The patience of a Puppy?

         I’m going to let you all in on a little preacher secret: sometimes we can’t come up with what it is that we want to preach on in any given week. There’s really no rhyme or reason for this, at least not for me. Sometimes it’s because there’s so much in the text. Sometimes it’s because there’s not a lot in the text. Sometimes they just don’t speak to you, or there’s a lot going on in the world or your world, or there’s something you really want to say or even something you really don’t want to say.

         And sometimes you have a week where life is just really distracting and it’s hard to pinpoint where to start.

         I imagine this happens in a lot of professions. Those times when there’s just so much going on that it’s hard to get started on the thing you really need, or want, to do.

         I think we all have different strategies for dealing with this.

         Mine, because I’m an extrovert with ADHD is to ask some version of the question “what sermon would you like to hear preached?” Apparently I asked this very question a year ago to my Facebook friends. I got some great responses.

         This week, I asked the person I was talking to when the thought occurred to me that I really needed to figure out what to preach on. That just so happened to be my friend Lauren, and she was ready to go with an amazing answer!

         And the sermon that Lauren would like to hear this week just so happens to be one that we all could probably benefit from hearing.

         Lauren described the desire to hear about a gentle, quiet perseverance, the perseverance of God in trying to reach us. Lauren demonstrated this with a picture of her 2-year-old goldendoodle puppy, Greta, who has been literally inching her way closer, and closer, to their 17 year old cat, Bella, who wants nothing to do with Greta.

         It has taken 2 years of hissing, and swatting, but Greta can now be withing a foot of Bella without getting swatted. And she just keeps going a tiny bit closer at a time. Allowing her to gain Bella’s trust and avoid getting her nose swatted by the occasionally cantankerous senior cat.

         Thinking about Greta slowly working towards relationship with Bella reminded me a bit of Job. That often said, but really not based in Scripture, saying about having the patience of Job.  Fortunately, we have the ending of Job in our readings today!

Thinking about Greta and Bella reminded me of when Job is sitting on the ash heap in the early pages of the Book that carries his name. His family has been killed, all of his livestock have died, his wife has turned on him, and then he was struck by painful boils from the bottoms of his feet to the top of his head.

         Job is sitting there, alone, on the margins of what is essentially the town dump, and three of his friends come and sit next to him, silently, for 7 days. Just so that he’s not suffering alone.

         And oh, oh, how I wish the friends had just sat there quietly. But instead they open their mouths. Their words, and Job’s response, and God’s response, fill chapters 3-41.

         However, the friends aren’t actually what I want to talk about today.

         I actually just want to linger with the Book of Job. All of it. And then I’ll tie it all back in to the Greta inspired persistent, patient, love.

         I’ve heard it said that these are Job-ian times. And in a lot of ways, I really agree with that sentiment.

         For so many of us these days, it feels like the rug is being constantly pulled out from under us. We’ve discovered new levels of perseverance within ourselves that honestly we never wanted to find; and for some of us, we’ve reached a point where we’ve simply run out, and have had to ask for help we never expected to need. And we’ve learned that that’s ok. It’s okay to need and ask for help. It’s okay to run out.

         Job had it all, at least on paper, and the rug was pulled out from under him. He had sons, land, livestock, slaves. All of the things that were valued and prized in his world. And then they were taken away within a few moments of each other. Not by God. But with God’s accord.

         This is a story that is retold, in different ways and for different reasons, over and over and over.

         As it turns out, the Book of Job itself is a retelling and poetic embellishment of a common folktale at the time. The first, second, and 42nd chapters of Job are that folktale.

         In the middle, the friends blaming Job, Job yelling at God, God putting Job in his place, that’s all a poetic attempt at explaining why bad things happen, and undermining the idea that tragedy is punishment of God.

         The poet challenges the idea of tragedy as punishment by saying instead that what we need to ask is why did this happen?

         The answer, the unsatisfying answer (if I say so myself) is: you are not God, and cannot understand what I do, nor why I do it.

         And that’s fair. It really is. It’s unsatisfying and humbling. But it’s fair.

         We are not God. We don’t get to understand why things happen or don’t.

         People like me make our living trying to figure out a way through the messiness of life in a way that makes sense, and allows us to have meaning in tragedy.

         It’s easier to accept a tragic event when we can assign a greater meaning to our loss.

         It’s a lot harder to understand and allow for the idea that God didn’t cause the tragedy, but that God was with us the entire time. Is with us the entire time. And sometimes, it’s through those tragedies that we allow God to inch closer.

         In the Book of Job, both God and Job find ways that work for them to inch closer to one another.

         I shared earlier that Greta, the goldendoodle, has been inching her way closer to Bella, the cat, for two years. What I didn’t tell you is that their cat sibling, Herman, died several weeks ago. It was a tragic loss for everyone, for Bella most of all. And in that time, in that loss, in her grieving, Bella has allowed Greta to move closer to her.

         She still sets boundaries and isn’t sure about the enthusiastic pup. But they are getting closer. Allowing space for one another. Allowing a reluctant relationship to form.

         What we see in Job, what we see often in life, is God inching closer to us in our moments of tragedy. God waits until we are ready to let God in, and then slowly, patiently, shows that we can grow in relationship with God.

         And, that we humans can set boundaries on that relationship so that we feel safe and comfortable. As our trust grows, our relationship with God can deepen and evolve as well.

         I love that a poet, sometime between 6 and 9 thousand years ago, sat down and told a story about how to grow in a relationship with God through tragedy. And that the poet used a popular culture story to do so. The poet took the accepted understanding of wealth being a sign of God’s favor, and tragedy or poverty being a sign of God’s punishment, God took those beliefs and turned them on their heads.

         The Book of Job became immediately important in the Jewish Canon. And it remains an important puzzle piece in understanding how we can be in our own unique relationship with God.

         For our homework this week, I’d like us all to think about how we think the version of our story with God would be told. And for extra credit, think about how we want that story to be told, how we want our relationship with God to be.

Amen

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