Sermon for Sunday June 28th, 2015, the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 130; Lamentations 3:21-33; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-24; 35-43
Text: Lamentations 3:21-33; Theme: Hope while enduring trials and the discipline of the Lord
Lamentations is a book in the Bible from which many people do not often read, and from which many preachers hesitate to preach. It is a remarkable book, depicting the sorrow of the city of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonian armies in 587 B.C. This destruction and the exile of the people had been prophesied many times, but the people had refused to turn back to God, for they preferred to worship other gods and continue to live in rebellion and disobedience. But what strikes us as we read through the Book of Lamentations is how Jerusalem is pictured at first as a woman who has suddenly become a widow, overcome with sorrow, losing her people and all the riches and comforts she once enjoyed, the reason for this loss being her sin and rebellion against God. The perspective then shifts as the speaker seems to be Jerusalem, confessing her sins, and realizing her pain and sorrow have come about because of God’s punishment.
After that, in chapter 3, the speaker appears to be the prophet himself, complaining of God’s wrath afflicting him, so that God refuses even to hear his prayer (Lam. 3:8). With the words, “I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day” (Lam. 3:14), we perceive that this could also be a prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ’s lonely passion and death on the cross for the redemption of the world.
As he thinks of his affliction and misery, the prophet expresses his feeling of isolation from the Lord when he utters the words, “My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord” (Lam. 3:18).
THE GROUNDS FOR HOPE IN TIMES OF TRIAL AND DISCIPLINE FROM GOD
At this point, just after feeling that his strength and his hope in the Lord have gone, he recalls the reason for continuing to hope in the Lord. This ground for hope is the Lord’s mercies and unfailing compassion (Lam. 3:22). Ultimately, this passage marks such a great turnaround in the prophet’s thinking that it has become a source of hope to people of many generations afterward, including the Church. It is not the case that the source of all misery has suddenly vanished, nor the destruction around him ceased, nor that people have stopped rebelling against God; the cause of hope is God’s mercy, compassion and great faithfulness. In all circumstances, God shows His people his mercies anew every morning, and his great faithfulness. In contrast to man’s faithlessness, God remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). Our only hope, as the prophet reminds us, is in waiting on the Lord and trusting in Him, and relying on His mercies and His faithfulness. It is significant that the prophet now speaks not of himself only, but extends this to apply to mankind, by using “we” instead of “I”. The mercies and the goodness of God benefit all who wait for the Lord and seek Him (Lam. 3:25).
However, to those who think that this is a rapid process of transformation of circumstances through trust in God, the prophet has more truths to tell: “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam. 3:26). While continuing to hope in God for a “happy issue out of all our afflictions,” (“A Prayer for all Conditions of Men,” p. 19, BCP 1928), we must quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. This waiting is hopeful expectation of the good outcome that God will bring because He is good and constant in his love for His people.
This wait for the Lord’s salvation, or deliverance from present evil, is one in which God commends faith, endurance, silent submission and hope in the sufferer. The purpose of this time of waiting is the fulfilment of a period of discipline at the hand of God, discipline for the sins the nation of Israel had committed against God. The fact that God is disciplining His people is cause for hope, since God is good and all his discipline both shows His goodness and benefits those who endure His discipline. This is the benefit, or good, for those who wait for the Lord, who seek Him, who hope and quietly wait for deliverance, who bear the yoke, or burden, of discipline, and submit themselves to it (Lam. 3:25-30). Submission to the discipline of God is necessary – people must not continue to rebel against God. “Putting one’s mouth in the dust” was an expression used for humble submission, as is giving one’s cheek to the one that smites (Lam. 3:29-30). In these expressions of submission to the discipline of God and to harsh treatment from adversaries, we glimpse both the suffering of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians, and the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, who submitted himself to such maltreatment by his enemies. This submission is portrayed as commendable, because the affliction presently suffered by His people does not continue forever, but gives way to times of consolation and restoration given by the compassionate and merciful God whom they serve.
Just as the compassion and mercy of God restored Israel to the Promised Land, so there is hope for all the people of God to be restored and established in His purposes.
Because God loves us, He will not cast off forever. Instead, He will bring us through our trials and persecutions and establish us. But we must clearly understand the concluding insights of this passage expressed in these words:
But though He cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
The statement emphasizes that God does not delight in causing suffering to people; yet He may “cause grief” to them. Though the people of ancient Jerusalem, Israel and Judah all suffered for their rebellion against God, not all the trials and sufferings God’s people suffer result directly from their own sin, but often from the wickedness and sins of others. Yet God’s people will benefit most from their afflictions by submitting themselves to God’s process of discipline in with love for Him, faith in Him and endurance.
In this sinful and evil world, the Church faces many trials, persecutions and afflictions. Many Christians are killed, tortured, persecuted and ill-treated because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even in this country we have seen recently a gunman murdering Christians faithfully attending Bible study. We have also seen the Supreme Court reject the Christian doctrine upheld by Western society for many centuries that marriage is the union between one man and one woman. This doctrine is one of the great pillars of family life. Thankfully, in this Diocese, presbyters may not perform weddings as servants of the state, but may only bless marriages which have already been contracted. Neither the Reformed Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Church in North America permits marriages between people of the same sex. This is an example of how Christian values and morals are being rejected increasingly in official circles by the federal government.
All these attacks on Christian faith must awaken the Church, not polarize it. Since we “should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), we must stand firm, submitting ourselves to the endurance of these and all other trials we may face in this life, knowing that God’s compassion and mercy will at last triumph in restoring and establishing us, and His kingdom will come.