This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 19, 2017.
The passage before us presents two unique and challenging sermon opportunities that could be intertwined into one sermon. The two primary themes, grief and eschatology, are rarely healthily considered from the pulpit leaving more questions than answers. Hopefully, with this text, some sense of hope can be found in the congregation through careful exegesis that sheds light on God’s goodness even in death.
The congregation at Thessalonica were grieving. Faithful members of their congregation had passed away, and the church was concerned the deceased would tragically not be saved or not be able to participate in Christ’s second coming if they were dead at the Parousia. Setting the theology aside for a moment, it would be wise for the preacher to examine the effects of grief on a family and how that also correlates to a church who loses someone dear to the church. We need to give the congregation permission to mourn and lament in those kinds of difficult days. It may be prudent to search the lament Psalms for an example of how to pray in the deep distress of death. It is worth noting that death can be a sensitive topic because all of us have faced it at some level, but just because it is a sensitive topic does not mean we should stay away from it. Our common experience of death can be a springboard into the full life of the Gospel.
The theological concern is muddy, but cannot be overlooked. The difficulty seems to be that at some level the church thought that the dead will not be able to participate in the 2nd coming of Christ. Paul certainly challenges their concept of afterlife, however 1 Thessalonians 4:16 stands in tension with 2 Corinthians 5:8. The first saying the dead will rise with Christ, while the second says that when you die you are immediately with Christ. There is a certain mystery about who we are and where we go at death before the Parousia that the church in Thessalonica is wrestling with just as the people in our pews. The sermon needs to carefully address those concerns by showing the hope of the Gospel and sovereignty of God. It may be most important to remind the congregation that the church in Thessalonica is fearful. If nothing else, we do not have to fear death because Jesus Christ has already overcome death and God is in control across history.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 2nd, 2016.
Lamentations opens with the personification of Jerusalem as a woman widowed, abandoned in death by her husband. Who is her husband? Her husband is YHWH who, though not dead, has given over his people to suffering. The lament announces abandonment, the deep grief of one alone in anguish. This book of poems was likely written soon after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, a time when the wounds of sorrow were still raw with hurt. Such an abandonment by God to a foreign power not only weighed the Israelites down with grief over the death of her people; it also called into question God’s place in the pantheon of godly powers. Grief is thus expressed over the physical desolation of the city and the diminishing of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. Once the symbols of God’s covenant faithfulness: land, temple, and king were now the symbols of all that was lost. Israel’s life with God is now broken, as is their place among the nations. The people of God, the lament asks? Are they the bride of YHWH, a queen among the nations? No, they are now a widow and a slave.
To explicate this point clearly, the Hebrew text uses the word translated “queen” in verse one. This is the same word used for Abraham’s wife, Sara. Jerusalem is no longer the bride of the promise, wed to the fulfillment of God’s covenant to make them a people within the land. Instead, that covenant appears abandoned, as they are abandoned to the grief of exile.
Verse two presents the corporate response of the city, the grieving widow. What is the response of the people in their abandonment? Their response is deep grief. Jerusalem looks in verse two for comfort and love. The nation searches for friends, but none exist. There is only the mocking presence of friends turned to enemies. In whom can Jerusalem put their trust? There is no one present for them.
Verse three describes the torment over Jerusalem’s untethering. Israel’s identity, previously experienced as anchored in the land of promise, is now ripped from under their feet. They are untethered from the land, set adrift in exile and in relation to YHWH. The people of God dwell now among the nations, a people of no place, a people of no Sabbath, no rest within the world.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on September 18th, 2016.
The lament alone is why Jeremiah has been nicknamed the “Weeping Prophet.” Chapter eight is a prophetic poem is the source of the well-known spiritual There is a Balm in Gilead. The “balm” is healing medicine mentioned briefly in Genesis when a caravan of Ishmaelite’s traveling from Gilead to Egypt with a gum-like substance used to close and bind wounds (Gen 37:25). The rhetorical question “Is there a balm in Gilead?” is used to explore the depth of a spiritual and moral crisis in the Israelite community.
The mixture of God’s anguish and the grieving community in Jerusalem are interwoven in a lyrical mourning of the terror to come. In the face of demoralization and suffering, this lament has stood the test of time because these words touch the deepest parts of all humanity. The humanity of Jeremiah is evident through his own grief and depression. Jeremiah is lamenting for the community and for the God of his people. He is holding the tension between God’s anger and sadness and the profound loss of that Israel is and will continue to experience.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on September 11th, 2016.
When reading the word “desert,” our minds quickly imagine sandy landscapes and a scorching sun. This passage paints imagery of the burning winds of the desert that blow fiercely from the bare heights stinging all in its path. The text creates vivid descriptions of a desert that can be creatively explored. This could be a frozen, barren wasteland with stinging, icy winds that burn like the scorching sun upon the skin. Most likely the imagery comes from a middle eastern desert storm, a dry, dust bowl where sand covers the sun leaving the land in utter darkness. No creatures can be found for even the birds have fled, flying south. Nothing will grow, and nothing will live in the waste and void. Jeremiah is returning the listener to Genesis chapter one where the earth was formless and empty. This Hebrew phrase is only seen in Jeremiah 4:23 and Genesis 1:2.