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12 OT A ~ "Lament" ~ Dr. Susan McGurgan


These readings,

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,

ridiculed,

ignored.

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;

his questions

in a series of six laments. (Jeremiah 11-20)

God,

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.


Paul,

a man who knew the risk of discipleship,

reminds us

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,

isolation

confusion

disruption

estrangement

violence

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.


The word

“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,

anesthetize pain,

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,

frustration,

pain

confusion--

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 weak,

or even worse,

that we have lost our faith.

It is a confession that we are

losers

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—

even faith.


So ingrained is this stance

that we that we feel shocked,

outraged,

deeply betrayed,

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.


Yet,

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

how often

and how freely

the Jewish people got angry with God.

Really,

Really

Angry.


The Jewish people knew something

that many of us have forgotten.

Something powerful and real and true--

that anger at God is not dangerous

or wrong.

It is not evidence of faithlessness,

or weakness

or sin.

It is not a betrayal of the Covenant—

It is, in fact,

an affirmation of the unbreakable

strength

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.

Lamentations—

giving vent to our pain,

our suffering,

our imperfection,

our need for God’s mercy—

gives us permission to acknowledge

that sometimes,

life is hard.

That sometimes,

things go south.

That sometimes

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.

Ultimately,

to lament

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 happy

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”

so powerful

that death itself is overcome,

so near that not a single sparrow falls

without notice.


Do not be afraid,

says Jesus.

Do not be afraid to risk,

to care,

to listen,

to follow,

no matter the cost.


Laugh when you can.

Lament when you must.

Love,

knowing that the very hairs on your head

are counted.

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