Scripture: Job 2:11-13
11 When Job’s three friends heard about all this disaster that had happened to him, they came, each one from his home—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah. They agreed to come so they could console and comfort him. 12 When they looked up from a distance and didn’t recognize him, they wept loudly. Each one tore his garment and scattered dust above his head toward the sky. 13 They sat with Job on the ground seven days and seven nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain.
2 Timothy 4:9-18
9 Do your best to come to me quickly. 10 Demas has fallen in love with the present world and has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark, and bring him with you. He has been a big help to me in the ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring along the coat I left with Carpus in Troas. Also bring the scrolls and especially the parchments. 14 Alexander, the craftsman who works with metal, has really hurt me. The Lord will pay him back for what he has done. 15 But watch out for him, because he opposes our teaching.
16 No one took my side at my first court hearing. Everyone deserted me. I hope that God doesn’t hold it against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that the entire message would be preached through me and so all the nations could hear it. I was also rescued from the lion’s mouth! 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil action and will save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and always. Amen.
This morning, I invite you to use the song written for the I’ve Been Meaning to Ask series, Covenant of Grace, as a chance to pause as we prayerfully begin our time in scripture this morning.
Facebook is admittedly a hot mess. It can both foster connections and fester deep divisiveness. It can help build relationships or can tear relationships apart. Facebook time, at least for my personal sanity, needs to be limited and while I have often thought of just disconnecting entirely, one of the biggest gifts from Facebook has been being a member of the Young Clergywoman International community. As the title of the group suggests, this is a space for women pastors under forty to come together, to offer advice, humor, and yes, the occasional rant or two. Last week, I shared with group how ministry in 2021 after months of social distancing has felt a bit like trying to paddle up creek without a paddle. I shared I was tired of the horrible news coming out of places like Afghanistan and Haiti, and how much I missed just being a pastor and not a public health expert. Perhaps you have had similar rants over the last year. Many of my colleagues shared their deep solidarity. One of my ministry friends saw post and called me. When I picked up the phone she asked me……Amanda, what do you need? The conversation was filled with moments of sacred solidarity.
I’ve been meaning to ask…..what do you need? Like all questions in series, this question fosters intentionality, warmth, curiosity, and courage. When we ask the question, what do you need, we are letting person know we believe certain things. We believe everyone has needs, but each of us needs different things at different times. As Christians, we believe God calls us to care for one another- in seasons of joy, transition, and hardship. As we ask this question, we commit to the work of listening and being present.
Just as each person shares their own unique needs in their own way, the two characters in our scripture lessons this morning share needs differently. You may have noticed as I read Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul almost has a laundry list of things he wants to get across to Timothy. Paul wants to make sure Timothy knows who to watch out for but also who he can trust. Paul lets Timothy know he needs some very practical things: the coat he left behind, along with the scrolls and Rev. Remington Johnson observes, “Paul offers us a moment of intense humility as he opens himself up to share exactly what he needs. The grievances, the stuff- all of it is important and offering space for folks to respond openly and honestly about what they need is a sacred act. We can respond to someone’s needs with additions and clarifications- but the first step is hearing- fully hearing- what someone needs and discerning how we might respond.”
The book of Job is filled with trauma. Job loses his livelihood, his children, cattle, home….his future and present livelihood hangs on by a thread. He is in emotional and physical pain so much so that when his friends initially hear what has happened, the come to see him. Job’s pain was so transformative, his friends did not recognize him. They offered ministry of presence and solidarity, weeping loudly, tearing their clothes, and rubbing ashes on themselves. They sit silently with Job for seven days, saying nothing.
So friends, what might be some modern practices which emulate these embodied acts of grief and solidarity? How might we show up for someone in ways today similar to the way Job’s friends did by tearing clothes and putting on ash? Perhaps one way is just showing up and offering empathy.
Speaker and author Brene Brown produced a powerful video short explaining the difference between sympathy and empathy. She observes, empathy fuels connection and encourages perspective taking, staying out of judgement, recognizing emotion in other people and then communicating it. Empathy is feeling with people and is a sacred space. It is as though someone is in a deep hole, shouting up from bottom. I’m stuck it’s dark and I’m overwhelmed! When we response with empathy- we climb down, and say, hey, I know what it is like down here and you are not alone. In face of difficult conversations, we have urge to try to make things better. In the video Brown describes sympathy as looking down in the hole and saying it must be bad. When someone shares something hard with us, empathy says, I don’t even know what to say right now but I’m so glad you told me—Words don’t make much better—-what makes something better is connection. Ask question and be willing to listen.
What, if anything, do we say as we sit in solidarity? Christian author and Duke Divinity professor, Kate Bowler was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at 35. In her article, “Six things to say to a Friend in Need,” Kate gives some examples of ways to be like Job’s friends. Say something like:
- “I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?” I can never figure out something to tell people that I need, even if I need it. But really, bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant. A set of weird erasers. I remember the first gift I got that wasn’t about cancer, and I was so happy I cried. Send me funny emails filled with YouTube clips to watch during chemotherapy. Do something that suits your talents.
- “I am so grateful to hear about how you’re doing. Just know that I’m on your team.” Relief to not have to re-hash all the details multiple times.
- “Can I give you a hug?”
Some of my best moments with people have come with a hug or a hand on the arm. People who are suffering often—not always—feel isolated and want to be touched. Hospitals and big institutions in general tend to treat people like cyborgs. So, ask whether your friend feels up for a hug.
- “Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard.” Perhaps the weirdest thing about having something awful happen is the fact that no one wants to hear about it. People tend to want to hear the summary, but they don’t usually want to hear it from you. And that it was awful. So, let your friend talk for a bit. Be willing to stare down the ugliness and sadness. Life is absurdly hard, and pretending it isn’t is exhausting.
- *****Silence***** The truth is that no one knows what to say. It’s awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. But in showing up, you bring powerful ministry of presence.” (Kate Bowler)
Maybe other ways of being present with others in their need include asking follow up questions like- can I come sit with you for a while? Or can I come help you with laundry, dishes, or cleaning? Would you like to borrow a book while recovering?
Invite you to hear poem, “Unlearning Hands” by Rev. Sarah Are, one of the creators of Sanctified art:
“I used to always ask,
“how can I help?” but
Maybe I can’t help
Maybe these hands are too small
Maybe the boat will sink anyway
Maybe your heart has been broken
And grief has moved in, making itself
At home in your life.
Maybe what you need from me
Is not a solution
Or a plan
Or a fix-it strategy,
But something else
I’m learning to unlearn
My desire to fix
I’m learning to unlearn
In the story of your pain.
When I asked before,
“how can I help?”
What I really meant to say
Was, “what do you need?”
What do you need?
My hands might be small,
But they can still hold yours.”
I can still be present with you-hold your hand. Not trying to fix anything but just providing ministry of empathy and ministry of presence. Week after week, we witness one another’s existence, trauma, needs, and spend time together. This is why we gather together each week, in person and virtually, for connection with God and connection with one another. To seek together how God calls us to love, to make meaning of the crazy, broken, and immensely beautiful world. To remember who and whose we are and just how much we need each other—we need sacredness of solidarity.
Join us next Sunday as we wrap up our, “I’ve been meaning to ask…” sermon series by exploring perhaps the most important question of the series, where do we go from here? Until then, friends, remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” It’s all that easy, and it’s all that hard. Amen.