Let us praise God in every place, every language, with every people around the world! Listen to “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” sung by the Houston Chamber Choir, shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit the city.
Call to Worship
L: Our lives remain a mystery,
C: But God remains the same.
L: We struggle hard to understand,
C: But God remains the same.
L: When shifting sands displace our feet,
C: Our God remains the same.
L: Praise God—despite everything
C: You still remain the same.
When all our fury finally dies down, you are still there. Fill us with the profound peace that only you can give, through the power of your Holy Spirit, Amen.
Job 3: 1-10; 7: 11-21
1 After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 Job said:
3 “Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ 4 Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it. 5 Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. 6 That night—let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. 7 Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it. 8 Let those curse it who curse the Sea, those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan. 9 Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none; may it not see the eyelids of the morning—10 because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, and hide trouble from my eyes.”
7: 11[Job said,] “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 12 Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me? 13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ 14 then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15 so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body. 16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath.
17 What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, 18 visit them every morning, test them every moment? 19 Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? 20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? 21 Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
You’ll remember that we started the book of Job last week and we heard the set-up— the beginning of the tale of this legendary man named Job, whose setting is an unknown place and time— and therefore could be anywhere, and any time. Even here and now. Job was living large, and he was doing well, and even God said he was, “a righteous man.” And then, in a deal with The Accuser, God agrees to let Job be afflicted in every way, to show that Job is the real deal— righteous and faithful to the end. And in that first section, Job comes through.
In the section of Job that we DIDN’T read, Job is hurt even more— now his health is gone, he’s covered with sores, and he sits in ashes scraping his sores with a broken piece of pottery. His wife tells him straight out that he might as well curse God and die, since he’s in such bad shape. His friends though— they come to him and sit with him, saying nothing, knowing his sadness. They do this for a full week.
And what does Job do? He laments.
We don’t do much true lamenting in our world— at least not publicly. Because to lament means that we are not triumphing in life. In fact if you try to find quotes on lament, almost all of them will tell you not to do it. Don’t lament because it makes things worse. Don’t lament, think positively! Don’t lament, be grateful! Maybe we even think that sharing our sorrows is admitting that our faith is weak.
But in reality here’s what lament is: to lament is to say out loud that things aren’t good. It is to speak the truth in times of suffering. To lament is to NOT sugar coat things, to NOT end our speech or our thoughts with things like, “I’m sure there’s a positive side to this…” If you saw the Monty Python movie “The Life of Brian,” you’ll remember the two thieves hanging on crosses singing, “Always look on the bright side of life!” That’s what lament is NOT, but in many cases it is what we do.
The Bible tells us through the Psalms and the Wisdom books and through the words of Jesus himself that lament is valuable and even necessary because lament is telling the truth. We hear the Psalmist— echoed by Jesus on the cross— saying, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So with all that’s happening in the world recently, businesses destroyed, unprecedented unemployment, and the loss of far too many lives, loneliness and uncertainty about our lives, as one writer says, maybe we could just let the lament of Job speak for itself:
Then Job broke the [seven days of] silence. He spoke up and cursed his fate:
“Obliterate the day I was born.
Blank out the night I was conceived!
Let it be a black hole in space.
May God above forget it ever happened.
Erase it from the books!
Rip the date off the calendar,
delete it from the almanac.
May those who are good at cursing curse that day.
Unleash the sea beast, Leviathan, on it.
And why? Because it released me from my mother’s womb
into a life with so much trouble.
Do you hear what he’s doing here? Job’s life is wrecked. And he says it out loud. Our lives are messed up too. We can say, “oh but we still have our homes and families and food on the table,” and those things are true. But it’s also true that for many of us right now there is suffering, and to admit that we’re suffering is not a shameful thing to do. It’s not unkind and it’s not unfaithful. It is a biblical discipline that we would be well to bring back.
Notice too that in the chapter 3 section of the reading today that Job is still not ignoring God or denying God— he speaks about God: “may God above forget that my birth ever happened!”
And by the chapter 7 reading he’s gotten to where he’s speaking TO God directly— in the Message he says it this way:
“Don’t you have better things to do than pick on me?
Why make a federal case out of me?…
The way things are going, I’ll soon be dead.
You’ll look high and low, but I won’t be around.”
