Not Crying on Sundays: On Job and Your Heart (sermon)

Reading: Excerpt from Introduction to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

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(Audio version here.)

Sermon: Not Crying on Sundays: On Job and Your Heart

First question.  It’s for anyone over the age of 23.  Before this morning, how many of you had ever heard of Macklemore & Ryan? [show of hands]  Now let’s have another show of hands: those of you under the age of 23, how many of YOU had heard of Macklemore & Ryan?

Macklemore & Ryan are Ben Haggerty and Ryan Lewis, who both grew up in Washington State, just north of my home turf. The themes in their music range wildly, from fun dance tunes, to music with language not really allowed in worship services, to shout outs to the Seattle Mariners, to political and social commentary, including thoughts on being “swindled” by buying expensive designer shirts when there’s so much more and better to be found at thrift stores.  Their success is staggering and they own themselves – they did not sign onto a major “record” label.  They are doing it on their own terms.

What does this have to do with worship?  Just over a year ago – assisted by Mary Lambert (that’s her gorgeous voice at the end of the song we just played), they released the song, “Same Love,” in support of Washington State’s efforts to legalize marriage equality.  The video for this song is beyond heart-string pulling: it is beautifully filmed, a narrative from birth to death, love coursing throughout it.

This is not a worship service on the justice of marriage equality or the injustice of ongoing homophobia in our culture.  Not exactly.  I’d be happy to preach that sermon and this congregation, with or without Greenwood, would welcome such a message.

So though I love the creativity and life and message in these lyrics (copies of which can be found in the vestry), it is the final lyrics that planted the seed for today’s worship:

[from the balcony, volunteers sing:]

I’m not crying on Sundays

I’m not crying on Sundays

I’m not crying on Sundays

I’m not crying on Sundays

Though different words, this is the same song of protest that we hear from Job of the Bible: a refusal to accept a false or hateful theology.  In Job’s case, his is a refusal of a theology of retribution: that idea that good deeds are rewarded by God and, similarly, bad deeds are punished by God.

In that story, Job is an undeniably pious man who is charitable and has been successful and is admired by the powerful and the disempowered alike.  This is not a Hollywood movie where we wait for the evil flaw to be revealed – like he’s some major embezzler or something.  It’s true: Job is beyond reproach.

In heaven, God boasts about how pious Job is and agrees to a bet to see if Job will remain pious under the most dire circumstances.  First all of Job’s property, including his children, are destroyed.  Job, deeply aggrieved and saddened, does not curse God.  Next, Job is afflicted with boils all over his skin; he is in physical and psychological pain.  He takes up residence on a heap of ashes, but still, he does not curse God.

Having heard of Job’s deep misfortune, his three best friends arrive from far away.  After sitting in silence with Job for seven days, they begin to inquire of Job how it came to be that he is suffering so.  During a series of exchanges, the friends tell Job that because he has been punished, he must have sinned – that theology of retribution thing, that the wicked are punished and the good prosper.   Using reverse logic, they present themselves as defenders of God’s ways.  If good things happen to good people, then good people have good things happen to them.  If bad things happen to a person, it indicates that they have done bad to deserve it.

From his friend Bildad (8:1-4; 8:20-22) we hear:

(Spoken by a member of the congregation)

“How long will you say such things?
Your words are a blustering wind.
Does God pervert justice?
Does the Almighty pervert what is right?
When your children sinned against him,
he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.

20 “Surely God does not reject one who is blameless
or strengthen the hands of evildoers.
21 He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
and your lips with shouts of joy.
22 Your enemies will be clothed in shame,
and the tents of the wicked will be no more.”

And from his friend, Zophar (11:2-5), we hear

(Spoken by a member of the congregation)

“Are all these words to go unanswered?
Is this talker to be vindicated?
Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you.”

And from his friend, Eliphaz (15: 2-6), we hear

(spoken by a member of the congregation)

“Would a wise person answer with empty notions
or fill their belly with the hot east wind?
Would they argue with useless words,
with speeches that have no value?
But you even undermine piety
and hinder devotion to God.
Your sin prompts your mouth;
you adopt the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, not mine;
your own lips testify against you.”

It seems this may be the origin of the adage, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Even in the face of such devastating loss and betrayal by his closest friends, Job is able to hold onto his sense of self and his sense of reality.  His sense is of a more complex Divinity than the oversimplified one to whom these friends have misplaced their loyalty. From Job we hear

(Spoken by a member of the congregation) (6:26-27)

26 Do you mean to correct what I say,
and treat my desperate words as wind?
27 You would even cast lots for the fatherless
and barter away your friend.

