In the month of October, the rhythms are well established, small groups are engaged in fellowship and study, mission outreach is connecting with the wider community, the high holy seasons are just about to appear on the horizon but not yet consuming the work of the church, and everything is running smoothly. Well, okay. But even if not, why would anyone want to take a risk on a four-week series on Job, for heaven’s sake?
The book of Job is usually placed among the wisdom literature of the Bible, and that is probably where it best fits. Yet, it is not at all like Proverbs with its aphoristic approach to advice and suggestion. It is not like the Psalms or Song of Songs with their poetic praise and petition and passion, though you can find some of the most soaring poetry of the Bible in the pages of this book. So, what is it? Job starts like a fairy tale but reads like a documentary. Did this all really happen? Does it matter? What’s going on here in this odd, somewhat tedious, kinda confusing book? And why, we ask again, would anyone want a worship series on this book?
Well, you’ll have to look elsewhere for a complete answer to that question. But it is our contention that the book of Job deals with some profoundly difficult questions in the life of faith, and it does so without easy answers or simplistic cliches. In fact, Job takes on those cliches with some painful truths about life in the real world. Let’s be honest: Job isn’t really for those for whom everything is great, and all their choices come up smelling like roses. It is a book for those who have questions, those who are struggling or suffering, or feeling like there is no one listening, no one out there at all. If this is you, or anyone you know, then the book of Job is the place for you.
The human condition seems rife with difficulty from birth to death. We are, as “Comforter” Eliphaz declares in a rare moment of clarity, born to trouble as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7). What word can we bring to those who know the depth of this experience? Join us for our worship series “Born to Trouble.”
Care needs to be taken as we launch into this series. If ever there was a time where the worship team needs to take the congregation by the hand and walk them through the expectations of worship, it is in this series. Some time at the beginning of the service, during announcements if those are done, perhaps, or as part of a call to worship, some outlining of the scope of the series as you see it would be helpful. Invite prayers for the whole church as you wrestle with difficult issues and prayers for those who may be suffering grief or illness, and certainly invite prayers for those who feel abandoned by God.
This need not mean, however, that there is no place for praise or no room for joy in these weeks. Far from it. The call to be the church who gives glory to God’s name persists. Let hands be raised; let smiles be seen. Clap and dance and celebrate the gift of salvation every day of our lives, even as we acknowledge that suffering is real; and in many ways, we are a people born to trouble.
Space for responses to this word must be provided from the very beginning. Perhaps assign caring listeners who can spend time after, or even during the worship time for those who are struck by these themes. Here is a role for Stephen Ministers if they are available in your church. We need those who can listen well and not attempt to “fix” everything but merely be a supportive presence in the struggle.
Corporate times of prayer and contemplation, of cleansing and anointing, might be appropriate each week or at the beginning and end of the series. Time at the Communion rail can be given. If you are celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion on this first Sunday of the month, then attention to the prayers of confession and absolution is always appropriate.
Also give attention to suffering beyond the personal as we worship together. How can we acknowledge the pain of the world in which we live? In our own neighborhoods? In our chosen mission fields? Around the world? What responses can we give to the suffering of the world around us? How can we be a caring presence beyond our own community of faith? How can we stand in solidarity with those who suffer because of their race or religion or ethnicity? What witness can we give to the world that God is a loving presence and not an uninvolved and ineffable entity?
We must also take care to ensure that our message is not that this world is terrible, and our job is to get through it to some heaven someday somewhere. On the contrary, this world is alive with the presence of God; the kin-dom breaks through with surprising glory at times. But there is also suffering and pain, and we must be honest about that. Any of us, all of us, will most likely encounter that truth at some point in our lives, if we haven’t already. We are gathering to worship as a people who are in this world and called to love the world as did the one who sent the Christ so that whosoever believes in him might have eternal life.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.