Minimal Protection, Maximum Support

The text of this sermon is Job 38:1-11.

When preparing for this sermon I came across a quote from a famous 20th century pastor William Sloane Coffin.  It was from a sermon he preached in 1983 when his young son died in a car crash. Can you imagine having to preach such a sermon? In the sermon he said, “Our God is a God of minimal protection, but maximum support.” Let that roll around in your head for a while. “Our God is a God of minimal protection, but maximum support.”

My first reaction is to push back. It sounds like he is saying our God can’t protect us. Our God is an awesome God. Our God can do anything God wants to do.  We hear this awesome God speak in Job. Job 38 is the start of three chapters where God the creator makes the case for not just His great power but the inability of the human mind to wrap their head around God’s size and mystery. Surely, a God this big can do anything that God wants, including protect us. I want to shout back to William Sloane Coffin disregarding his grief and say, “Oh yeah, says who? My God is big enough to protect me, us, the world.”

The Reverend Coffin’s son Arthur died before he could fully share the many gifts that he had. Reverend Coffin preached these words on a day when his heart and the hearts of his family and friends were breaking. The crowd was hearing these words while trying to remember the voice of Arthur, the last words he said to them. Some, many, maybe all were wondering why didn’t God protect Arthur? Why did God take Arthur? To that question, Reverend Coffin spoke, “Our God is one of minimal protection, but maximum support.”

It doesn’t sound like enough, does it? We want both protection and support from God. Yet, the story of Arthur Coffin dying in a car accident as a young man is not an isolated one, not an aberration. It is a story that sounds similar to other stories that we know well, maybe even have experienced ourselves. Tragic circumstances are a part of the fabric of our creation. Our God does not protect us from this. This is different than saying God cannot protect us. God has chosen to allow us to experience life fully, both the joys and the sorrows.

Isn’t that what we do with those we love most? We can’t choose their boyfriends or girlfriends, husbands or wives, jobs or careers, even though we are sure that we would do a much better job if they would let us. We can’t get them to stop smoking, see a doctor or pay their bills, even though these small changes would make their life so much better. We can’t keep training wheels on their bikes or make them wear a helmet. We could try, but we would fail and we would both be miserable. If we kept them in a bubble, they would not be living. We may worry less if we made every decision for them and kept them within sight of us always, but is that the life we want for them? For us?

God wants us to live and live fully. This is God’s intention in creation. God hopes surely we make good choices. We can increase the likelihood of good health by eating right, the likelihood of a good retirement by saving carefully, the likelihood of children who thrive by reading Dr. Spock, but we can’t guarantee it. God doesn’t guarantee it. Our God is a God of minimal protection because our God loves us enough to give us the freedom to live, celebrate, grieve, make mistakes, and receive good luck and bad luck too.  If God offered maximum protection our life would be safe but without emotion. Our tears and our smiles are part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

In the midst of the careful plans we make life happens. Babies are born. Doctors speak the C word. Promotions are given. Pink slips are handed out. Small acts of kindnesses warm our hearts. Small mistakes irreparably change our life. Our life can be derailed and it seems unfair. Even if you are living out faithfully the promises you made on January 1, 2012, you might not find yourself any more successful than you were on December 31, 2011.

If you read the entire book of Job you will hear Job wanting more from God. Job wants to get God in a courtroom so that he could make his case. He thought God had made a mistake letting all this misfortune fall on him. Job had held up his end of the bargain. He was a good, faithful and generous person. Now God needed to hold up his end of the bargain.

God’s does not meet Job in the courtroom but in a whirlwind. God does not explain to Job why he deserved this tragedy or why God did nothing to protect him from it. Instead, God said I am God and you are my creation. There is mystery that you cannot understand. There is a chasm of difference between us you cannot comprehend. If God was taking a class in pastoral care, this response would likely cause him to fail the class.

Yet, God did respond. In the vastness of this universe that God created, God heard the cries of Job and remembered his faithful servant. God chooses not to protect Job from tragedy, but God does not sit by either. God meets Job in the midst of his chaos. God reassures Job that just as he had stopped the chaos of the sea by drawing a line in the sand and saying no more, God will be present in the chaos of Job’s life now. God does not explain all the mysteries of the universe to Job, but God is not silent either.

Reverend Coffin admitted on the day his son was buried that he wished God had protected his son from this tragedy. Reverend Coffin also declared that he had been kept alive since the accident by God’s constant support. God gives maximum support, meeting us in our pain. God does not stop the chaos around us but God does enter into it with us. God knows death, pain, humiliation, betrayal, losing everything because God experienced all this in Jesus. Why? So God could know us fully and we could find peace in being known. God promises us peace in the midst of the storm if we trust even when we hurt most, that His word alone can save us.

God brings us peace through His presence in the waters of baptism that invites us into a family of faith to celebrate with us and hold us when we grieve. God brings us peace through His presence in the bread and wine of his sacrifice a mysterious symbol of God’s promise to endure all pain, even the cross with us. God brings us peace through His presence in worship when we share with each other the peace, the hugs, smiles, kisses, handshakes and encouragement of people gathered in His name.

All of us must come to terms with the truth that life is fragile and as much as we wish we can’t live life with training wheels. God has taken them off, but not forgotten us either. By faith we trust that God hears us, our tiny voices in the huge universe. In the chaos of our lives, God calls us towards the cross. In the cross, God entered our pain. God got small to be like us. In the cross God supports us by gathering us as church. In the cross, we will find peace. Amen

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