A Sermon for Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 17 October, 2021.   Readings for this Sunday, Proper 29
(B):   Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Ps
104:1-9,25,37b; Heb 5.1-10; Mk 10:35-45

Gird up your loins like a
man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me” (Job 38.3).


There’s a
saying that one hears in the military if you complain about hardship or
difficult circumstances.   “Suck it up”,
the person is told, often by a sergeant with a distinctly unsympathetic
manner.    It often fell to me as a padre
to meet with young, bewildered soldiers, to try and help them deal with a
system that wasn’t very interested in their complaints and just wanted them to
put up with it.   “But it’s not fair,
padre, it makes no sense”, they’d say.

Ever since
October started, my preaching has been avoiding our Old Testament readings from
the Book of Job, rather in the way that one avoids the gaze of a dangerous or odd-looking
person on the subway, hoping that they’ll leave you alone if you don’t make eye
contact.  Job is one of those books that
most of us know by reputation as the book about suffering with no satisfying
answers.   Since no preacher has (or
should have) a pat answer for suffering, we tend to ignore Job, so (deep
breath), here goes.

In today’s
reading, Job gets his moment to try and argue his harsh treatment with God, and
is told, like my soldiers often were, to suck it up”, or to use the ancient
Hebrew phrase, “Gird up your loins like a man”.   “Did you make the world,” God asks Job?  “Do you have the wisdom to explain how the
world works?  Are you in charge?   No?  I
didn’t think so.”   After another two
chapters of this browbeating line of questioning, poor Job backs down. 
“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me,
which I did not know
” (Job 42.3).   
We might thus be forgiven for thinking that the message of the Book of
Job is to be quiet and let God be in charge.

that’s not a helpful answer to anyone who is suffering and who feels that they
are entitled to complain.  It’s also ignores
other passages in scripture that encourage us to bring our complains before
God.  “Consider my groaning”, says the psalmist.  “Give attention to the sound of my cry” (Psalm
5.1.2).    Poor Job didn’t give in to the
bad advice of his wife – “Curse God and die” (Job 2.9)  but he does feel that he’s entitled to plead
his case before God.   Even Jesus in the
Garden of Gethsemane, as alluded to in our second reading from Hebrews, “offered
up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was
able to save him from death” (Heb 5.7). 
Of course, Jesus does not get the answer he hopes for, but he gets the
one he knows that must obey, which is why the author of Hebrews praises Jesus’ “obedience”
and “reverent submission”.  But the whole
point of Hebrews is that Jesus is sympathetic to our plight and to our cries
because he’s shared them with us.

Since I’ve
been with you as your interim priest, I’ve seen some of you struggle with your
own hardships, adversities, and receive difficult diagnoses.   In such times, I think that those of us who
belong to communities of faith feel that we have to put on brave faces around
our friends and peers, when like Job we want to scream at God on the
inside.   And we certainly want to get
more from God than “suck it up”, but more often than not, we receive silence.

Recently I
did an interview with a mental health podcast on my experience of grief duringthe long two years that my wife Kay suffered with ovarian cancer before herdeath.    I was very mindful that while
the host was curious about how my faith helped me get through this, he himself
was what he called a “spiritual atheist” and he was not interested in some pat,
dogmatic answer that I might try to offer up. 

But here’s
the thing.  I don’t think that any of us,
in moments of profound fear, discomfort, or grief, want or need
profound theology.  Like Job, we may cry “why?”
or just “are you there, God”.    During the interview, I confessed that I had
no grand or easy theology to carry me through the worst days of caring for Kay
in her indignity and pain, knowing that I would lose her.   All I had to go on, I told the host, was the
knowledge that if Jesus himself knew the worst moments of human existence, if
he himself had cried out to a God who he felt had forsaken me, then Jesus understood
and deeply cared for what Kay and I were going through.    Sometimes this line of thought is called
the theology of the cross, but it can be simplified in the idea that we can,
mysteriously, know Jesus the most in moments of suffering because it is then
that he is closest to us.

In today’s
gospel reading, Jesus tells the cocksure brothers, James and John, that they
have no idea what they’re asking for when they want to “sit, at your right hand
and one at your left, in your glory” (Mk 10.36).  
We know better
because we’ve heard Jesus say why he’s going to Jerusalem, to die, and we
recognize the imagery of the one on the right and on the left as a
foreshadowing of the two condemned men hanging on either side of Jesus (Mk
15.27).   We recognize here, on these three crosses, a powerful symbol of
God’s solidarity with suffering humanity and a profound symbol of how Jesus
will “serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).  The two suffering bandits hanging beside
Jesus may thus be seen as all of sinful humanity, which Jesus came to serve,
forgive, and rescue. 

As I told the host of the podcast during my interview,
some of the best theological advice I’ve received is to resist the temptation
to try and explain all evil and suffering.   There is even a certain comfort in knowing
that not everything can be explained in human comprehension, which does, in a
way, bring us back to Job, only with this difference.  “Suck it
up” is the theology of the whirlwind.  
The theology of the cross, the voice of the gospel, replies to our cries and laments with  “Yes, I know it sucks,
but I’m with you, and I will make all things new”.