Lamentations 3:22-33 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 8—Series B)
“Waiting for Salvation”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 28, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Lamentations 3:
The loyal kindness of Yahweh is not finished, for His compassions are not spent. They are fresh in the morning. Great is Your faithfulness! My portion is Yahweh, says my soul, therefore I will wait in expectation for Him. Yahweh is good to those who wait eagerly for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good waiting silently for the salvation of Yahweh. It is good for a man that he carry a yoke in his youth. Let him sit in isolation and silence, for He laid a yoke on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust—perhaps there is hope. For the Lord will not reject forever. For if He causes grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His loyal kindness. For He does not afflict or grieve from His heart the sons of a man.
The book of Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah. It contains five poems or songs, which are, in fact, like funeral dirges that lament the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and the sin of the people that called down God’s judgment on the nation of Judah. For forty years Jeremiah had proclaimed a deafening message of judgment to the unhearing, uncaring hearts of Judah and Jerusalem. Then, finally, doom fell. Jeremiah’s grief was unimaginable. The five laments in the book of Lamentations express the prophet’s sorrow over the sins of Judah and the devastation those sins created. The words read like a funeral hymn as the people mourned over the death of their dreams, the death of their nation.
Have you ever experienced something similar in your life? Have you ever found yourself sitting in the rubble your sins have caused? Words you spoke deeply hurt someone you love and now that relationship lies in shambles. Overindulgence in alcohol resulted in bad behavior and a ruined reputation. You told a lie to cover up a situation. Then another lie was needed to keep the first story intact. Another falsehood followed. When the truth finally came out, as it usually does, who can ever trust you now?
Sin has consequences, destructive costs, which cause our little worlds to come crashing down around us. Relationships are destroyed and reputations are ruined. We are left sitting in a pile of destruction of our own making. The relatively happy little life we once knew is nothing more than a pile of wreckage resembling a collapsed building. Hopes and dreams lie somewhere at the bottom of the pile.
And hanging around our necks like a great weight is our guilt. We sit there in the middle of the rubble and wonder what we are going to do now. We sit there, like the people of Judah and Jerusalem, among the debris of our sins, and lament. We grieve at what we have lost, knowing that it was our own fault because we sinned against God and other people. I think of the words of the thief on the cross, chastising his comrade, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” (Luke 23:40-41a ESV)
Chastisement, discipline, punishment, receiving the due reward of our deeds. This is what God does and allows. He doesn’t afflict or grieve people from His heart—it’s not what God wants for us, but sin has consequences. Breaking the Lord’s commandments merits discipline and punishment from Him. Deuteronomy 8:5, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, Yahweh your God disciplines you.” Step into God’s shoes for a moment. Do you enjoy disciplining and punishing your child when he or she does wrong? Do you like it when they have to carry the burden of the consequence of their sinful actions? I don’t. It hurts. We ache for our children. But, at the same time, we know that discipline, even punishment, is necessary and beneficial. We read in Hebrews 12, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:7-11)
Even as discipline and punishment are not a parent’s desired work, it must be done. So with God. God’s punishment of Judah and Jerusalem for their sins was necessary because they did not repent. They did not seek the Lord and had rejected His covenant promises. In breach of contract, God had to punish and discipline them for their sins. But that’s not what He likes to do. It’s not what He wants to do. That’s why we refer to the Lord’s work of punishment and judgment and discipline as God’s “alien work.” It is “strange” to His nature as God, yet necessary work because our sinful hearts loathe the consolation and comfort of God if we first do not feel the wrath of God. (ApAC XII: 51) “For if He causes grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His loyal kindness.” And that is what we call the Lord’s proper work—consoling guilty sinners and proclaiming grace to them.
God’s grace—His loyal kindness or steadfast love—is much greater than all our sins. And it is smack in the very center of the book of Lamentations, our text, in which is described for us God’s merciful kindness. A ray of hope shines through the gloom of sin and its destruction. The compassionate mercies of God are new and fresh every morning! The Lord’s repentant people need never despair. Instead, they can return to Him. “Yahweh is good to those who wait eagerly for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” And that seeking is done in repentance, in sorrow over sin, with a heart that desires from the Lord His mercy and grace. That seeking is done in the isolation and silence of prayer, of humble and reverent confession to the God who yearns to bring forgiveness, healing, and hope back into our lives.
For that is God’s proper work—to have mercy, to grant grace, to forgive our sins. The loyal kindness of the Lord isn’t used up. The Lord is our portion. He’s what satisfies the sinful soul, the guilty conscience, and brings healing and salvation. And nowhere do we find the magnificent mercy of God available to all people but in the cross and empty tomb of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The destruction of our sin came crashing down upon Jesus as He hung on the cross. He endured for you and me and the whole world the alien work of God in punishing sin as Jesus suffered hell and death, the ultimate consequence of our sins. Even in the book of Lamentations we see—ever so faintly—God’s living kindness to sinners pointing to the cross of Christ. Lamentations 1:11, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” And chapter 3:19-20, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” Then, from Mark 15, “And with [Jesus] they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ . . . And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah.’ And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’”
The salvation of Yahweh was accomplished for us by the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, you have complete forgiveness for all your sins. Your guilt is removed. That forgiveness and loyal kindness is fresh and new to you each and every day, no matter what you have done or what you have said. The blood of Jesus graciously brings you the very compassion and consolation of God in the forgiveness of your sins which He delivers to you through the Gospel in Holy Scripture, in Baptism, in Holy Absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper. Through these means of grace the Lord lifts you up out of the rubble of your sin and guilt, and sets you upon a rock, your God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore we can sing and rejoice with David in Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
Trust in the Lord! God’s compassions for you are never spent; they are not used up. In Christ, they are fresh every day. Wait in expectation for Him. He is good to you as you eagerly wait for Him, seeking Him in repentance and faith. The Lord your God has compassion on you through Jesus Christ. Your sins are forgiven. Your guilt is taken away. Go in peace. You are free! Amen.