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Lamentations, Part 5: Remember

November 8, 2020 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Lamentations (Seven Weeks of Lament)

Passage: Lamentations 5

This sermon, as we conclude Lamentations, is going to be about the need to remember in this process of lament.  Chapter 5 as we will see rehearses the story once again, and ends with a statement of hope towards God, giving purpose to the rehearsing of the story.  A poem comes to mind on this topic from TS Elliot, and it read like this:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

  • S. Elliot

The poem I just read is the beginning of one of TS Elliot’s more famous poems entitled, “Burnt Norton.”  In it he explores the theme of time, of memory past and the potentials of the future – and how they are inextricably tied to the present.  Elliot recognizes that if one is to truly understand where we are at present, and if we are to be concerned for our future, we must find a way to develop our memory of the past.  “If all of time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable,” says Elliot, as he knows that the present has not appeared in some sort of vacuum of time.  Our present is built on what has come before, and our future is dependent on how we respond to the present. 

 

In our modern society, there is little room for remembering.  Our collective memory in our YouTube and Tik Tok world is around 3 hours.  A year ago today the cool things to do for young people was to dab – and if you don’t know what dabbing is, that is quite alright – but it lasted about as long as fidget spinners, the harlem shake, saying YOLO, planking, Kony 2012 (which I, yes, spent the night in Centennial Park in Atlanta with thousands of other young people protesting Kony and the Invisible Children in 2007), and the fact that many of you don’t even know what these things are shows you that they appeared as fast as the mist on a summer morning, or a passing cloud above the rocky mountains, and its par for the course in our American society.  More on this to come at the end of our time today.

Christianity has always been lived out differently.  We have built into our very institution as designed by God himself times where we remember – most pointedly, the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or some traditions call it the Eucharist.

It is a recalling of a Story.  It is remembering what took place in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.  Today we will be taking communion, and remembering this story together.  However, communion is also just a part of a larger, bigger story that we find in Scripture as a whole.  We’re given bookends to our Scriptural story – “In the Beginning God… and ending with “behold I am making all things new.”  God’s story is transcendent above ours, yet immanent, as the Gospel story shows.  God took on flesh, and in Christ God has not forged his own story into ours, and as we remember we are able to make sense of where we are today, and find hope for tomorrow.  Remembering is a very powerful force in our lives that we need to relearn.

I was taught this lesson in a dramatic manner during my visit to Israel, when we walked through the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  Maybe some of you have seen it, but at the end of this museum, you enter a room with five candles.  All around you, on the ceiling, walls and floor beneath you, are mirrors that have refracted the candle’s light into seemingly infinite number of small flames, looking like flames in a night sky all around you – giving you an actual visual of the multitude that perished in the holocaust, which is a sight that my eyes will never forget.  As I stared into the oblivion of mirror-refracted lit candles all around me, a voice echoed through a speaker in the room, reading names – names of children who perished in the camps.  As you slowly made your way through the room, echoing with the names of the dead, you find yourself walking in a tunnel leading to the outdoors.  The tunnel opens up, sunlight penetrates the darkness, and suddenly you find yourself standing and observing the city of Jerusalem from a raised balcony above, as the city quietly hums with life and progress – and hope.  This was all very intentional by the designers, as they wanted you to feel the deep doldrums of remembrance – and walk out into the hope of a new nation, a fresh and new start – Israel of modern times.

That is how you remember – looking back, only to then look forward.  That is what we are going to do today, bringing a climax for us to our sermon series in the book of Lamentations.  I will end the service today with a brief explanation of what is going to occur next week, and also for the 22nd as we close our season of Lament as a church.  Let’s dive into this chapter:

 

 

Lamentations 5

[1] Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! [2] Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. [3] We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. [4] We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. [5] Our pursuers are at our necks; we are weary; we are given no rest. [6] We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria, to get bread enough. [7] Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities. [8] Slaves rule over us; there is none to deliver us from their hand. [9] We get our bread at the peril of our lives, because of the sword in the wilderness. [10] Our skin is hot as an oven with the burning heat of famine. [11] Women are raped in Zion, young women in the towns of Judah. [12] Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders. [13] Young men are compelled to grind at the mill, and boys stagger under loads of wood. [14] The old men have left the city gate, the young men their music. [15] The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning. [16] The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! [17] For this our heart has become sick, for these things our eyes have grown dim, [18] for Mount Zion which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it. [19] But you, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations. [20] Why do you forget us forever. why do you forsake us for so many days? [21] Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old— [22] unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us. (ESV)

