Trust in Trauma (October 21, 2018)
As many of you know, I was at Clergy Conference most of this past week in Sorrento. We get together every year to re–connect with colleagues, and to spend some time thinking and talking together.
As I usually do, I wrote a draft of my sermon during the week before. The sermon focused on the gospel reading. Jesus invites us to be great … but redefines greatness as being a servant. I suggested in that sermon that this is the heart of what it means to be Christian people … to serve each other, to serve our families and loved ones certainly, but also to serve the world and the poor and marginalized people among us, all of it as a way of serving God in all that we do.
I was going to say that being Christian is not about what we believe; it’s not about which doctrines are right and which are wrong; it’s not about making sure you toe the line.
Being Christian is about trusting the God with whom we are in relationship, the One who strengthens and sustains us through everything that life throws at us.
Being Christian is to participate with God in our own healing and in the healing of the world. Being with God means that our lives will be changed. We will be transformed … from thinking mostly about ourselves to thinking mostly about God and others.
It was quite a wonderful sermon. Brilliant, even. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
But, as John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. On Tuesday, I got a phone call that Shelley Lepage had died suddenly, and unexpectedly. I connected with her family by phone, and did what I could from a distance, but it was hard.
Then on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning I heard that Jim Roberts had gone missing in the bush. Suddenly, the week of reflection became a week of trauma.
So I rewrote the sermon to address that trauma. I think partly, I wrote this sermon to help me deal with the pain I have felt.
Trauma is part of all our lives. We’ve all experienced loss and sorrow. It comes in so many ways —a loved one dies, or we experience a loss, or we get a medical diagnosis which throws our lives into turmoil, or we have an accident, or a natural disaster happens, or we hear about abuse.
What do we do when we face that kind of trauma? I want to take my lead from Job.
Job is the story of a righteous man who lives faithfully, and, in an instant, loses everything—his wealth, his family, and even his health. Three friends come to sit with Job, to commiserate with him. That’s good. But they end up saying that he must have done something terrible in order to be punished so severely.
That was the official theology of the day—blessings are a sign of God’s favour; if you experience loss and sorrow, you must have done something to tick God off.
But Job insists that he is righteous and faithful. I haven’t done anything to deserve this. God is in the wrong. God is breaking God’s promise.
So Job calls God to account. We read it last week. He accuses God of breaking the promise: “O that I knew where I might find God, that I might come even to God’s dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.”
And then Job laments, powerfully and deeply. He wails in anguish.
And it all sounds a little strange to us, because we don’t lament well in our society. “Everything’s fine,” we say … until of course, it isn’t.
Today’s reading comes near the end of Job’s story. For the first time, God speaks. God begins by telling the three friends to get lost. They were wrong. The traditional way of thinking is wrong. It is an astounding claim for the author of Job to make, but that’s why Job was written. Life isn’t quite so neat and tidy. Blessing and curse are not signs of God’s blessing or God’s anger. Life happens, and sometimes it’s tough and ugly. But somewhere in the middle of it all, God is. God is.
Then God speaks to Job: “Let me question you, Job, and you will answer me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who measured the foundation of the earth? Can you command the morning, and can you walk in the sea? Did you father the rain and snow?” it goes on in this vein for 2 long chapters.
There are 2 ways we can read this.
First of all, we can read it as if God is criticizing Job, “Just who the heck do you think you are? You’re getting a little big for your britches, boy. It’s time to dial it back a little.” That’s a possibility.
There is another way of reading it, which I much prefer. God reassures Job that the One who created the universe continues to be present even when life is so tough. “I didn’t just make the universe and skedaddle. I’m still here, even when you can’t see me. I am here.”
That’s the power of love which sustains us in faith and trust. The life of faith is not about what we believe. It’s about Whom we trust!
We’ve all had trauma in our lives. As I look out, I see people whom I love who have been hurt by life … by death … by sorrow and tragedy. I look in the mirror and I see someone who has been hurt by life and death.
I also see people whom I love who have hurt others, intentionally or not. I look in the mirror and see someone who has hurt others.
And in the midst of all of this, I have come to trust deeply that the God who created heaven and earth holds us. I trust deeply that God is the One I can trust with life and death. I trust deeply that God gives us life and purpose and meaning.
In the midst of the trauma of this week, that’s what sustains me. God is.
And it’s not just God and me. It’s God, working through the community of all those who trust God this deeply. It’s God working through us.
As I left the Clergy Conference, I was weeping, uncertain of what was happening and what might come. I can tell you that the whole clergy community in this Diocese has been praying for Jim, for me, for us.
As I drove home, wondering about what was happening, my mind shifted to the worst case. What would happen if…? Why would Jim…? Why did Shelley die so young…? This is not right. This is wrong in so many ways.
And I didn’t hear a voice come out of the speakers in my car to tell me everything would be all right. In fact, I had to live with my fear throughout that long drive. I had to process my grief. I had to hold my broken heart gently as I wept.
Last week, Oscar Romero was named a saint. He was the Archbishop in El Salvador in the late 1970’s, who was assassinated while he was saying mass. After being made archbishop, Romero became an ardent advocate for the poor, which often meant going against the establishment of the church in central America.
He was part of a movement called liberation theology, which took root in the poor campesino communities of central and south America. One of the foundational understandings of liberation theology is that “God has a preferential option for the poor”—which means that God is most likely to be found in the lives of the poor and marginalized, and not so much among the rich and powerful.
What I want to say today is that God has a preferential option for the hurting … that God has a preferential option for the wounded … that God has a preferential option for the broken … that God has a preferential option for the traumatized … that God has a preferential option for those who mourn.
In the midst of the trauma we experienced, God’s heart was also breaking this week.
And the God whose heart was breaking, holds us and is in the process of mending our broken hearts.
God is indeed faithful. And we have once more seen God’s faithfulness as families and communities come together to lament … to grieve … to ask questions … to hold each other … and then to come together in the presence of God to eat and drink even as we laugh and weep.
This is life. This is abundant life … that God holds us through it all, that we can trust the One who holds us in trauma.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
October 21, 2018 (22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29)
Job 38: 1–7
Mark 10: 35–45
Hebrews 5: 1–10