From dying suddenly and unprepared, Good Lord, deliver us.

by

The Episcopal Church of St Alban, Albany OR
The 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 22 B
4 OCT 2015
Job 1:1; 2:1-10, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16, Psalm 26

“From dying suddenly and unprepared, Good Lord, deliver us.” [1] That’s one of the petitions from the prayers called “The Great Litany”, which we use during Lent. There are times when we can be tempted to treat these words somewhat nonchalantly, as if it deals with something far out into the future. But this isn’t what we’re saying to God. We’re pleading that, when something drastic DOES happen, we’ll be able to deal with it. Somehow, we pray, we’ll find the resources, spiritual, emotional and physical, to live into and through whatever it is we may find most frightening or unnerving, especially when we hardly have a moment’s notice. And THAT’S what our faith is all about.

“Curse God and die” must be one of the best spousal support lines in the Bible. If you know anything at all about Job,  you’ll remember how devout he was. He was faithful to the point of stoicism. Puritanical, in the best sense, might describe him. He is pictured as following the laws and making sure that their spirit was evident, that he wasn’t simply going through the motions. He was SO faithful, in fact, that God was really and impressed by the way that he conducted himself. So much so that God couldn’t stop talking about and pointing to Job as the very epitome of what life was all about.

Not to berate ourselves unduly, but I doubt if you and I would compare to Job. Yet we all have our good points. Perhaps best among them is that we all try hard to live into the discipleship to which Jesus calls us. We do our best, even as we struggle, for instance, to make sure that everyone is treated as we’re called to do by the promises of the Baptismal Covenant. But everyday life IS hard, something Jesus recognised. Yet He counselled that we should never give up, either on the possibilities of God’s Love to transform us or on our determination to be as faithful as we possibly can. Then, when the chips are down, from somewhere within us, we can draw on that reservoir of love.

“From dying suddenly and unprepared …” this petition is made all the more real by the events in Roseburg of last Thursday. Like the “loathsome sores” covering the body of Job, the shootings at Umpqua Community College came out of nowhere. Even if the assailant DID post comments and warnings on social media on Wednesday night, no one, apparently, took them seriously. People may have thought them fantasies of someone with a wild, if very warped, imagination, something little different from many of the TV shows or Facebook rants that pepper our lives.

There’s no telling what, if anything, was the social media equivalent in Job’s day, but many believe that the standard against which life was judged was that if you were prospering, you must be righteous, and if you were struggling, then it was, somehow, your own fault and that you’d insulted God. This sort of reasoning still persists to this day, in certain quarters, despite what Jesus said
repeatedly – that God isn’t such a capricious Creator. Time and again, Jesus echoed the thinking of Job, that terrible things happen, and that it can’t be explained away, except for a few isolated occasions when we know that we could have chosen better, we could have refused to be rude or abusive, we could have been more careful and considerate. Yet there ARE so many times when nothing we’ve done or could have done prevents the tragic, the mean, the violent from erupting in our lives.

We may never know or understand what drove that young man – and the hundreds of others who’ve done the same thing – to engage in such random and destructive acts of violence. That’s a separate matter. The more immediate one is how we respond when we think of the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons of those killed on the College campus. Or, worse yet, when we find ourselves in such horrendous danger.

“From dying suddenly and unprepared, Good Lord, deliver us!”

Somehow, we train ourselves to think of God as being present everywhere, observant, standing at our sides, in every situation, not a God who intervenes with the wave of a magic wand – that would be impossible since God honours us with free will – but the God in whom we believe brings comfort for all the wounds we suffer. The God and Father of Jesus was present and sent angels to minister to Jesus when He faced such temptations in the desert, or in the Temple, or on streets or countrysides. Whenever someone tried to divert Him
from His mission of love and forgiveness; whenever someone tried to make Him lose faith in what He was about; whenever, finally, He was hoisted on to a cross and hung out to suffer and die; whenever someone whispered, “Curse God and die”, Jesus found the inner strength to work through the consequences of His faith and trust.

This is not to make out Job’s unnamed wife as some sort of monster. In her own way, she was struggling with trying to understand what was going on. And, to her eternal credit, no matter how frightened, how distraught – take a look at the bulletin illustration [2] for yourself to see what the artist made of that discussion – to her credit, Job’s wife stayed at her husband’s side.

The point is that there are, in the darkest of situations, moments of grace when God’s eternal love and power DO become evident. As “Night Prayer” from “A Prayer Book for New Zealand” put it, “The angels of God guard us through the night and quieten the powers of darkness.”

Details about the shootings last Thursday may change, but one account being discussed on Friday was that each person in the room was asked whether he or she was a Christian. If the answer was, “Yes”, then the response was, “You’ll be in heaven in a second” and that person was shot in the head.

What would have happened had the person said , “No”? What would I do, if I were the second or third person asked about my faith, or lack of it? If that is the last thing I might say on earth, should I lie, should I make it a denial, or should I, in that instant, give up my faith completely, or embrace another?

I hope I never have to find out what such stress might do, but I know that Roseburg is not the only place in the world where religious expression and acceptance carries such an extreme penalty.

