Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Happily Ever After?

Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year B
October 28, 2012
Job 42:1-17
Then the Lord blessed Job’s latter days more than his former ones. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters.
-Job 42:12-13
Under a Cajun moon I lay me open There is a spirit here that won't be broken Some words are sad to sing Some leave me tongue-tied (But the hardest thing to tell you ) But the hardest words I know Are I love you goodbye I love you goodbye
-Thomas Dolby, "I Love You Goodbye," 1992

I can still remember it like it was yesterday; presiding at a funeral of a man just a year younger than me who committed suicide.  His grieving partner was devastated as was the young man's parents who lost their only child.

I've read this ending of the book of Job before and never really thought much about it.  God restores Job with cattle and sheep and even more children.  A happy ending to a man that had to deal with so much pain.

But there are those that are troubled by this ending.  Does this mean that if we suffer, we are going to get all that we lost restored? And the fact is, more often than not, people don't get what Job got from God.  They don't get more kids after one is lost to gun violence.  The woman who is abused sexually doesn't get to erase those painful memories.

But while Job did get children and livestock, I have to think there was some sense of grief as well for what was lost.  Job might have celebrated having children again, but there had to be pain in his heart for the ones he lost.

Job is a happy ending in the same way that we celebrate the Ressurection.  Jesus was able to defeat death, but he was different, not simply restored.

Job's ending is a reminder of God's presence in our lives.  The ending isn't a guide to life, as it is a reminder of God's love for us even when we don't have a happy ending.

Sometimes life is simply about saying goodbye, about letting go, about loss.  Sometimes there is no nice ending to wrap up the story.  Sometimes the story ends horribly.

But good times or bad, God is there, present.  That's probably not the ending we all want, but on this side of heaven it is enough.

More Resources
 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say on Job 42:

Presbyterian pastor Carol Howard Merritt wonders if this passage and others in the Bible only work for those who are privileged in society and not those on the margins

Episcopal Priest Rick Morley sees a hidden Easter message of hope in the last chapter of Job.

Finally, via Tony Jones comes a woman who wonders why she believes God is good despite all of the tragedies and heartaches this world offers.

Photo: Dürer, Albrecht, 1471-1528. Job on the dunghill, and his wife pours water on his sores, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46323


 Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Friday, October 19, 2012

There's a Wildness In God's Mercy

Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost, Year B
October 21, 2012
Job 38:1-7 and 34-41
Who is this darkening counsel with words lacking knowledge? Prepare yourself like a man; I will interrogate you, and you will respond to me. Job 38:2-3
Job is in many ways one of the most accessible books in the Bible. By accessible I mean that its something that we understand because we've all been there. Job is a good and faithful man with riches and many children. In an instant all of his wealth and his children are taken away from him. He is left with questions and not a small bit of anger with God.

 Theologian Kathryn Schifferdecker notes that Job and his friends believed in a common view of suffering: if you're good, then God will bless you. If something bad happens to you, then it's because you did something wrong. When all of this happens, Job feels cheated. He has lived a righteous life, so none of this should be happening to him. His friends are of little help, accusing him of doing something wrong and telling him to repent of his sin.

 Job isn't really that different from us. Shcifferdecker notes that Job and other thought the world revolved around them. The world was an orderly place where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. But the God comes to job in a whirlwind and sets Job right. Living the Midwest as I do, I can imagine God coming in a menacing tornado. God responds to Job not with answers, but with questions. God shows a created order that is rather wild, just like God. And humans are not at the center of anything. After a while Job gets it- things are not so ordered and sometimes bad things happen to good people.

If there is a takeaway from all this is that the world is not logical. Things happen that just doesn't make sense. We don't understand when a young woman dies in a traffic accident with a drunk driver. We don't understand the cancer diagnosis. We don't understand why we are laid off from a job. We don't understand when someone is raped. But in the midst of all this chaos, God stands with us. God took Job on, but he never left Job.

