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  • Writer's pictureThe Rev. Ian Emile Dunn

Suffering Well

A Homily for Easter 4

May 19, 2019

All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ

Text: Job 19:21-27

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Friends – before I launch into this sermon – I want to say this upfront – today we are going to look at suffering. We are talking about Job and so this will naturally cause us to talk about things that are uncomfortable. I know for some this will be fine, but there may be those of you who are here today who have either had some major life crisis that I do not know about or that struggle with anxiety or depression or will feel heartache as you hear these words. I want you to know – first and foremost – we worship a God who loves you, who died to redeem you, who is coming again, and will rub a healing balm upon all your wounds. The God we worship knows us intimately, and loves us deeply. Secondly – you do not have to suffer alone. If it feels like you know darkness more than light – if it feels like life is harder than it is easy – please call me, let’s get coffee, let’s cry together. Please hear this – if this sermon stokes up in you some forgotten pain – God wants to hear from you – and you belong to a community where you are so deeply loved. I hope a and pray that you will hear that and know it to be true.

Now, a couple of weeks ago a Christian satire site released an article entitled “Scholars now believe Job’s friend’s were First Year Seminary Students.” It goes on to describe how terrible Job’s friend’s advice was, how instead of listening to him, they virtually beat him up while he’s already down. The release of the article was particularly timely because I have been reading through Job as part of my personal devotions and I have always struggled with the book.

I think it goes back to my own struggles and seasons of frustration with the way life is going. The feeling that Job has where everything seems to be falling apart is no stranger to me, and I suspect all of us have been there before. We faithfully did everything we thought we should, all our ducks were in a row, and then a monster popped up, ate half our ducks then some of the ducks ran away, and the rest were stolen by someone.

These negative feelings of life – whether it be the feeling that we have failed – failed to achieve what we want, failed our loved ones, or even failed God, or the real presence of depression that can dog someone, making them to feel as though there is a little cloud that follows them around persistently, and builds into a storm, or the anxiety that haunts a person telling them nothing is right and everything they do is wrong, or even the feeling that go along with some deep personal tragedy such as what happens to Job in the beginning of this book, all these negative feelings can haunt a person and drag them down.

So often we tend to be Job’s friend. I know especially as a guy – I want to fix everyone’s problems – I want to make everything right. So I am afraid – too often I have been his friends – I sat for awhile in the ash heap with someone, and then when they weren’t better when I thought they should be I rolled up my sleeves and thought “welp, Job old Chap, let’s get to the hard work of fixing you!” This wasn’t where I was needed, but it hurt to see my friend hurt and it was uncomfortable to sit there with him not know what to do.

We can be Job – hurting and confused by God’s actions, and we can be his friends – dogmatically committed to what we think to be true – our friend has done something wrong, and we must help Him to see it. Of course, with all things – especially with that which expresses itself as anxiety and depression – there can be factors that lead into it. Sin can cause us to become morose, whether out of God’s conviction of us, or the sense of failure. Sin can cause us to feel hopeless, but let me be very clear – sin is not always the cause of depression – other times it can biochemical, it can be the fact that life has just been hard for awhile and we’re tired there are a plethora of factors that can be at play. We may never know the cause of our significant suffering.

After years of shame and social stigma, the church is finally starting to have real conversations about mental health and wellness. We are starting to attempt to pull down the sigmas of it, and realize that just short of 20% of Americans struggle with some form of anxiety disorders. That means for every five people sitting in our churches, one of them has some sort of anxiety. It is real, and the church should be the best place for people to struggle, for we come here not as perfect people who have everything together – but as imperfect people with our struggles, our doubts, our pains, our wounds, and our sins, and we come to a God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine, we come to a God who came to die for our sins, to heal our wounds, and to sit upon the ash heap with us, holding our hand, and mourning, until the day of salvation comes. Mourning until we can rejoice again.

Now, before we jump into the text – I want to say this – if you are one of those one in five – you are not alone. I hope as we explore these words – I will be able to encourage each of us to delve deeper into Christian friendship, to take the opportunity to be vulnerable with each other, to walk in the darkness and the light, and to be Christ to one another. But you are also not alone because to quote one of my favorite poets “I have been one acquainted with the night. / I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.”

Friends – I know that I am younger than most of you – and I have not seen what most of you have seen – nor have I experienced what many of you have experienced – but I too have seen sorrow, I too have seen heartache and I know loss. You do not have to sit alone in your own heartache – nor, if you are one who has struggle with depression for a long season – be in that by yourself. There is no shame, you are loved, you have a friend or friends who wish to be there with you too, and to encourage you in that rainy night.

Now, Job’s friend’s show us what not to do – if you have not read through Job – do it some time. If you are like me – it may be a hard read – but if you are wiser than me – you will see it as an acute reminder of what to avoid when your friend is suffering, and how to persevere when the darkest of seasons come upon you. Job’s friend’s start to help him unpack his suffering – but this quickly turns from something vaguely helpful to them telling him how it is.

“Surely you sinned Job, surely you’ve done something awful to God, surely you deserve this punishment, you need to be more introspective, you need to repent.” They imply. And to quote the old adage “with friends like these, who needs enemies!”

Now, let’s be clear, sometimes it’s okay to give advice – to say, hey friend, you know you have a massive log coming out of your eye? Or have you thought about trying this? But to be able to give advice in the storm, requires wisdom, so we want to be careful when we do it, we need to be prayerful, and we must be humble. We do not possess all the answers, we do not know why a loved one dies young or why someone suffers loss, so we need to do the hard work of getting to know people before we start just dolling out specific advice for specific situations. It seems from some of their actions that Job’s friends should have known that he was a righteous man who had done no evil in God’s sight. But – they forgot it, or didn’t care, and this is the back drop for where we meet them this morning.

