Great Faithfulness, Indeed!

“Great Faithfulness, Indeed!”

Lam 3-23 faithfulness, clouds

Lamentations 3:19-26 – October 6, 2019

About twenty years ago, I attended a church with a pastor who preached very powerful sermons. This pastor would occasionally mention that he prayed his preaching “would comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That sounds very like the Bible book we read from this morning. The little book of Lamentations was written at a complicated time in the history of the nation of Israel, and the prophet who wrote it was conflicted at the time he wrote.

I wonder, can anyone here relate to being sad, troubled and conflicted, sometimes? Does anyone here have bad or sad or troubling things happening in their lives right now, either in their lives or the lives of their loved ones? I know many people do have all kinds of things raining down on their heads.

Perhaps it’s health concerns. At countless hospitals, chaplains or nurses or doctors can tell us about patients with very serious health concerns like heart attacks or strokes. Or, what about continuing health conditions like kidney disease, COPD, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease? I am certain that everyone here today knows at least one friend or family member who suffers from some difficulty, disease or condition like these.

Let’s look at some other concerns, like lack of finances. Loss of employment can certainly affect not only individuals, but whole families as well. What about floods or hurricanes? How many lives in the United States have been devastated by these horrible happenings, just in the past two or three months? The number is astronomical.

Add situations such as “your house has burned to the ground,” or “your family member is getting a divorce.” In these situations, what kinds of things would be going through your mind? What are the feelings of the people in these situations?  What are some of the things these conditions make you want to say to God? What are some of the questions you’d like to ask God about these situations?

That is exactly the problem our prophet and writer of Lamentations has. This little book is a series of laments, asking God about the serious situation the nation of Israel is in, asking—in a word—why? That is a question that so many people are asking!

We know the prophet Jeremiah, the probable author of this book, was no stranger to despair.  Consider how he opens in verse 1: “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people” (Lam. 1:1). His city—Jerusalem—has been ransacked by the Babylonian army and left for dead. It seemed God’s very purpose and people had been abandoned. [1]

As commentator Carolyn Brown tells us, many places in the Hebrew Scriptures have “people talking back to God.  These are deeply hurt, terribly sad, and totally angry people, and they are willing to tell God so.  We talk to children often about telling God the happy things, confessing our sins to God, and asking God for help.  But, we also need to give them permission, even encourage them to tell God when they are angry, when life seems unfair, when it looks to them as if God isn’t doing God’s job the way it should be done.” [2]

I would like to stop right here, and let us consider this particularly important task of allowing, of permitting children to grieve. We all need to grieve and mourn, from time to time. Grieving is an important thing to do. We as adults do, indeed, need to model for children our way of dealing with difficulties, problems, even catastrophes. Otherwise, many more people would pull their heads into their shells, like turtles, to escape from these serious difficulties.

And yet—and yet—amid all of this sorrow, suffering and despair, the prophet writes of how blessed he finds the present difficult situation.

What a contrast! What a puzzle! How can this be? Great question!

Commentator Steve Godfrey goes further, “From the depths of his despair Jeremiah turns to something he has come to know well, the loyal love of God.  The Hebrew word used here, hesed, is a constant theme throughout the Old Testament.  It is sometimes translated ‘steadfast love’ or ‘faithful lovingkindness.’”  [3]

What a marvelous thing to have faith in! After so many awful descriptions of horrible things during the past poems of distress, the prophet gives us a ringing endorsement of faith in God’s steadfast loving-kindness in chapter 3 of Lamentations.

Commentator Steve Godfrey has more than the usual difficulty with sad or disturbing things. He has low-grade depression, and he would like for us to know about his occasional mental condition. “As someone who has managed low-grade depression for 31 years of his adult life these are words that encourage profoundly. They don’t minimize or avoid the issue….

“These words don’t mean that Christians should never get depressed.  The Prophet Jeremiah got depressed and I’ll put his character up against depression deniers any day of the week!  The beauty of the gospel is that it embraces both anguish and hope.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh; low-grade depression is mine.  By God’s grace I manage it through diet, exercise, medication, and counseling.  It’s something I inherited through genetics, and that’s okay.” [4]

Praise God for such a constructive attitude. I doubt very much whether I would be able to maintain such a positive attitude and expression. Knowing that God is there with me, through it all, is so helpful to me when I am going through difficult, even traumatic times. I can share a testimony of God’s presence, of God’s chesed, “steadfast love” or “faithful lovingkindness,” with those who are also having difficulties in life.

But, let us shift our focus from our reading today to why we gather this morning.

We celebrate World Communion Sunday today. This sacrament has been celebrated in good times and in bad, during war and during peace, during times of turbulence and trial as well as times of great joy. Communion has also celebrated by many different people groups in many, many different places throughout the globe. Whether we call it the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist or Communion makes little difference. The unity between various, diverse ministers leading and coordinating observances of this meal our Lord Jesus commanded us to observe is a wonderful glimpse of what this world can be.

Whether we are glad, mad or sad, whether we have only a little or have a lot of goods in this world, whether we are in good health or not-so-good, our Lord Jesus bids us join together in this meal, to be unified and one body, celebrating our diversity. He welcomes each of us to His table, no matter what.

