Sermon for the 5th Sunday in Trinity

 

Restore and Renew us. This from the end of Lamentations 5 is a fitting conclusion to this book. As we have seen in these penitential seasons of Pre-Lent and Lent, Lamentations speaks extensively of the depths of misery we put ourselves through with sin. It speak to the point that suffering for the consequences of our sins lasts a season, that God will pull us through to learn more to love and rely fully upon Him. Throughout our lives, we see the need for restoration and renewal in all contexts. It all stems from things falling apart due to sin. We can look in a practical level at the ravages that poverty and crime bring to a city or a neighborhood to get a feeling for what the people of Jerusalem went through. Now, blight and poverty is much different from having your city destroyed by an army. Yet, we can have a little bit of an idea of what the author is speaking of here, especially if you have had the opportunity to see the transformation of a neighborhood from impoverished to renewed and restored. This morning, let us close our meditations upon this book.

Opening Prayer. Verse 1

       Verse 1 contains a short prayer to preface the litany of sufferings the people went through in the bulk of this chapter. This prayers states, “Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!” We can see a connection to this in the opening to our Psalm, “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!”It is important to remember that repentance is to admit our sins. Then, repentance involves asking for God’s deliverance from the consequences of our sins as manifested through enemies. In asking God to vindicate us and to remember what we have gone through at the hands of enemies, we are not trying to make excuses for our sins. Rather, in repenting, we ask for deliverance from further suffering for our sins toward restoration and renewal.

Litany of Sufferings. Verses 2-18

       The list of woes Judah suffered in verses 2-18 describes the impact of the full removal of blessings from a nation. The removal of blessings means curses take over life. This is what happened with Judah in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem.

       The curses listed in these verses can be divided into three categories. They are the removal of the blessing of nourishment and shelter, the removal of the blessing of personal safety, and the removal of freedom. These as we read them today are all things we tend to take for granted.

       Five out of the thirteen items listed in these verses dealt with the curse of having nourishment and shelter removed. These involved their homes seized and given to strangers and foreigners, the water and fuel for staying warm now something that had to be purchased, their food now having to be begged for from other nations, seeking food becoming dangerous, and that their bodies were exposed due to famine. Judah had once been proud in her status. All of this pride came crashing down to the point even the necessities of life evaporated. We are not to take these for granted as a source of pride to tell others, “look at the work of my hands.” When learning lessons due to our sins, one area we are taught humility is in the basics of life.

       Three out of the thirteen items listed in these verses dealt with the curse of having their safety removed. These involved the fathers being removed to leave their children and wives without protection, that they were constantly on the run with no rest from their enemies, and that even their women of all ages were victimized. As judgment, especially when a people no longer think they need God for their safety and protection, God leaves them to their own devices. When the society as a whole collapses as Judah collapsed through a catastrophic military defeat and destruction, the weak are left without the defense they had so trusted in the past. We are not to look at protection in terms of our perceived capabilities at such as a source of pride. When we do, we run the risk of drifting away from a sole dependence upon our warrior King Jesus Christ and the eternal security He provides.

       When we place so much faith in our own means and methods of self-protection, we will begin to push more and more for ignoring Christ’s commandments. We will justify ignoring His commands in the name of safety and protection. We will justify as Judah justified the maltreatment of those they were to care for in daily living. In the end, a judgment for placing safety as solely in our hands and the subsequent sins associated with pursuing such is that the weakest and most vulnerable are left without help. Now, Scripture does not teach us to be carefree, without responsibility. No, it calls us to entrust all to Christ as we live life. In other words, when facing adversity, is our first recourse to think on how to defend self or is it to turn to God in prayer to commend our lives into His hands to do all things through Him?

       The last area contains five items that deal with the curse of losing freedom. Often, when safety is treated like an idol to the point we view it as entirely in our hands, we will find that freedom itself erodes. For Judah, this meant that they paid for the sins of their fathers even though they were dead, that slaves now ruled them, that their leadership was disrespected, that their young men were exploited as mere servants, and that the wisdom of the elders and arts ceased. Biblical freedom in Christ is to know that the individual is responsible for his own actions. Freedom means leaders do not lord over us but rather serve. Freedom means leadership is respected. Freedom means that the youth of the land work for their own living with the mindset of learning the virtues of hard work to the glory of God. Freedom means to hear our elders and apply their wisdom as well as cultivating the beauty of the arts to the glory of God. When we idolize the works of our hands and self-protection, we disdain these freedoms and risk losing them.

       All of these areas are concluded in verses 15-18 in terms of the people having joyless and sick hearts. It means their eyes grow dim and that their constant state of life is that of mourning. Everywhere they turn, they encounter grief and desolation. Nothing is pleasant. All is hard and harsh. These bleak verses as a prayer to God in terms of a full repentance are important. We repent of our sins and then ask God to remember all the suffering we endured in our hardness of hearts. These are not empty prayers. They are full of acknowledging what we have done as sin and that we are not trying to cover them up. Rather, they are brought to God with the hope of what we find in the concluding verses of Lamentations.

Final Prayer. Verses 19-22

       Ultimately, no matter what we go through, this from verse 19 rings true, “But you, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.” Ultimately, Jesus upon the Cross-for our redemption, suffered all the curses encountered for our unrepentant breaking of God’s Law. This reign was established by virtue of all Christ accomplished. As we read today in the Epistle from Hebrews 9:12, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” He suffered all the sufferings we encounter for our sakes. All the disappointments we have in failing God and failing each other find redemption by His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. As read in Hebrews 9:15, “Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

       The book of Lamentations mourns over our sin against God and against each other, of failing to heed the warnings of God through His Word and His prophets to repent. The book of Lamentations turns us to God in repentance, remembering the sorrows caused by being turned over to our sins with the face turned squarely in hope to God alone for restoration and renewal that is everlasting through the blood of Jesus Christ.

       Yes, in the midst of suffering it feels as the author wrote in verse 20, “Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days?” Yet, God does not forsake us forever. He met our misguided thoughts that such lasts forever with the eternal remedy to our sufferings, the finished work of Christ at His cross. This is why we can with St. Paul say this from Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” When we try to boast in our own abilities, we will fail. We must cling to Christ. Yes, it feels as if we are forsaken for so many days. Yet, we are not. Jesus is with us in our sufferings. He does not tell us to figure it out and climb to a certain point before He will meet us part way. No, He has accomplished it all. As we will sing in our recessional hymn, “All for sin could not atone: Thou must save, and thou alone; In my hand no price I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling.”  On this side of eternity, we live by His grace through faith, knowing He has restored us to God as His dear children. We live by His grace through faith knowing He has renewed us forever as God’s people.

       The call of Lamentations is the call of Christ upon all of us. Yes, suffering is hard when there is no hope and no end in sight. In Jesus Christ, there is eternal hope and purpose through Him of all we go through. Yes, we will encounter hardships by enemies attacking us for being Christian. Yes, we will encounter suffering due to slipping into sin and facing the consequences. Through it all, we know such is not forever. Glory in Christ is forever. Forgiveness in Christ is forever. Indeed, His mercies never cease.  Let us close with these word of supreme hope that ring true whether we are in good times or bad times from Lamentations 3:22-25, “[22] The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; [23] they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. [24] “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Amen.”