Theologian Josh Larsen says this: “Christian lament is not simply complaint. Yes, it stares clear-eyed at awfulness and even wonders if God has gone...Yet at its fullest, biblical lament expresses sorrow over losing a world that was once good alongside a belief that it can be made good again. Lament isn't giving up, it's giving over. When we lift up our sorrow and our pain, we turn it over to the only one who can meet it: our God.”
Lament is a form of prayer, and no matter how grieved you are with the state of your life, God is big enough, and strong enough, and loving enough to handle your cries.
Job still knows that God is involved here, and he knows that God is listening to him. Our laments can be this way too. As we come together in communion today and at our own tables throughout the week, I invite you to give it a try. Say what’s wrong, and don’t feel like you need to counter it with good things. Say what’s going on. Say your frustrations, your suffering, your confusion, your anguish— tell the truth. There is no shame in doing this. Sit with your grief over the state of things, and let God know about it. That’s fine. Amen.
Prayers of the People
God of grace, we come before you
giving thanks for the gift of this day
and for the light and promise you offer to the world.
We pray for peace and for healing
for this planet so filled with pain.
Where people look at one another
with bitterness and hate in their hearts,
teach us ways to reconcile our differences.
Where families are separated by anger and frustration,
give us love that overcomes disillusion and rebellion.
Where nations fight internally or with one another,
teach us to live in harmony.
Where individuals are overcome with trouble,
give us your peace that passes all our understanding.
Where there are signs and seeds of hope for this world,
tiny though they may be,
help us to celebrate their presence,
nurture them with vigilance,
and rejoice in their growth.
In the name of Christ,
the Prince of Peace, we pray. Amen.
Music and Offering
During this time, or after our prayers, you may make an offering to John Knox by going to our homepage and scrolling to the bottom where you will see a link to online giving. When you give this way, consider giving a little extra to defray the cost of this service. If you prefer, you may mail you offerings to the church directly. Even though we are far apart, the church's expenses remain the same. We give out of pure gratitude for what God has done.
Listen to this offertory music, This Is My Body, and use the time to prepare your heart for communion.
The Lord’s Supper
Invitation to the Table
Friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God.
The scriptures say that people will come
from north and south,
and from east and west,
and sit at table in the kingdom of God.
This is not a Presbyterian feast,
or a John Knox feast,
or a feast of the worthy.
this is the Lord’s feast.
And our savior invites all who love him
to come and share the feast which he has prepared.
Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and Words of Institution
Holy God, we praise you.
Let the heavens be joyful,
and the earth be glad.
We bless you for creating the whole world,
for your promises to your people Israel,
and for Jesus Christ in whom your fullness dwells.
Born of Mary, he shares our life.
Eating with sinners, he welcomes us.
Guiding his children, he leads us.
Visiting the sick, he heals us.
Dying on the cross, he saves us.
Risen from the dead, he gives new life.
Living with you, he prays for us.
On the night he was betrayed,
Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it,
and gave it to his disciples saying, Take, eat.
This is my body given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way, after supper he took the cup,
and pouring it out said, Take and drink.
This cup is the new covenant, sealed in my blood,
shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink this,
do so in remembrance of me.”
With thanksgiving we take this bread and this cup
and proclaim the death and resurrection of our Lord.
Receive our sacrifice of praise.
Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us
that this meal me be
a communion in the body and blood of our Lord.
Make us one with Christ
and with all who share this feast.
Unite us in faith,
encourage us with hope,
inspire us to love,
that we may serve as your faithful disciples
until we feast at your table in glory.
Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father,
forever and ever. Amen.
And now with confidence as the children of God, let us pray as Jesus taught his disciples: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
Sharing of the Bread and Cup
Jesus said: Blessed are those
who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled. These are the gifts of God, for the people of God.
The bread of heaven.
The cup of salvation.
Thanks be to God.
Prayer after Communion
Holy God, we give you thanks
that you have made us one
in the body and blood of Christ.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit,
to live and work to your praise and glory,
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, and bring you peace. Amen.
Today’s prayers are from
Clergy Stuff Worship Resources, Bloomington, Minnesota, 2016-2019.
Book of Common Worship, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2018.
Chris, at monasticpastor.com, was helpful in thinking about lament, as was Josh Larsen, Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings, 2017, IVP Books.