Y OU MAY HAVE NOTICED that today’s prayer for illumination was not prayed by someone you know from the Swift Church family. It was prayed by the Rev Magdalena Trgalova, with the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren. It is the first of several videos that are included in today’s worship service as we celebrate unity with Christians around the world on this World Communion Sunday.
And though you may be familiar with part of the Scripture that I read this morning, you may be less familiar with the book of the Bible. Lamentations. It is only five chapters, tucked in between the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the Old Testament.
We don’t often study the book of Lamentations. I’ve never been a part of or led a study on Lamentations. I know there is a Swift Sunday school class that goes book by book through the Bible, and so those of you who have been in that class already know the richness of those chapters.
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LAMENTATIONS IS the only Old Testament book that consists solely of laments. The word lament is not one that we usually use in everyday conversation.
Lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Synonyms include groan, cry, complain, or mourn. Now those are words we are familiar with!
The book puts into poetic form the intense sorrow of God’s people at the loss of the temple and much of Jerusalem during the Babylonian destruction in 587 BCE.
Knowing God is merciful, the author, who was likely the prophet Jeremiah, goes to God in prayer, pleading for mercy. It is in the middle of the book that the author affirms God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of suffering.
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THE TEXT we are looking at today focuses on hope. “God’s mercies are new every morning.”
But as we look at this verse, its important to see it in the context of the tremendous sorrow and loss the people had experienced, and to know that the author cried out to God — lamented — through nearly the entire book.
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ONE PASTOR said, “If lamenting is not part of your worship, it should be.”
Some of us think that we are only to praise God. That’s not biblically based. Our faith as Christians is not about a religion, it’s about a relationship. God wants us to praise him, sure. But he knows us, and he knows when we are troubled, or suffering or confused, or angry, or despondent.
When you read all of Lamentations, you know that it is an act of worship to lament — to cry out; to groan, complain, or mourn — to the Lord. If you take today’s scripture out of context, you may feel obligated to wear rose-colored glasses and act like your faith is unshaken.
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AUTHOR AND SPEAKER Pastor Graham Cooke says this about lament:
“Lamentation is a powerful, and meaningful, form of worship because it places our love for God above even the worst of circumstances in our life. God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things, and make Him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, helps us to do this.”
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EVERYTHING’S “FINE,” Pastor Keith and I began to say to each other. “Fine” meant we were concerned about the congregation, and our families, and at times our own health, and the ministries of Swift, and the worship services, and, yet, we knew we were OK. We recently changed “fine” to “fantastic.” We aren’t lying, we are helping each other, as we seek to help others. It has been a way for us to lament.
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AND IN OUR AREA, everything has not been fine this year.
Philip said the other day, “I’m looking forward to when I only have to think about wearing a mask and washing my hands.”
Remember March? When we had our last in-person worship service for months? Well, while the masks and the handwashing and the people whose lives have been forever changed continue, along came Sally.
People are tired. I’m tired! We are all trying to restore some normalcy to our own lives, while doing what we can to reach out to others, while mourning for those who have lost far more than we have. I know of no one who has not been impacted in some way by the recent category 2 hurricane.
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IF WE ARE NOT GOING to cry out to the Lord, some of us are going to just burst. We cannot be the hands and feet of Christ in life, let alone during pandemic and post-hurricane life, without our rock and our salvation.
We need to trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding. We need to breathe. Breathe in. Exhale. Repeat. Be reminded that God is with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit around us and within us.
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WHEN ASKED, one church member said to me that they could definitely help others, because all they had happen was a tree on their house, some roof damage, trees down in the yard, debris, and a tree on one of their vehicles. That’s a lot!
I took several pictures around our house. Seven trees fell, and not one hit the house, the vehicles, people or pets.
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ABOUT A WEEK AFTER the storm, I was over at Mark and Tresa’s when I noticed beautiful purple flowers, standing tall despite being battered by the wind and rain. I later found out from Linda that they are Mexican petunias.
But then, as I scrolled past the picture, I noticed something else I hadn’t seen when I took the picture. There behind those Mexican petunias, over by the pond, lay yet another downed tree from the storm.
I thought, how great that the pretty flowering shrub caught my attention so much that I didn’t even see the destruction at first. Yes, there are fallen trees and destruction all around us. But there is hope, too.
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I WATCHED A MOVIE several years ago, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Several British retirees decide to move to India to stay in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, advertised as an exotic retirement home. They arrive at a run-down hotel with a young exuberant and optimistic host.
As they lament their circumstances, Sonny, the host, says to them: “In India, we have a saying: ‘Everything will be all right in the end.’ So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”
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AS WE READ through the Bible, we know we have reason to lament and reason to have hope. What we are going through is not the end. For in the end, we will not be displaced from our homes staying with relatives or trying to restore two different houses to be habitable, or deciding about selling or repairing the place we live — or lived. In the end, we will be gathered together with all the saints through the ages, in a room that God prepared just for us.
Like the Israelites, many of us are experiencing tremendous sorrow and loss. Not only Baldwin County, because of a hurricane. But our brothers and sisters across the world.
To be Christian does not protect us from tragedy. But as Christians, when we wake up each day, we can say confidently, God’s mercies are new every morning!