A sermon inspired by Lamentations 3:1-33; Mark 5: 21-43
The call had come. The call I had prepared myself for but was not anticipating – I thought things had stabilized for my Dad, but my brother’s voice on the other end of the line some 475 miles away – said everything without needing words. My Dad, who had had a couple of bumpy days after falling and hitting his head had just moved into his new residence at St. John’s Nursing Home – into the skilled nursing wing – a transition in life we didn’t plan for but knew was for the best. He lasted there 4 hours when the chaplain that stopped in to visit alerted the staff that something didn’t seem right. When my brother called, Dad had already been transported to ICU. Fred didn’t know what was going on with him, but I had better come. Don’t try to drive tonight – he said – just get here.
I knew this highway well – the one fraught with panic, emotion, tears, and farm machinery that pulls out in front of you and robs you of any polite composure behind the wheel. That I was making this dreaded drive across Montana again so soon after my mother’s death left me desperate for answers that were not forthcoming from God. WHY? Why was he doing this to my Dad, a man that had given so much of himself and deserved so much better. WHY was he doing this to our family?
From Lamentations – “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”
I was angry. I was desperate. I felt guilty for living so far away and attending to the ends of my parent’s lives from afar – detached from the wasting away of life that comes before death. I was afraid. Afraid of what saying goodbye would be like – I hadn’t had that chance with my mother – I was afraid of what death would feel like as it overtook him. I was afraid of living without him. I was afraid of life without my dad. My heart was pounding, and my ears were rushing and the pit that grew within my stomach began to overwhelm me as I drove on. And then Jesus heard me.
From Lamentations – “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…”
It was up to God now – like it always had been. Even though my faith was my foundation, it had been very hard for me to wholly trust and not try to control God – to make my ways His way. This ending, this sending – this story of the greatest man I had ever known was not supposed to end like this.
You see, the amazing thing about Jesus is when I finally gave Him my will and fully trusted my Dad to Him, a certain peace came over me. My heart quit pounding, my ears quit rushing, and while my tears didn’t stop flowing, my eyes could see clearly again. His grace is amazing. Jesus changes everything.
The Lord’s mercies are new every morning, but sometimes we have to experience the darkness of night to appreciate them – and sometimes those nights can be pretty dark if not downright scary.
We are in good company when we find ourselves searching for God, feeling abandoned by his presence, feeling forsaken and heart broke. The Bible is full of stories of suffering and sorrow, ire and isolation, fear and frustration; full of human struggle and seeking – Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Joseph, Naomi, Job, David, Jeremiah, Jonah – all the great ones with great but in no way always happy stories.
The words of hope we heard this morning in the reading from Lamentations came from an author who wrote, in the 2 preceding chapters, verses of incredible mourning for the once great and promised city of Jerusalem now in ruins, her people slaughtered, and the Lord’s temple destroyed. Words of hope preceded by words of mourning not only for what had become of Jerusalem but, like many of us who have had our lives turned upside down and our greatest hopes dashed – for the special beauty of that life. He grieved not only for the past that was lost but for the future he had expected and hoped for. And, he like we, searched for a God who, in the midst of such immense, even violent suffering, seemed to be a stranger.
Those people knew God to be steadfast in his mercy and in his wrath. Their circumstances of suffering were a direct result of their sin. They navigated in a wilderness of their own making. And they lived in fear of God, rather than in relationship with him.
There are times when we too, find ourselves in a wilderness. Alone. Afraid. Angry. Questioning the goodness and presence of God amidst the messiness of life. Who hasn’t wondered if there even is a god?
Afraid that if we get angry with God – if we let Him have it – voicing the injustices in our lives and the world – he will utterly reject us; or perhaps it is more a sense of fear of losing control of the situation – afraid of relinquishing to God the outcome we desire. In so doing, when we hold back on God with our anger – AND OUR TRUST, we construct our own barriers to an authentic relationship with him as well as saying that God’s power and mercy is finite.
Walter Brueggeman, a renowned and quite popular on YouTube, Protestant, Old Testament scholar and theologian, says that you can’t have an authentic relationship with God If all you can do is praise Him.
