Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hope Without Reason

Hope Without Reason

October 3, 2010 - World Communion Sunday

2 Timothy 1:1-7

Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26

2 Timothy 1:1-7

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

We don’t often hang out in the book of Lamentations, and yet that is what the Lectionary has offered us today. If you’ve ever even dabbled in the Old Testament prophets you know that they are made predominately of warnings to the people of Israel that their behaviors and attitudes were going to result in tragedy and suffering. In Lamentations the suffering has arrived in the form of an exile from their beloved Promised Land to a foreign place, Babylonia, where they are without their land, without their property, and without their Temple.

Lamentations contains five dark poems. Four of the five poems are written as an acrostic, each line beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, presumably to better express the loss and grief of Israel in its totality from A to Z.[i]

It ain’t pretty.

Indeed the majority of Lamentations sounds like this excerpt from the first chapter, verses 1-6:

Lamentations 1:1-6

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.


She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.


Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting-place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.


Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper,
because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away, captives before the foe.


From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture;

they fled without strength before the pursuer.

These verses and ones similar to it are the dark, heavy framework around today’s reading:

Lamentations 3:19-26

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

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;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’


The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

The word of the Lord…

Where did that come from?

There is no reason for it.

The way these readings have been layered one over another on one Sunday seems to echo our own society’s handling of suffering and sorrow. We don’t like to see sorrow for too long, we want people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and hope for heaven’s sakes. Depression, sadness – we don’t like those. They make us uncomfortable and so even the best of us can fall i

nto the trap of turning to someone who is suffering and trying to make it better.

It is at those times when it may be best to remember the friends that Job had and how brilliant they were as they sat with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights – a perfect ministry of presence until they ruined everything… by opening their mouths.

Make no doubt about it, the book of Lamentations is a dark, dark place. There is suffering as community and as individuals – we too know about this darkness.

To live in this earthly kingdom is to at least brush up against some kind of suffering:

whether it be your own disease or someone close to you;

your own loss or someone close to you;

your own depression or someone close to you.

“Maybe our city has not been destroyed, though people from Port-au-Prince to Baghdad might be reading these words in their streets. But we, or someone we love, knows hurt, knows the rejection letter doctor’s phone call marriage in trouble desperate addiction lonely and stuck and have no idea why kind of hurt. Our laments may not sound like these poems, but we lament. We wonder why. We cry out to God as we slam our hand agains the steerimg wheel (while) the tears come.”[ii]

The place of lament is a dark, dark place.

And in the dark there is no reason to hope for God.

In the dark there is no reason to listen for God.

In the book of Lamentations there is no response from God – ever.

We find only lament…

Well, almost…

My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

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;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’


The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Where did that come from?

There is no reason for it.

The word for the ‘steadfast love of God’ does not translate clearly from Hebrew into En

glish. The Hebrew word is ‘hesed’ which means the unbelievably intense, no matter what happens to you or what you do over the top love for you by God. Hesed – the steadfast love of God.

I know this word well, so well that in a declaration of Whose I was – I had it tattooed on my ankle. This would not be everyone’s choice and if you are a teen hoping to use the fact that the preacher has a tattoo as a reason why you should get one I would suggest that parents allow it… when you reach the age I was – 37.

In Lamentations, this ‘hesed’, The steadfast love of the Lord… is a startling proclamation in the midst of deep, dark sorrow.

Where did it come from?

There is no reason for it.

And yet there it is – so assured in the midst of nothing that eventually there will be something; that even though unseen and unheard from, God is present.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Even when things are going well we need assurance. It is why we take the time to gather around the table for Communion. It is here that our community asserts our confidence of the ongoing presence of Christ in our midst. Charles Wesley called the bread and the cup the ‘antepast’ of heaven. ‘Antepast’ taken from the same root as ‘antipasto’ – a foretaste of the great meal that is to come.

When things are going well, we can see it, we can taste it.

In the light we are able to claim the hope for what is yet to come.

But when it’s dark…. It is hard to see, taste or know anything but despair.

It is a lonely place to be.

And if you are a Preacher trying to write your Easter Sunday sermon with the darkness of betrayal and hurt and grief sinking in on you – it is an incredibly dark place to be.

I may have been sitting at my kitchen table, but it felt like the cold, dark, dead tomb.

I kept reading and re-reading the anthem the choir was going to sing:

We are resurrection people. Let us sing a resurrection song.

Let us tell the resurrection story of the glory of the Lord.

Let the word of Christ dwell in us as His peace lives within our hearts.

So whatever we do, whatever we claim, let us go in Jesus’ name.

Those words… I could not feel them.

Christ’s peace lives within our hearts? How could he? Mine was broken.

I remember imploring myself, “Come on, Kathryn – just write something. Anything! What is the matter with you? Are you not a Christian? Come ON!”

And then I saw the word that was now a part of me: hesed.

The unbelievably intense, no matter what happens to you or what you do over the top love for you by God. Hesed – the steadfast love of God.

I grabbed it – because though my heart was broken, my strength was sapped and my soul was bruised… my mind knew it to be true.

Where did that come from?

A lamenter prays to a God who is absent or hidden from them, but not to a God who is extinct.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…


That… is our reason.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[i] Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, Peterson, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. (Nashville: Abingdon press, 1999), p. 335.

[ii] Chris Tuttle. 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Well – 2010, Davidson, NC. p. 6.