          This chapter begins with a plea for God to remember – and the author proceeds to rehearse the story for the final time.  Israel had been turned over to strangers, they’ve become orphaned, they’ve sought to get food from other nations because there is none available in their own county, joy has ceased, dancing is now mourning, and their crown has fallen to the ground.

          Why would the author once again rehearse the story and sufferings?  And why would he even ask God to remember? 

          Asking God to remember is not a plea for God to respond, saying “I remember” – rather it is a plea for aid from God.  “Remember, God!  Surely if you look down at what we’ve been through, you would bring some kind of aide to us, help to our crumbled doorstep, right?  Surely you will not abandon us!”

          This is the purpose of rehearsing the story once again – it is a complaint before God, a prayer.  A prayer that he wouldn’t just remember, but as the book ends, it is a plea for him to re-intervene with his people that they may not be exiled or destroyed forever.

          This is exactly how our process of lament doubles as a prayer. For there is also benefit for you and I to recall that story.  There is great benefit for ensuring that we know where we’ve come from if we are to be able to move forward.

          This is what the Scriptures ask of us, it is what our theology demands.  This is risky business.  Consider Israel’s situation, and even to recognize that behind all of this brutally honest lament, there is an undergirding hope, a plea for God to remember so he can get involved, because, after all, so many promises and prophecies were given to Israel that gave them reason to hope.

          How does one maintain such hope after going through such hard and difficult circumstances?  How does a nation, through their rehearsing and remembering of where they’ve been still manage to find hope in the present?  This is where the storytelling and remembering comes in.  For anyone in this room that has greatly struggled in this area, you know what it is like to have the deep longings within of hope in the midst of turmoil, and the whispers in your ear of “stop.  What’s the point?  Abandon this faith, you are grasping unto vanity.”  And the deep inner longings still remain that says, “Nay, for in God I hope, who can be against me?”

          I want to call on God this morning to remember Immanuel.  Not that I think he’s forgotten us.  The Scriptures, however, speak differently – requiring faith, and even a risky faith, to continue to step forward as a church.  We have guarantees and promises of heaven, guarantees and promises of the New Heavens and the New Earth, promises of the Spirit giving us access to God now and Jesus never abandoning us – but as the story behind Lamentations shows, as Job’s story reveals, as every third psalm shows – there are no guarantees to the ease and comfortability of our day to day life when we step out in faith on God’s promises and God’s story.  This is what Paul referred to as the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” in 1 Corinthians 2, and then he moves to a very comforting quote from Isaiah 64, and I’ll read this from Isaiah itself:

Isaiah 64:4,  [4] From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (ESV)

You must consider the flames ablaze on the ruins of Jerusalem, while the author carefully constructed this poem in Lamentations 5, how exhausted everyone would have been from the many year siege by the enemy, how exasperated and weary eyed the populous would have been, having seen some horrendous things occur on repeat, having tragically lost loved ones and seeing the glory of what used to be Jerusalem razed to the ground – but yet still looking to the God who had all power to intervene, yet did not, the God who is all powerful but seem to refuse to stop the excess of horror on his own people – the author still can look up  and say in 5:19. [19] But you, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations

This is why, in this final sermon, as we seek and aim to forward as a church in faith, as I call you to do so, and as I can find dozens of Scriptures that reveal to the character of God to show us that we have reasons to have firm faith in doing do, what we do not have are guarantees that the road ahead will be smooth, because Christianity can be hazardous.  It can be difficult.  Nowhere does Jesus say, “I’ve come to give you an easy and comfortable life.”  If you find such a verse, then you picked up the wrong Bible, because it’s not there. 

