An address delivered in Warragul Uniting Church, by the Rev Rosalind Terry

on Sunday, 19 October 2003


Job, the really good rich man, whom God allowed to suffer.

His seven sons and three daughters were killed when a terrible wind storm blew down the house they were in.

Can you imagine how sad this made Job and Mrs Job? …

Terrorists killed the servants guarding his 500 yoke of oxen and 500 donkeys, and stole the animals.

A great storm killed his 7,000 sheep and the servants caring for them.

Robbers stole his 3,000 camels and killed their riders.

Now Mr and Mrs Job were destitute.

Job accepted this reversal of fortune, recognising he had come into the world naked, and would return to the earth naked in death.  Still he blessed the Lord.

Then God let Job suffer severe illness and suffering.  He looked and felt terrible.

Mrs Job was so distraught with grief for her children and her husband that she begged her husband to curse God so they might die.  Sometimes it seems to be as bad or worse for the loved ones watching helplessly as it is for the sick one.  But Job refused to accept her advice.  “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” was all he would reply.  And he went out by himself to grieve alone.

His three friends, hearing of his misfortune, came and sat with him in silence for seven days and nights.  Then Joseph spoke out in his bitterness, and called God to explain his misfortune.

His friends tried to speak on God’s behalf, suggesting he must have done something wrong to deserve such suffering, or perhaps his children had sinned, or he hadn’t done something good he could have done.

Job refuted all this.

Their words made things worse.

Then Elihu, a younger man, came and berated both Job and his friends, suggesting Job was too self-righteous.  He claimed to speak on God’s behalf, and called on Job to praise God.  His words remind me of modern day Christians who try to blame the victims of continued suffering for not having enough faith, rather than being silent before the mystery of suffering.

Finally, in the 38th chapter, God speaks.  Let us listen!


Job 38: 1-7, 34-41


What is the answer here?

Does this answer the “why” of human suffering?

If we keep our eyes fixed on the small picture, there is no answer here.

God does not explain the reason for the suffering of Mr and Mrs Job.

But in the presence of God the Creator of all that is, Job’s personal sufferings no longer seem to matter to him.

In meeting God, in seeing that God the Creator actually cares enough about the suffering of one person amongst the enormity of creation to come and speak with him, Job finds meaning and purpose for continued life, life in all its fullness. 

If we have not had some experience of God’s love, it may be that we have never asked for it with the desperation of Job’s plea.  Jesus promised that to all who asked, God would answer.

Let us have a moment’s Lacuna stillness, and think back to a time when God answered us by being with us in the pain. … (Thanks be to God.)


Sometimes the reason we do not experience God’s presence is because we do not take our own suffering seriously enough, we do not sit with it for “seven days and nights”, we rush on and keep busy to protect ourselves from the pain.


Sometimes the reason we do not experience God’s presence is because we do not take other people’s suffering seriously enough.  We will not go and see a patient in hospital because we think the sights and sounds will upset us, or we may cry and make the sufferer feel worse.  Or we are too busy to write the letter, or we have left it so long it seems wrong to make the phone call now.  I’ve made some of those excuses myself at times, and they have prevented me entering the holy place where God is present in the suffering.  Some of the most beautiful experiences I have been gifted with have been the times when I have been privileged to be with a family as a loved one was dying. 


Even as disciples, even in the presence of Jesus himself, it is possible to be so focused on the little picture, our personal agendas, that we are blind to what God is doing amongst us.


It was ever so.


Listen to another story of the devastating blindness of the first disciples in the last few days of Jesus’ life.


Mark 10: 32-45


They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those following were afraid.


In that one sentence, the whole life story of a disciple has been condensed!


Disciples are those on the way of the cross.  We are to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus.  Certainly there are some fun times along the way.  Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.  He told some very funny stories.  He restored sufferers to good health, forgave sins and befriended outcasts.  But always he was on this journey to the cross.  Jesus walks ahead of us.  If we truly live a Jesus life style, people will be amazed by our deeds that fly in the face of common wisdom in our materialist society, where might is right.  And as we follow, fear is often a constitutive element of “following”, because we are not sure of what this journey means, or if we will have the inner resources to complete the journey. 


Mark here portrayed Jesus speaking in great detail about what will befall him in Jerusalem.  He will be betrayed, will face a double trial, will be tortured, executed, and after three days will rise again.


Was it their amazement and fear that deafened James and John to the enormity of Jesus’ pain at this time?  How could they have lept over the agony in order to place their requests for the places of honour in the new kingdom? 

How could they have missed yet again Jesus’ teaching that this kingdom is not about political power and honour and glory, but about service and suffering?


But inspite of his own weariness and exasperation, Jesus throws the question back to the questioners and asks them if they can drink the cup he will drink and be baptized with his baptism.  Jesus points them to the big picture.  At the beginning of his ministry Jesus was baptized and tested, and chose the way of powerlessness, the way of the cross.  He was then baptized with water, and soon he will be baptized into death.  He will drain the cup of suffering to the dregs.  This servant role he can give to his followers. 


Probably still with blithe shallowness the brothers reply, “Oh yes, we can do that.  No problems.”


The cup and the baptism Jesus can “grant” – the disciples in time will indeed suffer before the powers.  As for the original petition for rank, however, it is deferred to “those for whom it is prepared”.  In supreme irony, the phrase “on the right and left” will appear again to describe those crucified with Jesus, the rebel Jews who died with him! 


To cap off Jesus’ frustration, the other disciples now join in the blindness.  They seem more affronted by the fact that James and John got in first, than that the question was asked at all.  They seem to want places of honour also. 


But that is not to be how it is amongst the followers of Jesus. 


Whoever wishes to be first among us must be slave of all, Jesus teaches. 


Think about this as you prepare to call a new clergy person.  Think on this as you elect elders and members of church council. 


We should use this measure to assess our own Christian walks. 


The male disciples in Mark’s Gospel seem to fail the test here yet again. 


At 1: 31, Simon’s mother-in-law, just healed from a fever, gets up and serves Jesus and the disciples.


At 15: 41 we are told the women who used to follow him and had served and provided for him in Galilee were at the cross.  They, unlike most of the men, were with him to the end. 


We fail to recognise service as the form of leadership in the Christian community at our peril. 


Let us take another moment of Lacuna space and remember a time when we saw Christian service, and recognise it as leadership blessed by God.