Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Dorset Moon

Trinity 4
14 July 2019
10.30 Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

I have just returned from a week in Dorset where I have had a chance to refresh myself in body and soul

But as well as attending my daughter’s speech day, I also attended the wedding of two of our closest friends 

It was very joyful occasion (and I am pleased to say that my morning dress still fits)

However, the wedding was remarkable because it took place underneath the moon

Let me explain:

As well as taking the wedding on a Saturday afternoon, the Abbey was also hosting “The Museum of the Moon” at the same time

This is a touring artwork by the UK installation artist Luke Jerram

As part of the exhibition, a giant moon was suspended from the vaulted ceiling directly above the head of the bride and groom

To give you some idea of scale, the moon measures seven meters in diameter and features detailed imagery of the lunar surface

It seemed a most appropriate exhibition for this 50th anniversary of the first moon landing

I remember watching the event on television as a six year old as mankind found the ingenuity to land three men on the moon

The priest taking the wedding, naturally, did not waste the opportunity of referring to the moon in his sermon

He told us of a former US President who used to take guests onto the White House lawn after dinner and guide them through the constellations

When he finished, the President used to say, “I reckon that cuts us all down to size”

Indeed it does

It also makes us realise:

  • How tiny we are in relation to the universe
  • How little we know about our closest neighbour, never mind the rest of the solar system

Or put another way, how little we know about God and his creation

The quote from the former American president however seemed so apposite for the wedding which he was conducting

Five years earlier, the bride and groom had both suffered dreadful personal tragedies

The bride’s husband had been killed in a random knife attack in a London pub. I took the funeral.

The groom had lost his wife to cancer

Both widows were left to raise teenage children

As close friends, living in Sherborne, we rallied around and helped as best we could

As it happened, I ended up teaching theology to one of the teenage children

And one of the questions we studied was the question of suffering

The issue of human suffering causes great problems for Christians

As Christians, we proclaim that God is all knowing, all powerful, all loving (Omniscient, Omnipotent and Benevolent)

  • But if God is all knowing why does he knowingly permit suffering?
  • If God is all powerful, why doesn’t he stop it?
  • If God is all loving why does he allow those he loves to suffer ?

This is an eternal riddle and a question which perplexes us to this day

The Book of Job, from which we heard an extract read this evening, is an ancient attempt to find an answer to this eternal question

The Book is seen, by many commentators, as the most profound meditation on suffering in the Bible

And it stands alone as a singular attempt to understand this question through the life of the central character called Job

As the book tells us, Job

“was a righteous man”

“A man of blameless and upright life who feared God and set his face against wrongdoing”

If anyone was undeserving of human suffering it was him

Yet, as we hear from the first two chapters, Job loses his cattle, his camels and, most of all, his children

He is then afflicted with running sores from head to foot

Disaster had fallen on the most undeserving of all human beings

As the saying goes

The rain falls on the just and the unjust but more on the just as the unjust have taken their umbrella”

The rest of the Book explores this question further

Three so called friends, who are known as Job’s Comforters, seem to rather relish the discomfort of their so-called friend

They suggests to Job that he is not really a paragon after all and he must have deserved the sufferings

“Is not your wickedness great………there is no end to your iniquities” They say

However, this simply is not true

Job naturally protests his innocence and complains about God “tearing him in his wrath”

Job is then criticised for rebelling against God – He can’t win and it couldn’t get any worse 

However, the book then touches on a very important point about the limits of human reason

Rather like the psalmist this evening, Job cries out to his creator

“therefore I will not keep silent, I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” Job 7: 11

Or as the psalmist put it

“In time of my trouble, I sought the Lord, my sore ran and ceased not in the night season”

In essence, Why me?

In the Chapter which we heard read this evening, God provides an answer to this question in a direct an unexpected way

 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
 Gird up your loins like a man…
     “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
 Who determined its measurements
    Or who stretched the line upon it?

At the end of a whole series of questions God poses a question to us all “Surely you know?”

This is a rhetorical questions because it is obvious that “we don’t”.

And, by extension, if we don’t know all there is to know about God’s creation, why should we presume to know the reason for suffering in the world?

This is the only answer we have – and the only answer I can give you as a priest

Like my forebears, I don’t know and I guess that cuts me and all of us “down to size”

However, the book of Job was written six hundred years before Christ

And, although we don’t know the reason why we suffer, the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a perspective, a comfort, unavailable to Job which changes everything

First of all, we learn something about God and suffering through the healing ministry of his Son

Christ had compassion for those who suffered

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was “moved with compassion”

Moved with compassion towards the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the thief on the cross

This compassion shows that God, through his Son, does care about our suffering

He shares the suffering with us and participates in it and we, in turn should all seek to emulate his Son

Secondly, there is another dimension to Christ’s suffering

Christ undoubtedly experiences unwarranted suffering himself through his crucifixion

He not only experiences the suffering which we experience, but takes that suffering unto himself

As St John puts it

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life”

Jesus had lived to the point of suffering and dying for us so that we might have the greatest gift of all

And so returning to the marriage under the moon

In a sense we all stand under the moon

We live tiny lives in relation to the cosmos

We live our lives, not even beginning to know about the enormity and complexity of his creation

Despite all our intelligence and ingenuity we have not even started to understand our world

But despite all our limitations, which we freely acknowledge, we live and breathe as part of God’s creation

Secure in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and his compassion for us

Secure in the knowledge that, whatever our sufferings, we “may not perish but have everlasting life”