Eugene Peterson, the pastor and translator of The Message bible was once getting blood drawn at a Red Cross donation center.  The technician asked him various lengthy questions to ensure he qualified to donate blood, and one of the questions were “Do you participate in hazardous work?”  He at the moment was wearing a priestly collar, being a presbyterian pastor, and his response was “yes.”  She looked at him, a little confused, and then she smirked.

          However, Peterson clarifies what he meant later, by saying:

“What is hazardous in my life is my work as a Christian.  Every day I put faith on the line.  I have never seen God.  In a world where nearly everything can be weighed, explained, quantified, subjected to psychological analysis and scientific control, I persist in making the center of my life a God whom no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, whose will no one can probe.  That’s a risk.  Every day I put hope on the line.  I don’t know one thing about the future.  I don’t know what the next hour will hold.  There may be sickness, accident, personal or world catastrophe.  Before this day is over I may have to deal with death, pain, loss, rejection… Still, despite my ignorance and surrounded by tinny optimists and cowardly pessimists, I saw that God will accomplish his will, and I cheerfully persist in living in the hope that nothing will separate me from Christ’s love.” 

          We can learn from Lamentations, even in the unknown, a way to step forward, a biblical way to step forward, and we can call the path as “remembering.”

          We must learn to remember where we’ve come from as a church if we are going to know where to step forward.  I don’t think it is an accident that Lamentations 5 is yet another rehearsal of Jerusalem’s story of destruction.  When I came here, there was not yet a culture of rehearsing the tragedy that occurred here.  I’ve sought intentionally as the new pastor here to give you the comfortability and the freedom to rehearse our story in your own heart, to one another, and to your elders.  For if Jerusalem were to step forward in the risk of rebuilding their precious city, they must remember why they needed to rebuild in the first place.  As a church, we must remember where we’ve come from if we are to know where we are stepping forward, and how we are to step forward.

          But if we are to learn to remembering our story as a church, there is a crucial ingredient to this that is also revealed in Lamentations.  The author’s statement of hope concerning God’s enthronement, sitting and ruling and reigning throughout all generations, is not some abstract and separated statement from reality.  No – if you know your Old Testament, it reminds you of a story.  A story of a rebellious Israel asking God for a King for all the wrong reasons, and God giving Israel Saul, who eventually wound up being a mess of a king.  The story proceeds to a man named Jesse and his family, as the prophet Samuel was sent to by God in order to appoint a replacement king for Saul among his sons.  All the strong, tall and aged sons were presented and rejected by God, but the small and the youngest, the shepherd boy, a boy named David, was anointed by Samuel.  Fast forward many years later, and David is ruling on the throne, God giving David prophetic promises, saying that forever, one of his descendants would be on the throne throughout all generations.

          This is the story ruminating in the author of Lamentation’s mind, as they write “your throne endures throughout all generations.”  And something peculiar happens here.  As the author rehearses Jerusalem’s story for the final time, they recognize that Jerusalem’s smoldering ashes, a story of tragedy, is not happening in isolation, by itself.  No – Jerusalem’s story is to be understood in light of God’s story.  In other words, Jerusalem’s story can only make sense beneath God’s story, and perhaps that is the very purpose for all the very difficult, sad and emotionally intense language that surfaces, because God’s story is one of hope and promises, while Jerusalem’s is one of difficulty and sadness.

          Yet the author has wrestled with God for these five chapters, and we are brought to the end of the book, left to pick up these pieces and put them back together into some sort of coherent whole as a church.  The only way we can step forward is within the acceptance that this church’s story, our church’s story, has taken place in and within of God’s own story – something much larger than our own, something high and above our own – a story much more than our own.. 

          This is really hard for us modern people to really live in and embrace, because you and I often live with each day as if it is separated from the past.  Our collective memories are very short, and even as a nation we’ve lost much interest in old historical events.  We are trained to live as individuals, pondering our path in this world, considering what you are to do, and how you are to do it.  We’ve lost purpose for understanding the past because it seems rather irrelevant – for today is here, and I have the freedom to do as I please to conquer the past and carve out my own story as I please.  This is what philosopher Charles Taylor refers to as the “immanent frame” of modern times.  We’ve come to understand the moment as separated from the past, and certainly don’t have thoughts about tomorrow, and our never-ending non stop 24/7 news cycles, often running out of material, are forced to make or create events to be more dramatic than they are, as we are always asked to live in the present, apart from the past and without concern for the future.  Our times isolates us into our reality being about you, about your life, about your emotions, and your individual response to it, much apart from everyone else’s story.  Fleet Foxes, a popular band today, once wrote this in their song, “Helpless Blues” -

