Lamentations and Investments

I must confess it was difficult to pick just one passage from Jeremiah and in the light of the events of this week, I wasn’t sure that I picked the right one.

I wondered if I should have chosen from Jeremiah 8 and 9:

Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there? Why then are my people not been not been restored to health?  If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.

Or maybe Jeremiah 31:

A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and waiting.  It’s Rachel crying for her children; she refuses to be consoled, because her children are no more.

 

And I find it so hard to get back up in this pulpit every week with some new tragedy or terror that must be addressed.  But we have to do so.

We have to speak about the pain and suffering and loss of this world.  To not turn to our scriptures and prayer and ask where God is in the midst of what is happening would be irresponsible.  It is what we should do every moment of every day…  and if I can’t model that for you on Sunday mornings, then I’m not doing my job.

 

It pains me that a world that is so connected… 24/7… on every device at our fingertips… can be so divided and at war with itself.

I look around and see so much anger and hurt.  Here in the United States and all across this world.

#bluelives #blacklives #Muslimlives friends, they all matter. We all matter.  It’s not an either/or.  It’s a both/and.

And yet we take the pain and hurt and anger we feel and turn it back against one another for not being “on our side.”

There is only one side for us to be on.  The side of life and hope and peace.

 

It often feels like we are living in the worst times of human history.  Like things have never been this bad.

I could quote statistics about how violence… especially deadly violence is down in many different categories across this world.  That seems hard to believe, but its true.  But you know what… that seems to trivialize the pain that every death, every particular death carries in this day and age where we collectively witness and experience them.

 

I am in grateful to be preaching from Jeremiah this week because he lived in what the Jewish Study Bible calls “the most crucial and terrifying periods in the history of the Jewish people in biblical times: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon…  [he] grappled with the theological problems posed by the destruction of the nation, and who laid the foundations for the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple in the years following the end of the exile.  In the course of his struggles to understand the tragic events of his lifetime, he tells the reader more about himself than any other prophet, including his anguish and empathy at the suffering of his people, his outrage at God for forcing him to speak such terrible words of judgment against his own nation, and his firm belief that the people of Israel would return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem once the period of punishment was over.” (p917)

 

It is strange to say that I feel like I’m living the lives of these prophets this summer, but maybe that’s what happens when you spend time in the scriptures.

So I’m feeling Jeremiah’s anguish and empathy when I look out at you… when I scroll through my facebook feed… when I turn on the news and see the heartbreak and frustration and hopelessness of so many people… in Baghdad, in Medina, in Baton Rouge, in St. Paul, in Dallas…

And I, too, have been crying out to God asking “How long…  how long will you let us turn against one another before you come and do something to fix this?”

Jeremiah turned all of the grief of his people into laments to God… he cried out to God and I think it is appropriate on a day like this,  in a time like this for us to do so.  For us to lament and grieve…

And so I want to invite you into a time of lament with me.  And together we will sing a response that is familiar to many… Oh – Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

O Holy God,  we have come here this morning from many places,

From east and west, north and south,

From pain and disillusionment,

From anger and confusion,

From grief and sadness,

Looking for hope.

We come together for one thing only:

To raise our hearts and voices and very bodies to God,

In the hope that the very act of raising them in lament yet in faith,

We might know the transforming and surpassing power of your love.

 

Oh Holy God, hear us as we cry out to you.  Our pain is more than we can bear alone.

Response: Oh— Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Unable to forget the violence and the loss of this past week, we cry…

Mourning the loss of the innocent, we cry…

Looking for justice where none seems possible, we cry…

Outraged by the actions of those who should have known better, we cry…

Lost, looking for your guidance and direction, we cry…

Weeping with families whose loved ones will never return home, we cry…

Standing with all of those who have sworn to protect us and who gave their lives, we cry…

Desperate for the courage to speak out against racism, injustice, and oppression, we cry…

Wanting to put all this behind us and live in wholeness, we cry…

Looking for the peacemakers, we cry…

( Liturgy of Lament for the Broken Body of Christ, adapted https://www.futurechurch.org/sites/default/files/Liturgy-plan.pdf)

 

O God, in mystery and silence you are present in our lives,

Bringing new life out of destruction, hope out of despair, growth out of difficulty.

We thank you that you do not leave us alone but labor to make us whole.

