Recently I read the following in a book review in the Wall Street Journal. The book is November 1942 by Peter Englund and the reviewer Karin Altenbery [Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2023] What was the world like the month I was born? My dad stationed in England as part of the Army Air Corps during WWII. My mother in a small town in Missouri near my dad’s family after the birth of her first son.

Among many other stories the book’s author tells the story of a young Polish woman, herself a mother.

“What can be endured? On a street in a Polish town, a woman witnesses a young Jewish mother, who is carrying her baby, being ominously followed by an SS man. The mother catches the eye of a third woman walking towards her and “some sort of wordless communication takes place” as an understanding. The mother hands her baby to the passerby, without the SS man noticing. At the next block [the mother] is rounded up and led to her death. A choice that no one should have to make.” [Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2023, Karin Altenbery – review of November 1942 by Peter Englund]

What can be endured?

Jesus said, “Let’s go across to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind they took him with them in the boat. And as was not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee a great storm came up so that the boat was swamped. Jesus was in the stern asleep. They awakened him, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

One of our readings is from the Book of Job. I went to the “Interpretation” series of commentaries on the books of the Bible – this time the one on Job. The author of this particular commentary is J. Gerald Janzen. Then on a hunch I went to the internet to check him out on Wikipedia. Instead, I got an article written by him for the Christian Century magazine.

In it he recalled the time he learned he had a serious cancer. [The Christian Century – August 20, 2010]. “It’s Thursday morning…I’m working at my desk, …the phone rings. ‘This is Dr. S. Your biopsy has turned out positive, and it’s bizarre. It’s a rare, aggressive cancer of the prostrate., [He tells me] I’m to come in for a CT scan.

“Suddenly everything has changed. In a split second I have become one of “them” – a cancer patient. Suddenly I find myself encapsulated in the present moment. Suddenly I find that my past – last year, last week, yesterday, an hour ago – is a country I used to live in. And I am unable to imagine the future. There is just the present moment. “It continues like that for several days. No panic. No anxiety. Just a sense of utter, settled clarity. So…the chips are down. Now we see whether what I’ve believed, what I’ve worked in the name of all these years, is true or just a house of cards.”

What can be endured?

November 1942 follows the lives of many people during that month early in the war – a month in which the author sees the eventual German defeat. He sees this through diaries, memoirs written after the war, newspaper accounts –and how they endured during these times. For most these were very difficult times – such as Charles Walker a twenty-two-year-old second lieutenant from North Dakota at Guadalcanal.

What can be endured?

This morning, we have a motley assortment of readings that – hopefully – might provide some insight – maybe some sort of guidance.

We begin with Job. A writing which begins in a very “un-God” like way. God brags about his servant Job. Satan wagers with him that he can break him. God takes the bet. And Satan – not wanting to lose the bet, causes Job to undergo all sorts of suffering – so much so Job curses the day he was born. He does not curse God. But Job wants to ask God “why?”

In the midst of all of this suffering three “good friends” come to comfort Job. And to tell Job it’s all his fault because of his sins. We know better. And Job knows better.

Finally, God “answers.” A voice out of the whirlwind.
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man. I will question you and you shall declare to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me if you have understanding.
“Who determined its measurements – surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
“On what were its bases sunk, or laid its cornerstone
When the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

God created all this, God created us.

Not too many Sundays ago, Father Carey reminded us that the Bible is a library of many things – including ancient pieces of literature – including this ancient story that even the best “experts” cannot tell us exactly why and how we have it – and what it “means”. Yet even so I think we can glimpse the love God has for his creation and his creation Job.

Another of our readings this morning is Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – identified by one prominent politician as “Two Corinthians.” One commentary says it’s probably his fourth letter to the church at Corinth. Again, recalling another prominent politician’s remarks to the Jewish leader of Israel, it is sort of a “come to Jesus” letter: “We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return – I speak as to children – open wide your hearts also.”

These words suggest there has been controversy. There has been ill-will.
Paul tells them honestly – and plainly –what he has endured for their sakes:
“…as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way; through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger….”
We have talking about “what can be endured.” These are some of the things those who have brought us the good news have endured to do that very thing. And are continuing to do.
Paul also speaks of the ways – the positive ways, the constructive ways – he and those who work with him – have sought to commend themselves to those in the church at Corinth.
So, these might be the way that we as church members should deal with each other when there is controversy, disagreement…
Maybe they are even much more.
Maybe they are a guide, a way of living, to share the Good News, to endure the trials and challenges we will encounter in life:
By purity – by living our lives simply, in goodness and integrity, and good regard for all,
By knowledge – by being informed, by making decisions based on good information – not hearsay, rumors, biases…
By patience – by giving others the benefit of doubt, considering other people’s background, experience, by being slow to anger…
By kindness – deliberately choosing to have generous regard for the opinions of others, by thoughtfulness…By doing little things and big things for other people…
By holiness of spirit – by consciously trying to live as God would want us to live– by asking ourselves what would Jesus do in this situation, what would He want us to do?
By genuine love – by talking to others, by finding out what they are interested in, interesting experiences that they have had – or when we hear of troubles or challenges, show an honest regard and concern – be willing to help if there are situations in which we can – by seeking opportunities to laugh with them, to rejoice in good things…
By the power of God – by praying for others, by praying with others. By asking for God’s help and wisdom in difficult situations. By praying for guidance, for a loving heart.
Some years ago, I had the good fortune to visit the Holy Land as the only Episcopalian in a group of Methodists. We spent some time in Galilee and around the Sea of Galilee. One day we even went out on a boat. The water was rough that day too – but thankfully, not that rough.
I’ve been asking “What can be endured?” I’ve also asked the question that those on that boat in rough waters of the Sea of Galilee: “…Do you not care that we are perishing?”

We all face that question. We all are mortal.

We all heard the “rest of the story” as the Gospel story was read to us in full:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”
The wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

From Psalm 107
…a stormy wind arose which tossed high the waves of the sea
…their hearts melted because of their peril
…they called to the Lord in their trouble
…He delivered them from their distress
Let [us] give thanks to the Lord for his mercy!
And the wonders he does for his children!

Richard Robertson