And we hear

(16:2-5)

“I have heard many things like these;
you are miserable comforters, all of you!
Will your long-winded speeches never end?
What ails you that you keep on arguing?
I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.

And Job says my favorite line (7:11) that makes him my hero:

(Spoken by a member of the congregation)

“Therefore I will not keep silent;
I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

Job knows that the theology of his friends is an outright falsehood.  They speak of the dogma of the time, rather than the reality.  For even then, such things were not true.  Job responds with incredulity: he points out what they all know is true: there are people who cheat who never are punished!  And there are bone-deep good people, or even people are just plain good-enough, who suffer through nothing of their own making.

Our lives testify against this falsehood.  We know too many people, here in this community, here among our families and the families of our neighbors, who suffer and though they are not perfect people, and though they are flawed, their suffering is not proportionate.  My faith – Unitarian Universalism — testifies against this, affirming the individual dignity and worth of each individual.  Perhaps your beliefs – whether grounded in a religious tradition or at its center a strong moral compass – testify in this way, too.

The power of the Book of Job is his protest, is his staying in relationship and holding God accountable, is Job’s refusal to accept the false dogma of his day as put forth by his friends.  In the actual Book of Job, at the book’s close, God sides with Job and against the friends.  God says (42:7-8):

“I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. …My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”

Not crying on Sundays.

This is our modern version of Job’s refusal.  Refusal of Sunday worship, of theology, that says same sex love is wrong or sinful.  It is a rejection of that narrow, small-minded, hateful formulation of God – Great Mystery, the Universe, the Grand Something Larger than Ourselves.  It is just like Job, in the face of his friends and their insistence than he must be wrong or else he wouldn’t be suffering, believing in the truth as he experiences it, it’s a flat out bold statement of not taking in something so essentially false about the nature of the Divine in our lives.

A refusal to accept a false or hateful theology.  Not crying on Sundays.  In the Book of Job, even God refuses it.

In his most famous book, Jesus and the Disinherited (which Dr. King carried around in his brief case), Reverend Dr. Howard Thurman tells a story from his boyhood.  In it, he recounts reading the Bible to his grandmother, and how she would never choose to have him read the 13th chapter of First Corinthians by Paul:

When I was older …with a feeling of great temerity I asked her one day why it was that she would not let me read any of the Pauline letters.  What she told me I shall never forget.  ”During the days of slavery,” she said, “the master’s minister would occasionally hold services for the slaves.  Old man McGhee was so mean that he would not let a Negro minister preach to his slaves.  Always the white minister used as his text something from Paul.  At least three or four times a year he used as a text: ‘Slaves, be obedient to them that are your masters …, as unto Christ.’  Then he would bless us.  I promised my Maker that if I ever learned to read and if freedom ever came, I would not read that part of the Bible.’

Nancy was not crying on Sundays either.  She rejected that loathsome part of the New Testament that was odiously used to rationalize slavery in this country.  That is bad theology; we have not only the option to reject it, but the obligation.  

What is the important message that Dr. Thurman and his grandmother, and our old friend Job, and even our new friends Macklemore & Ryan are trying to tell us?  That you – and you, and you – are of infinite worth.  For some, godly language rings more clearly: that you are a child of God.  You were not born in original sin, but in original blessing.  You were born not broken, but whole. 

So let us engage, even protest, when false dogmas are placed at our feet, particularly, most particularly, when they smack of blaming the victim.  Let us refuse to listen when scripture is used to rationalize slavery, or gender inequality, or intimate violence or homophobia.  Let us tear down theologies that separate us, that build hate and that grow divides among us.

Let us raise up that which is whole and just, in our many scriptures, in the deep and loving truths at the heart of all the world’s faiths and within traditions of reason that enhance our understanding of our deep interdependent existence.  Let Macklemore & Ryan’s lyrics resound,

Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one

Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up

With the echo of today’s reading from Walt Whitman in our ears, let us re-examine we have been told at school or church or in any book, and dismiss not only whatever insults your own soul, but the souls of your sisters and brothers, who are your neighbors, who are your kin.

Let our hearts and actions and words echo, “I’m not crying on Sundays…”

Amen.  Blessed be.

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(Mary Lambert)

References

Haggerty, Ben and Ryan Lewis.  “Same Love,” from the album, The Heist, 2012.

Thurman, Howard.  Jesus and the Disinherited, New York: Abingdon- Cokesbury Press, 1949.

Leaves of Grass. 1855.

The Bible, Book of Job.  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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