Job’s friends, and failed to show true compassion to people in need of our help. It was a missed opportunity for the church to show God’s love for the world.
Sometimes this failure to show compassion to others can affect us as a society. For example – the way we speak about people who are poor in this country, and our attitudes towards people who use foodbanks because they can’t make ends meet. It is unacceptable that media commentators and some politicians stigmatise the poor because they claim welfare benefits or need some form of assistance.
It is unacceptable the way asylum seekers and migrants are labelled and belittled in this country today. Many times by people who should know better.
My brothers and sisters, we who believe in the Risen Christ must not follow these poor examples.
When people are suffering or experiencing difficulty we must not allow our beliefs and opinions to paralyse us. We must act justly and do all we can to seek to understand the situation and then we must respond with compassion.
When I read the book of Job I have a picture in my mind. Job is on one side and his friends are on the other and there is a huge gap between them. But, the ideal picture would be for the friends to sit next to him and hold him in their arms, to support him and to love him with compassion.
Because this is the same way that God loves us.
Sermon by Revd Ijeoma Ajibade on Sunday 12th July at St Paul’s Cathedral. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author: Ajibade I (Rev)