Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday 2017

Under a cloud. We continue our series on Lamentations. Last week with chapter one, we looked at how unrepentant sin results in emptiness with the only recourse being to cry out to God for help. Lamentations is often overlooked due to its placement in the Bible. Lamentations is often overlooked due to its stark and honest grappling with the consequences of sin. Usually, it this book finds mention, it is the third chapter that centers on God’s ultimate mercy in answer to our sin. We do not like dealing with sin and its aftermath. Lamentations speaks of the harshness of sin, the seriousness of sin. We all need to hear about the danger sin poses to appreciate God’s response of love through the call to repentance, His granting of forgiveness, and His restoration of us to be His children. Yes, chapter 2 is very bleak, but it is needed and worthy of our time to understand in the words of our recessional hymn that, “His mercy never waneth.”

He has broken down the strongholds. Verses 1-10

            The first ten verses find the most appropriate description in verse 2, “in His wrath He has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah.”As we read in chapter one, the reasons for breaking down these strongholds was due to centuries of unrepentant sins. Judah on a national level openly embraced the breaking of the entire Law of God.

            These bleak verses describe how God allowed Judah’s enemy to destroy her sinful strongholds. Judah had steadily built up these sinful barriers to try to keep God out so they could live as they pleased. In order to save us from our sins, God breaks down our prideful clinging to sins. He breaks down our attempts to be self-sufficient. In the end, sinful self-sufficiency is just an excuse to hate God and our neighbors.

            The wrath and anger of the Lord in this section was disciplinary, meant to turn His people back to Him through tough, loving correction. The language here is the fulfillment of the clear warnings and consequences against unrepentant sins as outlined in Deuteronomy and other parts of the Old Testament. Judah heard centuries of warnings from faithful priests, Levites, kings, and prophets. The Lord indeed was very patient with His people.

            The descriptions found in Lamentations 2 take place when people remain calloused in sin through rejecting God’s love. This chapter outlines in stark detail what we bring upon ourselves when we live in open, hateful rebellion against God and our fellow human beings. As we read last week, this is what happens when we are turned over to our sins. For Judah and Jerusalem, this meant a turning over to the worst example of tyrants of their time, Babylon. The many heart-wrenching descriptions in these verses are the result of God leaving Judah to her own devices after centuries of unfaithfulness. Often, the only way one can have a proper “wake up time” is through suffering the negative outcomes of sinful lifestyles.

            Unrepentant sin means being under a cloud, which means harmful darkness even during daylight. It means being swallowed up without mercy as we read in verse 2. It means being brought down from the prideful heights we created in sin to the “ground in dishonor.” Impenitence as Judah lived in for centuries meant all that Judah took pride in was cut down. It means the protection of God that had been taken so lightly and for granted for so long was finally removed as seen in verses 3, “He has withdrawn from them His right hand in the face of the enemy.”Judah’s sins were so pronounced and committed with such pride for so long that we read even the last symbols of faithfulness were removed in verse 7, “The Lord has scorned His altar, disowned His sanctuary.”

            Judah looked with pride at her protection through walls and fortresses to her national heritage as God’s chosen people through the Temple, Prophets, and Priests. These prideful strongholds met destruction. God taught them in the words of our collect prayer that we put not our trust in anything we do. Judah was scattered as we read with verse 9, “her king and princes are among the nations.” What came of these vivid yet depressing examples of judgment and discipline? What came of this complete breaking down of the strongholds of Judah’s sin? Verse 10 describes what occurs with people when they come to the end of themselves due to unrepentant sin. “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground in silence; they have thrown dust on their heads and put on sackcloth; the young women of Jerusalem have bowed their heads to the ground.” God in His mercy brings us to His loving freedom through seeing the disastrous outcome of our sin. God after bringing us back to the love of Him, of neighbors, and even of enemies does the following as we read in Psalm 146:8, “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.” The righteous are not those that think they are or that have created systems to make themselves look righteous. No, the righteous are those the Lord humbles that respond in humility to loving discipline to have their eyes that were blind in sin opened, to have their heads that had been lowered due to their pride lifted by the grace and mercy of God.