Praise God, what a welcome! Our Lord bids us, come! Thank You, Lord Jesus.

[1] https://churchintheworld.com/2013/09/30/navigating-depression-2/

“Navigating Depression,” Steve Godfrey, Church in the World, 2013.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2010/09/year-c-27th-sunday-of-ordinary.html

Worshiping with Children, Ordinary 27C (World Communion Sunday), Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2010.

[3] https://churchintheworld.com/2013/09/30/navigating-depression-2/

“Navigating Depression,” Steve Godfrey, Church in the World, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Hope of God’s Good Promises

“Hope of God’s Good Promises”

Jer 33-14 God fulfills the gracious promise

Jeremiah 33:14 – November 29, 2015

“It just isn’t fair!”

How many of us can remember children saying that? Either when we were in school, on the playground, or when our children or grandchildren were bickering or fighting together. “It just isn’t fair!”

Lots of things are unfair. One child gets a bigger helping of pie or ice cream at Thanksgiving dinner. One child gets more Christmas presents than another, under the Christmas tree. Let’s go one step further. One child gets a bigger treat than the others. Or even, one child gets punished more times than all the rest.

“It just isn’t fair!”

I will be preaching through the Old Testament scriptures this Advent. Yes, this is the first Sunday in Advent, the time of preparation, when we pray and get ready for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. But—we are not there yet! We need to prepare for four Sundays.

Our Scripture passage today comes from the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah lived about 350 to 400 years after King David and King Solomon. About 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Just to give you some idea of the time line. The situation Jeremiah and the other people in the kingdom of Israel found themselves in was not good! Israel had been conquered. Again. (Yes, they had been disobedient to God, again. And, that was a large part of why they were in exile, far from their homes.)

I can see why the people of Israel might think they were being treated unfairly. “It’s just not fair!” Because, God had repeatedly said the nation of Israel is God’s special possession. God’s much beloved children. Just imagine a list of all the things that were not fair for Jeremiah’s listeners and their children – forced to live in a foreign land as servants, not enough food, no chance to go to school, soldiers who told you where to go and what to do, and then some! How on earth did the nation of Israel get into this mess?

Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Israel during the sixth century before the birth of Christ. The time in which he wrote, the place where he wrote, was conquered—again! Not very safe or very peaceful. There were wars and rumors of wars, as well as a lot of military oppression, from all sides.

Some context helps me out, when I read the Bible. This explanation comes from an Australian online commentary. “The context of Jeremiah 33 is important. In terms of the story in Jeremiah, the city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and the people will shortly go into exile (Jer 32:1-6). Jeremiah is in prison (Jer 32:2; 33:1). The people are about to lose everything that has given meaning to their lives – the temple, the city, king, priesthood, their homes, family, etcetera. God seems to be silent, absent, and preoccupied with judging the people for past wrongs.” [1]

Time jump! I can see how the people of the first century, when the Gospels were written, felt a lot the same way! The Jewish people were a conquered people. Again! The Roman empire kept very close watch on the Jews in Israel. They knew the Jews to be a stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious lot, so the Roman government was quick to stamp out the least little sign of outbreak or rebellion among the Jewish people. And, the Roman occupation had gone on for decades.

Is this very different from today? Wars and rumors of wars, conflict, destruction, despair and darkness. Just turn on the evening news or check the morning newspaper, or read the news online, and these are common headlines. A sad commentary on our times. Or any time, when this is the situation.

Here we are, on the first Sunday of the new church year, the first Sunday in Advent. Our Scripture lessons from the Old Testament and from the Gospel of Luke serve two purposes: they are a combination peek ahead, and also a reality check. Jeremiah’s prophecies are often of doom and gloom. Real downers. But sometimes, God gives the prophet some positive message for the people in exile. This paragraph today is just one such message.

Jeremiah knows his people in exile feel worthless and useless, like an old stump. But he tells the Jews that God is not finished yet! God is going to raise up a Leader from the line of King David. Imagine a fair, just leader who was one of them, a Jew, rather than a foreigner. This righteous Leader will bring about justice and restoration! These are words of hope! Good news! Glad tidings for the future!

Then, we have the passage from Luke, where Jesus tells us exactly how bad it is going to get. We know! The world is truly in an awful state! Sometimes, it seems like nothing is going to bail us out of the awful mess we are in. Bad leaders, awful people, horrible plans happening all over the place. But—there is hope. God gives us good news! Glad tidings for the future!

God promises that in the end they will not win.  God will.

Jeremiah’s promise—God’s promise is that a righteous Leader will sprout. Will arise. Even though things look black and hope is almost gone, God gives us good news! In the reading from Jeremiah today, the last word is “Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’”

Yes, we have hope! Yes, hope for the present, and hope for the future! God’s own words and actions, and God’s challenge to present us with visions of what is to come.

We know Advent is not just about sitting, twiddling our thumbs, passively waiting for God to fulfill God’s promises. It is also about our being transformed through waiting. Expectant! Eagerly looking for God to show up!

Yes, God gives us good news! Glad tidings for the future! Yes, we have hope! Hope for the present, and hope for the future!

Yes. Hope of God’s Good Promises.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/AdventC/Advent1Jer33.html

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!