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Lamentation and Hope: A Response to 9-11-01

All of us in this church, this community, this nation and on this earth have witnessed this week, clarity. Evil (Satan’s vocation and hobby) is so often masked in our lives and in our world. This week evil boldly and brazenly unmasked itself from its many disguises and killed.

We are shaken. Our future seems uncertain, our daily tasks trivial in comparison to the death, destruction and heroics of the past week. The personal griefs we bear (too often alone) are weighing in on us and are overwhelmed by the attacks in New York and in Washington, D.C. We are powerless, it seems, to help. Our anger is red hot (but we know we must not be consumed by it); we demand justice (and certainly that will come, but we know not without further sacrifice and—for the church—not without mercy). We search for reasons for this monumental loss, and know explanations are elusive but that God enters fully into human suffering and we the church are called to follow.

 

We as a staff in our prayer vigils on Tuesday and again on Friday (both at the noon hour), have prayed for ourselves and with many who are fearful. Where is there safety? Where is there hope? God, how do you lead and speak to us in our fear? These questions are thrust on us in an instant. No doubt they were not being asked even a week ago. For the answers, it is good to know our history and delve into the Word of God for solace and guidance.

Jeremiah (circa 586 B.C.) was a prophet of Israel up to and including the Babylonian exile of Judah and Israel. His foretelling of events leading to the collapse of the Jewish State and the destruction of the Temple drew hostile responses from his countryman. He was persecuted intensely for the message of repentance or calamity. As Jerusalem lay in ruins he sat in the rubble and wrote Lamentations, a book of filled with grief. Yet, even in the Jeremiah’s anguish there was hope as he recounted the Lord’s faithfulness in times past and created a new vision where no vision seemed possible. It is a book of the human cry for deliverance in the fear we so often live in, a look forward to the Messiah and the rule of God on this earth.

Jeremiah is fearful, grieving yet hopeful as he envisions God restoring Israel and Jerusalem, bringing the covenant (Hesed-Hebrew for unwavering love) people of God back home from exile in Babylon. He is yearning for the restoration of the Temple and the reign of God in the hearts of men. There is a Rembrandt painting of Jeremiah sitting in the mist of the rubble of Jerusalem—this is how I picture him as he composes this chapter of hope after witnessing human suffering and depravity at its worst:

"I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, 'My splendor is gone and all I that I had hoped from the Lord.' I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust [a picture of repentance]—there may yet be hope." Lamentations 3:17-29

With the Incarnation of Jesus came the kingdom of God in the hearts and souls of all who believe Jesus is the Christ, the salvation of the world. The cry of Jeremiah is heard with God the Son bringing deliverance from the brokenness of the world and restoring all things to Himself.

Pastor Matt Atkins asked us all, how do we pray after events such as these and in times of calamity and fear? Again we go to the Word. Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer how to pray for God’s kingdom and rule in our lives. How do we pray as words escape us?

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed (revered and holy) be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts (trespasses, sins) as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (from evil). For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen." Matthew 6: 9-13

The reign and the rule of God in our hearts, ushered in by Jesus’ death and resurrection, is seen only in part in this world. When Jesus returns the kingdom will be fully established. We have glimpses of the kingdom of Heaven now in the history of the world. But we know that our hope is not in this world, but will be fully realized in the hope of Heaven and growing into holiness for eternity.

Jesus, the Messiah was received in Jerusalem and then crucified for the sins of the world. In the hottest furnace of suffering God gave his only Son, that in the rubble of our lives we might live again in repentance, joy and new life. The Kingdom of God has come in the hearts of those who believe thatresurrection is real and that fear will replaced by courage, faith and hope.

John the exiled Evangelist, gave the suffering, fearful and persecuted infant church a fantastic vision of the defeat of evil and Jesus’ triumph over Satan. The kingdom of God is made visible in theincomprehensible power of the Resurrection! He is living and among us! We look forward and anticipate with John and the early church the New Heaven and the New Earth. We are entrusted with spreading the joyful news of this hope.

The most often repeated admonition in the New Testament is, "fear not." We "fear not" as we trust in spite of and beyond our immediate circumstances. In the new Babylon we live in, in the rubble of our lives and of our world we know the restoration of our souls, of our times, of this world is in motion and will be complete in God’s good and perfect time.

In our grief and lament we are comforted and directed by the Holy Spirit in the covenant community of God. This is a time to examine ourselves and our need of forgiveness and transformation. This is a time to give our lives and our futures into Jesus’ control. We must trust Him with our souls, our hearts and our minds as we struggle to make sense of this life and anticipate our own deaths and choose now our destination in the eternity to come.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Even so, come quickly Lord. Amen Revelation 22:1-5