When I was training to become a pastor, I had to take a term of Clinic Pastoral Education. I spent time at a nursing home in Minneapolis. I remember seeing a young man who lost his leg in an ATV accident. You could see the anger on his face. I spent time sitting with him and saying a little. I always came away somewhat helpless. I still feel that feeling when I do pastoral care. But maybe being present is enough. Maybe it matters that God stands with us during the hard times, even when and especially when, we wonder, why?

Go and be church.  

 Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Year B
October 14, 2012
Mark 10:17-31

Every so often, I hear someone talking about the so-called Prosperity Gospel.  For the uninitiated, it's a message that states that God wants us to be wealthy.  If you have faith in God, then God will bless you financially.

The Prosperity Gospel has it critics...a lot of them.  When I googled "prosperity gospel," I came up with a ton of links denouncing the theology.  It didn't matter if you were liberal or conservative, there was an outright disdain for this belief in "pennies from heaven."

Whenever I hear all the criticism, I feel a bit uncomfortable.  It's not that I agree with the prosperity gospel, it's just that I don't know if any of us is that innocent ourselves.  I mean, it might feel good to look down on those preachers who peddle this garbage, but at some point you realize that God is pointing at you as well.

The fact is, we are caught up in having things as well.  We might look with contempt at the prosperity preachers, but most of us live in nice houses with nice cars, listening to tunes on our iPod/iPhone/iPad/iWhatever.  To paraphrase that old pop song, "We're not that innocent."

This week we find Jesus encountering a young man who's done pretty well financially.  He's also someone that has tried to be a good religious person. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments, which the young guy has done.  "You still need to do one thing," Jesus said. "Sell all of your possessions and give it the poor."

We know how the story ends.  The young guy walks away perplexed.  That's when Jesus remarks about how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven.

Theologian Matt Skinner tells us that we shouldn't try to soften the message that this gospel is getting at.  We are pretty good at trying to soften the blow.  Jesus isn't really calling us to give up everything, we say to ourselves.  But yes, God is calling us to do just that.  Jesus is calling us to be true disciples and give up everything to follow him.

Of course, we live in the real world.  Very few of us are going to give up our stuff and go and live in a yurt somewhere.

And yet, Jesus is still calling us to give up everything, give up our call to be prosperous and follow him.

I don't have an easy answer to this quandry.  I know that I am saved by grace through faith.  I know that I am love by God even though I fall short.  And yet, you and I are still called to give our whole selves to God, because that's exactly what God did through Jesus on the cross.

Go and be church.

  Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Jesus Loves the Little Children...Yeah, Whatever.

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year B
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Mark 10:2-16

As I prepared for this coming Sunday, I did a lot of reading concerning the gospel text.  Many megabytes were spent talking about the first half of the Mark text, which centers on divorce.  That makes sense, on one level.  We see many marriages that seem to break up, leaving the children is a not so good place.

When it comes to that second half of the text, the one about Jesus welcoming the children, well that one got the short shrift.  I didn't find anyone that did an exegesis of the this part of the reading, let alone really focus on what this passage is saying.  I think part of the reason that we do this is because we think we know this story.  We have seen many an image of Jesus seated with a bunch of kids around him ala a children's sermon.  What is there to question or learn from something so obvious?  Jesus liked children.  How sweet.

Look at this text again.  Parents are bringing their kids to Jesus hoping he would touch them.  We don't know why they are doing this, but for some reason it is vital that Jesus bless their children.  The disciples are a little preturbed that these little ones are bothering Jesus.  What happened next?  Jesus got angry. At the disciples.  Jesus tells the disciples that children are at the center of God's kingdom.  If we don't come to faith in God like a little child then we won't see the kingdom.

I've learned what it means to have a child-like faith from the children at the church where I serve.  They are not shy about sharing their thoughts on God and are great at applying the stories they hear to life in general. These kids ask questions. They share what they have learned.  The can be fearless. And they are vulnerable.  They are always open to learning.

The Pharisees were learned men and thought that faith was about how smart and how cunning you can be.  Jesus reminds us at the end of the passage that God is not interested in our smarts, but is interested in child-like hearts ready to learn, ready to be loved.

May it be so with us.

  Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.