Listen, Trust, Remember, Ask
May 10, 2020 | Sarah Stewart
Passage: Job 1:1-3
Passages: Job 1:1-3; 13-21 & Job 2:11-13
In the story of Job, Satan is kind of like a district attorney who's going around in the world and making sure that the people are following the laws and doing what they ought to do with regards to their responsibilities to God. Satan goes to God and says “you know God, I have a sneaking suspicion that the only reason that people worship you and do what they ought to do with regards to you, is because they have good lives. Take Job for instance, he is an excellent worshiper and he loves you very much God. But Job has a really good and easy life. Let me make everything terrible for him, and let's see if he still loves you as much as he does now.” And God says to Satan, “very well, go ahead. Let's see if you can do this.”
And so, life unfolds for Job, as in the story we just heard, he loses his fox, he loses his camels, and his children perish. He is left with nothing. He's afflicted with illness. And, as the story goes, the friends who come to visit him and sit with him in the ash heap, go on to give him reams of bad advice about how to cope with these calamities. They say, “well, Job, God wouldn’t give you anything you couldn't handle,” or they say, “you should just give up Job and curse the name of the Lord.” or they say, “you know Job, you must have done something to deserve this.”
And at the end of the story, Job, the most alone of all the characters in the Bible, calls God on the covenant and says, “God, I am your person, and you are my God, so get down here and explain things to me.” The turning point of the story; the turning point between this folk tale about the calamities of a good but wealthy man, and the long portion of the book where the friends give bad advice and then God comes in and says to Job, “I am God, and you are just a person”, and then God restored Job's fortunes, gave him new children, and a new camel. The turning point in this story is the week of silence, where his friends come and sit with him in the ash pit. And they say nothing, because they can see that his suffering is very great. We discussed this story in a Bible study here at First Unitarian Church once and someone in the Bible study said that that's the best thing the friends do in the entire story is simply sit with Joe in silence. In recognition of his suffering, so that he won't be alone. Sometimes in life we find ourselves in that ash pit sitting with our suffering. And we are in an ash pit now as a global community. We're lonely. Some of us are going to work every day and are afraid of being exposed to the coronavirus. Some of us are unemployed and worried about how we'll make ends meet. Some of us are unsafe in the homes where we're now forced to spend almost all of our time. Some among us are sick. Some are recovering from this terrible illness and still suffering its consequences. Some of us are grieving losses. We're struggling to make ends meet with reduced income. We wish we could do more to help one another. In one way or another, we're all sitting in the ash pit together. And this is our moment to pause in this quiet and take a lesson from Job's friends. Before we rush to give advice, advice that might not always be what is needed, let us simply sit with one another in our suffering.
We are at this moment in this COVID crisis where we're beginning to think about reopening. Some states have already begun to reopen, we hear on the news. You can go to a barber shop in Georgia, you can go to a beach in Florida, some non-essential businesses in Rhode Island have opened for curbside pickup and we still don't know what's coming in Massachusetts. We're waiting on the governor's word. We're waiting to hear in Worcester when things might begin to go back to normal and we don't know what normal will look like. And in this moment, when we don't know when we are waiting. When we're just sitting with our hardship, the temptation to rush in with bad advice is very strong, we are tempted to act like Job's friends, we're tempted to post our hot takes on Facebook, and to get into arguments with people who disagree with us and to give one another advice that might turn out not to be very good advice.
So instead I invite you to do what I wish Job's friends had done, and just stay in that listening space for a little bit longer. I invite you to do what we all wish our friends would do when we are in trouble. listen to one another. Trust that people know what's best for them. Remember that we are all going through a hard time right now and ask for what we need.
So, these are four things that I wish for us right now, to listen, to trust, to remember, and to ask. Let's talk about each one a little bit.
So first, I would hope that we can listen to one another. You know online you see a lot of talking and there's not always as much listening. Two different people might have very different fears in the midst of this pandemic. One person might be terrified of illness, terrified that if they catch the virus, they will be seriously ill, terrified that they might give the virus to a loved one who is vulnerable. And another person might be just as terrified of poverty, needing to go back to work, needing to escape the home that they find themselves stuck in for their own safety.
So, then I'm especially talking about listening to people you actually know and love. There's a lot of misinformation on the internet so I can't advise that we all listen to everything we come across. But the people in your lives, who you love and know, what are their fears? what is their experience? what are they going through? So, this is my first wish for us is that we listen to one another.
So, after listening comes trust. Different people are having different responses to this pandemic and different people need different things from the future that's coming. So along with listening to people comes trusting that they know what is best for them. There are going to be people who choose to do everything they can as soon as it's possible to do it. Golf courses opened in Massachusetts this weekend and there were people out golfing immediately. So, trust that those people know what they need in their lives.
And there are also going to be people who choose to be cautious. Businesses may reopen, gatherings may become possible again, and there will still be those among us who choose to stay home, who choose to keep their distance from others for their own safety, so we need to trust that they also know what's best for them. We listen to people, and we trust them. These are signs of our loving relationship with them.
So, listen, trust, the third thing is, remember.
Remember that we are all going through a hard time. Now, I confess that this is a hard one for me, because I can get really caught up in my own suffering. I can get caught up in how much I miss people, how much I miss you here at church and my friends and I can get caught up in the minutiae of my life and homeschooling and then managing working from home and working here at church and I forget that everybody out there in the world is struggling in their own ways also. Coronavirus is harming our whole society, not just those who are sick with it. We're all undergoing a kind of trauma. And the way it harms me might not be the way it harms you. You know what I find especially difficult is missing everybody. But one thing that is going pretty well for me is school for the kids at home. It was rough at first, but it's gotten better and they're doing pretty well. But school is hard for some of the children in our community. Lori Ross, a member of our community here at First Unitarian Church, she posted this week about her work with the youth in Worcester who are struggling, who talk in their youth group about what it's like to try to do their schoolwork if there's not a computer at home or if there's no internet access, or no space or time to do quiet work, or if they're responsible for the care of younger siblings. So that's not my experience but that is an experience in our community, and I need to remember that that's going on for other people, for kids just like mine out in the community, who are having struggles that I don't have. Our hardships are different. But we can remember that we are all laboring under the trauma of this pandemic.
So, listen, trust, remember, and the last thing I wish for us in this ash pit in this time of suffering is to ask for what we need.
Because we all have different responses and because we have different needs. In this time, I might not know what another person's needs are and you might not know what someone else you come into contact needs. So, ask your friends about what their hopes are for social engagements. Ask your employer about their safety practices as businesses begin to reopen. Ask your community for help if you need it. Ask for what you need.
So, this is what I hope you take with you today. We're all in the ash pit now. But we can listen to one another; we can trust one another. We can remember, we're all going through a hard time. And we can ask for what we need. We are with each other in these hard times. In the ash pit. And we will be with each other when our fortunes are reversed. We can stay with each other as we rail against God and as we mourn our losses. We support those who are working essential jobs from physicians to factory workers to emergency responders.
Remember that better than any advice is to listen, to trust, to remember, and to ask.
I love you all. Amen.
Rev. Sarah C. Stewart