The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
Great is Thy Faithfulness
A Homily for 4 Trinity
July 14, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Lamentations 3:22-33
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever had rough week, or month, or year? And it just seems that nothing can go right, while devastation hits close to home? Or worse yet, you watch your entire life fall apart before your eyes? We’ve all had hard seasons. For some they are dark and terrible for others, less so, but human suffering is universal and real.
Fortunately, probably for most of us we haven’t had to watch our homeland torn apart, the center piece of our national pride is destroyed, but we can understand what it feels like to lose everything. This profound sense of loss is the backdrop for which this beautiful poem of praise is written. The book of Lamentation is written against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s sacking, as the temple lay in ruins. The center of national pride was no more. And the people were being dragged into exile by their conquerors. Although, Israel’s sin was rampant, and they had been warned – surely they wandered – where is God?
The experience of loss and the pains of life can often be too much for us to bear and we cry out – either to the Lord or to our friends or inwardly to ourselves – and it is good to lean upon friends and even better to cry out to the Lord when we feel this anguish. For the Lord delights in hearing our prayers – whether they be prayers of desperation or praise.
Before we dive into the text itself – the format is particularly interesting – within our English Bibles it works out that within each section there are three verse sets. Within the section we read this morning we have 4 separate thought sections. This will be important to note as we move through the text.
Yet, in the midst of the writer’s lamenting his world falling out we find this praise to God. Although, I think it might be less a praise and more a reminder to himself of the truths that we too often forget when we face hardship. The writer starts with the statement that the Lord’s steadfast love endures forever.
The shift that we see here is amazing. Throughout the lament – it is almost as though the poet is in too much pain to name God. Suddenly in verse 18 he mentions YHWH for the first time in this section and then suddenly in 22 he is telling us of God’s steadfast love.
This statement alone is amazing in the midst of human suffering. One commentator wrote:
the writer emphasizes the reality of God’s lovingkindness. That term defines God’s covenantal love and faithfulness. It is typically the word that describes his positive disposition toward his people as well as his beneficial actions to his people. This definition is true, but within this concept is the notion of God’s unilateral action to aid those in the covenant.402 In other words, this covenant faithfulness is not passive or merely an attribute of YHWH, but rather his proactive effort, omnipotent power, and supernatural intervention on behalf of his people. Especially in the plural (as it is here), the word denotes the multitude of these mighty workings of God to benefit his people.
In other words – despite Israel’s faithlessness, God chooses to remain faithful to them. Despite our stumbling, our doubt, our struggles – God remains faithful to us, His people.
But here’s the even more amazing thing – while we recognize that one of God’s attributes is His love – that is to say his nature is loving – like we have various aspects about us that make us who we are. Part of God’s nature is love – it isn’t the whole of him, but it is definitely an important part. But now – listen – God does not always have to be loving, just as we don’t always have to exemplify the various aspects of our nature – and God’s love isn’t always shown, especially when it comes to sin – but God choses to be loving. In the same way – God loves us not out of some brutal mechanics but because he has chosen to love us. Let that sink in – in Christ – God has chosen to love us.
This love, of course is exemplified in Christ on the cross. We can trace the fault for Christ’s crucifixion to any number of people – to us, for our sin, to the people in the crowd who yelled crucify him, refusing his release, to the Romans who had political control. But, ultimately, it is Christ’s choice to remain on the cross for our sins that lead to His death. The atheists who criticize – that if Christ really was God – he could have removed himself from the cross are correct – expect that if God is choosing to love his people – then Christ had to remain on the cross – the ultimate act of love for the wandering human people.
Just as God’s love never fails nor does his mercy – even in the dark tumults of life, God’s love and mercy persist there. It is easy for us to forget in the midst of the storm that God’s mercy and love are there – that God is still our shepherd who sees us through the valleys of life.
We may not see God’s plan – while we have the privilege of knowing the end of the story, often we find, especially in the midst of distress that we can only see the next step or the next moment and it can feel so distressing. Yet, the writer of Lamentations reminds us that each morning, God’s mercies come, new and kind and good, but that may be all we get for a season. We may not see the light at the end of the tunnel, or even have any idea how much longer the tunnel will be. But the mercy continues always. In certain seasons, we may only get sufficient mercy for the day and need to learn to trust that the next day will be okay, but only concern ourselves with getting through the day we are in.
And why does he walk through these dark times with us? Because He is faithful! God will remain by our side throughout even the darkest and most tumultuous of days, He remains with His children throughout the exile.
So, it is that the natural out flowing of this is that the portion of our soul is the Lord. So, this is what we need to bear in mind – and this is the hardest part – that if we do not find our contentment in the Lord our souls will always struggle. Instead, we are called rest in Him. The poet has already given us good reason for this – because God is faithful, and this faithfulness is shown by His outpouring of mercy and love.
And what if it doesn’t feel like God is merciful or loving? One of the things that I have found helpful when I find myself in the dark night of my own soul is remembering the blessings that God has poured out and the fact that He has been there for me throughout my life. He will bring me through this valley, maybe not when or how I want, but he will, because he is faithful.
The next section shifts it focus to God’s faithfulness to how we are to react to it. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, who seek him. These two actions are not necessarily contrary to each other. Rather they work in harmony together. We are to seek the Lord – seek the comfort for our soul in Him, not in the things of the world around us.
