In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The story of Job leaves us with many questions. What does one persons suffering mean when looked at within the vastness of Gods creation? How does Gods plan for us and for our creation, include Gods desire to contain the chaos? How does God consider our suffering, pain and struggles?
Most of us are familiar with Jobs story. Job lost everyone he loved, his children died, his wife rejected him and his friends condemned him. He lost all his riches, possessions and status in society. He was tested beyond human endurance. When Job felt all alone he called out to God and asked questions: Why have I suffered? Where are you? Is this your plan for me?
God comes to Job and spoke to him out of a whirlwind.
He doesnt offer any answers.
Instead, God questions Job.
Where were you when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
This painting on the front of the order of service by the poet William Blake portrays Jobs question.
Ancient cosmology portrayed God as wearing light, where He stretchers out the heavens like a tent, constructs with beams and posts, the great dams of the cosmos that keep at bay the waters of chaos. God is a king who builds the world piece by piece. He rides on the clouds and winds.
Lightening and wind are agents in Gods court. He sets the earth on foundations like a building, the mountains have their place and the great waters flee, as if they are a terrified creature before an awesome foe. Everything and every creature, including us has its place in the world, as determined by God. It is all arranged so that the waters of chaos and those things which by their nature threaten the cosmos cannot do so again.
Most of the time it is suffering that throws us into the chaos of our own darkness, our deepest parts of ourselves, where it is faith that takes us through to the other side and into the light again. Thats what Jobs story is about. Job is thrown into the chaos and darkness by what happens to him and he suffers deeply, but his faith brings him through.
The myth about Job belongs to all people who have made his journey.
Jobs journey reminds me of Anne.
A retreat at Iona was focused on cancer, where a group of people gathered together to talk about their experiences. I shared a room with Anne. She had an aggressive form of breast cancer, where secondaries had appeared.
Over the week we went for walks, worshipped, listened to presentations and got involved in activities where we made things.
Anne made me this crown of thorns. She said her cancer had caused her deep suffering, but had made her more whole as a person. More complete.
This is a poem about her
Sometimes suffering remains a mystery. It is difficult to comprehend, beyond words, senseless and pointless
But like Job, Anne trusted God.
Her story was like an initiation or rite of passage that introduced her to the deepest parts of her soul.
Like Job, she struggled with her faith, but she did not curse God.
God came to Anne during the silent times and she found peace, where despite her suffering she was able to praise God for his beautiful creation and be grateful for her life.
Todays gospel teaches us about what it means to be a suffering servant of God. Its a different kind of suffering to what Job and Anne experienced.
James and John come to Jesus and say: "Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
Jesus questions them: What is it that you want me to do for you?
They say: "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."
Jesus questioned James and John again: You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink of the cup that I drink or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?
James and John say: We are able.
Jesus says to them: The cup that I drink you will drink and with the baptism with which I am baptised you will be baptised.
The cup Jesus drank from involved great suffering and the baptism he underwent was his passion and death.
The disciples had no idea what they were consenting to at the time. But later on after Jesus had ascended they continued his ministry at great risk to themselves.
King Herod ordered the death of James by sword and one by one most of the disciples died as martyrs.
They shared the cup of suffering and the baptism of trials, as many Christians have over the ages and still do today.
As we do when we were baptised into the death of Christ through our baptism and when we share in the Lords Supper where we share in the suffering and death of Jesus.
Now James and John lived in a society that prized status and honour, like ours does. They sought recognition and hoped to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, when he came into his glory and rule with him.
Jesus declares the right to sit at my right and left is not mine to give. Its Gods. He refused to interfere in Gods plan and give James and John what they wanted.
He chose to surrender to Gods plan and trust it.
Now when the other ten disciples heard about what James and John had asked Jesus for, they became angry.
So Jesus called the disciples over and spoke to them.
Jesus referred to the Romans as rulers who lord it over the people and are tyrants. This kind of leadership wasnt welcome in the Kingdom of God. The Romans exercised power through force, intimidation and a network of patronage that insured absolute loyalty to the Roman Emperor. Oppressive structures of power and prestige did not belong in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus says to the disciples: Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
In the disciples society slaves were without status, power and wealth. They had no rights.
Jesus said: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many."
Jesus life was the ransom, the price paid to liberate us from bondage.
What Jesus experienced in his passion and death, led to the early Christians considering him to be a suffering servant, like in Isaiah: He bore the sins of many. He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his wounds we are healed.
Jesus gave his life for many and was the servant of all.
He was calling his disciples to reject the self centred service that James and John were seeking and follow his example of servant leadership, if they wished to share in his glory. He was calling them to embrace self sacrificing service that could only end with the cross.
Jesus was obedient to Gods plan and followed the path laid out for him to that cross.
He struggled at times with surrendering to Gods plan and will. He sweated blood at Gethsemane, saying: Father if you are willing, remove this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.
Calling his disciples to follow his example and become like servants, turned the disciples ideas about power upside down.
By rejecting power and recognition and becoming servants, the disciples embraced something greater.
They encountered the power of Gods love.
What if Jesus came to you and asked you the same question he asked his disciples: What is it that you want me to do for you?
I invite you to spend some time reflecting on how you would answer this question.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.