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Tilling the grounds of the argument

Sunday, July 7, 2019

 Sermon for the third Sunday after Trinity


We seem to be falling out a lot, lately.


Whether about politics, or religion, or our life-choices, there are a lot of arguments raging and, quite frankly, they are tearing our communities apart.


More and more, we talk past each other, trotting out well-rehearsed arguments and phrases but without ever looking for the real issue.


And Job is the same.


[PAUSE]


We see Job sitting in his misery. His three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, have now argued with him ten times and he has argued back. His friends say that Job has sinned in order to suffer so: Job says that he has not sinned. Job is beginning to wonder why his friends are not on his side.


The reason is that both Job and his friends have very fixed ideas. The friends think that because God is just, He runs the world with perfect justice and therefore Job has sinned. Job also believes that he has not sinned so there must be a problem with the way that God is running the world. He nearly even goes so far as to say that God is unjust.


And can we blame him?


[PAUSE]


As Christians, we have a very clear doctrine and you can hear that doctrine every Sunday in the words of the Creed and in the commandments that Our Lord Jesus gives us. We can strengthen our understanding by keeping the fellowship of the Church. And yet, somehow, we Christians disagree fundamentally. Job and his friends argue over one question: has Job sinned?


This is the same question that we Christians face today, “by performing that action, is that person sinning?” And we disagree so much and so violently that Christianity has fractured. In many cases, this is reasonable. Many Christians today are saying that they have not sinned by trying to change the meaning of Holy Scripture in order to magic away the whole idea.


So what do we do? How do we live with people who either think that we are sinners or whom we believe to be sinners?


[PAUSE]


As we stand watching Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar arguing heatedly, as we stand watching Job scratch his sores with a potsherd and cry bitter tears, and complain and howl at God, we have to ask ourselves, just where is God here? How are these men bringing God into the situation?


If we look closely, then we see that the friends don’t actually bring God into the situation but rather bring their understanding of His justice. If we look closely, then we see that Job doesn’t actually invite God into the situation but rather accuses him of destroying him. It’s all very human centred – all human reason and human emotion. Where’s the invitation for God to get involved?


[PAUSE]


We have a lot of hurts to bear in our lives, and our society is damaged because people cannot rise above their differences. We have a lot of hurt to bear from the way that people, even people that we love, even the Church have acted. Christians may have to walk apart in order to be true to the revelation that they believe they have received. However, the crucial thing is that our divisions must not allow us to sit proudly over our relationships with others. If we do truly hold the Christian Faith, then we know full well that our own sins separate us from God just as much as anyone else’s and that means that we cannot look down on those who sin. We cannot throw the first stone any more than they can.


No. We should not tolerate any sin whatsoever but we need to be right with God in order to see it. Accusations of sin are not a theoretical exercise of applying the Law – God’s justice is NOT like human justice. Before we consider our response to an argument, we need to listen for God’s word in what has been said. If we want God’s word to grow, then we have to till the ground and the ground in which we want God’s word to grow here is the situation between Job and his friends.


If we listen to Job’s friends and listen out for God, then what do we hear? We hear facts about God Himself, that He is just and that He does run the universe in that perfect justice. We know this because we pray it every day.


If we listen to Job, then we hear the cry of one in misery, struggling to understand what’s going on, struggling to know why a good God has it in for him. And then we hear another familiar cry.


“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”


“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”


[PAUSE]


God Himself will make a response to Job and to his friends in His time. Until then, the division and the estrangement must remain.


We Christians, with all our divisions and disagreements, must also wait for God to make His response to us. Until that happens, we must till the ground within us, ridding ourselves of all pride and indignation along with all our other sins, so that we may be in a better position to hear the word of God speak in the mouths of those with whom we profoundly disagree.


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