“The Gift of Presence”

Jul 17, 2022

The Scripture

Job 1:13-22 and Job 2:11-13

13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.’

20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. 21 He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Job 2:11-13

11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz

the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar he Naamathite.  They met together to go and console and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. 13 They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.



The Sermon

The Gift of Presence. This morning we return to Kate Bowler’s book “Good Enough” to the chapter titled: “The Reality-Show Gospel”.  She begins by saying, “My friends and I play a game whenever we watch reality television. (Ok for some of us that might not know what this means it’s shows like “Survivor” or “Top Chef” of “the Bachelor”) Kate goes on to say, we send each other clips of the stars claiming, “Everything Happens for a Reason.” We like to think that way about our faith, don’t we? It gives order to our understanding of how God works in the world. Closely related to this “reality-gospel” is a faith focused on rewards and punishments, all based on how well we measure up to God. For example, if I am faithful to God, God will reward me, if I am unfaithful (sinning) God will punish me. Let’s go a step deeper based on this reward-punishment gospel, and I’m going to coin my own phrase, the Santa Claus Gospel. Do we serve/believe in God because God will do good things for us, reward us? Or do we serve and believe in God because of love, love given and received? Interesting thought, isn’t it?

This idea of reward and punishment and motives behind our devotion to God takes us to the book of Job! The book goes into great details of the suffering of Job. It depicts his great losses, almost too many to bear, and it highlights his three friends who come to visit him at his lowest point.

The very beginning of the book of Job begins like this, “There was once a man in the land of Uz (Uzz) whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” I would say things are going pretty well for Job. He’s doing everything right and his “good” behavior (his perfect alignment with God) is rewarding him abundantly. But then everything fell apart, bad things happened, and Job hits the bottom.

Kate Bowler connects this place of “everything falling apart” to her reality-show gospel when things happen such as a contestant was voted out before their time or when a lover was jilted at the altar, but now has the amazing new opportunity to find their soulmate on some far-off island. These negative experiences, even disasters that happen must bring about something better. We just have to wait. It will all work out, right? Kate does not mince words when she says, “…this script that happened must bring about something better…seems to work perfectly until it doesn’t. Until you receive a diagnosis, or a divorce blows up your family or you hear that he or she is gone. Until your baby is born without a heartbeat. Until a friend is killed in a senseless accident. Until you lose your job unexpectedly. Until, until, until.” As a chaplain, my ministry in the hospital shattered my own reality-show gospel, when I watched parents grieve the death of a child, when young men died in the trauma bay filled with gunshot wounds while family members were praying fervently. There were no words to say at these times. I stand with Kate Bowler when she asks, “what about when no reasons can be found? And the hunt for explanation does more harm than good?” Like when people say such things as “it’s all for the better, they are with God now, or you can always have another child, or maybe going so low as to say, if they only had more faith this wouldn’t have happened” Yes, there are places we reach where there are no words to say.

Kate says, “this reality-show gospel can sustain us for only so long. When we run out of reasons, we need something else entirely. We need each other.” Job’s friends knew this immediately when they came to Job and wept aloud, tearing their clothes in an act of grief. Job’s friends knew exactly what to do when they sat by him in silence, day and night for seven days. I think like many of us, when we enter the pain and suffering of others, it’s hard to stay there…it’s uncomfortable, and if we’re really, really present to them, their pain washes over us. The urge is so great to move on to get out of that difficult place. We need each other at times like this. Job’s friends found themselves at that place and they switched their approach and tried to put words together to explain what was inexplainable. They turned from being a comfort to being a burden for Job.

I picked this image because I believe it illustrates the gift of presence that we can be for each other. These doves don’t speak words, maybe coos yes, but they don’t advise or suggest options, they are sitting close to each other, present to each other. We can be that way too! As a chaplain the most important thing I did, day after day was to show up and be silent. I did this very thing over and over again. You and me we’ve lived through life long enough to know the reality-show gospel doesn’t fit our lives and neither does the Santa Claus Gospel. We believe in God who doesn’t just give us what we want, but rather we believe in God who journeys with us with what life gives us. In the weeks and months ahead, we are going to be challenged with rumors, there is going to be a lot of talking, and even more advise giving. We’re going to be tempted to make lots of suggestions, and it all will be in an effort to try hard to overcome how uncomfortable we might be feeling or the fear we are experiencing at this present time. Each one of us has the ability to truly be present to one another in a way that we won’t need words. We just need the gift of presence, to be there with one another. My friends, this requires only two things on our part…to show up and to be silent! God is with us! Amen