Summary: Why life is hard and why its OK to say so.
Sunday 9th March 2008
Sermons are the fruit of prayerful reflection- having studied the text, commentaries and other people’s interpretation. Any use of particular phraseology or similarity with other people’s work which has not been duly acknowledged is an oversight for which I apologise.
It seems to me that in recent years-
grief has been nationalised.
Take something like the death of Princess Diana.
Seldom before had so much grief
been expressed so publicly, by so many people.
There had been state funerals-
people filing past deceased heads of state-
processions of black clad mourners.
But there was a sort of hushed quality to those memorials-
that contrasted with the unbridled emotion and near hysteria that poured out in 1997.
We have seen the images- or perhaps witnessed these things first-hand.
Flowers, and teddy bears, and football insignia, and tears, all mixed together.
People are struggling for some way to express- what?
Revulsion, disgust, solidarity, compassion, need and despair.
There are plenty of people to tell us
how to deal with life’s harshest experiences.
I remember, (at College), in one of the counselling classes- someone saying that if people felt like breaking plates then that would be fine;
someone else suggesting that someone should wet a tea- towel and, summoning all their emotion, wring it out as tightly as possible.
That seemed to be a very secular kind of response to the issues people endure.
It could play a part perhaps.
In scripture people tore their clothes, they wore sackcloth or ashes- They expressed themselves physically.
But also in words.
And it is some of those words that we’re going to look at this evening.
Very ancient words- written against a very traumatic background for God’s people.
Like a lot of Old Testament passages,
(perhaps more so than New Testament)
we lose a little of the impact of the text- by reading it in translation.
When it comes to Hebrew- How the passage is written the structure of the text, the clever choice of words- is almost as important as the overall message.
When it comes to Lamentations- it is a hard read- but it is also a work of art!
The first couple of chapters (and the last) use an acrostic pattern.
There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Each of the verses in those two chapters begins with a different letter of the alphabet. Clever! and a good device to help someone to remember it.
But when it comes to chapter 3, which is our focus this evening- Chapter 3 is 66 verses (we are only going to look at the middle bit...)
and it is 22 stanzas of 3 verses each- and you’ve guessed it-
each beginning with a letter of the alphabet- but read it in English and we miss that.
You might know people who work out their "issues" in poetry or prose...
people who write letters, people who compose blogs on the internet.
But in some ways the book of Lamentations is more like a list of song lyrics.
The book doesn’t have a storyline as such-there’s no narrative.
But as the writer expresses himself- and chapter 3 is in the first person-
there is an invitation to us to see if we can make these words our own.
Sometimes songs only make sense when the writer themselves is singing them- But with Psalms, for example, and Lamentations is like a collection of Psalms- we can make them our own.
So what is the background of the incredible pain that breaks through in the book of Lamentations?
We link our understanding of Lamentations
with the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah had a tough time- He had spent 40 years preaching the same message- and from the world’s perspective he was a failure- because the people seemed to take no heed of his warnings.
He suffered personally- but the book of Lamentations deals with the suffering of the people.
When the invading forces destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 587 BC-carrying people away into exile, forcing people into starvation, huge loss of life- a traumatic and defining moment in their history-
there was clearly an outpouring of grief.
I was tempted this evening-
to use the same points about life’s hard circumstances
that I used last week (when preaching on 2 Cor 1)
I wonder would anyone have noticed-
had I said- when life is hard:
Run to God
Learn the lessons of suffering
But this text is of course slightly different-
The first point this evening is that
we need to acknowledge the problem of human suffering.
Verses 19 and 20:
"I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me."