as different as they may seem
at first glance,
all fire a warning shot
across the bow of discipleship.
They remind us that it’s not always
sweetness and light
when God comes calling.
Jeremiah ministered for about 40 years,
from 625-585 BC.
During this time,
the Babylonian empire grew in power and size,
threatening Israel’s very existence.
Jeremiah was a voice—
a prophet warning Israel of danger
and calling his people
to reformation and repentance.
In this work,
Jeremiah obeyed a call from God.
For his obedience,
Jeremiah was denounced,
He was caught
between the God who called
and the people he was called to serve.
As one preacher said,
he was caught between an insistent God
and a resistant people.
Jeremiah suffers a crisis of vocation
and expresses his fears and frustrations;
his longing for affirmation;
in a series of six laments. (Jeremiah 11-20)
I am doing your work.
I am answering your call.
Why is it so hard?
I hear the whisperings of many: Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!' All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ' Perhaps he will be trapped;
then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.'
In a different time and setting,
the psalmist we hear today
echoes this despair
and sings about the challenge of obeying God
in a world that is often cruel and unjust.
For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my mother's children, Because zeal for your house
consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you
fall upon me.
a man who knew the risk of discipleship,
that sin and brokenness
are part of our world--
almost from the beginning of creation.
It’s a reminder we scarcely need, do we?
The past few years
have been a season of loss,
and polarized public life.
We are hurt in ways we cannot even describe.
And whether we know it or not,
we have been travelling in
a season of lament.
falls strangely on modern ears.
It has an inherently ancient feel
and conjures up images of women
in dusty black robes,
wailing and rending their garments
in a primitive choreography of grief.
We don’t talk about lament in our culture,
and we certainly don’t encourage it.
We prefer to sanitize grief,
pave over sorrow and disappointment
and choke down our fear
like dirty little secrets—
weaknesses we can overcome
if we just try hard enough.
This is especially true
in the world of faith.
We view anger,
as the opposite of,
the enemies of hope and faith—
instead of their travel companions.
Most of us believe
that speaking our fears out loud,
naming our doubts
and sharing our anger at God is unhealthy—
a sign that we are “stuck”
or even worse,
that we have lost our faith.
It is a confession that we are
in the high stakes game of winning at life.
We have a deep-seated need in our culture
to “fix” things,
to make things right,
to make things happy.
It is part of our American ethos
that with enough ingenuity,
enough good will
and enough “how-to” energy,
we can cure or fix just about anything—
So ingrained is this stance
that we that we feel shocked,
when our spiritual journey takes a detour;
when God seems distant or unconcerned;
when people turn against us for doing the right thing;
when God’s call seems to have sprung a leak
and we find ourselves bailing water.
We brush off our pain or our doubts
with greeting card sentiments
and quick assurances,
because most of us
(if we’re honest)
believe that faith should erase doubt,
that God’s love should eliminate struggle,
and that lamenting our sorrow and frustration
is just a bit indulgent.
We feel ashamed
in the face of all of our blessings,
when our hearts long to lament.
when we turn to God’s story—
when we turn to Scripture,
we discover that a significant portion of Israel’s history
is rooted in lament—
rooted in wilderness experiences
rooted in the painful challenges of following God
in challenging times.
About 40% of the psalms--
like the one we proclaim today--
use the language of lament.
When you pile on the book of Job
and the book of Lamentations,
the laments of Jeremiah,
and the numerous sorrowful passages
of the New Testament,
we begin to realize
there is some serious lamenting
going on among God’s people.
And the sheer weight
of this lament
invites us to reflect more deeply
about our relationship with God.
When we read scripture with eyes wide open,
we are surprised to discover
and how freely
the Jewish people got angry with God.
The Jewish people knew something
that many of us have forgotten.
Something powerful and real and true--
that anger at God is not dangerous
It is not evidence of faithlessness,
It is not a betrayal of the Covenant—
It is, in fact,
an affirmation of the unbreakable
of that covenant.
The Hebrew people
placed their trust in a God
who is big enough and strong enough
to listen to our pain.
They followed a God
who is gracious enough to understand
that faith is a rocky path for us to walk.
Shaking a fist at God
and demanding something better,
is above all,
an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.
We have somehow lost sight of the truth
that the story of God and God’s people,
encourages us to stand in hard places
and speak the truth about how we feel.
giving vent to our pain,
our need for God’s mercy—
gives us permission to acknowledge
life is hard.
things go south.
we are in a boat that is taking on water
and we have forgotten how to bail.
Lamentation gives voice to those emotions
we dare not say to our friends.
is to proclaim hope.
Lament declares that only God
has the power to mend the world’s brokenness.
Only God can bear our pain.
Only God can read our hearts.
Only God can steer us home.
Jesus reminds us
that regardless of circumstance,
God is not remote or removed.
God doesn’t just love us when we are shiny
and all dressed up.
God loves us even when we cry ugly
and forget to use our indoor voices.
The Lord is
“with us like a mighty champion”
that death itself is overcome,
so near that not a single sparrow falls
Do not be afraid,
Do not be afraid to risk,
no matter the cost.
Laugh when you can.
Lament when you must.
knowing that the very hairs on your head