Would I – could I – ought I to curse God …? Would I die anyway?

Would I die inside if I denied what I believed, whether by what I said or what I did?

I believe God forgives. I know the Bible teaches that the only unforgiveable sin is that against the Holy Spirit. But how does one sin against the Spirit? Not just for one’s self, but for one’s family, for the person next to one, or across the campus – for anyone, can one, should one stay silent or utter what we know is false?

From all that challenges us, and breaks our hearts, and tests us, Good Lord, deliver us. And lead us not into temptation.

No matter what, though, God was in those rooms, just as God sat beside Job as he tried to find some relief for all his pain. God was in Roseburg. God is STILL in Roseburg, as God is in Clackamas Town Center, and Thurston High School in Springfield, wherever pain, and abuse, and violence threaten to blot out all that is light, and warm, and lovely in our lives and in the world.

So we pray for peace. We ask that reason, and kindness, and respect, and dignity may prevail. We pray that mental diseases may be eradicated. That jealousy, and greed, and bitterness, and vindictiveness be brought under control.

As many have pointed out, though, we pray and then we act. Our prayer becomes fulfilled by the way that we put our words into practice. When you and I as individuals come together here on a Sunday or any other day, we learn to become community. What we do in worship here is a “we” event, not an “I” event. The church’s role – and we are the church! – the church’s role is to teach about “we”. The church’s role is to say that doors will be flung open in face of disaster and threats of all kinds. The church’s role is to say to the community, “We are here – to listen, to share, to feed spiritually and
physically, to afford a place where one can scrape away at everything that troubles, no matter what it is or how it has come upon people.”

We come here week in, week out, to remind ourselves how God weeps with us, as well as laughs with us. Above all, we come here to learn and be reminded that God understands what is going on.

Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, talking about compassion, wrote last week, “I would call compassion a ‘life skill’ learnable on our knees: to see ourselves as God sees us, which will inform how we see everyone else. In a time so full of hurt and hate, the grace of compassion can make a world of difference.” [3]

Compassion is what we have learned to feel for the people of Roseburg, and everywhere around the world where evil seems to be so prevalent. Compassion is what we have been invited to experience and to share, and to transform into outstretched hands and hearts and wallets and purses. Because compassion is part of what we need to know and to have in order to help us not to die unprepared.

This morning’s Gospel passage shows Jesus talking out harshly against those who would use power against the weak in society. This morning’s verses, as countless others do, speak to us about ensuring that everyone is treated with kindness, and charity – another side of the compassion which prepares us for our deaths.

Of course, we’d all rather they be later rather than sooner in our lives. Nevertheless, none of us knows, so today, and tomorrow, and every day, we prepare by listening to God; by speaking with God; by acting alongside God wherever there is anything not as it should be. We should be able to say to the people of Roseburg as well as to our neighbours, indeed to everyone, “Let the church help, whatever your need”. And we need to remind ourselves that the church – this congregation and every congregation – should be standing ready tohelp us.

So we commit ourselves into God’s care, trusting that we are loved and cherished, no matter what evil Satan and the world may fling at us. And we pray, as another petition of The Great Litany puts it:

“That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; to comfort and help the weak-hearted; to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet,

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.”

God, bless us!

The Revd Robert Morrison

Notes:
[1] “The Great Litany”, B.C.P. page 148 ff. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/litany.pdf
[2] “Job’s wife and Job” http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/diglib-viewimage.pl?SID=20150929975524902&code=act&RC=46621&Row=&code=act&return=act
[3] Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE, “Brother, Give us a Word” ssje.org/word/

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JC Fisher
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JC Fisher

"Would I – could I – ought I to curse God …?"

If you've never cursed God, I truly believe you've never brought your WHOLE self TO God. As they say in the Black Church tradition: "He can take it!"

We've all felt like cursing God---why not be honest about it, and vent? You'll feel better, and I think God wants you to (if I may be so blasphemous, I think God will feel better too! ;-/).

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Shirley O'Shea
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Shirley O'Shea

Thanks for the blasphemy. I would like to believe that God wants people to be honest.

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Art Stewart
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Where was Gary Hall and the National Cathedral on all of this today? Silent. The Rev. Dr. Mark Bozzuti-Jones was quite adamant in his sermon at Trinity Wall Street this morning. Bravo! I'm a big fan of Gary Hall but is he giving up as he slides into retirement as Dean later this Fall? The National Cathedral has gone limp all of a sudden when for a while, Hall seemed to be leading it into new, exciting territory as a voice for justice and reconciliation. The pews appear to be more empty than ever judging by the main Sunday webcast. What is going on there? Did the Cathedral Chapter go wimp on him and order him to shut up? Where is the outrage from our most vocal pulpits/prophets today? Missed Ed Bacon. Did he have anything to say? What do we stand for if not for ending this outrageous, senseless brutality and inhumanity?

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Ann Fontaine
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Ann Fontaine

Ed Bacon: https://youtu.be/bqEIlFyEylo

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Shirley O'Shea
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Shirley O'Shea

Thank you very much for posting this. It gives some hope. He and she who has ears, let them hear, and act. Enough of the separated self! It is the finger pulling all of the triggers.

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