Sunday, June 28, 2015

It's All Bad

But God’s Good

Dresden after Bombing

Old Testament: Lamentations 3:22-33 (KJV)

22 It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
25 The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
28 He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
29 He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
30 He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
31 For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
32 But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
33 For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.

When my wife accuses me of being a pessimist, I say, “No I’m a realist.”  I felt vindicated when I read a report that said that pessimists are in closer touch with reality than optimists.

Sometimes reality is dark, and it seems nearly impossible to find even a faint glimmer of light. That’s the setting of the book of Lamentations.

1. Sin’s Devastations

  Put yourself in the shoes of a believer walking
         around Jerusalem a few years after 587 B.C.

a.What you see. What do you see?

Destruction. You see a destruction  following the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the fall of Jerusalem. The city walls are broken down. The houses and buildings lie in rubble. The Temple has been destroyed. Perhaps you have seen pictures of fire-bombed Dresden, Germany, or Hiroshima or Nagasaki after the atomic bombs. You would see something similar in ransacked Jerusalem.

Depopulation. You see a city lacking population. Many have been killed in the war. Others, especially the young, the educated, and the skilled were deported to Babylon. Those left behind are mainly the old and weak who are unable to do any rebuilding.

Starvation. People do not have food. That usually accompanies the devastation of war. After World War II the people of Europe, especially Germany, had very little to eat. Army policy forbad sharing leftover food with the population, and caloric intake fell to 1000-1200 daily, 2000 fewer calories than the average American. It was worse in Jerusalem. The writer says:

“All her people groan as they search for bread” (1:1:11). 

“...infants and babies faint in the streets of the city. They cry to their mothers, ‘Where is the food and the wine?’ (2:11.12) 

“Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger...the hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children” (4:9,10).

b. What you feel. As you look at your city, you have experiences of emotion.

Corporate. You feel what the community feels. As a community they are close to despair, and say, as though they were one person: 

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” (1:1)

“O, Lord behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.’(1:9)

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me.” (1:12)

“Look, O Lord, and see! With whom have you dealt thus?” (2:20) 

“Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!” (5:1)

Total devastation has led to almost total despair.

Personal. This is something the community goes through, but also something you feel personally. It is corporate tragedy, but also personal tragedy: 

“I am a man who has seen affliction under the rod of his (God’s) wrath; he has driven me and brought my into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long” (3:1-3). 

“ soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my help form the LORD.’” (3:17,18)

The writer feels the depths of despair as he lives through what has happened to his city.

c. What you know. If you are walking in this man’s shoes in Jerusalem, you know two things.

God. You know this is God’s doing. The writer repeats this so often, there can be no doubt that he means that God has caused all this destruction:

“...the Lord gave me into the hands of those I cannot withstand” (1:14). 

“The Lord determined to lay in ruins the walls of the daughter of Zion; he stretched out the measuring line; he did not restrain his hand from destroying… (2:8).

“The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word… (2:17).

Who has spoken and it came to pass,unless the Lord commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the most high that both good and bad come?” (3:37,38).

Sometimes people think they must defend the Lord from any responsibility for the bad things that happen in this world. The say that God could have nothing to do with the things that happened to Jerusalem. But that does not help. For one thing, if God has nothing to do with it, then both God and we are at the mercy of evil forces. And, if God has nothing to do with the bad things, what good is it to pray to him for deliverance? Most important, God does not want us defend him, because he says repeatedly in his word, that he does send such things.

Sin. The second thing you know is that God has caused this because of Jerusalem’s sin. Since the time of Moses, God warned people that rebellion and wickedness would bring judgment. Through centuries he sent prophets to plead and warn, calling them to repent and return to him, and promising mercy and blessing. But they refused. Finally in 587 he sent the Babylonians to carry his judgment. The writer clearly lays this disaster at the feet of the sins of Judah:

“...the Lord has afflicted her (Jerusalem) for the multitude of her transgressions (1:5).

“ there any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought on me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger” (1:12).

“The Lord is in the right for I have rebelled against his word…(1:18).

“Why should a living man complain, man about the punishments of his sin?”

“Our fathers sinned and are no more; and we bear their iniquities” (5:7).

The picture is bleak. Devastation sent by the Lord in judgment because of the sins of his people.

There are times when we can identify with one part part Lamentations or another. 

You think about all the violence in the world. The bloody, merciless executions of men, women, and children by Islamist extremists. The senseless racist murders carried out by Dylann Roof in Charleston.

Or moral decline and decay. The hook-up culture. The perversion spread across the internet. The lightning quick redefinition of marriage, which is so essential to the stability of society. How long such a civilization can survive?

You might think about the hard times this church has gone through when you wondered if the parish could survive.

Your mind may go to times in your family or personal life when everything tumbled in and you feared being crushed. You might even think of time you wondered, or even felt certain, it was because of sin.

2. Faith’s Expectation

This morning’s Old Testament Lesson comes in the middle of the five poems that make up Lamentations. Right in the center of the book, amid all the devastation despair there is hope - the expectation the arises from faith. Again, put yourself in the place of this believing man in Jerusalem.

You ask yourself, Why are still here? Why are any of us left? The answer is that God’s love is steadfast love. It is love that depends not on us but God’s unchanging promise. God’s has many mercies he shows his people even when they have no reason to expect mercy. Every new day brings some new evidence of his mercy. God faithfulness is large and lasting. Even when it seems he has cast us off, it is not permanent. When God afflict his people it is not because he has any delight in it. 

Human beings are fickle. Their love can come and go. They may be merciful or or mean. Their hearts can be filled with malice. They can enjoy inflicting pain. With human beings you may not know what a new day may bring. There can be an end of human faithfulness either because they are unfaithfulness or because they finally give upon us. 

But  God’s love is steadfast, his mercies are many, his faithfulness has no limits.

Because the Psalmist knows this, he can submit to the afflictions for now, and confess, “The LORD is my portion...therefore I will  hope in him.” What is our portion - our greatest prize and treasure? It can be so many things. Sadly for us it can be that God does not become our portion till we have lost the  things that usually are our portion. The writer has lost just about everything, and he knows the Lord is who and what is most important to him, that the Lord is  greatest treasure and pleasure. So he has hope not in himself or others or circumstances but in the Lord.

Let me tell you why we can know with certainty that the Lord’s love for us is steadfast, that his mercies will never fail, that is faithfulness will never end. It is because of Christ. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5).

Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and guide,
strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

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