Psalm 71:1-14 – Tuesday of Holy Week

O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
    don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me and rescue me,
    for you do what is right.
Turn your ear to listen to me,
    and set me free.
Be my rock of safety
    where I can always hide.
Give the order to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.
My God, rescue me from the power of the wicked,
    from the clutches of cruel oppressors.
O Lord, you alone are my hope.
    I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood.
Yes, you have been with me from birth;
    from my mother’s womb you have cared for me.
    No wonder I am always praising you!

My life is an example to many,
    because you have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising you;
    I declare your glory all day long.
And now, in my old age, don’t set me aside.
    Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing.
For my enemies are whispering against me.
    They are plotting together to kill me.
They say, “God has abandoned him.
    Let’s go and get him,
    for no one will help him now.”

O God don’t stay away.
    My God, please hurry to help me.
Bring disgrace and destruction on my accusers.
    Humiliate and shame those who want to harm me.
But I will keep on hoping for your help;
    I will praise you more and more. (NLT)

Today’s psalm is a lament. It is included in Holy Week because the Christian can imagine Jesus saying these very words in the last days of his earthly life and ministry.

Lament is both important and necessary. Without lament our grief comes out sideways, inevitably harming others with our snarky vitriol. Lament gives expression to our deep grief. It enables us to come to grips with what has happened or is happening to us and within us.

  • A lament is an expression of personal grief to any significant change or loss; it is the normal emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational reaction to that loss.
  • Lamenting is an intentional process of letting go of relationships and dreams and living into a new identity after the loss or change.
  • Expressing grief through lament is personal; there is no one-size-fits-all.

Psalms of lament have a typical structure to them, including:

  • Addressing God: Crying out for help. Some psalms of lament expand to include a statement of praise or a recollection of God’s intervention in the past. (Psalm 71:1-3)
  • Complaint: Telling God (said with some flavor!) about our problem or experience through a range and depth of emotional, relational, and spiritual reactions to the change or loss. (Psalm 71:4)
  • Confession of Trust: Remaining confident in God despite the circumstances. Beginning to see problems differently. (Psalm 71:5-8)
  • Petition: Proclaiming confidence in God. Appealing to God for deliverance and intervention. Keep in mind that petitioning is not bargaining with God or a refusal to accept loss. Rather, it is a legitimate seeking of help. (Psalm 71:9-13)
  • Words of Assurance: Expressing certainty that the petition will be heard by God. (Psalm 71:14a)
  • Vow of Praise: Vowing to testify in the future to what God will do with praise. (Psalm 71:14b-24)

I urge you to do the following spiritual practice this Holy Week – set aside some time and craft your own psalm of lament. Choose an event from your past which created grief for you. It can be recent or from years ago. Using the structure of lament psalms, thoughtfully write out each element as I have outlined it. Then, read it aloud to God. Perhaps even take another step by reading your lament aloud to a trusted family member, friend, or Pastor.

Our grief needs the outlet of lament. Grief which is not expressed only sits in the soul and eventually, over time, can easily become putrid and rancid, poisoning our spirit, and compromising our faith. Sharing your story through lament is biblical, practical, and I will insist, necessary. Let me know how it goes…

Psalm 22:23-31 – Full of Suffering

Psalm 22 by Mike Moyers, 2016

All of you who revere the Lord—praise him!
    All of you who are Jacob’s descendants—honor him!
    All of you who are all Israel’s offspring—
        stand in awe of him!
Because he didn’t despise or detest
    the suffering of the one who suffered—
    he didn’t hide his face from me.
    No, he listened when I cried out to him for help.

I offer praise in the great congregation
    because of you;
    I will fulfill my promises
    in the presence of those who honor God.
Let all those who are suffering eat and be full!
    Let all who seek the Lord praise him!
        I pray your hearts live forever!
Every part of the earth
    will remember and come back to the Lord;
    every family among all the nations will worship you.
Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord,
    he rules all nations.
Indeed, all the earth’s powerful
    will worship him;
    all who are descending to the dust
    will kneel before him;
    my being also lives for him.
Future descendants will serve him;
    generations to come will be told about my Lord.
They will proclaim God’s righteousness
        to those not yet born,
        telling them what God has done. (CEB)

“Faith must be tested, because it can only become your intimate possession through conflict.”

oswald chambers

“Suffering” is a word we would like to avoid. Simply saying or reading the word might make us cringe. Suffering? No thanks. I think I’ll pass on that. Yet, something inside of us instinctively knows we cannot get around it. Everyone suffers in some way. It is endemic to the human condition that at times we will suffer physically, financially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. 

