Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost 2018 — Preaching Notes
Mystery Worship Series, week 1 — DESERTED
October 14, 2018
When writing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr penned these words, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.” The power of his words flow like water spilling from a broken cup. The journey toward reconciliation and justice was marked by bouts of loneliness, criticism, and violence. He records from prison the overwhelming amount of personal sacrifice he was willing to endure for the mere hope of securing a better future for all people. He wrote to his peers—pastors, ministers, community leaders, and public servants in the Birmingham area, seeking both their support and understanding, because he felt their criticism and rejection.
No one is exempt from feeling isolated or deserted. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to transform this dark world with the light of Christ. However, it is human nature to feel forsaken when we lack support and encouragement. Like Dr. King, Jesus was no stranger to feeling deserted. While hanging from the cross, the mixture of blood and tears streamed from Jesus’ limp body. The Passion of Christ is evident in the last cry “My God, My God, why have you left me? (Matthew 27:46 CEB) Can you imagine the pain, the agony, the measure of love it takes to sacrifice one’s life for another? What does it feel like to be punished for the wrongdoings of others? Why would people risk their lives to make others free? And why must the cause of justice demand such isolation? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, and even Job are leaders who have faced feeling deserted. These men of morality show a level a leadership that many are unwilling to embrace. They are willing to risk their lives for the cause of integrity, for righteousness, and in pursuit of remaining committed to God.
The Book of Job presents a theological view of God that is contradictory to the loving, caring, just, and kind God predominantly illustrated in the contemporary Christian church. Job presents a God who instigates suffering in the lives of those who are righteous. Job discusses the problem of suffering and isolation by the hand of God. He explores the ramifications of what is “just” within the parameters of suffering without “cause” or “sin.” Job as a character is innocent, just, and moral; yet he suffers, is deserted, and is condemned by friends and family without wrongdoing. Why would God do this to an innocent man?
Job enlists the language of the court to argue his innocence before God as a way to defend his honor. He begins with a bitter complaint against a God who has given him a “heavy hand” (Job 23:1). He struggles internally, regarding if God is listening, present, or even concerned with his “argument” or “case” (Job 23:4-6). Job states, “There those who do the right thing can argue with him; I could escape from my judge forever.” (Job 23:7). Job seeks God’s relief to uphold justice. However, the text implies that God does not govern the world with justice, because Job—in his innocence— still suffers. Job feels utterly deserted. He seeks to “discover” God in the east and the west; he looks in the north and the south and concludes, “I don’t see [Him]” (Job 23:8-9). What is most interesting about the translations of this text is the word usage for “discover” in verse 8 and “see” in verse 9. The Hebrew translation for the word “discover” is “biyn,” which means to perceive, discern, understand, or consider. This verb speaks more to the mental capacity to understand and comprehend. Verse 9, on the other hand, means “ra’ah,” which deals with physical sight, to look at, or inspect. Can it be that we are so mentally occupied with what we are experiencing in life that we find it difficult to see God in our circumstances?
Ultimately, Job’s current circumstances led to his present state of feeling deserted. He assumes God neglects justice because God appears to be indifferent to his case. Job knows God is a lover of Justice, but Job cannot see God. Martin Buber expresses Job’s paradox using these words, “Job’s faith in Justice is not broken down. But he is no longer able to have a single faith in God and Justice.” Although, God and Justice are not mutually aligned in his current situation, “He cannot forego his claim that they will again be united somewhere, sometime, although he has no idea in his mind how this will be achieved.”1 Therefore, Job shows us the difficult aspect of what it means to be a faithful Christian, even during isolating times.
Job maintains hope. Even though Job cannot see God, God is mindful of Job. Hope is an assurance in God, even when God’s justice is elusive and God’s presence is a mystery. Hope in this sense in not just a belief or an expectation. Hope is something that we live for, strife for, and long for, not just for ourselves, but for others as well. Job hopes for justice and hopes for God, even when he cannot exclusively see God and justice in his current state.
In the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Dr. King states, “I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.”
There will be moments when justice seems to be alluded by divine indifference. During the times we feel deserted, let us hold fast to hope. Because though we cannot see, God is present in our hope; and justice will eventually be attained.
Series Writer: Rev. Nathalie Nelson Parker is the National Program Coordinator for for the National Network of Young Adults for SBC21. She recently graduated from Gammon Theology Seminary and is a provisional elder in the North Georgia ANnual Conference. She lives in Nashville, TN with her husband, Rev. Leon F. Parker, III and their son.