Luckily for us, our God whose wrath is measured, is also a God whose mercy is unmeasurable. And so, to know the weight of the sin that is of this world and to better know us, he sent his Son to bear with us and to ultimately bear our sin.
And Jesus changed everything.
Let’s take a look at what an authentic relationship with God, our Lord and Savior Jesus looks like – one in which we put voice to our lament, where we let God in on the matters at hand, and trust that every morning is new and full of mercy:
There was a woman, suffering for 12 long years with an affliction that made her unclean – that cast her out of her community – that she could do nothing to resolve or control. She longed to be well and had tried everything physically possible to be well. Seeing doctor after doctor, spending all she had but nothing worked.
Imagine her frustration with a body that wouldn’t function as it was supposed to – that caused her pain – that had betrayed her and bankrupted her.
Imagine her loneliness – isolated; cast out by societal rules for something she could not control.
Imagine her loss of hope as doctor after doctor failed her.
From Lamentations – “I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long.”
She cried out to Jesus – she made her plight known and Jesus changed everything.
She had hoped for healing. She got so much more.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
For so long fear and illness had defined her – they still had their grip on her. But Jesus’ gives her more than she could ever have imagined. She is no longer just “a woman,” but a “daughter.” Jesus claimed her as his own and restored her to community as one whose “faith” has “made her well”. Promise and peace have been added to the new reality in her life. The healing of her disease comes as almost an afterthought.
There was a father, a religious leader in the community, who was bereft and urgently seeking help for his dying daughter – who finds help but is put aside by other pressing matters and then that help comes too late. His hopes are dashed. His faith shaken. Gone is a life that had yet to begin, that held so much promise and had brought so much joy. He was a leader in the community and yet he still was met with suffering. Pain knows no boundaries, but it appears that sometimes faith does.
Imagine his despair as he ponders the unfairness of this broken world – that his little girl should die while he is left behind to mourn.
Imagine his anger that he of all people could not protect his daughter from the ravages of her illness.
Imagine his broken heart – that he would never hear her jubilant laughter or watch her dance again.
From Lamentations – “He has made my flesh and my skin waste away and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago.”
Jesus sees beyond the doubt. Jesus changes everything.
“Do not fear, only believe.”
Jesus says and with those words, resurrects a life out of fear and doubt into one lived in trust and faith.
There was a man who walked among us, who brought the dead to life and helped the blind to see. Who for a time was celebrated and followed for the things he did and the words he spoke. But like so many of us – just when we are at the top of our game – he got knocked down, he found himself alone – he felt utterly rejected by his friends and his Father – as he bore within his body and spirit the physical manifestation of the sins of the world.
Imagine his terror as he contemplated his fate.
Imagine his sense of abandonment as he waited through the darkest hours of his life alone among sleeping “friends.”
Imagine his sheer sadness and heaviness of heart over the sins of this world.
Imagine the agony He endured on the cross – the mocking and scorning, the pain and the death just so that he could be one with us, to know our struggles and deepest hurts, and so that we of all people, could have everlasting life – freed from the sin that keeps us in darkness, and a life filled with the light of new mercies every morning.
From Lamentations – “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases his mercies never come to an end.”
Jesus changed everything. He came to be with us to bear with us in our darkest hours and give us all that we need. His mercies are there for us each morning – if we seek him and trust that he will see us through. Saved by grace, we are given Jesus’ strength, wisdom, guidance, power and discernment to get through every moment of every day.
Jesus changed everything for me. I made it home in time to hear my Dad say my name one last time. He passed from my arms into the arms of Jesus the next morning. Death was not as I had pictured it would be – at once rather matter of fact – at once incredibly holy. The fear I expected was instead a quiet peace. The cries of my heart were not out of anger or abandonment but out of relief and acceptance of an end and a beginning. Jesus changes everything.
Since that day that he brought peace to a heart filled with anguish, I have known times of darkness again. But I have not faced it alone. His mercies are there every morning – giving me just what I need – not always what I want or expected – but always what I need.
From Lamentations – “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Look to Jesus. Do not be afraid. Believe and go on living as He leads you – with faith.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness, oh God.
He is there for you too.