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
Unique in each way you can see

And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me

          This is the world we were raised in, and we’re very shaped by it.  I want to call us to not be such modern people, but to find the old landmarks, the ancient paths, as Jeremiah said, Jeremiah 6:16 [16] Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. (ESV).  The old and ancient paths bring us to realize that there is another grander story that must be told if our present stories are to make any sense. 

          We must learn to rehearse our story within God’s own story.  We must learn to think of our selves, and all that we’ve been through, as somehow participating in God’s own story, like two convergent rivers always running through one another, and unable to be separated.  Your story cannot be understood in light of God’s story, and you cannot separate them.  Imagine taking two cups of water, and pouring them into one larger cup, and being asked to then re-separate that water back into the cups – after all that Jesus has done, your story cannot be separated from God’s story.

          Now let me get specific as to what I mean by God’s story, that fleshes out Lamentations 5 and the hope of God’s enthronement and kingly rule over this world, and let’s fast forward around five centuries in biblical history from the fall of Jerusalem all the way to rebuilt Israel beneath Roman Rule.  Because here is where all of our stories, if you are a Christian in this room, finds its roots.  Just like Bob Dylan said, “Strap yourself to a tree with roots, you ain’t going nowhere” – the Gospel story is our tree with roots, and we must strap ourselves to it, because there is no where to go apart from it.

          Because here is that story says this: this God who was enthroned in the heavens set aside all of his glory, and took on skin and bones.  As Lamentations recalls the burning and destruction of their city, as you and I can look at our own lives and recall all the hardships, the trials, the suffering, the loss of loved ones who mean to much to us, the diagnoses of cancer, the declining of our aging parents, siblings and family, our own sins that have wrought destruction in our own lives, the sins committed against us, when we observe those close to us suffering beneath hard seasons of life – our church that has experienced deep loss itself – God took the humility, the incredible humility, and he allowed himself to live a human life in this broken world, and he himself experienced loss, his own adopted father, Joseph, at some point in his teenage years or young adult life dying.  We see Jesus, standing amongst the sick, the blind, the lame, sinners and those sinned against, and having compassion on them, taking on their burdens onto himself.  We see him looking over a hard hearted city, and weeping over their sin.  We see our Lord Jesus standing before the tomb of his close friend Lazarus, with Lazarus’ mourning family, weeping with them in sadness. 

          We then see our Lord, knowing that this was only the beginning of his sufferings, turn his face toward Jerusalem, to be rejected by his own people, and to suffer for the sins of many.  This God who was enthroned in the heavens, received as a King in his own city, just one week later, was arrested at night, beaten, spit on, and mocked.  His body, lashed with hooks of iron in his scourging, was broken, the blood being innocently spilled, and he stood silent, as his Roman attackers lashed out.  Being accused of treason against Caesar, claiming to be King of the Jews, Pilate called for his crucifixion – and then was placed on the head of our precious Lord a crown of thorns, and a royal robe of mockery. 

          The thick nails were driven through his hands and feet, the roughly hewn cross scrapped against the torn flesh, and has he was raised on the cross on the outskirts of the city, facing the very city that had rejected him, he clung to his suffering – he didn’t reject it.

          This is why the author of Hebrews says that Jesus has experienced everything we have in his own life – tremendous suffering in every way, and even the temptations of the weakness of the flesh – yet remained without sin.  This is why he is our high priest, as he hung on that cross – suddenly we realize that our story has now crossed with God’s.  In fact, we can say that God has burst open the brass ceiling of humanity’s exile from God’s presence and has intentionally carved out the paths and banks of history for our streams of story to come crashing into his.  Jesus can now look you in the eye, in the darkest and deepest moments of sorrow and suffering, and with compassion and love and grace, say, “my child, I know.  This world is broken.  I know what’s its like.  But behold, I am making all things new.”