So we do the simple actions of the Christian life – reading His word, partaking in the sacraments, fellowshipping with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and constantly giving our hopes and pains over to Him in prayer. But at the same time – an act of trust is that we wait for him, that we wait for the Lord to move.
Especially in our anxiety and pain it is easy to try and force the Lord into action either by anxious begging for that which we desire or by taking actions that are not necessarily the will of the God. Instead, we are called to patiently wait to see what it is that the Lord will call us to, or how he will move next.
So the poet reminds us – that it is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. That is within our trauma, and pain, and frustration – after we have cried, after we have screamed out to him in pain or anger – we sit and wait. Quietly trusting that the Lord will deliver us through this time of sorrow. Here the Lord will work, He is faithful – we know this because we have seen him work – and he will move again, he will deliver us out of the dark nights of our souls into the green pastures of life. Into life that is life in Him and with him.
But we are also to bear the yoke of life – bear the pains that come our way. But here again the good news illuminates our reading – Christ calls us to take up HIS yoke for it is good. Christ offers to take our yoke, to take our pain, and let us put on His yoke. The yoke of Christ doesn’t necessarily take away our pain but it sanctifies it. The yoke of Christ takes the pain caused by our own sin or others’ sin and allows us to see how His grace and mercy can work through it. Christ can take our pain and use it to help us cling all the more tightly to him.
In our pain this is our calling – that we would cling to Christ every day – that we would cry in his arms, that we would let him guide us through those nights of darkness until one day we see Him face to face.
So, we learn how we are to live with the yoke – that not trusting in anyone else, we sit alone, quietly waiting for the Lord to move. Again – the poet tells us the value of quiet. Yes – cry out, yes lament to God and to brothers and sisters in Christ, yes, let tears role down your cheeks. But then I think it is good that we allow there to be quiet, allow the stillness of Holy Spirit to sweep over us.
And when we find ourselves then, if we see that we have sinned – we do put on ashes. That is to say we are to repent for we remember that the wages of sin is death – that is to say our sin is leading us straight towards death – death of relationships, death of friendships, and finally our death. But – there is hope – God is our hope – Christ has come and died – to redeem our death, and raise us from it, to redeem and restore broken friendships and relationships. But first – we must cling to God. We must wait in silence for His working.
We must also bear the insults that the world will throw at us, not because it is a joy to be insulted but because even in the humility of bearing insults, we bear the pain that Christ bore, we are given the option to be more like Christ.
We have two other places that bearing the insults on our cheek come up in scripture – first Matthew 5:39 where Christ commands us not to resist one who is evil. That if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. In both passages we are reminded to bear the evil others do to us with compassion.
Next Isaiah 50:6 – tells us of one who gave his back to those who struck him, and his cheek to those who pull our his beard. He did not hide his face from disgrace and spitting. This section is commonly accepted as being about Christ. That is to say – while we too often fail to take the torments of our enemies Christ took them perfectly. Even in our failure to suffer well, Christ has suffered well for us. For this reason it is all the more important that we take up His yoke – because as hard as it might be to suffer well – Christ has already modeled it for us, and in following after Him we too will learn to allow our tears to be sanctified.
The final section explains our suffering and grief a little bit more. First there is the promise – though today may feel dark and painful – the Lord will not cast us off forever, pain will not be eternal, but when we trust in the Lord he will heal our souls, he will deliver us, and one day we will dwell in His holy city forever, and we will be freed from the pain that we experience all too much in this day and age.
God’s providence allows us to go through all this – allows us to hurt and cry out – because of our ability to choose, because of our sin, because of others sins – pain is still a reality, and some times this pain is God’s correction over our life. But He will have compassion, he will not allow us to suffer forever. And why?
Because of his steadfast love – because he has chosen to love us – because he came and died for us on the cross that we might have life. God has chosen to love us and love us in abundance.
God’s wrath and discipline is but for a moment it is his love that endures. We know too that when we finally meet him face to face – we will love perfectly as well, we will no longer need faith because we will see perfectly the things that we do not see now, we will not need hope because our pure hope will be fulfilled but we will be able to love each other as we never could in the here and now, and all the more we will be able to love God perfectly – all because he loved us first.
Even God’s wrath and discipline flows out of His love for His people. He disciplines his people so that we might depend upon him all the more. He will pour out his wrath on those who continued in their sin and didn’t come to depend upon him. Not because he is angry and hateful, and terrible – but because He loves – because sin causes pain to those whom God loves and so if we do not turn away from it – how can we possibly imagine that a loving God will tolerate sin to go on forever. How can we imagine that a God who loves his children will allow them to suffer under injustice forever, or tolerate the thing that is causing us death?
But His wrath, nor will his discipline, nor will our sin, nor will the sins of others persist forever. This is the hope we cling to in the here and now. God will relieve our pain and draw us deeper into his incredible, steadfast love that endures from before the creation into the eternity of our future life with him.
Friends – life can be hard – life can be beautiful – life can have weird twists and turns that we may never understand – but even when it seems dark outside – even when we wet our pillows with our tears – God is with us – his steadfast love endures forever. So do not lose heart but persevere, learning to trust all the more in the Lord who became incarnate, who died for us, who gives us a yoke of love and discipline in place of our yoke of pain and sin.
Let us learn to trust in the Lord all the more – that when we find ourselves in the valley of death, we will know that He is our good shepherd. He will bring us through and he will not allow us to die, but to live all the more.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.