Overwhelmed: Proximity

Week 3 in the Overwhelmed Sermon Seriesoverwhelmed4forworship

Rachel and I came to this realization very early in our marriage: If we are ever going to be able to expect our kids NOT to have their phones out at a family, meal, we would have to set the example.

We decided We had better start NOW. So, sometime less than 11 (we’ve been married 11 years next month) and more than 8 (that’s how old Eliza will be in May), we decided that, when eating together, we would put our phones away. And so we did. And still do. At every meal together.

But, honestly, at the current rate of change, why should we expect carrying a phone that is also an internet connection will still be a thing in 6 years?

Almost no one saw it coming 20 years ago. My favorite scene in the jumanji reboot is where Alex,  the one who went into the game in 1996, asks Bethany, who entered the game in 2017, “does ‘phone’ mean something different in the future?”

Yes, Alex, it does.

The meaning of “phone” has changed, but I was confronted this week by something that apparently hasn’t changed. At least, not in 40 years, and, I would bet, not in 70, either.

A high school classmate of mine shared frustration with something “a millennial” had done.

Instantly a stream of us (by which I mean people my age, so Baby Boomers or older Gen-Xers) launch into how horrible millennials are.

OMG! It was a lot like some of my parents generation used to lament about our generation! (except, of course, they didn’t have facebook to lament so loudly and broadly)

When I shared that “I would hate someone to judge my entire generation by one person’s act” she responded pretty quickly, “I wasn’t judging the whole generation.”

Well, when you say, complaining, that “a millennial” did something, yeah, you are pretty much blaming the generation.

When I was in college, I went downtown for something and parked on the town square. Parking places weren’t easy to find, so when I saw one, I turned across a solid yellow line to get it. I knew that wasn’t legal, but nobody was coming and I really wanted the space.

So, I get out of my car, and this older gentleman comes hobbling toward me, shaking his walking stick, saying, “You people are always driving wrong!”

As soon as I figured he wasn’t actually going to hit me, I just went on with my day.

Now, several years later, I read people from my generation saying things about the younger generation.

Didn’t we learn?

I’m not mister innocent here. I catch myself saying things like, “back in the day, we didn’t do so-and-so….”

There are fair ways to talk about generational differences, but please hear me, fellow people over 40: we too easily talk down to younger generations – and we do so in ways that shut us off from them – that separate us. That make them want there to be a generation gap.

To the extent that someone once told me they volunteered at a campus ministry because they wanted all these young people to get good jobs so their social security would keep coming.

If that’s all the connection you want with someone – with a whole group of people, maybe we should spend some time with Jesus together.

We too easily get caught in our own echo chambers, surrounding ourselves with people who look like us, think like us, believe like us. While there is comfort in doing so, there is a downside, too.

To be fair, you have, no doubt, had people whose lives are very different than yours, question some of your decisions, judgments, behaviors.

They don’t know your story; who are they to judge you?

Walk a mile in my shoes! You might tell them.

And, of course, most of us have been on the other side of this. I’d love to hear your stories, sometime, of lessons you’ve learned or growth you’ve experienced, by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

This morning’s reading tells us that when we realize that our world is not the world, we might do better than simply hear from friends who are so close to us they can’t offer us any difference in perspective.

To be fair, they didn’t do everything wrong. Job called them, they came. From a distance, they were struck by what had happened to him. They “wept loudly.”  Then, they sat with him silently for A WEEK!

Then, they spoke. In turn, each spoke to Job, hoping to set things right, hoping to offer Job peace and comfort, encouragement and healing.

Here’s what the first friend offered Job. Eliphaz the Temanite said to Job:

2 “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?
But who can keep from speaking?
3 Think how you have instructed many,
how you have strengthened feeble hands.
4 Your words have supported those who stumbled;
you have strengthened faltering knees.
5 But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
it strikes you, and you are dismayed.
6 Should not your piety be your confidence
and your blameless ways your hope?

7 “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
Where were the upright ever destroyed?
8 As I have observed, those who plow evil
and those who sow trouble reap it.
9 At the breath of God they perish;
at the blast of his anger they are no more. (Job 4:2-9 NIV)

Sadly, I think, Eliphaz just spoke to Job the same things Job already knew – or the things Job knew until all this had befallen him.

He KNEW this was the way his world worked: God rewards the good and punishes the bad.

Except Job also knew this: he hadn’t brough this on himself! He hadn’t been hiding some sin away from everyone, and now he was suffering publicly. He suffered great loss, all of which, as far as his life was concerned, did NOT happen because of anything he had done.

Eliphaz was too close to see it any differently, though.Enter Bildad the Shuhite, friend number 2. Maybe he’ll be able to help:

2 “How long will you say such things?
Your words are a blustering wind.
3 Does God pervert justice?
Does the Almighty pervert what is right?
4 When your children sinned against him,
he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.
5 But if you will seek God earnestly
and plead with the Almighty,
6 if you are pure and upright,
even now he will rouse himself on your behalf
and restore you to your prosperous state.
7 Your beginnings will seem humble,
so prosperous will your future be.
20 “Surely God does not reject one who is blameless
or strengthen the hands of evildoers. (Job 8:2-7, 20 NIV)

Come on, Job!  Does God pervert justice? “We all know the answer is ‘no, God does not pervert justice.’” Bildad continues: ““Surely God does not reject one who is blameless or strengthen the hands of evildoers.”

Of course not!

Then Bildad says,

But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty,
  if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf
   and restore you to your prosperous state.

“God will rouse himself”?  Like God was sleeping? Like all this happened because God was sleeping?

Is all the tragedy that has befallen Job, really a signify God’s rejection?

No; but this seems to be what the first 2 friends think.

So, maybe Zophar will help. Here’s a bit of what Zophar says to Job:

2 “Are all these words to go unanswered?
Is this talker to be vindicated?
3 Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
4 You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’
5 Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you
6 and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.
Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.

7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? (Job 11:2-8 NIV)

“Your sins are so bad, God’s even forgotten some of them! And you’re all ‘I’m flawless’”

Zophar seems to me zo far from the truth!

There is no indication that God has forgotten anything, and I’m not sure Job is claiming to be flawless. He is, however, saying that the events he has been through in the last few days don’t fit with the larger pattern of his life.

In other words, he hasn’t done anything to deserve ALL THIS! Job has all his children taken away from him. Then, since he still “doesn’t’ sin or blame God,” he is afflicted with “severe sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.” This time the writer tells us that “Job didn’t sin with his lips.”

So, now, Job might actually be blaming God.

And all three of his friends are, in fact, blaming God. Well, they’re blaming Job’s actions for bringing on the consequences of God’s punishment.

The tricky thing is that their reasoning is really the same as Job’s, they just don’t know that Job hasn’t actually done anything to bring this stuff on.

Job’s friends ARE friends – they come to him when he needs friends. They don’t rush into answers or blaming. They sit with him quietly for A WEEK before saying anything.

But then, when they speak up, they say the same things Job is already aware of. They think like Job, and, like his world isn’t the world, their world isn’t the world, either. So, as it turns out, this isn’t really helpful.

We can’t know, but what if Job had friends that weren’t so close – so similar to him?

What if Job heard from a wider variety of voices?

What if Job had friends who didn’t believe the same, “God blesses good people and curses bad people” thing that had worked his whole life?

Now, you might be thinking, “Didn’t he talk about this last Sunday? And kinda the Sunday before that, too?”

If so, let me thank you for being someone who has been here 3 consecutive Sundays! That’s not so common as it used to be.

And, if I could take a minute about that. God doesn’t love you less if you aren’t in Church every Sunday. But I hope that worship is actually beneficial to helping each of us live our lives in the presence of God during the week. So missing a week of worship would, I hope, leave you feeling like, “wow, I miss worship!” NOT  with a guilt trip.

So: yes, I am reiterating: the idea that “God blesses good people and curses bad people” is exactly why the Book of Job is in the Bible.

Because life is almost never so easy as “God blesses good people and curses bad people.” That’s karma – and an over-simplified version of karma at that. “You only get what you give” makes a fairly decent song if you like the New Radicals, but the gospel is precisely the opposite – “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Job’s friends really aren’t in the position to offer him the help he needs – the help to begin to grasp that his world isn’t the world; that God still loves him, is still with him, no matter what has happened.

We, the church, tend to operate in a world similar to Job’s. Whether or not we personally are wealthy, healthy, and wise, we meet in church buildings that are paid for build on land that we own and, to one extent or another, have reliable resources to just keep things going.

But many people in the world – many people who live within walking distance of this church, are not so fortunate. And while it plays well to our ears that they just haven’t live right, it’s really, really condescending of us to be so presumptuous. They don’t deserve any better? If they lived differently, made better choices, yada, yada, yada?

We’re no better than Job’s friends if all we have to offer is some version of “If only you’ll live right, then God will take care of you.”

And it’s really hard to get out of that mindset if we surround ourselves with people who think and feel and say the same things! Now, I don’t want to be too hard on you; Jesus’ disciples suffered the same malady. “Jesus, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus disconnects the two: Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

I realize many of you want me to decode that and answer the question: why was he born blind? How do we make sense of nonsensical things happening in a world were we so loudly proclaim that God is in control?

And if the book of Job is clear about anything, it is that what we may think “God is in control” means is not exactly what it looks like in the world.

Telling hurting people that “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason” or “I’m sure God means this for good,” or any of the many varieties of these we think and say may indeed NOT comfort to afflicted. And we want to comfort the afflicted, right? Comforting the afflicted IS Biblical. Telling them God must be settling a score, not so much.

Maybe the truth we need from the Book of Job when “bad things happen to good people”  starts in 2:13 – “They sat with Job on the ground for 7 days and 7 night, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain.”

Sometimes saying nothing is the BEST thing to do.

Seems kind of funny to me to say that 12 minutes into 15 minutes of talking, but there is truth in it. Sometimes saying nothing is the BEST thing to do.

If you do not KNOW that some affliction or hardship or tragedy is a direct message from God, don’t lay that on the person who is suffering from it!

And, I have to tell you, about 99% of the time, you do not know. That’s not an insult; the disciples didn’t know! Job’s friends thought they knew, but then near the end of the story God expresses anger with them because they “haven’t spoken about me correctly as did my servant Job.”

How Job spoke of God we’ll look at more next week, under the heading of “Putting God on Trial.”

For now, I want to invite you to reflect on this: Do all the people you have in close proximity share your perspective on everything?  This is not necessarily bad, but it can leave you like it left Job – with nothing but a narrow perspective on a world that is wide-open with events and circumstances and consequences.

Expand the perspectives you keep in proximity: meet different people. Get to know people different from yourself. Listen to them. Speak openly with them about your perspectives.

And, of course, remember, that sometimes saying nothing is the best thing to do.

Are you willing to step outside your proximity zone? Find people older, or younger, than you. People browner or whiter than you. People who believe differently than you who live lives you respect. They’re out there. They live near all of us.

Last week a muslim friend of mine told this joke about a couple going to heaven that I’d heard before – lots of times. Except every time I had heard it it was told by a Christian. Kind of like when I moved to Texas and learned what Aggie jokes were. They’re the same jokes people tell in other parts of the country, but in other places they are jokes about people of some ethnicity, or profession, or just from the next state over.

If we’ll reach outside our proximity, I believe we’ll find we have more in common with people different than us that we thought.

And we’ll likely need them – their different perspective – at some point in our lives.



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