Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
October 28, 2018
Text: Job 42:3, Old Testament: Job 42:1-6, New Testament: Hebrews 11:19-31
Elie Weisel and the prisoners of Auschwitz stood before a gallows where a child was hanging. One of his Jewish friends looked at the child and muttered, “Where is God?” Elie quietly responded, “He is there, on the gallows.”
Elie Weisel’s response was remarkably similar to the Christian confession about the Cross. There on the Cross hung God. Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the living God hung on the Cross.
It takes tremendous faith in God to see His wonders when all is lost. Only an undying faith that God knows our pain and will redeem our suffering can see His wonders amid great loss.
This is what the Jewish community, the city of Pittsburgh, the United States of America, and the world faces in what happened at Tree of Life Synagogue yesterday. Innocent men and women were gunned down for gathering to give thanks to God on the Jewish Sabbath.
Horrible hatred within the gunman could not see the wondrous works of God when they greeted him at the door of Tree of Life. He didn’t give the Jewish worshippers time to show him the love for God’s creation that had led to the naming of their temple.
Robert Bowers was so filled with hate that he refused to see the goodness, the purity of heart, the love that had brought Tree of Life’s worshippers before their rabbis to praise God.
And so, we are left like Job facing the loss of our innocence. All our hopes and promises about the goodness in humankind were stripped from us.
All our trust in a government of law and justice to protect us from evil was torn from our hearts. All our confidence in democracy elevating the human spirit to celebrate equality together was gone.
We were left to the horror in our imagination of what it looked like in Tree of Life’s sanctuary – who was lying within it as a sacrifice to godlessness. Hatred appeared to have won the day. It was our moment to feel Job’s pain.
Job had lost his wife, his children, his home, his work. Life was miserable as far as he was concerned, and God wasn’t interested.
It’s a pretty heavy load to carry. The Jewish community in Pittsburgh now carries it. Pittsburgh is now carrying it. The Jewish community around the nation and internationally is now carrying it. America is now carrying it. The world must once again carry the burden of Job’s pain.
Job, was God’s most devoted worshipper. His loss was cataclysmic. Job had trusted in God his entire life. Job had done everything right. He had followed God’s law. He had seen that his children understood God’s law and followed it. He had cared for his wife and had tithed his ten percent to God.
Everything Job was supposed to do, he had done.
God had chosen the Jewish people. The priests were doing what they were to do in Jerusalem’s Temple to assure Judea’s protection by God. The priests were content that God’s protection would last forever. They had reassured the Jewish people all was well with God.
Except everything had fallen apart.
It had fallen apart for Job and it has fallen apart for us.
All the Constitutional protections of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; all the constitutional checks and balances; all the lessons in tolerance; all the Holocaust lessons; all the interfaith dialogue between Christians and Jews; all the benefits of religious freedom in America had failed to prevent Saturday’s slaughter of our Jewish neighbors in Tree of Life Synagogue.
The Book of Job was written in an era of spiritual crisis for the Jewish people. Like so many books of the Bible, it is extremely realistic about the challenges involved with being God’s chosen people.
Just because we’re chosen by God doesn’t mean that life will be easy for us. Just because we’ve done what we thought we should do to properly worship God doesn’t mean life can’t or won’t fall apart for us.
Just because we live in a nation with God’s blessings of natural resources, the world’s greatest educational system, the world’s most advanced form of self-rule designed to protect freedom doesn’t mean we will be protected from evil.
Much of what happened Saturday goes beyond the insane thoughts of a hate-filled man. The story of anti-Semitism is written by Christians who did not believe the Apostle Paul’s claims in Romans 11 and 12 that the Jewish people were not responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. God the Father was the one who offered up His Son for the salvation of the world.
Jesus knew it was His father in heaven who had ordained the Cross. He didn’t appeal His case before Caiaphas, Herod, or Pilate. He appealed to His father in the Garden of Gethsemane and came to accept the Cross as the only means to overcome evil; to overcome sin; to overcome hatred, jealousy, envy, pride, and all the other sins that inhabit the hearts of those who disown the wonders of God’s love in this world.
The Apostle Paul claims from the shadow of the Cross in Romans 8:28, “In everything God works together for good, for those called according to His purpose.” It is one of the hardest passages to accept in the New Testament.
This is the time of Pittsburgh’s Cross, the world’s Cross. Eleven innocent Jews in Tree of Life Synagogue suffered the loss of their sacredness on Saturday. They were denied their human rights that were given them by God at Creation.
We Christians suffer with them, their families, their community as the brothers and sisters of faith in God. It is up to us as Christians to become the visible sign of God’s wonders in this world. Now is the time for us to do what has been left undone.
I have been involved in Jewish/Christian dialogue for over 30 years in Pittsburgh. I have studied the history of Jewish/Christian relations in depth, from the beginning to the medieval ages, to the modern world and post-modern world. There is much that is left for us to do.