          If you are in Christ today, your story no longer can be told without the story of the cross.  Our church’s story cannot be understood apart from Jesus’ sufferings – and his victory.  For how could we make sense of this suffering, if our stories were isolated from this?  This is the Good News of Jesus, my friends: that in the grace of God, your story can now be told within Jesus’ story, and we can find reservoirs of never-ending hope, drawn from the wells of his resurrection – leading to the springs of our salvation, and to new mercies every morning, and to bright hopes of tomorrow. 

          As we close this service, we are going to take communion.  And as we do so, I want to close with one final story before we proceed to taking the elements.  Horatio Spafford, a happily married man with four daughters, was a successful attorney and real estate investor living in Chicago during 1871.  This is year of the great fire of Chicago, the city almost being entirely burned into an ash heap.  Spafford lost his businesses and his wealth and fortune in the fire. 
          With what little money he had left, he thought that an extended stay in England for his family to replan and regroup would be wise, as he would also meet with pastor friends in England for counseling and wisdom as to what is next for his family.  He sent his wife and four daughters on a ship to England, planning to join them after he finished some last minute business in what was left of Chicago and his former life. 

          Then the ship, containing his wife and four daughters, was involved in a terrible collision, and sunk.  More than 200 people lost their lives that today, including all four of Horatio’s daughters.  His wife, Anna, survived.  As she arrived in England, she sent a telegram to her husband that began with, “Saved, alone.  What shall I do?”

          Horatio immediately set sail for England.  Traveling the same path on the ocean, at one point in the journey, the captain appeared to Horatio to tell him that the ship that now served as the grave for his four daughters lie immediately beneath them.  

          It was then that the Gospel, Jesus story of his life, death and resurrection came colliding into Horatio’s sorrowful reality.  Pulling out pen and paper, as mourning and lamentation spurned within him, hope began spilling out unto his page as he remembered, remembered, the hope we have in Christ:

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul”

          Why do I read this story?  It is because Horatio understood his story as flowing within the story of the Gospel.  He understood that Jesus had come so long ago to take on sin and death on his own shoulders, and in his defeating of death and rising once again to new life – he could see the billowing waves of the ocean above the graves of his precious daughters and say, “whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

          As we turn towards communion, this is a call to remember.  To know where we have come from as a church.  To know the suffering we have experienced as a church family.  And to cling to the Gospel, the Good News, that we can also say, as we look towards these elements that Jesus gave us for the exact purposes of “remembering” – remembering his body, broken for his, his blood, poured out for us, to remember that he has suffered to – but has conquered through his suffering, that his crown of thorns shine and glitter as his Kingly Crown, that the cross were the steps to his throne.  And even now, as he is seated on the throne in the heavenly places, has provided us with the hope of his return, as he will return to make all things new.  And in turn, we as a church are provided with such hope, with glimpses of the resurrection today through the indwelling and work of the Spirit – that at out of the smoldering ashes of this church, that he can also make us new.

__________________

If you will please take the elements. If you are here this morning and do not yet identify as a Christian, we would ask that you refrain from taking the elements, and take this time to consider where you are in your own heart concerning the Gospel and it claims, and your acceptance of it.  Now can be the time of salvation for you, and a simple response of prayer and commitment of repentance and faith and allegiance to Christ this morning can set you on a life-altering, life-changing journey of a relationship with Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit in you.

I will read from Luke 22, as we recount the Last Supper:

Luke 22:19–20

 

[19] And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”   Please take the body, and lets take a moment for prayer and reflection.  PAUSE.

 

[20] And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (ESV).  Let’s take a moment for reflection.  PAUSE. 

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me,
bless God’s holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all God’s benefits.

Ps. 103:1-2

Loving God, we thank you
that you have fed us in the elements,
united us with Christ,
and given us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet
in your eternal realm.

Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory,
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

         

         

         

 

 

 

More in Lamentations (Seven Weeks of Lament)

November 1, 2020

Lamentations, Part 4: Idolatry

October 25, 2020

Lamentations, Part 3: Hope in God's Faithfulness

October 18, 2020

Lamentations, Part 2: God's Relationship to Good and Evil