Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking
Scripture: Job 2:11-13
Series: I've Been Meaning to Ask...
Message: Where do you need? (Part 2)
You may have noticed that Epworth’s musical range is broad. We go from the classical organ pieces that music minister Jerry Asheim is so gifted in offering to the piece that Judy just played from a band that goes by the enigmatic name of Death Cab for Cutie, to everything in between. Let me take this opportunity now to invite YOU to share your musical gifts with the broad community of Epworth in instrumental or vocal leadership. In this time when our singing as a group is curtailed, we have the opportunity to get even more creative and hear from folks we haven’t heard from yet. Please let me or Jerry or Judy know if you’d like to have a conversation about sharing your musical gifts at Epworth.
Whenever I hear the song that Judy just played, I’m taken back to one of the Open Mic nights at the campus ministry at UC Davis. Open Mic nights are always a terrific time to be surprised and blessed by the giftedness that exists in a particular community. On that night, one of the students who was new but who had become quickly very engaged in the community put his name on the list. He had been a youth and student leader of a very conservative Christian group, and came to our United Methodist ministry as a resident of the Multifaith Living Community. The Multifaith Living Community was a new program of the campus ministry consisting of six townhouses we had built behind the main community building, housing 42 residents.
I don’t know if he had an inkling of maybe proselytizing, and trying to convert students of non-Christian faith to Christianity, or if he was just drawn by the idea of being immersed in his own faith and sharing about it. There was a clear and articulated prohibition against proselytizing in the Multifaith community, but he held a faith that didn’t distinguish between faithfulness and attempting to convert. In any case, shortly after moving in, he began to be engaged in deep theological conversations with Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims and other Christians, but different Christians than the ones he had known. He experienced these persons not as persons in need of his words and worldview, but as persons of deep faith and integrity. And what he had previously believed, that Christian faith was necessary for salvation, began to be less clear. His firm foundation began to crumble. Soon he was deep into a crisis of faith.
When it was his turn at the Open Mic night, he took out his guitar and played the song you just heard Judy play, “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark.” Most of this student community of 60 or so students knew what he was struggling with. The words of the song, “If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied, illuminate the ‘Nos’ on their vacancy signs, if there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks, I’ll follow you into the dark”—these words took on deep meaning for all who were present. Letting go of a strict worldview with clear boundaries was for him an act of tremendous courage, and grief, and grace. He finished to a spellbound group, moved to respond not with the customary shouts and applause, but reverence and silence.
There are moments when the best response to suffering, loss and even transformation, is just to ‘be with’, without words, questions or advice. There are moments when words cannot carry the weight of what is being experienced. In these moments, the truest reflection of respect and compassion is to sit with an other in silence. This is what we encounter today in our scripture from Job.
Though many aspects of our holy scriptures deal with suffering, the book of Job is unique in that it is wholly a theological exploration on suffering. In the first chapter, Job is described as a “blameless,” meaning complete, finished, having integrity, and wholesome. He is described as “upright,” meaning esteemed, right and just. He is good. He’s trustworthy. He does the right thing. Job has a big happy family, and his business is prosperous. A humble and faithful man, he didn’t expect his children would be perfect and so he regularly offered prayers and repentance on their behalf.
But then what happens? In a bizarre twist to the story that is framed as a challenge from Satan to God, calamity befalls Job. He loses his business, livestock, home, and all of his children are tragically killed. Even in the face of this, he praises God, saying, “Naked and with nothing I came into the world and naked and with nothing I will go out.” Then the suffering gets worse. His health is taken away and he is covered in painful sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The intent of the book of Job is to show a person who is in the depth of suffering who has been stripped of every good thing. The intent is to say to us, the reader, whatever you suffer, whatever causes you pain or despair, Job knows, Job has been there, too.
Do you know how Job feels? Maybe the specific things that happened to Job haven’t happened to you, or someone you love, or maybe they have. As we head into the second half of the second year of this pandemic, losses are real. We struggle to overcome racism and combat racial violence, we are in pain at the racism that persists, and we have to push back the despair and cynicism that can arise at the slowness of change. We feel the fractures of our world and our communities. Sometimes we can feel like giving up. What do you need?
Into this scene walk Job’s friends, Elphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They hear of Job’s suffering and they say, “Let’s go together to Job, offer him our sympathy and comfort him.” And so they set off. When they see him in the distance, they rip their clothes and rub ashes on their heads, which was a sign of grief and compassion. They weep. Then they sit with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights saying nothing because, as the scripture says, “They saw how great his suffering was.”
Wow, now this is a trio of friends we all could use. Without going farther into the book of Job, let’s pause right here. In the face of all of the suffering around us, we can get tripped up in feeling like we don’t know how to respond, or how to help those we love. But Job’s friends give us a roadmap for compassionate response.
First and foremost, they were tuned in and they showed up. The scripture says they heard about Job’s troubles and they came. Suffering and isolation are inextricably linked; to be isolated is to suffer. Elphaz, Bildad and Zophar were aware enough, connected enough to their friend Job that they learned of what had happened to him. And when they heard, they came.
Even if you are speechless and empty handed, never estimate the power of showing up. It may seem like a simple thing, but it is not. Particularly for Christians, we believe in an embodied faith. Later in the service when we eat of the bread and drink of the cup in holy communion, we are enacting one of our core truths, that the body of Christ lives on in us, and it’s our job to show up in the world, and to those in need, in body. Presence. Here. On this World Communion Sunday, we join with Christians all over the world in saying God is here, Jesus is here, we are here, and we are one body. And we will show up, in body.
