Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 28, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Lamentations 3:22-33
Sermon Theme: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”
(Sources: Brokhoff, Series B, Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Emphasis Online Commentaries; original ideas; Online Peanuts Quotes; Christian Jokes Online; Introduction to Lamentations, Concordia Self-Study Bible)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The “dog days” of summer are about to begin, — when the triple digit heat index and the three-digit humidity make daily life miserable, especially without air-conditioning.
For people without hope, the “dog days of summer” hound them all year long, summer, fall, winter, and spring, — only the heat and humidity are within rather than without, and life is hopeless and miserable.
You know folks are in trouble when the woebegone husband says to the wife, “I married you, — now make me happy!” It’s like when Charlie Brown said in a Peanuts comic strip, “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time.”
In another strip, Lucy asks Charlie, “Why do you think we’re put here on earth, Charlie Brown?”
“To make others happy,” he replies.
Lucy responds, “I don’t think I’M making anyone very happy.” After a pause, she continues, “Of course, no one is making ME very happy either! SOMEBODY’S NOT DOING HIS JOB!”
Our sermon text from Lamentations was written at a time when God’s people lost everything, — nation, city, temple, freedom. The Holy city of Jerusalem, with its Temple, was in ruins and God’s people were in captivity. Where is God now?, the people were asking. There seemed to be no hope; if there is no hope, there is no reason to go on living, the people were thinking.
A Christian never gets to the point of no hope when conditions appear hopeless. Today, we live in a civilization where love grows cold. Annually love evaporates, and a million marriages end in divorce. Wide spread neglect and abuse indicate a lack of love in the home. Friendships are based on “using” each other.
The good news is that God’s love for us never grows cold, but rather renews itself daily. God is faithful to His people even if they are faithless, our text says. In times like ours, we need hope in God, — not in other people, not in society, not in the government. Other human beings can disappoint us, but, as the text says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.”
A man had a had a habit of grumbling at the food his wife placed before him at family meals. Then he would ask the blessing.
One day, after his usual combination complaint-prayer, his little daughter asked, “Daddy, does God hear us when we pray?”
“Why, of course,” he responded, “he hears us every time we pray.”
After pausing and thinking about this for a minute, his little girl asked, “Does He hear everything we say the rest of the time?”
“Yes, dear, every word,” he replied, encouraged that he had inspired his daughter to be curious about spiritual matters.
However, his pride was quickly turned to humility with her last question, “Then which does God believe?”
We can always say of God, “Great is thy faithfulness!” Jesus bought that certainty for us by suffering and dying on the cross and sealed it by His resurrection. As much as we sinful, Christian human beings would like it to be said about us, “Great is your faithfulness,” our imperfections prevent it. Great is our wishy-washiness! I’m sure that Jeremiah could have said that about God’s people in Lamentations, too, — “Great is your wishy-washiness!”
We all know of exceptions to this, and we praise God for their witness, which is another way God brings us hope.
Pastor Frank tells about a 98 year old woman in his congregation who was blind. In addition to being blind, her body was so crippled with arthritis, she could barely walk. She had lost her husband years ago to cancer.
When Pastor Frank would visit her and say, “How are you today, Margaret?,” she would always reply, “I have no complaints.”
“Are you sure?” he would ask.
“I got a roof over my head; I eat three meals a day; I have people who love me, and I know the Lord Jesus. Believe me, Pastor, I have no complaints!”
No doubt Margaret knew that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,” that God “does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” She had put her hope in God, and she knew that God would not disappoint her. Because of God, she had no complaints.
“Lamentations” means “tears.” The entire Book of Lamentations has many tears of sadness in its pages. Jeremiah calls out to the Lord in a Chapter preceding our sermon text, “Look, O Lord, and consider: Whom have you ever treated like this?’ We too may cry out to God like this. In verses preceding our text, we hear of great pain, fear and sorrow.
Often we see tears in the church – tears of sorrow, tears of anger, tears of emptiness, tears of loneliness. But we have hope in the same God as Jeremiah: “Because of the Lord’s great compassion we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails.” The steadfast love of God never ceases.
Leslie Weatherhead offers these comments about God’s steadfast love: “The fact that God is love does not mean that God is soft and sentimental with us, or that He takes a lenient view of sin. Sin is the most dreadful fact in the universe. But at the same time, God is a Father, and Jesus not only called Him by that name, but taught us that we could best understand Him in terms of that figure.”
A couple verses before our sermon text begins, Jeremiah presented the image of God as the Father of Israel, and, at the end of our text, he says, “God will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”
Are we punished by or for our sins? When adversity comes, should we ask what wrong we have done to deserve it? Verse 33 suggests that God does not punish us for our sins in the sense of retribution. His judgment may come to us to deter future sin or to reclaim us. Rather, we are punished by our sins, because our breaking of God’s laws, moral or spiritual, always brings suffering and penalty.
To be sure, our sermon text for today had much to offer the people of Israel, as under the yoke of slavery they lived in loneliness, defeat, abuse, and despair, conditions their disobedience brought about. The text offered hope to soothe their hurts and dry their tears. Likewise, it comes to us amid our struggles and tears, and offers us the same hope.
The text gives us hope in hopeless times: “For the LORD will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.” The text gives us faith to know God’s love. It says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” It teaches us to have patience and wait for God’s deliverance. Our text says, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” This is a call for patience and hope in times of adversity.
As our song says, “Morning by morning new mercies I see: All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.