We must accept the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans as God’s Word. We must repudiate the burning of a cross as representing the will of Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge that KKK members in churches have excommunicated themselves from the teachings of Jesus Christ. They have renounced Jesus’ teaching to love their neighbor as themselves and to pray for all people.
The murder of our Jewish brothers and sisters poses to us the ethical question that Job poses to readers of God’s Word. If you can’t see God in obvious ways amid your despair, what are you going to do?
Are you going to be immersed in hatred toward your fellow man?
Or, are you going to do what your faith in God taught you to do?
People have faced Job’s ethical question throughout history. When the world seems void of God’s presence they are forced to choose how to respond. Some fail miserably in their response. They resort to the world’s ways in anger or they immerse themselves in melancholy, retreating into themselves.
Those who choose anger or melancholy are blind to God’s wondrous works. What they know about life is limited to what pleases them. If what pleases them is hatred or melancholy, they will use their pleasure in hatred or melancholy to justify their dehumanization of God’s goodness and righteousness in the heart of another person. They have no regard for knowledge that comes from beyond themselves that expands their ability to see God’s wonderous works in others.
The French existentialist Albert Camus was such a person. He was a member of the French Resistance during World War II and wrote their underground newspaper. He violently opposed the Vichy Government supporting the despised Germans. Camus struggled for French independence. All he could see was the death Germany had brought to France and the world. His country was an indentured servant to the Nazis. He had every reason to think dark things.
Camus had already written one book and was considering another. In 1943, he left Paris for southeastern France, to a little village of Le Chambon. He ran into the Nazis occupation forces that terrorized the village and considered the plight of innocent people who were being randomly arrested and murdered. Eventually he wrote The Plague, his existentialist treatise that gained fame.
His dark, hate-filled existential vision only saw the randomness of death and the absurdity of life. His intellect could not see God’s sovereignty in the wonders of His works.
God’s wonderous works were right in front of him.
Camus was oblivious to the little Huguenot parish in Le Chambon, and its pastor, Andre Trocme. Camus was so certain he knew the world for its suffering that he would not see God’s love working in the world to give life.
Pastor Trocme had organized the entire village to operate an underground railroad to help the most helpless in France to reach Switzerland. Le Chambon was within 20 miles of the Swiss border and it was alive with the wonder of God.
Over 5,000 French Jews, mainly women and children, were received, housed, fed, and led to Switzerland’s safety by Pastor Trocme’s French Huguenot congregation. God’s wonder was on display and Camus was blind to it.
Albert Camus received international fame for the dark world of nihilism he described in 1947. Andre Trocme is for the most part, unknown, ignored – except for the gratitude of 5,000 Jews who were spared the horrors of Auschwitz.
Andre Trocme and his congregation could have responded to the Nazis like Albert Camus. They could have joined the fight against the Germans as members of the French resistance, with their guns and explosives. They could have fought to get back what was rightfully theirs – their freedom, their liberty, their independence from the Nazis’ hatred. They could have taken up arms to break their starvation and poverty.
They chose to be God’s wonders instead. They saw God giving them the opportunity to serve the helpless, the homeless, the persecuted, who were desperate for anyone to show them they cared.
The Huguenot congregation recognized the Jews had lost far more than they had lost in France. The Huguenot worshippers saw the Jews had lost their families, their homes, their livelihood. They were in Job’s position without any sight of God’s intervention to improve their situation.
Andre Trocme convinced his Christians they were to be the wonderous works of God for the Jewish refugees. Or rather, Pastor Trocme convinced his congregation to see beyond their situation from God’s point of view. God was giving them a remarkable opportunity to live like Jesus in the twentieth century.
The Huguenots were to be the hands, the arms, the head, the feet of Jesus for the Jewish refugees from Hitler’s hatred. Where millions of German Christians had responded to World War I war reparation payments and the Great Depression with anger and guns, Andre Trocme’s congregation showed the wonderous image of Jesus Christ in their compassion, their courage, their obedience unto death, their love that saved those who had lost almost everything.
The Jews had not lost the wondrous love of God.
Seeing the wonderous works of God is not simply knowing what to see when you’ve lost everything. It is to be seen as the one who is the wonder worker. It is to see in loss the opportunity to live as God’s example of love.
You don’t do it to have books written about you or people to remember your remarkable kindness in their memoirs. You don’t do it to gain the Crown of Glory in the Kingdom of Heaven.
You do it because you love others as Jesus loves you. You give Jesus’ love in the middle of loss because you know God’s love prevails over death.
When we lose everything that’s precious, that means everything to us; When our precious community is darkened by death in the form of hatred, then is when you’re to be the unknown wonders of God’s love.
Listen with those who have ears to hear. God’s love brings life from death.