Second, Job’s friends coordinated with each other and affirmed they were in community with him by expressing compassion and solidarity. They showed him that his tears were their tears, and that his suffering was their suffering. Compassion literally means to suffer with. In Buddhism, there is a practice called Tonglen. It is a challenging practice, and simply put, it is a practice of meditation and breathing that breathes in the suffering of another, transforms it in one’s own body, and then breathes out healing and peace. As people who also practice an embodied faith, we Christians would do well to embrace a Tonglen like practice of our own. This is what I imagine Job’s friends doing as they sat with him—not in passive presence, but in active, compassionate, transformative solidarity.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, they sat with him, waited for him to tell them what he needed and stayed. They stayed. Seven days of silence is a long time. It is also a symbolic amount of time. In Jewish and Christian tradition, seven symbolizes completeness. Though out scripture for today doesn’t go this far, after the seven days, Job began to talk. It is significant that Job’s friends didn’t speak before he did. They waited for him to speak his need. They stayed.
Three simple steps: 1. being connected and showing up, 2. active solidarity and compassion and 3. Waiting on an other to tell us what THEY need.
Now I don’t mean to suggest that Job’s friends might not have been struggling with something of their own. Maybe they were. The way life is, more than likely they were. But sometimes the best way to feel relief from our own suffering is to put our attention on the suffering of another.
Back to that Open Mic night at UC Davis some years ago. The profound pain of this student was evident as he finished playing and singing “I’ll follow you into the Dark.” But as the days passed and his new found multifaith community stayed with him, a new path opened up. It was a new path that embraced difference, that sought understanding, and on which a much bigger God was waiting for him. He graduated later that year, heading to one of the former Soviet republics through the Peace Corps. I saw him several years later at a United Nations General Assembly. He was accompanying a group of students who were doing peace work. He was a picture of a man at peace.
Today we ask the question, “What do you need?” and I hope you will ask that of your friends, family members and acquaintances. And today may remember that we are all in need of the solace that a faithful friend can bring. On this World Communion Sunday, let us seek to meet that need by truly being the body of Christ, showing up in body with compassion, active solidarity, and persistence. And let us remember that as we sit in silence with our own suffering or the suffering of an other, God will send angels to us, friends for the journey, as the way opens up to even deeper understanding and relationship with who God is and who God calls us to be. Amen.
Order of Service
The Community Gathers...
Rev. Jerry Asheim
Welcome & A Covenant of Grace
Rev. Kristin Stoneking, Rev. Jerry Asheim, Cathryn Bruno
Prayer for Illumination
Molly Brostrom & Todd Schafer
Opening Music: "More Love" (comp. Sid Davis)
To Hear the Word...
Scripture Reading: Job 2:11-13
Molly Brostrom & Todd Schafer
Call to Confession - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
How many of you have ever had a bad day
and found someone offering you unsolicited advice?
How many of you have ever had a bad week and had someone rush in
with dozens of suggestions for how you might fix things,
as if you hadn’t thought of that before?
We have all been there, and we have all done that.
It is part of our humanity.
Our scripture reminds us today that often in the face of hurt, what people really need
is not a list of advice or solutions, but the simple presence of love.
So let us pray to God today, acknowledging that we are works in progress,
and that relationships always come with mistakes and confession. Let us pray:
Prayer of Confession -
sometimes life feels like cooking with flour—
it looks like it should be easy, but we always make a mess.
This is particularly true when it comes to our relationships.
to be the right thing, to find the right solution,
that we overstep the line.
Forgive us for assuming the place you fill.
Forgive us for imagining that we, in all our humanity,
could possibly fix all the hurt in this world.
Instead, give us the grace and the strength to stand by our loved ones in their moments of need to witness their hurt without trying to fix it.
You are God. We are not. Teach us how to be a friend.
Teach us how to ask, “What do you need?”
Teach us how to point to you.
Gratefully we pray. Amen.
Words of Forgiveness - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Family of faith, no matter how many times you have
spoken without listening,
assumed without knowing,
offered without asking,
or rushed without waiting—
you are forgiven.
God knows your desire and your intent.
God knows when we try and miss the mark,
and God surrounds us in grace.
So hear and believe the good news of the gospel: (Repeat after me:
Every day is a new day for love.
We are claimed. We are forgiven.
We are invited into relationship.
Thanks be to God for growth and grace that know no end. Amen.
*Affirming the Peace Among Us
You are invited to turn to the people around you and bow to each other as a sign of graceful greetings this day.
Anthem: "I'll Follow You Into the Dark" (by Ben Gibbard)
Message: "What Do You Need?"
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
To Respond and Renew Commitment...
Musical Mediation: "Lord, I Need You" (by Matt Maher)
Prayers of the People
Leader: Loving God, People: We lift our prayers to you.
The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer )
Our Creator (Father/Mother), who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom (kin-dom) come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom (kin-dom), and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Offering Our Resources and our Energy
Give online at www.epworthberkeley.org/donate or, send a text message with the dollar amount you wish to give to +1-833-276-7680.
*Affirmation of Faith
We believe in relationships.
We believe in asking hard questions,
in showing up for one another,
and in sitting together through the pain.
We believe in trying our best
and offering grace
when our best is not enough.
And we believe that God is in all relationships—
modeling for us the value of community
through the relationships of the Trinity.
So we love today,
and we strive to love
even more tomorrow.
Let it be so. Amen.
To Go Forth with Love and Compassion
Closing Hymn: "Stand by Me"
Rev. Jerry Asheim & Randall Miller
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Rev. Jerry Asheim
***Special Thanks To:
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking Worship Leaders: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Susan Jardin, Judy Kriege, Randall Miller, Molly Brostrom, Todd Shafer
Ushers: Jeff Bruno, Carole Klokkevold
Audio engineer: Tom McClure
Livestream producer: Zachary McVey & Daniel Katari
Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey