Sermon: The Mistery: Companionship in the Midst of Trial

October 21, 2018
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Mark 10:35-45
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Mystery: Companionship in the Midst of Trial

The Question About Suffering:
Over the past weeks, we have seen and experienced certain painful images that we can’t erase from our memories. Why did God allow Satan to persecute his righteous servant, Job, so that he lost everything and even suffered from a terrible disease? What about our own sufferings: suffering from loneliness, sickness, homelessness, unemployment, family problems, etc.?  Some people suspect that God has created an imperfect world. In other words, God has made a mistake, and that’s why all the creatures sometimes suffer.

That is also why Job argued with God in last week’s scripture. In his argument, Job was sure that God’s punishment upon him was a terrible mistake since he didn’t sin against God at all. Like Job, do we really want to believe that God can make a mistake? If so, how can we trust that God is right; God is love; and God will save us and give us eternal life?  In today’s Hebrew scripture from Job 38 and Gospel readings from Mark 10, there is a common theme of how God (or Jesus Christ) is involved in human events.

In God’s Hand…:
If you read the chapter 37, you can see how Job was desperately looking for God. As he only found God’s silence in every direction, he cursed the day he was born and even considered God as his enemy… By the time he was struggling with his mysterious and unjust trial, Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Jophar came to comfort him, but they didn’t help him at all.  Rather, they provoked him to be angrier with God.

What was wrong with his three friends? They were debating why such suffering had been inflicted upon Job. Their conclusion was that Job must have sinned against God and that’s why he ended up with such a terrible punishment from God. Yet Job was sure that he didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this kind of terrible punishment from God.

What was the deepest pain to Job when he was going through a horrible time? I believe it was a sense of being alone in his complete darkness. As you see, he lost all of his possessions; his own beloved children were killed in a single day; his wife had left him; his friends treated him as a sinner. To make it worse, God seemed to be missing from his suffering although he was desperate for God’s answer.  There was no hope, no love, no friendship, no companionship in his tragic life; that was why he cursed his life and even called God his enemy.

The turning point comes from chapter 38 when God finally appeared out of the whirlwind, to give him the lecture of his wisdom and power of his creation: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth…On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (vv. 4-7)

If I summarize all the words in chapter 38 in our everyday language, it would be like this: “Job, you don’t know what’s going on in my world, but I know because I am the Lord and I am in charge of everything in my world.”

While listening to God’s lecture, Job experienced the overwhelming awesome presence of God the Creator. Even though the pain did not go away, he suddenly began to understand the God he believed is the God who created everything in the world.  He suddenly was aware that he sat was only a little part in God’s plans.  Job suddenly was able to recognize that God was right there with him and that he had been in God’s hands although he couldn’t understand why these terrible things happened to him. So Job finally admitted that he had every reason to trust God even in the midst of his painful trial.

From this passage, we can also realize that God’s purposes go deeper than human abilities to grasp all that is really happening. Like Job, we may be still thrown back to the incomprehensibility of the mystery of suffering. But like Job, we may have confidence that God is the Lord of all and that everything is in God’s hands.  With this knowledge, we can stand strong in the midst of our trials.

Jesus’ Ransom for Many:
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is confronted with a request from his disciples James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They believed that they were in Jesus’ favor and privileged to be numbered in God’s kingdom, so they came to Jesus, not with a request, but with a demand (like Job demanded God to explain.): “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you… Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v. 35, 38).

As expected, Jesus used their request as a teaching moment for his discipleship: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared” (vv. 38-40).  Jesus continued to say those disappointing words, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).

The ransom theory is not a popular subject from the pulpits in the church today. But, we must remember that Jesus himself used the word “ransom.” Ransom means that Jesus paid our debts so that we are free from all curses. More correctly, He has paid our debts as he was joining in our human life and accompanied us by the power of the Holy Spirit until we may be invited to eternal life. Thus Jesus’ ransom ministry refers to his own companionship with God’s children.

Why do bad things happen to good people and what is the purpose of all this suffering? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t clearly explain why it happens in God’s creation. Jesus Christ also didn’t come to the world to explain why.  Sadly, unless we make ourselves completely separated from the world, we never escape from pains and sorrows in our lives. That’s why Jesus Christ, even though he was originally the Son of God, also had to go through many hardships.

However, we don’t need to be disappointed.  We should still have confidence in our life’s journey because of Jesus Christ, our eternal companion. He not only went through suffering as a human being but took human suffering on his body and ended it for the sake our salvation. Jesus’ ransom for us reminds us that God the Savoir is here, right here, in the midst of our trials.  He drinks the cup of suffering with us and for us; God will never leave us alone.

Jesus’ Companionship:
At last week’s sermon, I disclosed that the one thing I can say about suffering is that it is a divine connection through which we can rely on God or go deeper for a closer relationship with the Lord.  Here is another point I can say about suffering: It is a mystery beyond our comprehension, but it is not the destiny that we have to be caught in alone forever. Rather, Our Lord Jesus Christ is always present in our life, joining in our life’s journey, sharing our hardship with him, and eventually ending it as a ransom for us, so that we are not confirmed to the world but overcome it.

In Christ’s love and redemption, In Christ’s companionship, we are healed, forgiven, and freed from all the chains of suffering. As his disciples, we will also give ourselves as faithful companions to many others.
This is the Good News of Jesus Christ for the people of God. Amen.

Sermon: The Mystery: Praying in the Silence of God

October 14, 2018
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Mark 10:17-31
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Mystery: Praying in the Silence of God

Hide and Seek
Little children are good at entertaining themselves anytime and anywhere if they have their mommy and daddy and some toys around them, but do we need to buy them good toys to make them excited? Without any toys, children have a fun time with simple games like “Tag,” “Simon says,” and “Red Light, Green Light.  But perhaps no other game is as well-known to children as the game we call “Hide and Seek.” Even infants giggle with delight when playing “peek-a-boo.”

Interestingly, we can find the play of “Hide and Seek” all over in the Bible. The parable about the Good Shepherd looks after the lost sheep is a good example of “Hide and Seek.”  The hymn “Amazing Grace” speaks of the joy of being found, having once been lost.  When was the last time you played “Hide and Seek” with God?  When we play “Hide and Seek,” it is always a happy ending because God the seeker finds us the hiders. But when God plays “Hide and Seek,” it can be frustrating because God is very good at hiding, which we may call “silence” or “absence” of God. Children get frustrated and even cry when they can’t find their playmates; likewise, what would be scarier to us than God’s absence?

Job’s Response to Trial:
Last week we saw Job was thrown into a heap of ashes, the very picture of misery. All of his possessions, his children, his own health, all had been taken from him as Satan tried to demonstrate that Job would give up his faith in God if God removed grace from him. But amazingly Job still praised the Lord, saying “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” He kept his integrity in the midst of his unfair trial. Very good!  Is keeping integrity all we can learn from Job?

In today’s passage, we see Job’s patience was at an end, and he was now anxious to know why bad things happened to him. To make it worse, he was treated as a sinner by his judgmental friends. In the time of the Old Testament, such a terrible disease was thought to be a sign of God’s punishment on sinners. Yet Job was sure that he didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this kind of terrible punishment from God. Thus, he wanted to present God in their debates as a witness and let him judge what he had to end up with suffering (v. 4).

Unfortunately, as much as he sought, Job found God only absent, silent, and careless about his unjust suffering. He could see no sign of God’s appealing to his innocence before his friends. That’s why he lamented: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him” (vv. 8-9). Job felt God was the only one to witness to his integrity, but God didn’t seem to respond to his argument. Just like little children who are frustrated when they fail to find their playmates, Job must have felt deserted in his own darkness (vv. 16-17).

Isn’t this how we feel when we are faced with such trials? “My life has been ruined because I lost my job; I feel hopeless since I am alone and getting older; my heart is broken because my child got a serious disease; but I really don’t know what to do, where to go, and how to resolve my problem… Where are you, O Lord? Please talk to me and answer the reason for my suffering.”

Once again, Job’s patience was at an end. The next reaction he showed is his desperation for God. He was complaining, arguing, shouting to heaven, “where are you Lord? … why are you silent from me? … come and answer my question…” Unfortunately, Job failed to understand why bad things happened to him. Instead he was complaining as he prayed to God in the midst of his trial!

Like Job, have we ever been desperate for seeking God’s presence? What made us cry to God? Was it a time when we were in a normal or happy life? Or was it a time when we were beaten up by the storm of life? In the chapter 1, Job was introduced as a blameless and upright man, and he was wealthy with abundance, which was considered God’s blessing in this ancient time. But there is no mention that Job was praying or seeking God like he was doing now in the midst of his suffering.

No one wants to enjoy pain and sorrow, but one thing that I really can say about it is that suffering stirs our hearts and makes us desperate for God. In other words, suffering is one of the surest ways we long for God’s hands.

A Rich Young Man’s Response to Trial:
In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus met a rich man who was looking for God’s kingdom. Like Job, he was a morally good man, and Jesus loved him. But in Jesus’ eyes, he needed to do one more thing to inherit God’s kingdom. Jesus admonished him: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor… and then come, follow me” (v. 21). When he heard Jesus’ command, this young man was startled. What Jesus asked was too much. He couldn’t abandon all of his wealth.

And like the man in this story, we may not feel comfortable with Jesus’ strict order. In order to get into God’s kingdom, do we really have to give up all our possessions and make us completely poor? If that were so, how many of us are willing to give up everything that we have just to get into God’s kingdom?  “Who can be saved” among us? (v. 26). That was the question of the disciples and ours today as well.

To relieve our worry, I want you to read again Jesus’ command carefully. He didn’t just tell him to give up everything he had. In his final instruction, Jesus told the man to “come, follow me.”

This young man actually ran into Jesus to ask about how to inherit God’s kingdom. Interestingly, Jesus already taught his followers in the previous lesson that “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (v. 15). The rich man was a good man, but in Jesus’ eyes, he wasn’t like a little child. As you know, children could live or survive only when they rely on their parents.  When Jesus asked him to give up his wealth, perhaps he was simply requiring him to be just like a little child before the Lord, so that he might rely on God rather than his own wealth and find true and better security in the Lord.

Jesus’ command seems too radical for this rich man to take up. Yes, it was a risk; it challenged him to leave his comfort zone; it could cause him pain and sorrow. He might be even upset in thinking that “I have been faithful with God’s law although I am rich. So what’s wrong with my money?”

He misunderstood the purpose of Jesus’ trial. Following Jesus is not to give up all our happiness and joy in our world. Jesus Christ actually came to bless us more in this world. In his following message, he promises his disciples who gave up everything and followed him that they will receive a hundredfold now in this age and in the age to come, eternal life (vv. 29-30). Yes, God is our heavenly Father who loves us and wants to bless our lives. Whoever comes to the Lord, he or she will be healed and restored and blessed by God’s mercy and compassion.

If God wants to bless his children, why do bad things happen to us? I can’t fully explain why God allows God’s people to experience those pains and sorrows. But one thing I can say about suffering is that through this we can rely on God and have a true security in God. Thus, suffering to God’s people is not only a trial itself but the divine connection between God and us.

Not Why, But How…
Where is God when life hurts? Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of the major questions raised in the book of Job. This is also the question that we sometimes struggle with in times of our sorrow. This book helps us to ponder on not why but how.

When suffering comes upon us like a storm, how do we want to respond? Will we be grieving and turning away from the Lord, like the rich young man in the Gospel, or will we be more desperate for seeking or praying for God’s help, like Job? Through our meditation on Job’s trial, I want to encourage you to see suffering not as a bad thing itself but as a time for us to rely on God or go deeper in close relationship with the Lord. Amen.

Sermon: The Mystery: Keeping Integrity in the Midst of Trial

October 7, 2018
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Job 1:1; 2:1-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Mystery: Keeping Integrity in the Midst of Trial

Why Bad Things Happen:
Four weeks from this Sunday we will encounter in the Book of Job, an incredible story in which the most righteous man had to experience suffering and trial for no clear reason. When we talk about Job’s trial, the preachers usually talk about “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

In the case of Job, we are told in the opening line that “[Job] was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (v. 1). Yet all of a sudden, he lost all his children and all his possessions and then just next day he lost his health and suffered from a terrible skin disease. Why did God allow these terrible things to happen to his best servant?

Well, the story of Job’s trial was written many thousands of years ago. Can we find this kind of tragedy in our experience in our time? Yes.  Look at what happened in Indonesia after the Tsunami swept through. Thousands of innocent people were killed, and thousands more, including little children, were still missing.  Recently my colleague pastor shared his concern about a couple in his parish who had a new baby named Sophia.  A few months after her birth, Sophia got an infection that damaged 90 % of her brain cells. According to her doctor, she will be in a continual vegetable-like state if she survives. Sophia is surely innocent, yet God allowed this to happen to her and her parents.

The Possible Theological Answers:
If God is good and in charge of everything, why do bad things to happen to good people?  Why do the innocent suffer?  Why do little children get sick to death?”  Here are some theological answers I can share with you this morning.

1) The first response is “Who is really good?” The disciple Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, all human beings deserve punishment and suffering. If Paul’s point is right, bad things actually don’t happen to good people because there are no good people in the world (cf. Mark 10:17-18).

Well what about Job? In this passage, God admitted that he was a blameless and unrighteous man. But does it mean he really was a perfect man before God? Maybe he was just as morally good as anyone could be. But remember, Jesus says if we covet in heart, we have stolen; if we hate someone, we have killed. By those standards we are all thieves and murderers. Job could be blameless by human standards but not by God’s standards. Thus he deserved his suffering as punishment.

Yes, there is punishment after our sin or crime. Rob a bank and go to jail.  However, this answer falls woefully short.  Can little infants (like Sophia) commit sin by their own will, thus deserving their suffering as God’s punishment? We know some people are born with disabilities in their body or mind.  To just say “we all sin and deserve punishment” isn’t a good answer to the question.

2) We may think that God allows bad things because God wants to test or discipline our faith. This might be a background story in the chapter 1 and 2. God was so proud of Job but Satan suspected his integrity; “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has and he will surely curse You to Your face” (vv. 9-11). And so God permitted Satan to destroy everything in his life to see whether he was still faithful or not in the midst of his calamity.

But we don’t like this interpretation, for it only makes God an “abuser.” What kind of parents really want to give their children those terrible tests to see how much they love them? (Think about Sophia and her parents… Does God really give infection this little infant to discipline her or to test the parents’ faithfulness in God?) We must see this story of Job as a parable or drama, not history. We don’t know when this book was composed, but it is intended for the readers to ponder about God and our faith in the midst of extreme and undeserved trials.

3) Another answer might be this: bad things happen to good people because we human being have free will. We have freedom to turn away from God (disobedience) and even to choose to do whatever we want to do. It’s our free will that probably causes suffering, not only to oneself, but to many others. For example, we choose to drink and drive and kill innocent pedestrians. We choose to fire a gun into the air so that innocent people might get injured or killed. We choose to cut trees and build toxic chemical factories that cause people to get cancer. Human free will would explain the destruction of the ecosystem or the global warming we have encountered today.

However, this still doesn’t explain natural disasters in the world, like all the earthquakes and tsunamis. Most of all, how come our righteous God allows someone’s freedom to destroy the lives of the innocent and the little children? It’s completely against the God of justice… Again the result of our free will still doesn’t give us an obvious answer.

I have shared several theological answers to this question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” You can listen to many other philosophers and search other books that deal with this complicated issue.  I have to tell you that those answers are only human ideas, not God’s own answer.

This book of Job starts with the question of “why,” but does it give us an answer? Yes, it does.  Near the end of this Scripture, chapters 38-41, we find God finally intervened in Job and his three friends’ debates and answered them.  But God still didn’t give a clear explanation; instead He asked Job a series of questions: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? … Were you there when I put the stars in the sky? … Can you tell the sea where to go? … Do you understand the ways of the creatures of the deep? Can you control them?” … In the end Job replied, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (42:3).

Basically God’s answer is like this: “I am God, I know what I am doing but you don’t know what I am doing. I am in charge but not you…” As God is the mystery, we should see that all things happening in the world are mysterious as well, and no one is able to understand how God operates his creation! That’s why Job at the end of this book confessed that “Therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). It tells us that God is working beyond our capacity of understanding.

I began by asking the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Perhaps the more adequate question is not “why” but “how.  How should we respond when bad things happen? When Job lost everything in his life – his children, his possessions, and his health, his wife told him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (v. 9). Remember that she, too, had lost her children. But Job’s response was “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (v. 10) Those two characters (Job and his wife) show different perspective on the mysterious trial. Which one do we belong to?

Well, one of my duties as your pastor is to encourage you not to curse God in the days of your trial.  I must help you even more in your worship of God.  I must help you understand and bless Him although you happen to struggle with the question of “why,” “why me,” or “why this?”

Keeping Integrity
What should we do when bad things happen to good people? How could we explain when the innocent end up with tragedies? What do we look for when the little children suffer from disease? Do we curse and say there is no God? Is that kind of skeptical answer helpful when we encounter any kinds of mysterious hardship, suffering, or trial?

So what does Job’s trial in this chapter 1 and 2 teach us? 1) It’s a mystery to tell why bad things happen in God’s creation. 2) Trust that God is ultimately in charge although we can’t understand how he controls. 3) As we trust in God, we should keep our integrity in the midst of trial. After all, God is the One who created this universe, and God is our Lord and Father who is in charge. We should keep our trust in God who has wisdom and power. Amen.