Week of September 28–October 4, 2015 – Signs and Blessings from God by Bromleigh McCleneghan
Read Job 1:1, 2:1–3
Meditation: Job is devout and faithful. Because of his righteousness, he gets plucked out of obscurity and placed in the midst of a heavenly dispute. In the opening verses, the Lord and the heavenly court debate how to recognize true devotion. “Obviously, Job loves you, with all your blessings,” says the divine district attorney. “Let’s test him, and see how he feels then.”
Job is an amazing fellow—there is none like him, says the Lord. Many of us have witnessed or experienced suffering, but how many of us continue to live in accord with our principles when the going gets tough? How many of us believe that God is punishing us, even if we don’t believe in that sort of God? How many of us grow angry at God and turn away instead of passionately engaging and looking for understanding?
Job experiences unjust persecution. He laments, and his cries teach us an important lesson: Unjust suffering exists. This directly contradicts modern-day prophets who blame suffering on its victims, who blame nations with predominantly non-Christian populations for the natural disasters on their soil, who blame women for sexual assaults against them.
Unjust suffering exists. Our righteousness will not protect us. But when we encounter suffering, we can know that it does not come at the hands of the Creator. We can affirm that God is with us, whispering, speaking. We are not alone, and we are not always to blame. This knowledge can lighten our burdens.
O God, we do not understand the workings of the world, but we know that you are present in its midst, speaking, challenging, and comforting us. Amen.
Week of October 5–11, 2015 – Trusting God in the Land of Emptiness by J.R. Daniel Kirk
Read Job 23:1–9, 16–17
Meditation: Job is a faithful companion for us through life’s valleys because Job knows that life with God does not give us easy answers. Job knows that God is powerful over all things, and so he can complain to God about what he thinks God has allowed to happen. Job also knows that he has been faithful to God and that God will vindicate him if given the chance.
But God is nowhere to be found. The darkness that causes us to call out, “Why, God?” is often made deeper by God’s silence.
Job prods us to keep crying out in the darkness. When we have the boldness to say that God is just but our world is not, when we have the boldness to cry out to God and demand that God heed the voices of those who demand that God’s righteousness be made known, we play the part of the faithful righteous.
In the pursuit of humility, we must ensure that we do not give up on the idea that goodness exists on the earth and God should honor it. We too easily give up on the idea that the suffering we see or experience is unjust. Or we too easily give up on the idea that our God wants to act to make all things right. Job stirs us to remember that the very means by which God has chosen to make God’s presence known in the world is divine response to the cries of God’s people.
In the end, the injustice that Job experiences as “God’s heavy hand” and Job’s “I cannot perceive him” are one and the same. God is made invisible by the injustice of the world, but divine glory is displayed in justice, grace, and mercy.
Almighty God, display your justice, so that all may see you and know you. Amen.
Week of October 12–18, 2015 – A Share in the Household of God by Elaine Eberhart (p. 256)
Read Proverbs 22:22–23
Meditation: The writer of Proverbs warns against robbing the poor merely because they are poor. Those who don’t heed that advice will have a hard time because God pleads the cause of the poor and afflicted; and that same God will despoil the life of those who despoil the life of God’s chosen.
We rob the poor by ignoring them when they ask for a dollar and by pretending that we don’t see them when they offer to clean our window for change. We rob the poor, sometimes without thinking, when we forget the donation for the rescue mission campaign or the cans for the food bank drive. We rob the poor in these small individual ways, but together our harm is much greater.
We rob the poor when we allow check-cashing businesses to thrive in poor neighborhoods, charging exorbitant fees to cash paychecks. We rob from the poor when we cannot find ways to connect the working poor with traditional financial services so they aren’t victimized by an industry that makes their economic progress impossible.
We rob the poor when we build subsidized housing over sites of former chemical businesses. Oily liquids that can’t be identified leach up in the yards where children play. The raised levels of cancer and other diseases come as no surprise. Only when a television camera shows sludge draining from a playground does anyone question the apartments’ location. Even then, few residents are relocated.
Giving cans of food is important, but we are called to address those who despoil the lives of our brothers and sisters. Advocacy in areas of public policy can seem overwhelming, but perhaps it is the avenue of the most help. What if our only choice was to live with our children in the apartment over the chemical dump?
How are the poor robbed in your community? How can you and your church address the problems?
Week of October 19–25, 2015 – God’s Good Intentions by Lynne M. Deming
Read Mark 10:46–52
Meditation: This week’s scripture passages help us take in the amazing and powerful message that God has good intentions for us all. That theme is nowhere more evident than in the Gospel story of Bartimaeus, the blind man. This brief story leaves a number of unanswered questions. For instance, does Bartimaeus know of Jesus and his ability to heal? Does he position himself where he will certainly encounter Jesus? Does he know Jesus will be there that day? Although we lack many details, we can nevertheless appreciate the story and its message.
Bartimaeus asks for help and receives it. We don’t know whether Bartimaeus has been blind since birth or whether he sustained an injury or an illness that caused him to become blind later in life. Either way, he desperately desires healing for his blindness and will employ any measure to bring that about, including shouting loudly to get Jesus’ attention. He causes such a scene that others around him attempt to quiet him. Ignoring the outrage of the crowd, Jesus stops and asks Bartimaeus to come to him. Then Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer is simple: “Let me see again.”
This story’s good news is that the scene Bartimaeus creates does indeed get Jesus’ attention, and he heals him immediately. This is a story about persistence in the face of adversity and about faith that results in healing. The story also offers a call to discipleship. After Jesus heals him, Bartimaeus becomes a follower “on the way.”
Jesus the healer, help us to be persistent in our faith so that you bid us come to you. Amen.
Week of October 26–November 1, 2015 – Seed or Stone? by Roger Scholtz
Read Ruth 1:1–5
Meditation: Within the space of the first five verses of the book of Ruth we hear a story of devastating pain and loss suffered by a woman called Naomi. A severe famine forces her and her husband, with their two sons, to leave their homeland and move to a foreign country. Starting over as refugees in an unfamiliar place is tough enough, but then further disaster strikes—Naomi’s husband dies! Thankfully she still has her two boys, who marry Moabite wives—surely not the future she has dreamed of for them. But under the circumstances, she will not complain. At least she can now hope for the gift of a grandchild or two, and the pattering of little feet will help ease her grief over the death of her husband. So when her two sons also die, it feels like it is all too much. How much can one woman be expected to endure?
Few of us have a story as dramatic as that of Naomi, but all of us have our own stories of pain and loss. Some years ago I emerged from a dark season of my life. I remember a letter sent to me by my parents that contained one line of verse: “O memory of a painful time, are you seed or stone?” My parents went on to write, “We pray that you will find every day of that painful time to be seed that produces the harvest of the Spirit!”
What a hopeful thought that our experiences of pain and loss can be seed in our lives that produces the harvest of the Spirit. This is what happened for Naomi. Her experience of pain and loss was not the end of her story but the beginning.
Gracious God, thank you for taking my experiences of pain and loss and transforming them from stones of bitterness to seeds of hope. Amen.