Sermon for Proper 7, Year B June 24, 2018

Job 38:1-11                          Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-32                     2 Corinthians 6:1-13                        Mark 4:35-41

Today’s readings all share one thing in common – suffering.  We know the story of Job and all that he had to endure.  He remains faithful to God but cries out for God to explain to him why he has had to suffer as he has.  This passage is the beginning of God’s response to Job.  “The Lord answers Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words with knowledge?  Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”

The Lord’s questions are, in essence, to remind Job that God is the one who created all that is, and that God’s ways a are not his ways.  If we were had continue reading from Job, we would find that God never really answers Job’s questions, still God’s response is enough.  Job feels deserted by God, and with good reason.  His children have died, he has lost everything – including his health.  He has been ostracized and judged a sinner by his friends.  Over and over again he asks God why, and God is silent.  Sometimes what we want more than answers is simply to be heard.  Job may be suffering, but now, at least, he knows that God is aware of his suffering.

The story of Job can be difficult to understand, the idea that God will allow all this to happen to Job just to prove to Satan that Job is faithful, does not mesh with our image of a loving God.  Still, if we look for the lessons contained in this story, we find it has one that is important for us to understand.  We, like Job, may want to understand why bad things happen to good people, but there are too many variables at play for us fully understand.  When someone dies, the family members are often told “it was God’s will.”   The people who say this believe that whatever happens, it all a part of God’s divine plan.  They often say we should not question God’s plan, only trust God.

This doesn’t work for me.  What works for me is to, as Job did, accept that I will not know, and then rely on my faith to get me through the difficult times.  I can’t understand why members of my family are afflicted with mental illness and addiction. I can’t understand why mental illness and addiction has affected most every family I know here and elsewhere – but knowing that God is present with me is enough to help me weather the storms these diseases create in every family.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he makes reference to suffering afflictions, hardships, calamities, beating, imprisonment, riots, labor, sleepless nights, and hunger.  And, although he and the disciples are believed to be poor, ignorant, imposters, they are alive, knowledgeable, and full of joy.  Based on what they have had to endure, how can they be joyful?  Like Job, they have found peace in knowing that God is present with him.  Being a disciple does not prevent us from suffering, but it can give us the spiritual tools to give thanks for our blessings in the midst of tragedy.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are in the boat and Jesus is asleep.  A storm blows through and threatens to sink their boat.   They fear for their lives.  Life is full of the unexpected.  Storms blow in and disrupt our lives, threatening all that we hold dear.  The disciples ask Jesus the same question I’ve heard from people of faith when life has dealt them a traumatic blow, they ask Jesus, “do you not care?”

In my experience, people tend to believe God is in control and has abandoned them, that God has a plan and they need to trust in him, or simply, God is with them in the bad times as well as the good times.  The people who tend to question God the most, are those who believe God is in control and could change what is happening but chooses not to.  Just as Job did, they ask, “Why have you abandoned me?”  The people who believe in a divine plan, sometimes ask the same question and sometimes accept that what has happened is beyond their comprehension – and they do trust God.

Personally, I accepted a long time ago that there is much more to life that I don’t understand, than that I can and will understand.  Whether or not everything happens according to a divine plan, doesn’t matter to me.  What matters is simply that God is with me, just as Christ was with his disciples when they were ridiculed and persecuted.  Paul experiences the inner peace that comes for knowing Christ was with them and this is what brings him joy.  As Christ’s disciples, we may experience doubt and fear, just as the disciples did on the boat in the storm, but our faith can be supported by an awareness of Christ’s presence in our lives.

“Who then is this,” the disciples ask once Jesus has calmed the storm, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Who indeed.  Jesus is the one who can calm the storms in our lives and help us to endure the pain and suffering that is a part of every single life.  When we feel all alone, it is important to remember that he is with us – often coming to us in the person of someone we know or someone we don’t know.  His presence can be felt, or remembered, but it comes offering us comfort, thanksgiving, and joy, in the midst of the storms we experience in our lives.

Let us pray.

Lord Christ, in the midst of the pain and suffering in this live, in the midst of the storms that threaten our very existence, you come to us offering us comfort and strength to endure.  Help us to recognize your love and concern for each of us that we might experience your peace and the joy that it brings.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.