Pour out your heart like water. Verses 11-19

            The bleakness of the first 10 verses transitions with verse 10 in hope to verses 11-19 as described in verse 19, “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!”The condition of God’s people here is appalling. We read that the author’s “eyes are spent with weeping.” His stomach churns. We read further in this section of the horrendous consequences of sin upon a people that turned their backs on God in favor of sinning to their hearts content while defending their sinful lifestyles. All, from infants to old, were starving to death “in the streets of the city” as we read in verse 11.

            They had no comfort in their sins. As verse 13 states, “What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For your ruin is as vast as the sea; who can heal you?” The next verse is revealing in just how far Judah departed from God as well as seeking to justify her departure. “Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading.” Most of our problems while in sin stem from surrounding ourselves with justifications for our sins. This is why false teachings are so dangerous. False teachings at the very root teach that it is all right to sin and avoid repentance. In such, we become delusional. Over time, the delusions start to cause the entire society to corrode. This is what happened with Judah. Babylon was the outside entity that swept in to finalize what had already died and rotted.

            In seeing they could not produce their own safety, comfort, or rest; they returned to God in repentance. As we read in verse 18, “Their heart cried to the Lord … let tears stream down like a torrent day and night!” Verse 19 continues this, “Arise, cry out in the night … pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord; Lift your hands to Him for the life of your children.”  The stark realities of the fall of Jerusalem and the aftermath evaporated all the lies of the false prophets and priests. Their promises of prosperity through preaching that it was fine for them to continue in prideful sin hit the hard reality of judgment, destruction, starvation, and exile. Our only hope is in Jesus Christ. He alone took all the penalties and consequences of our sins. We only need to cry out for help, to cling to Christ, and we will be forgiven and restored.

Look, Lord, and See. Verses 20-22

            The last section of Lamentations 2, verses 20-22, is best described in verse 20, “Look, O Lord, and see!” The rest of this section serves as stark reminders of what the Lamenter asks the Lord to see in prayer. Judah was destitute in all senses. Nothing was left. This plea for the Lord to look and see is also self-directed. When we neglect the sins of the past and the consequences of such, we take on an unhealthy and sinful pride. This is why monuments and memorials to remember man’s sin against his fellow man are crucial. They are to teach of the dangers of deluding self and nation that sin is normal and good. Often, such sin justifying manifests itself through slowly teaching that one or maybe a few select sins are now acceptable while continuing to label other sins as sins. This gives the false impression that for the most part, we are good. In the end, such only results in the entire Law thrown out in favor of letting people do what is right in their eyes. In such delusion, the society thinks they are righteous when in fact they are rotten. Eventually, as with Judah, such sinful strongholds collapse for all to see and behold. Part of repentance is remembrance for what God saved us from in Jesus Christ.

            The vast destruction in these verses teaches the need to love and serve the Lord and our neighbors in all avenues of life. Where love lacks, destruction eventually ensues. These verses teach that ultimately, there is only one Person that truly sees our dire needs and acts to remedy them for eternity. Jesus Christ is our sure rock and defense, our only stronghold that never fails. When our sinful strongholds are broken down, we do not rise up on our own. We are raised up by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that paid the penalties for all our sinful strongholds. Jesus poured out His life, His body and His blood for our redemption. He alone atoned for all we deserved for our sins. May we see that regardless of our circumstances, no matter how bad they look, God alone saves us and restores us to life eternal in Him. Increasingly as we live life, He provides plenteous mercy, enabling us to love Him and each other. May we turn to Christ alone in all our moments, clinging to His provision, protection, and love. Amen.

Let us pray, “O Lord God, who reignest a King for evermore, give us grace that we may make thee our help, and fix our hopes in thee, for thou only art able to give deliverance. Feed our souls, O Lord, and satisfy us with thy salvation when we hunger and thirst after righteousness; help us to right when we suffer wrong, heal our backslidings, rise us when we are fallen, enlighten the eyes of our souls that we walk not in darkness and the shadow of death, and do thou take care for us in all our Way's and in all our necessities: that when our breath goeth forth, and we turn again to our earth, we may reign with thee in Sion, thy celestial habitation, forevermore, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.