Pentecost 5 – “Great Is Your Faithfulness” – Lamentations 3:22-33 – 6/28/15

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“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Sounds like someone is having a GOOD DAY. No, sounds like someone is having a GREAT DAY. Words like these come easily when everything is coming up roses. “The steadfast love of the Lord never cease; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

So, would you be surprised if I were to tell you that these words were written in a time of terrible upheaval and great loss, when things were going from bad to worse? The book of Lamentations is just that, a ‘lament.’ The prophet Jeremiah ‘laments’ the situation that Israel, the people of God, are in. A foreign nation named Babylon has captured the city of Jerusalem and ransacked the buildings and the Temple of the Lord, torn down its wall and taken its citizens into exile.

Think of it like this. The ‘Taliban’ or ‘Isis’ has invaded the U.S. and conquered it. And it is forcing everyone to either live under Shire law or be executed. The White House has been totally destroyed along with the Pentagon. And all U.S. citizens have been declared to be ‘slaves’ of the new government. As appalling as that sounds to our ears, this is a pretty good comparison to what things were actually like for Israel. They never thought that such a thing could ever actually happen to them. After all, they were the ‘people’ of God and the one, true God was the God of Israel.

But this is the ‘state of the union’ in Jeremiah’s day in 587 BC. 100 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah warned the people of God that unless they repented and turned from their idolatry and ignoring the one, true God, God would hand them over. That is, if they insisted on living apart from God, God would give up to a life apart from Him.

But they did not repent. And now, 100 years later, the prophet Jeremiah ‘laments’ at how far the people of God have fallen. Listen to just a small sampling of Jeremiah’s description of things.
• “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she who was great among the nations.”
• “The Lord has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy…”
• “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word which he commanded long ago; he has thrown down without pity; he has made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the might of your foes.” (1:1-2; 2:3; 2:17)

This is the setting in which we hear these words, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” These are hard words that do not come easy in tough times. It’s easy to say nice things about God when things are going well. But when everything is falling apart and we are suffering, how hard it is to say, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

These are words of faith that believe that God is love and that He loves His people, and through my baptism I am one of His people and therefore God loves me, even when He disciplines me. The Psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man whom you discipline O Lord…” (Psalm 94:12). The writer to the Hebrews says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6). In his Revelation, John hears Jesus say to the Church in Laodicea, “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:19).

In His love for us, He does not discipline us for the sake of discipline, but always and only for our good, that it may “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:9-11)

So Jeremiah reminds us that when we experience the Lord’s discipline, even His severe discipline, that we dare not lose hope in God’s deliverance or think that His love for us has grown cold. “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”

This sounds like the disciples of Jesus. When so many of His followers were giving up on Him and turning back, Jesus said to the 12, “Do you want to go away as well?” And Peter answered for them all, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).

Sometimes there is simply nothing we can do to rescue ourselves from the trouble or danger or situation that we’re in. For us Americans who have been conditioned that there is no problem we can’t solve and no dilemma we can’t get ourselves out of, simply ‘waiting for the Lord’ can be hard. We may even think that ‘waiting for the Lord’ is unfaithful. Surely we should DO SOMETHING!

We are an impatient people who want everything that we want NOW, ‘NO WAITING.’ We want what we want when we want it and the sooner the better. So when God is not QUICK to deliver us from our trouble, when He is not QUICK to give us what we want, we are QUICK to take matters into our own hands and make it happen.

Jeremiah reminds us that to ‘wait for the Lord,’ is not a sign of weakness. ‘Waiting for the Lord’ is a matter of faith and trust in God. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

The apostle Peter confirms the prophet Jeremiah. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

Rather than complaining about God’s care for us or even blaming God for our situation, Jeremiah says we should let the trials and troubles that come upon us as opportunities to think about our life before God and meditate on His commandments and have a heart to heart talk with them, and let His Word do most of the talking.

“Let him sit alone in silence when [the Lord’s discipline] is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust – there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.”

So just who is this ‘one who strikes’ his cheek and “insults him?” It is God’s Word, and our own conscience that has been instructed by God’s Word.

‘You shall have no other gods.” But just look at all of the gods that you have and that you worship and obey. And look easily you set the one, true God aside and ignore His Word.

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and mind and strength.’ But consider how shallow our love for God is and how fleeting when its inconvenient to love. We are unfaithful in our thoughts, words and deeds.

In the heart to heart with God’s word, we know that we have broken every one of God’s commands, and not just accidentally, but willfully, because we wanted what we wanted more than what God wanted. And we ‘grieve’ our unfaithfulness to God.

This is what the Scriptures refer to as ‘GODLY GRIEF.’ Not all ‘grief’ is bad. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor. 7;10).

“Worldly grief” regrets the trouble and hardship and pain that has come upon them but never sees “the Lord’s discipline for those He loves” and so never “laments” his own fallen condition before God and so never repents and so dies in his sin.

“Godly grief” “laments” and asks the Lord for forgiveness and mercy, not for the sake of escaping the trouble or hardship or pain, but because we’re truly sorry that we have taken His love for us so lightly and treated Him and His Word with such disrespect. We should be happy to bear the punishment that we deserve if only the Lord would forgive us and, like the prodigal son, receive us back again.

And that is exactly what the prophet assures us of. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”

“Compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love…” In the Gospels, the word for “compassion” is that word, ‘splagnidzo.’ It has to do with the intestines and spleen. “Compassion” is that VISERAL reaction that LOVE causes in us when someone we love is suffering. There’s an ache in your gut that compels you to do something, even if that something is simply to pray.

Over and over in the gospels we read that Jesus Christ had “compassion.” “He had compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He HAD compassion on demon possessed man, on the widow who was burying her only son, on the 5000 who were hungry. He HAD compassion on Jairus and on the bleeding woman. But now in these last days, He HAS compassion on you.

His ‘compassion’ for you bubbles up out of ‘the abundance of His steadfast love for you.’ Just as His steadfast love for you never ceases, so His compassion for you never runs out.

In His COMPASSION for you, He does what only He can do. He took all of your sin upon Himself and nailed in all to the cross in His own body. In His ‘compassion’ for you, He took the full brunt of the punishment that is rightfully ours upon Himself.

God has ‘cast off’ His Son, Jesus Christ, so that He might not ‘cast us off forever.’ He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, so that we might know that He will raise us up with Him.

He will bring us out of this old world of suffering, pain and death that our own sin has caused, and into His the new world of life and light and joy eternal that His steadfast love has caused.

And we will sing, “His mercies are new everyday. Great is your faithfulness.”

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