As we read, we meet Job pleading for mercy – not to God but to his friends. His heartaches because it feels as though God has abandoned him, and his friends seem to think he can do no right. When we approach someone who is suffering – it isn’t to fix them, but to love them, to show them the same love and mercy, and grace that Christ has shown us. It is to be beacons of hope in their life.

It is true that God can use hardship to convict a person of sin – but my experience is that rarely do I come to a sharp realization of a need to repent because my friends heaped mounds and mounds of guilt upon me – but because I was talking to someone, and they said something unrelated in passing or simply the sheer weight of conviction by the Holy Spirit opened my eyes and I saw that I had done something wrong or hurtful or rebellious against God.

We need to be friends that listen, that sit in quiet, that love each other well. So, here is a challenge to all of you today – make some time in the next week or two, call someone up that you find interesting and invite them over for dinner – or out to coffee and sit down and say “how is everything go?” Get to know their story, learn about their joys and struggles. Some do this very well, for others it’ll be a struggle, but one of the most heartbreaking things going on in our country is that once upon a time people used to have 3 or 4 close friends, friends who would sit with them when the world seemed terrible, would lament with them – now people are lucky if they have one. As the church we are well positioned to be good friends. So have mercy on someone in the next week or two and get to know them – not just in the surface issues – but in the deep issues of the heart. This takes time – this takes work – but it is a worthy task – one that will bear fruit in our lives and theirs.

I think that it can be hard to see our friends or even our acquaintances struggle. I think there is something subconscious that says “if Johnny who was once so successful can fall apart like this, what about us?” Or “if Suzy – who had everything I ever wanted and is now this incredible mess – surely, she did something wrong, because this would never happen to me.” And so we wall them off.

To share in someone’s hardest moments is to be profoundly vulnerable – to do this well, we must humble ourselves, we must recognize God’s mercy in our own lives and his sovereignty over them, and then sit, and listen, and pray, and love well. This hard thing is a good thing.

It is interesting here – having lamented the ill treatment he is receiving from his friends Job turns to a desire that his words were written. One of the things that has helped me as I’ve read this book is the reminder that – in the end Job has encouraged hundreds of thousands, if not millions or maybe even billions of people to persevere through hardship. He suffered, so that others might see a light at the end of the tunnel. He suffered so that people could see what not to do as friends, he suffered so that others would know that our redeemer lives, and that when our life expires, we will see God.

So, we may not grasp in the moment what the meaning of our suffering is – but it is not insignificant, it is not without meaning or purpose. Often, after my own seasons of tumult – I look back and see that in those times of trail were the times I learned to pray again – learned to lean more aggressively on the Lord, learned to trust that in the right time God will calm the storm.

Job then turns and makes a fascinating statement – one that we do not expect in this book: “I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” As we read this – we cannot help but think of Christ – think of the final promise – that in the end there will be recreation, sin will be cast out, the devil, the accuser who tells us all is wrong, will be thrown into damnation, and peace will be restored.

One of the things that I have seen in my own struggles – that in the darkest of days there is a longing for that day of peace, longing for things to be made right. I think here we can join Job in this longing. We can recognize that the world was not meant to be filled with sin, we were not created to wet out pillows at night with our tears for our own sins, and the sins of others. We were not meant to hurt and suffer under pain as we too often do.

For me – I stand with Job here – it has been helpful to remember this – helpful to remember that eternity is coming, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. It is helpful to know that one day he will stand on the earth, he will cleanse his children and dress them in robes of white, and will cast out sin, fear, and pain forever and on that day – death will die.

Our suffering and in fact all of our life takes on significance when we recognize that how we persevere through effects eternity. How we love, how we show others mercy, how we serve Christ – all goes into how we are building. Are we building with the gems and metals that do not fade – are we building in faith, hope, love, in kindness, mercy, and truth – or are we building selfishly? St. Paul talks about this and that we will pass through judgment, we will pass through the refiners fire, and all that is good will survive and that which is not will be burned up. So, we pass through the days that the Lord has give us – and let him refine us – let him draw us nearer to Him, let him teach us to build well in Christ.

But friends, I want to be clear here, even if we fail – even if we do not suffer well, even if we sin so badly that we think that the Lord can never redeem us – the God of love – loves you more than you can imagine. The God of love watches over you, the God of love sees you returning to him from afar and runs to you, picks you up, dresses your wounds, and prepares a party because he is so glad to see you return home.

So, strive to suffer well, strive to love well, and strive to repent well, when you fail. For you are beloved children, when we reach the end of the life we have been given – we will see God face to face. Do not grow despondent – if you’ve sinned – repent, if your suffering seems to have no meaning – cry out to God – read one of the numerous psalms of lament and remember you are a beloved child in Christ.

This question of suffering – is a hard one. As a community – let us learn, by the grace of God to be good friends to those who suffer around us – whether with mental illness, because of life situations, because of sin, or for reasons we may never know. Let us love them as Christ has loved us – not seeking perfection but seeing that image of God that has been tarnished by the fallenness of the world – and saying to them – you are a precious creation of God, come let me introduce you to the one who is mending my soul that he may mend yours as well.

Let us also suffer well – let us cry out to God when the darkness comes, not in bitterness – but in the hope that He will come soon, that he will dress our wounds, and say to us, come and rest, I will mend you. Let trust that our redeemer lives, and when all has come to an end – we will see Him and in seeing Him we will gaze upon the face the Lord, and have deepest of joys.

Suffering can be painful and hard – in that – may we never make another’s suffering harder nor lose the hope that we see today. May we persevere with boldness regardless of what the day may bring.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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