Help us to perceive your unseen hand in the unfolding of our lives,

And to attend to the gentle guidance of your Spirit,

That we may know the joy you give your people. Amen. (Ruth Duck, BOW 464)

 

Friends, we cry out “How Long…”

But I think the reminder of our scripture for this morning is that God turns that “how long” back on us.

And God is asking… what are you going to do, today, to be the answer?

How are you going to be a witness, an example, a living testimony of the firm belief that though this time is painful and brutal that YOU are on the side of life and hope and peace?

How are you going to personally invest in the future you pray for?

 

Jeremiah found himself in precisely that situation.  As he was proclaiming the destruction of the land he loved…  even as he was imprisoned by the very king he was trying to get to act differently… God asked him from his jail cell to buy a plot of land as an investment in the future of the land.  As a reminder that “houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”

The armies are at literally at the gates of the city.  The siege has started.  And Jeremiah is buying property.

He was investing in the future he so fervently prayed for and so firmly believed in.

 

I’m tired of the loss of life in our world.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough.

We have to start investing in the future we long for.

We have to figure out what it means to “buy a plot of land” today.

 

And I think there are a few concrete things we can do, today, to invest in God’s future.

First, we have to invest in relationships with people who don’t look like us.

My friend, Jim, and his wife, Lori, have a son who is seven years old.  His name is Teddy.  And because he is adopted, his skin doesn’t look the same as that of his parents.

Jim wrote to me, “I’m keenly aware that I didn’t really ‘get it’ until I was invested in the life of my son; and all of the fear and trepidation I feel for him as he starts growing up to be a young black man in America.  So I know that compassion and grace towards those who don’t ‘get it’ is necessary because I was one of them in the past.”

The only way that we can ever start to live into a future of peace is to actually cross the street and talk with our neighbors who are people of color or Muslim or police officers or elderly or of a different political party.

We have to invest in personal relationships with people who are not the same as us.

 

Second, we have to practice humility.

We are not better than anyone else. We are not perfect. We don’t have all of the answers. And we need to create space for others to teach us, for others to lead us, for others to speak.

And part of that means that we need to look at all of the ways in which dominate conversations or perspectives and we need to step back and listen.

This past week, as the holy month of Ramadan was ending for our Muslim brothers and sisters, a bomb went off in the heart of one of their holy cities.  And we barely noticed.

We can be so focused on our own lives and our own experiences that we do not stop to let go of ourselves and make room for the pain and grief of others.

 

Third, we need to speak the truth in love.

The first part of that is that we have to tell the truth.

We have to stop spreading rumors or hyperbole. And we need to take a moment and pause and ask about the source and if it is trustworthy.  We have to take a breath.

But, we cannot be afraid to speak the truth when it is in front of us. We have to name injustice.  The only way that evil is overcome is when it is brought into the light for all to see.  So we cannot be afraid to name it. To speak it. To see it.

And we can do so in love.

We can disagree.

We can speak the truth and invite conversation and dialogue.

We can do so with our feet in protest non-violently.

But we should never resort to demonizing or attacking other people because of what they believe.

 

We have to start investing in the future we long for.

We have to invest in living differently in this world.

 

Just a few minutes ago, in the prayer I prayed that:

We come together for one thing only:

To raise our hearts and voices and very bodies to God,

In the hope that the very act of raising them in lament yet in faith,

We might know the transforming and surpassing power of your love.

 

And so I want to invite you in to a prayer with your whole body as we invest in the future God hopes for us:

Touch your forehead:

Put on the mind of Christ, a spirit of humility, encouragement, unity, and love.

Touch your ears:

That in the cries of the oppressed and grieving you may hear God calling you to another way.

Touch your eyes:

Darkened by tears, unable to see past privilege and power, blinded by hatred, that they may be brightened in the light of Christ.

Touch your lips:

Silenced by fear and the shock of news, that you might respond to the word of God and speak justice and truth in love.

Touch your heart:

Broken in pain and uncertainty, disappointment and grief, that Christ may dwell there by faith.

Touch your shoulder:

Weighted and heavy with sadness and sorrow, that your burden be eased in the gentle yoke of Jesus.

Touch your hands:

Wrung in anger and despair, that Christ may be known in the lives you touch.

Touch your feet:

That you may stand firm in faith and hope, and walk in the way of Christ.

( Liturgy of Lament for the Broken Body of Christ, adapted https://www.futurechurch.org/sites/default/files/Liturgy-plan.pdf)

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