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Persisting in Integrity

Rev. Karen McArthur
Sun, Oct 04

Texts: Psalm 8; Job 1:1, 2:1-10

What a week! Crisis after crisis. The headlines shout of yet another mass shooting, a military disaster in Afghanistan, a huge hurricane in the Atlantic battering the Bahamas and barreling down on Bermuda, and any number of personal crises in our own lives, or the lives of our friends or our families, that make it difficult to continue from day to day. How do we keep going? Long before any of these crises, 2500 years ago, Job was miserable, literally from head to toe. And yet, he found the strength to keep going. As we explore his story this morning, may even the tiniest bit of his integrity rub off on us.

With all of this rain, I’ve been thinking about the new Massachusetts law that requires us to turn on our lights whenever we use our windshield wipers. It seems like common sense to me – we’ve had rain forever, and have had windshield wipers on our cars since 1916, thanks to Mary Anderson for inventing them and Charlotte Bridgewood for patenting an automatic version. Now, our new state law threatens a $5 fine unless we turn on both headlights and tail lights whenever our windshield wipers are on.

Think about vehicle lights for a moment – while head lights are useful to us when it’s dark, and we need to see where *we* are going, our own tail lights don’t do anything for us. We don’t need tail lights for ourselves – but we do need others to have theirs on, so that we can see their cars, and we need ours on so that others can see us. Similarly, in the daylight, even in the rain, we don’t require our headlights in order to see, but rather we need them so that others can see us, and we need others to use them so that we can see their cars. So it’s a good idea to turn on our lights when it’s rainy enough to use our wipers. It’s a good idea so that others don’t hit us – and it‘s a good way to be helpful and courteous to the other drivers.

But do we really need a law? And why now? Wouldn’t it be enough to just remind drivers that we should turn our lights on in the rain?

It’s not just the headlights. There are more and more laws to follow now, about seat belts and cell phones, about how many days a student can be absent from school, or what tests they have to take and pass, about the environment, or home construction standards, or airport security, or whether an employer has to provide paid sick leave, or health insurance or overtime, or pay a minimum wage. Today’s complexity is mind-boggling. Yet the laws seek to keep us all as safe as possible, and seek to protect the vulnerable, while promoting the public interest.

But why are we inundated with so many laws? Have we forgotten how to be kind to each other? Have we lost all of our ability to think beyond our own self-interest? Have we lost our big picture global perspective?
I once read somewhere … (One of the lectionary texts for today that we did not read from Hebrews has a great verse, “But someone has testified somewhere, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?” (Hebrews 2:6) I love that … “someone has testified somewhere.” If a writer tried to publish that today, she’d get attacked for plagiarism, for not quoting Psalm 8 properly. But I like it. I’ll go with that.
Someone wrote somewhere that family composition is dependent on the level of prosperity and peace in a society. When people are secure and trust that things are safe, then they can live in large extended families, with multiple generations, from babies to the elderly. They can establish roots and relationships. They understand themselves as a part of a bigger picture, a part of a system. And they trust that the system will protect them, and they’re willing and able to do their part to support that system, even if they don’t get an immediate personal benefit from doing so.

However, when people are threatened, this writer (someone, somewhere) observed that family units will shrink so that if a family had to escape, they could do so quickly. Just after the cold war era, we began to talk about the “nuclear family,” meaning just parents and their children. The term was coined by an anthropologist in 1949, with two meanings: metaphorically, the proton and neutron parents with their electron children orbiting around them, but also with the not-so-subtle reminder of the Cold War, that we could (in theory) all fit in one car and escape if a nuclear disaster came to be. With smaller families, there are fewer people to worry about. We’re able to make decisions and move more quickly, since it’s just about us.

These days, we’re so concerned about our own survival, that we’re losing the capacity to think about how our choices and decisions and actions affect our community and the wider world. Considering the ripple effect (when you throw a stone into a pond and watch the ripples extend out from the center) seems like a luxury when we’re inundated by the huge waves of a tsunami.

Thanks to God’s deal with Satan, Job was alone and miserable, covered in sores from head to toe, desperately seeking relief from the pain and isolation. Satan was sure that when his very life was miserable and threatened, when he was alone, he would give everything he had to save his own life. Satan was sure that Job would give up, curse God, and die. God took the bet.

And yet, the whole reason that we have the Book of Job – this ancient and vivid story that has survived 2500 years and still speaks to us today – is because Job didn’t give up. Somehow, he was able to maintain his standards, to keep his faith, or in his wife’s words, to “persist in his integrity.” Despite his misery, he could see the big picture. He could recognize the good and the bad as two parts of the whole.

Someone wrote somewhere (I think this is my new favorite bible quote) that if people believe that the system works, they’ll follow the rules that are a part of that system, the good and the bad. But we’ve shifted toward a culture of “It’s okay, if you can get away with it.” “It’s okay as long as you don’t get caught”, whether we’re talking about air pressure in footballs, or speed limits while driving, or filing our taxes.

Which brings me to taxes … and stewardship, and my challenge that every single sermon is about stewardship. Someone said somewhere that our system of voluntary tax compliance in the US is based on people believing that the government works. Just as in our congregational model, that funding our mission and ministry with voluntary contributions works as long as people believe that the church is doing well and doing good in the world. In our society today, I’m worried about a shift. What happens if people don’t believe that the government, the larger society, the culture is working for them?

I invite you, on this World Communion Sunday, to take a step back, to look for a global perspective on your life, in your relationships, the things you do, the people you live with, the choices you make. I invite you to remember Job, and his integrity, his abilily to keep the big perspective even when, or especially when he is most afflicted. Take a step back – if you can. Notice the water as Brent pointed out last week. Notice the society we live in, the culture we live in. Find a way to consider the whole of God’s perspective – balancing care for ourselves with concern for others, remembering that every stone thrown into a pond will generate long-lasting ripples, that every action has a reaction. Know that God loves you, God loves us, God loves everyone. What we do makes a huge difference in our world, whether you’re thinking about gun violence, money in politics, income inequality, human rights, public health, or our carbon footprint. How we act, what we support makes a difference, in our communities, in our families, even within our own hearts and minds. Choose as Job did, to live with integrity, turning our lights on in the rain, not because we are required to, not because we don’t have $5 to pay the ticket, but because we believe that the system works, that we value our safety and the safety of all who travel, and so that we may be a beacon of hope in a dreary world. Amen!

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