Jubilate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| April 25, 2010| Lamentations 3, 18-26
And I said, “My strength and my hope have perished from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall. My soul still remembers and sinks within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Lamentations 3, 18-26
The Lamentations of Jeremiah are a hymn sung about the downfall of God’s holy city, Jerusalem. Jeremiah is a man who speaks for God. He laments the suffering of Jerusalem even as he knows she richly deserves it. God’s people fell into idolatry. They worshipped false gods. They abandoned God’s truth for political purposes. They married people of false religions and adopted their false practices. From this blatant violation of the First Commandment the nation became thoroughly corrupt spiritually. God sent prophets to bring her back to the truth. In arrogance she persecuted those who spoke for God. Finally, God permitted her enemies to occupy her, drive her children into exile, and take away from her her honor and glory.
Our only glory comes from God. When we abandon God we have no honor to lay hold of. We have nothing but guilt and shame. The gifts we receive show the goodness of their Giver. To claim the gifts while rejecting the Giver is to lie and to cheat and to steal. The Lamentations of Jeremiah remain to this day eloquent expression from both God and man alike to the deep sorrow that comes from witnessing the suffering of good people who have gone bad.
God’s people are good people. He says so. In choosing them he justifies them – he reckons them to be righteous, clothed with the very righteousness of Christ himself. There is no divine choosing apart from Christ. There never has been and there never will be. God chooses his people for Christ’s sake. When they reject Christ they deny their own identity.
Of course, God’s people have never completely rejected him. There has always been a remnant – a small portion – that has remained faithful. They have kept the faith. It is for the sake of his remnant that God never casts off his Church. It may appear that he has. But the Church has never perished from this earth and she never will. God has bound himself in faithfulness to his people. He cannot break his word to them. Even when the visible Church is thoroughly corrupt and occupied by antichristian powers God remains faithful to the promises he has given. His promises are centered in the love he gives us in Christ.
The prophet says, “My hope and my strength have perished from the LORD.” But he is only saying it. He doesn’t really believe it. It appears to be, but he knows it isn’t so. His hope isn’t gone. His strength remains in his God. Why does it appear that he has no reason to hope? It is because of what he considers. He writes: “Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall. My soul still remembers and sinks within me.” Think about your suffering. Think about how you have sinned. Think about how you have wandered away. Think about the bitterness you have caused and felt. Think about it all. To what end? To no good end! All this does is to bring the soul down to despair.
It is one thing to express sorrow over sin. That’s godly and right. It is another matter entirely to dwell on it, focus on it, bring it repeatedly to remembrance, and live on past sins. God is gracious. He forgives sins for Christ’s sake. Since God is love it is in his very nature to forgive and forget. When we insist on dredging up old sins we turn ourselves away from God’s goodness and love.
This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
Why does he have hope? Because he doesn’t dwell on the sins of the people, but on God’s mercy, on his compassion and on his faithfulness. Our sins do not destroy us. Why not? Because sin does no harm? No, sin would destroy us if we were left in it. But God does not leave us in our sin. He comes to us and forgives us. His faithfulness is greater than our unfaithfulness. St. Paul says, “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Romans 5, 20
Wallowing in our own sin is often depicted, in a perverse sort of way, as a kind of piety. As if we are being especially good to admit to the depth of the evil within. But we gain nothing by admitting our sin. Let me say that again. We gain nothing by admitting our sin.
Now it is true that we gain nothing if we don’t. God comes to the humble who willingly confess their sins and do not hide them. If we refuse to confess we cannot expect forgiveness from God. If we hold on to what we’ve done wrong as if it is right we can find no forgiveness for it. Admitting our sin to God is necessary.
But we don’t gain forgiveness by admitting our sin. Judas died unforgiven and he certainly admitted that he had sinned by betraying innocent blood. Forgiveness is gained by God himself. Jesus won it by his vicarious living and dying. In his innocence he bore our sins. Forgiveness is given by God freely. We cannot earn what Jesus already earned. Our lament over our sin cannot undo our sin, but God’s mercies are new every morning.
Jeremiah writes: “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” Your portion is what you get. It is your share. It belongs to you. When the LORD is your portion he belongs to you. When he shows mercy and compassion he does not just give you things, but he gives you himself. This is what faithfulness means. He is worthy of faith because he binds himself to you and promises to stay with you and never to leave you. And when he gives himself to you, he gives himself in compassion and mercy, not in judgment and punishment.
This is the source of our hope. We see that things look bad. Our situation looks hopeless. Our troubles – usually of our own making – appear insurmountable. But God in Christ is our portion. We have confident hope in spite of hopeless appearances.
But then things don’t get better. We have done wrong. We have confessed. The troubles we have brought upon ourselves remain. They get worse. We’re sorry for what we’ve done. God says he forgives. But it doesn’t appear that way. It appears he’s getting even. Our problems are proof to our eyes of that fact. What do we do when caught between the promises of God and our own bitter experiences?
The prophet writes:
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Wait. You’re not in charge. God is. Wait on him. He’ll do what needs doing. Be patient. Stop complaining. Don’t beat on yourself. It won’t bring you any benefit. Don’t think that you can make God forgive you by making him feel sorry for you. His mercies and compassions are on account of who and what he is, not on account of you manipulating him. God won’t be manipulated. You can’t flatter him. You can’t con him. You can’t make him do what he is not willing to do already.
So you need to know his will. You need to know his will for you in Christ. This is the only way you can wait. It is good to wait. But to wait for destruction is foolish. One would be better off running and hiding. We don’t wait for punishment. We don’t wait for the unknown. We wait for salvation.
Sometimes salvation is spoken of as a present reality. Are you saved? We say, “Yes.” Or salvation is spoken of as a past and accomplished event. When were you saved? We say, “When I was baptized. God saved me and made me his child.” So we were saved. We are saved. And we will be saved. Our past and present salvation is ours by faith. We are trusting in the gospel that tells us that Jesus died for us. We believe Jesus when he says, “Given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.” Faith is for the present. We are saved now through faith.
But we are not yet delivered from every evil. This is why we pray, “Deliver us from evil.” Save us. Rescue us from the misery we face. Save us from the troubles we see coming closer and closing in. Salvation is yet in the future. For this salvation we hope. Faith is for the present. Hope is for the future. So Jeremiah says, “It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
To hope and to wait is not to resign ourselves to fate. Far from it. Resignation is the opposite of faith. Christian hope is a feature of faith. It is faith directed toward the future. The One who is our portion – who belongs to us – is the One in charge of our future. Listen to how St. Paul talks about the Christian’s hope.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5, 1-5
Our hope is grounded on the fact that we are already justified by God through faith. We are already at peace with God. We have access to God’s grace through faith. God belongs to us. His grace covers us. This means that every kind of trouble we face must in the end be for our benefit. We learn to persevere. We gain character. Our hope is confirmed. Our future is in the hands of him who loves us more than words can express. So we join with the Psalmist in the words of today’s Introit: “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: Sing forth the honor of his name: make his praise glorious.” (Psalm 66, 1-2 KJV) Amen