That’s why I believe there is so much talk within some Christian circles about miracles. It’s more than understandable. A chronic pain sufferer wants relief; she prays for a miracle of health. A small business owner is bleeding financially; he looks to God for an immediate miracle of wealthy clients. A beloved senior saint knows she is afflicted with Alzheimer’s; she prays for the miracle of deliverance, even to be taken home to be with the Lord. A young adult finds himself in the throes of depression and has tried everything to cope and get out of it; he petitions God for a miracle out of the deep black hole. The believer in Jesus keeps experiencing a besetting sin and cannot get over it; she looks to God for the miracle of not struggling any more with it.

These scenarios and a thousand other maladies afflict people everywhere. There are a multitude of stories out there. Folks who have experienced a miracle tell of their wonderful deliverance. But what about the rest? Those without the miracle? Do they have a lack of faith? Has God forgotten them?

Oh, my, no! God sees, and God knows. God is acquainted with suffering. Jesus knows it first-hand. Remember, it was Jesus who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Even Jesus cried out in his suffering.  But there was no deliverance coming for him.  There was, instead, deliverance coming for us.

Sometimes the greatest miracle and deliverance of all is to be freed from the need for a miracle. The reason God doesn’t just offer immediate relief from everyone’s suffering and bring a miracle is that he is doing something else: Walking with us through our suffering. God oftentimes has plans and purposes for us well beyond our understanding.  We simply are not privy to everything in God’s mind.

We may not get the miracle we desire. However, what we will get without fail is God’s provision and steadfast love all the way through the suffering. Where is God in your suffering? Jesus is suffering with you. You are not crying alone; Christ weeps with you.

Let, then, those who suffer, eat and be full. Let them be satisfied with the portion God has given them. What’s more, let them offer praise to the God who is squarely beside them in every affliction and each trouble.

God Almighty, you are the One who knows suffering and affliction better than anyone. I admit I don’t often understand what in the world you are doing or not doing in my life and in the lives of those I love. Yet, I admit that I have found in you the comfort, encouragement, and strength to live another day in my trouble. For this, I praise you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jeremiah 20:14-18 – Overwhelmed with Grief

By Unknown artist

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame? (NIV)

Perhaps you feel as though you must put on a good face, a decent front for others to see. You don’t like other people seeing you upset or cry because it can be embarrassing. Maybe you believe others don’t need to be burdened with your sadness. The last thing you want is to be a killjoy.

Sometimes you might even put up a front with God.  Maybe you think God wants everyone to be perpetually happy and always sing with the birds in blissful joy and gladness, or whistle while you work. However, that would not be an accurate view of God.

One of the most faithful people in Holy Scripture, Jeremiah, freely and unabashedly lamented before God – to the point of wishing he were dead. Jeremiah, the incredible prophet of God, closer to the Lord than anyone of his generation, was so despondent and ashamed that he wished he were never even born. The suffering and the shame were just too overwhelming.

To say that Jeremiah had a difficult ministry is a gross understatement. He literally had the ministry from hell, prophesying to people who neither liked him, nor his message to them. In the middle of it all, Jeremiah threw up his hands and let out his complaint to God. Jeremiah was in such ministerial misery that he wished he had been a stillborn baby.

Lest you think Jeremiah was sinfully depressed or just cuckoo, he is far from alone in the Bible. King David had no scruples about letting God know how he felt about his dire circumstances. Job, likely the most famous sufferer of all, spent time doing nothing but lamenting his terrible losses for months. What all three of them have in common is that they openly grieved with great tears, yet neither cursed God nor forsook the Lord.

