Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven. This phrase in Lamentations 3:41 speaks of the demeanor of those brought to a readiness to repent. All we have read in this book in terms of destruction and desolation led God’s people back to Him, away from sin and death. The lesson of Lamentations is that God in His never-ending mercy will go to every length to save us from our sins, even to the point of having us suffer the consequences of our sins for a season.  This morning, let us in Lamentations 3:40-51 continue our series in this important book in understanding the depths of God’s love to seek us and restore us, no matter how desolate and bad things become.

Prayers. Verses 40-42

          First, verses 40-42 speak of the need of prayer. These verses give us a blueprint of the proper approach to God in prayer. To begin, verse 40 states, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD!” When dealing with the outcome of sin, repentance must be at the forefront of our prayers. To test and examine our ways is to check where we lack in terms of sin. For the Lamenter, such examination was not hard to do with such fresh memories of destruction and desolation due to Judah’s sins. Yet, even when things are blatantly obvious, testing and examining our ways to see why we need to return to the Lord are crucial.

          We have a tendency when things have turned ugly to find others to blame for our sins and problems. In such, we do not test or examine our ways. Rather, we fall into the trap of conducting personal inquisitions into the lives of others. Lamentations calls us to test and examine our ways in comparison to God, not to other fallen human beings. When we do this in prayer, we will come to the point that we must return to God every single time.

          Verse 41, our theme verse, states, “Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” One thing we can lose sight of is that prayer is an act of worship. The physical motions of worship are important. Now, this is not to say the right physical actions at the right times serves as magic to generate more responses from God compared to no physical motions. No, the point with prayer is that it engages our entire being. True repentance involves our entire being. Such is needed for a full return to God as opposed to a half-hearted return. One example of a half-hearted repentance in Scripture was King Saul in his maltreatment of David. As the accounts go, Saul was jealous that David was anointed King to replace him and thus spent the rest of his reign seeking David’s life. On many occasions, David had the chance to personally kill Saul and thus end his suffering. Instead, he resisted these temptations. When David confronted Saul for his mistreatment, Saul repented. After only a short time, Saul went right back to seeking David’s life. David on the other hand when confronted with his sin, turned completely back to God in full-hearted repentance. The value of the physical with the spiritual in our prayers is great if done in full submission to Christ.

          Verse 42 states, “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven.” This indicated that they owned up to what they did as well as the point that they were being disciplined for their centuries of impenitence. They had to be given over to their sins for a time to learn and thus come to the mindset through testing and examining their ways that they sinned. They had to see that there is no easy way out of sin, no escape routes. Only God can forgive us and only God calls us to repent through His Son Jesus Christ. God calls us through His never ceasing love to Himself, whether we answer the call to repent quickly or only after much suffering and time.

Acknowledging Chastisement. Verses 43-45

          This transitions us to verses 43-45, which deals with properly acknowledging the reason behind chastisement. We often in our sin nature fight off the reasons for chastisement through blame shifting or saying it is simply not fair. I remember back when I was around 5 in Phoenix, AZ when a neighbor friend of the same age started picking another neighbor’s ripe tomatoes to throw at their house. I joined in a little, the neighbor boy doing the bulk of the damage. When the neighbor came out, the other neighbor boy ran off and I was left standing there because it was right next to my house. The man, who was a devout Christian, gently took me to my parents and my mom and dad proceeded to require me to apologize and clean up the mess. I protested throughout this to my parents because the neighbor boy that instigated the tomato vandalism was nowhere to be found. In the end, my parents did not want to hear about it and were only concerned that I participated. I learned that protesting chastisement only served to deny the fact that I sinned in the first place. It was only in submitting to the punishment and apologizing that helped me own up to my responsibility in the matter.

          The descriptions of these verses embrace what the people brought upon themselves. Through constantly trying to sneak away from taking responsibility for breaking God’s Law, the Lord after centuries of warnings finally did what verses 43-44 state, “You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us, killing without pity; you have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through.” We often become upset at the punishments for our sins because we were caught and did not want to get caught. We often in the midst of our bitter complaints against God and His discipline feel as if no prayer can pass through. Often, these feelings are often what my five-year-old sensibilities experienced in having parents that would not listen to my attempts to get out of taking responsibility for destroying the neighbor’s tomatoes. Yes, such feels like our prayers do not pass through. Often, this is due to the point that we NEED to learn the lessons for our sins in order to grow in the mercy and grace of Christ to repent, to be forgiven, and to be reconciled.

          Jesus Christ on the world scale alone dissipated the clouds caused by our sins so that our prayers pass through, so that we are identified as God’s children. Yes, for a season we feel in the words of verse 45 as scum and garbage due to suffering for our sins. In the end, the respect and love cultivated when we apologize, experience forgiveness, and are restored far outweigh the mere season of feeling like scum. As long as we remain unrepentant, God will pursue us in His relentless love to the point of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration of what we destroyed through sin.

My Eyes Flow. Verses 46-51

          Our last section today, verses 46-51, speaks of the mourning we have for our sins in the midst of suffering for our sins. As we read in verse 48, “my eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.” When we are brought to a desolate place in our sins and must live through it, we are brought to tears. These are the tears of anguish due to the sorrow for what we caused through our disobedience. God in bringing us to our knees will lead us through these valleys as He brought Judah for 70 years of captivity.

          Often, it seems as if our prayers in these times are not getting through the clouds. Often though, these are moments where God teaches us the importance of waiting, of godly patience. Prayer and patience are vitally connected. When patience lacks, prayers cease. When patience is being built up and we understand such, prayers increase. We read of this level of patient and persistent prayer in our Gospel today about the Canaanite woman coming to Jesus on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter. We read of our Lord’s first response in Matthew 15:23, “But He did not answer her a word.” The disciples even came to beg Him to get rid of her because she kept crying out. In these several exchanges, the woman persisted faithfully to the only One that could save her daughter. She never gave up. Yet, in never giving up, she did not do so arrogantly. Her demeanor of crying, begging, kneeling, and humility exhibited a contrite heart; giving all to God to rest fully upon His grace and mercy.

For us, regardless of where we are in terms of our circumstances, even if they seem bleak and desolate such as where Judah was after the Babylonian destruction or the woman with a demon-possessed daughter, the call is to remain patient in constant prayer. We are not called to seek our own solutions. We are not called to blame others. We are called to take in all that is happening and submit to the will of God, to what He would have us learn and to grow in His grace and mercy. The Lord indeed sees our plight from heaven. He indeed even notices a lowly Canaanite woman. He brings us to repentance, back to Him.

In our repentance, God will lead us to mourn and cry. In our repentance, God will lead us to test and examine our ways in prayer, lifting up our hearts and hands in worship. In our repentance, God will lead us to acknowledge the chastisement for our sins to be received into the merciful arms of our Savior Jesus Christ. He alone opens all the doors we closed through sin by His finished work. He alone dissipates all the clouds of sin we caused through His finished work. He alone is with us in love, grace, and mercy through all our sufferings and desolations, whether we caused them or not. “Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”Amen.