Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor--
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you find it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still goin' honey,
I'se still climbin'
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair."
--Langston Hughes, "Mother to Son"
Martin Marty, very wise man told of seeing a cartoon in the paper. It shows a minister in the pulpit, preaching: “Having completed the formation of the earth, on the seventh day the Lord rested. Then, on the eighth day, the Lord said, “Let there be problems.” And there were problems.
Well, preacher that is an understatement. One of the Lectionary texts for today is from that gloomy book, Job. We all know his story. Speaking of problems—he lost everything. Every thing. Backing up a few verses Job unloads on his so-called-friends who come to comfort and leave him feeling worst than when we know they came. We know the type. They mean well--but...I like the way The Message puts the prelude to today’s text.
“God alienated my family from me; everyone who knows me avoids me.
My relatives and friends have all left; houseguests forget I ever existed.
The servant girls treat me like a bum off the street; look at me like they’ve never seen me before. He ends by saying: “God has come down hard on me.” (19.21)
Read it all for yourself. It sounds like a page out of the lives of so many people I know. One friend lost his wife weeks ago and he is knee-deep in grief. Another waits until Saturday when they will have his wife’s service. A good friend’s wife in our own had a kidney transplant. It did not work and they are scared, scared as she labors valiantly in ICU. Someone I know wonders what will happen to their high schooler on drugs. Uncontrollable, it seems. What do you do?
There are no easy answers. Job doesn’t even give us many answers. The preacher was right: There will be problems. If we live long enough we will all come to this hard place. In John Bunyan’s classic, Christian, like us, is in on a journey. He carries on his back a heavy, heavy burden. It slows him down and makes his travel difficult. And he falls into what Bunyan calls, the Slough of Despond. Because of his heavy burden—he cannot climb out of that scary place. Sound familiar? Most of us have been there. And sometimes we really do fall and can’t get up.
Job somehow made it. Somehow. I have no answers. In our Scripture today Job talks to himself and his cruel friends:
“If only my words were written in a book—better yet, chiseled in stone! Still, I know that God lives—the One who give me back my life—and eventually he’ll take his stand on earth. And I’ll see him—even though I get skinned alive!—see God myself, with my very own eyes. Oh, how I long for that day!”(Job 19.23-24)
And so do my troubled friends and us all. Despite it all Job says I do believe God lives—is somewhere in this terrible mess. Where, how--I do not know. And so he hangs on to these words like a life raft. Easter we quote the NRSV or some other translation: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Well, not so fast. I think Job said I think and hope that my Redeemer liveth. Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress finally got out of the Slough of Despond. Someone named Help came and reached down and rescued him. And Pilgrim, with the burden still on his back, kept going.
And so as I remember my suffering friends and us all—Obama, Cruz, Tea Party--No Party, frightened immigrants—people in those troubled countries. I hope we, like Job can hang on until we can say like the old sufferer...”I know that my God lives.” And somehow, despite the terrible problems...we will make it as did Job. As have so many others. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we will all discover somewhere over the rainbow—some where—it will be a better day. We call that faith.