Lamentation is the sacred space between intense grieving to God without blaming the Lord for our significant changes and losses in life. I would even argue that lamenting and grieving before God is a necessary spiritual practice which needs full recognition in the Body of Christ. Please sit with that last statement for a bit and consider how it might become a reality in your own life and context.

Grief can and does attach itself to any change or loss. It is the normal emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational reaction to that injury of the heart. There is only one way through grief. We must tell our story to another. It is both biblical and quite necessary.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

galatians 6:2, NLT

We need our spirituality to support us in such times – not drive us away through a misguided theology of believing you must keep a stiff upper lip. It is critical to have safe and supportive people in our lives when going through overwhelming circumstances.

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.”

Brené Brown

Our tears are holy. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. The prophet Jeremiah was doing a very godly thing in expressing his grief. And Jeremiah’s lament is what helped steel him for the several attempts on his life that he faced.

Let the tears do their intended work in your life.

God of all, you feel deeply about a great many things.  As your people, we also feel a great depth of emotion when our lives go horribly awry from our dreams and expectations.  Hear our lament as we pour out our grief before you, through Jesus, our Savior, with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15 – How to Use Our Voice

The Prophet Jeremiah by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Early in the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came from the Lord: “This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen, and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.’”

The priests, the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the Lord. But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord….

Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.” (NIV)

Although much attention is given to Christmas Day, the Christian season of Christmas spans twelve days from December 25 through January 5. Celebrating Christmas as a season helps us immerse ourselves in Christ’s incarnation more fully than merely celebrating for one day.

Perhaps today’s Old Testament lesson is a curious choice for a Christmas season Scripture text. Yet, although we hold in one hand the joy and celebration of Christ’s birth, in the other hand we hold the deep sadness of recognizing that not everyone was or is excited about Jesus. For Christ is both the cornerstone of faith and the stone which causes people to stumble and fall. (1 Peter 2:8)

The fact of the matter is that God is not okay with cruel injustice, hollow worship, and an inattention to both the divine and human. Jesus came to make things right. But not everyone wants that. Systemic evil persists because there are always people who benefit from how power and resources are structured – and they care little about how it impacts those on the underbelly of their control.

Therefore, just as important it is to recognize the inbreaking of God into this world and celebrate the incarnation of Christ, it is equally necessary to acknowledge that the world is broken and that we must speak truth to power. This is no easy task because rarely are things simply black and white, all good or all bad.

Jeremiah by Marc Chagall, 1956

In Jeremiah’s day, it was not that his opponents were pure evil with no acknowledgment of God. Rather, the problem was that the power brokers in Judah tried to keep a strict separation of religion from everything else. In other words, they were perfectly fine with God, that is, if the Lord would stay in the temple where he belonged. But Jeremiah would have none of it. Keeping Yahweh out of matters of social justice, geopolitics, and institutional governance led to great humanitarian problems. Jeremiah became God’s voice to a generation of people who ignored the divine in everything but religious ritual.

Bifurcating worship and work disconnect daily life from divine resources. Without God infused in all of life, a lack of grace fills the empty places. What is more, the sovereign Lord of all can neither be silenced nor dismissed; God will find a way to accomplish peace and justice for the common good of everyone, and not just the few.

The heart of Jeremiah’s message was for king and people to be obedient in all of life, to recenter themselves around God’s law – not just the religious bits but the social ones, as well. Jeremiah did not proclaim something new. He was just calling the powers that be to Torah observance.

The true needs and interests of our communities can never be addressed and lifted-up in the narrow self-serving interests of persons in power who turn a blind eye to anyone unlike them. The needs and interests of our world lie in becoming who we were designed from the beginning to be: A people belonging to God, tapping into the deep reservoir of spirituality inside us.

For the Christian, we are to acknowledge the baby born as a king and follow in the way of grace and truth. There is to be no division between sacred and secular because Jesus is Lord of all. We are to continually use our voice for both praise and prophecy, for shouting celebration to God and speaking truth to power.

Holy God, Sovereign of all, we give you praise for sending your Son, our Savior, Jesus as a baby, a human just like us. Keep us grounded in humility, sensitive to sin, attentive to that which is just and right, merciful in all things, pure in worship, and peace-loving through Christ our Lord in the strength of your Spirit. Amen.