Lament and Hope
Today’s Gospel, the reading from Genesis and the Psalm have this in common: Lament.
Jesus compares himself to a mother hen trying to protect her chicks. He has been heading toward Jerusalem but is in anguish because “Jerusalem” – the city representing the people of God -- is acting like a rebellious teenager turning away from God’s grace, love and mercy. Jesus laments.
Abram laments. He trusted God. The Lord had promised him at the beginning of his journey: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Gen. 12:1-2 But now… Abram is old. His wife Sarai is old and is still barren. And Abram laments an unfulfilled dream, what he thinks is a broken promise.
Our Psalmist laments too. Psalm 27 begins with a confident proclamation of faith: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” But then…when God does not seem to answer, the psalm turns to lament. The psalmist begs the Lord: "Do not hide your face from me." And again: "Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help."
Lament. Jesus voices despair at the way of the world, a world turned towards injustice rather than justice, towards greed and power rather than love and mercy. Abram mourns the loss of a dream. And the Psalmist protests the seeming silence of God. All are very real expressions of lament.
As a person who scores exceptionally high in positivity – I almost always see the glass as more than half full – lament is not easy for me. I prefer to look at the bright side. And usually… I do. And yet, there are times that I too find myself turning to lament. I lament the injustice of our world. And I’m not alone. We lament the loss of innocent lives when a gunman shot Muslims at worship in New Zealand. We lament the hurt and pain that people cause one another. We lament missed opportunities to show kindness, to spend time in worthy ways and to be the person that God made us to be.
I truly believe that God welcomes our lament over injustice, understands our grief at unfulfilled hopes and dreams and our complaints that life is not fair…because sometimes it isn’t. In fact, God would prefer you shake your fist and rail in honest despair and righteous anger rather than try to pretend that everything is ok. God wants to be in relationship with you – the real you. And in order to do this, you’ve got to be honest – even if it isn’t pretty. Believe me. God can take it.
I received a call from the police dispatch one late winter afternoon. I remember the day perfectly: It had been bitterly cold the night before but now the sun was shining brightly on the snow. It was beautiful. But when Police dispatch calls – it’s never to report good news. The Police investigators met me outside the house and told me the story. A young woman had been found dead in her car. She was frozen. It was our job to tell the family. They were also there to investigate.
When the father answered the door, he assumed that his daughter was in jail or detox. But we asked to come in… and when we told them what had happened, the mother burst into tears and the father’s jaw dropped. It had been a hard journey for them with their daughter for many years. She had been in and out of treatment for years. The night before she told them she was going to an AA meeting… but when she didn’t come home, they called. She didn’t answer. They assumed she was drinking. Even though that family had been on this path for many years, it was a terrible blow. In a word, they were full of lament. They were people of faith. They had been reading their Bible and praying. Their daughter had been on the prayer chain at their church for years.
In the few hours that I was with them they went from disbelief to shock to anger at her to anger at God to disbelief again. And I told them – it’s ok. Go ahead and be angry with God. God can take it.
They asked me to stay until their pastor came. So I did – reading psalms sometimes and sitting quietly at others while they cried and they told the story again and again as their family and friends started to call. And when their pastor finally arrived… he pulled out his Bible and read a Psalm.
The Psalms are a wonderful gift – they can meet us wherever we are on our journey -- from the depths of lament to the heights of faith and hope. For those who have grown up in the church, the language of the psalms can be familiar and comforting. But for others, sometimes the language needs translation.
The very first person I visited “on my own” when I was on internship was a young woman who was suffering from MS.
I offered to read the Psalms to her. She responded, “I don’t get the Psalms.” Her comment stuck with me.
The words of the psalms – and frankly the whole Bible – is a gift but only if they are understood. So I have taken to reading other translations as well as the traditional one. And I encourage you to do the same. If you read the Bible online, it’s easy to do. There are hundreds of translations available – for free – from Biblegateway.com. One of the ones I like is called the Common English Bible (CEB).
The translation of Psalm 27 that we read ends with: Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! The CEB ends like this: Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord!
Waiting. Hoping. I like both of these translations. “Wait for the Lord” suggests perseverance and endurance and a patient confidence. “Hope in the Lord” also suggests confidence but with expectation and optimism.
Wait for the Lord. Hope in the Lord. That is God’s response to lament. The Lord takes Abram out of his tent where he is brooding on his misfortune and shows him the sky full of stars. The Lord dares Abram to believe that despite the fact that his wife is barren and he is old, God will make good on his promises and that his descendants will be more numerous than the stars. Abram believes. He dares to wait for the Lord and hope in the Lord. It is counted as “righteousness.”
And God keeps God’s promise. First, by making a covenant with Abram and Sarai, changing their names to Abraham and Sarah and then… by giving them a child. God keeps God’s promises.
Likewise, God says to you: You can dare to trust God’s promises. Even in your darkest hour, and any and all of those times that you lament and ask, “Why God?” or “Where is God?” The Lord says to you, “Wait for the Lord. Hope in the Lord. For in your baptism, God has made a covenant with you – God claims you as God’s own, as a beloved brother or sister of Christ. And… God keeps God’s promises. Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
March 17, 2019