This sermon was preached by Rev Caroline on Sunday 6 November
There is a saying that people sometimes use:
“He/she has the patience of Job!”, which is used to describe someone that they are impressed with, for how they keep going without complaining in the midst of terrible trials.
Now Job was a very unfortunate man, who’s faith and trust in God was tested to the limits. He had lost his family, his wealth and his health. By anyone’s understanding, he was having a tough time. Yet, he showed constant faith and trust in God, despite all these terrible events in his life. Even as the people who thought they were helping him puzzled through all that they thought he might have done wrong to deserve all of this misfortune, he held on to the truth that he knew that he was living a good life, and it was all undeserved.
In today’s reading, though, we hear him having a huge, emotional outburst about the unfairness of it all.
“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!” (Job 19:23-24)
In other words, he wants people to remember that he has had a tough time that was NOT his fault. He wants it written in a book for people to remember, then realises that even that is not enough to show how strongly he feels. He wants to create a memorial in stone, with the words chiselled out, to describe his innocence in the face of pain: – a permanent monument to his pain and innocence.
Monuments have a purpose of reminding us about something important, so that we do not forget it. A monument may not have any other use, or purpose, than that. Let us have a think about some of the monuments that we come across today.
Peel tower – a folly in Ramsbottom, which was built as a monument to Sir Robert Peel, (a famous statesman who had been born in Bury) to help people to remember all that he did through the generations to come.
Ashton Memorial – a folly in Lancaster, built by the late Lord Ashton, at a cost of £80,000 in 1909, in memory of his second wife, Jessie. It was an impressive building, built to show his great love for her.
Shrines – Not all of us can afford such extravagant gestures to show our love for someone, or how much we miss them. The growth in roadside shrines plays an important part in acknowledging the importance of place in remembering someone, where such tokens of love may have only been placed at a loved one’s graveside in the past.
Facebook – There are many ways that we can create monuments in life. On Facebook, for example, it is common to see posts where people make a vague comment letting the world know that something hasn’t been going well for them, and inviting them to ask more. The light switch in our picture suggests a need for whatever is upsetting the person posting it to pause the world and stop it happening.
Our Facebook posts have also become more of a monument in recent months with the new trend of making memorials of what we posted 1, 2 or more years ago, and then inviting us to share them again.
Body language – Job wore sackcloth and ashes to show his sorrow, and to show God that, if there was anything that he had done wrong, he was sorry for it. He obviously did not have the means to let his feelings be known in a public declaration of “I’m glad that day is over”. Instead, his clothing and behaviour became the way of declaring and making a monument out of his pain for the world to know and understand.
Sometimes we can show people how we feel about when they have hurt or offended us, through how we behave near them. We also sometimes make a monument to how we are feeling by being dramatic, and wanting them to understand, rather than just being straight with them – like the girl in the image, crying whilst declaring “I’m fine”.
Job, in today’s reading wants this pain to be engraved in stone – but, as we find when we read more of his story, God is good at moving stones even when we think we want to make them permanent fixtures.
I invite you now to hold the small glass pebble that you were given when you arrived, and reflect upon something that, for you, feels like there is a monument in your life that you might want God to bring change to. It may be a loss of something or someone that you are struggling with, a friendship or relationship that needs healing, a work or school situation. Alternatively, you may want to thank God for a monument that he has already moved in your life. Only you and God know what that pebble represents.
Pain is a reality of life and that is NOT because of anything that we do. The bad choices (or sins) that we make in life may not cause pain but how we respond to God in the midst of our times of suffering or sadness can lead us into sin.
- refuse to be comforted; or
- refuse to forgive; or
- only follow God when times are good and not when challenges come along, asking ourselves why he has not prevented something from happening and doing something akin to “sending him to Coventry”.
Stubbornness can be a huge static monument in our lives to how we feel about something that we find difficult. To those around someone who is being stubborn, it can seem as insurmountable as the Peel Tower might feel to climb!
But, likewise, complete trust in God is also a static monument to faith. It is that solid, dependable and tangible witness to the power of our Redeemer, who transforms our lives and experience.
In our reading today, after Job’s outburst, we have those beautiful words of faith and trust in the midst of his pain:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!”
In a moment of sharp clarity, Job rises above his outburst and envisions himself, God and his Redeemer, and the joy of his vision of a future that is different fills his heart with overwhelming hope and joy.
- He sees himself (and no other person) in the flesh, meeting God.
- He knows with the certainty of faith that his Redeemer is alive and will make good all that has happened when he stands upon the earth.
- Obviously, Job lived long before Jesus lived and walked on earth, and yet, here we have what appears to be a prophecy of the Messiah living amongst us.
- He also shows an understanding of a resurrection when things will be different.
Indeed, Jesus died for us to take the penalty for every thing that causes us to put up monuments in our lives. He lived through all the earthly experiences that we encounter and struggle to make sense of, and he offers us the hope that we have in him if we would just trust Him and be willing to ask him to move those stones in our hearts.
Sometimes the challenging things in our lives don’t change easily. However, if we accept Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes that “Everything is meaningless under the sun”, we can then look to our Saviour to make all things right, and remember that ‘our Redeemer lives’ and that we can trust that things will get better.
As we approach the season of Advent, when John the Baptist will invite us to clear the paths of our lives to make way for the coming of the King, I invite you to take away these pebbles and pray with them for God to move and bring healing into that situation. If that does not resonate with you at the moment, you may also like to pray with it, giving thanks for God’s help along the way that you have already received in your life. There is also the option to lay down your pebble symbolically at the foot of the cross on the side altar, if that is your preference.
As we respond to Job’s words in our own lives, my prayer is for God’s love and healing touch to bless each of us in our lives, and the lives of those that we love. Amen.
I invite you to pray with your pebbles. You are welcome to keep them and pray with them over the coming days. If you feel you would like to make a response in prayer at the end of the service, there is a cross and a dish on the side alter for you to symbolically lay down something that you may feel ready to unburden.