lamenting faith

The handwriting was on the wall as some of the Pharisees advised Jesus to stay away from Jerusalem.  There was no question that Herod wanted Jesus dead as Jesus told the Pharisees to deliver a message to Herod on his behalf:

“Go and tell that fox for me.” ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day, I finish my work.’

Jesus was not turning away from Jerusalem.  Luke 9:51 tells us that Jesus was resolute on completing the journey to the cross:

When the days drew near for him to take up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

Jesus knew that while the handwriting of Herod may be on the wall, the handwriting of God was on the cross in Jerusalem.  Confronting Herod’s deadly power with God’s life-giving power, Jesus was telling Herod that he was going to remain faithful to his daily ministry with people who found themselves facing lamentable times in their lives.  This was the daily focus of Jesus’ ministry that had guided him since he began his ministry on the Sabbath in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
-Luke 4:18-19

If you will recall, after Jesus read this scripture from Isaiah, he taught, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaimed God’s favor upon people who were facing lamentable times in their lives: the poor, the oppressed, and persons in need of healing as he proclaimed the Lord’s favor.

Dr. Jeremy Williams reflects on the prophetic calling that empowered Jesus from the beginning of his prophetic ministry in the fourth chapter of Luke to today’s scripture reading from the 13th chapter of Luke:

Jesus’ priority does not seem to be his own safety. He instead is primarily concerned about following the divine purpose (dei) that does not direct him away from danger. It leads him directly into it and ultimately through it.

It is Jesus’ prophetic ministry as the Messiah of God that sets the stage for Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”

Lament is not a term often heard in our age of pain avoidance and instantaneous expectations, but it is a word that is used in the Bible to describe the journey of faith that leads us from present sorrow into future hope.  In her book, The Louder Song:  Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament, Aubrey Sampson writes that the journey of “lament helps us hear God’s louder song.”

“When you’re in the midst of suffering, you want answers for the unanswerable, resolutions to the unresolvable. You want to tie up pain in a pretty little package and hide it under the bed, taking it out only when you feel strong enough to face it. But grief won’t be contained.  Grief disobeys.  Grief explodes.  In one breath, you may be able to say that God’s got this and all will be well.  In the next, you might descend into fatalism.  No pretending.  Here, you are raw before God, an open wound.

“There is a pathway through this suffering.  It’s not easy, but God will use it to lead you toward healing.  This path is called lament.  Lament leads us between the Already and the Not Yet.  Lament minds the gap between current hopelessness and coming hope.  Lament anticipates new creation but also acknowledges the painful reality of now.   Lament recognizes the existence of evil and suffering—without any sugarcoating—while simultaneously declaring that suffering will not have the final say.

“In the midst of your darkest times, you will discover that lament leads you back to a place of hope—not because lamenting does anything magical, but because God sings a louder song than suffering ever could, a song of renewal and restoration.”
NavPress/The Louder Song

Mark Sandlin tells a story about his journey of lamenting faith.  The journey began on his college graduation day.  He was borrowing a cap and gown from a friend and was supposed to pick it up at the United Methodist campus ministry building.  Heading to the Wesley Foundation to retrieve the cap and gown, Mark hoped to see the campus minister.  He was surprised to find the doors locked.

Mark said he will never forget what happened next.  He cupped his hands around his face to block the glare from the morning sun, and leaned into the glass doors to see if he could spot anyone inside.  The morning glare was harsh, so he couldn’t see enough to be quite sure what was going on but it looked like the campus minister was lying on the stairs.  Mark rapped on the doors but there was no response.

Mark ran to the church next door, found the associate minister in the kitchen, and told him that something was very wrong with the campus minister next door at the Wesley
Foundation; and, without giving him a chance to respond, grabbed an exceptionally large and heavy cooking pot on his way back to The Foundation.

With one huge heave, he slung the pot at the glass and it shattered.  He ran to the campus minister.  He says he remembers nothing else until he was in The Foundation’s upstairs apartment with the police. The next thing he remembers is the police leaving and being left alone.  His emotions were running rampant: pain, grief, fear, disappointment, loss, anger. The world was spinning too fast and he needed some peace. Sitting there in a burnt-orange easy chair that was now understuffed from years of use, he decided to pray. “God…”

That was it. “God…”

No matter how many times he tried, that was all that would come out. He had no words. He was lost.  He began to cry. The only sounds in the room were the muffled sighs, cries, and groans of his grief.  Mark reports that words were too trite, too limited, to tell the tale of the struggle and strife that was beating his insides apart. Beyond feeling physically sick, he also felt spiritually sick. He had tried to pray, but he could not pray.  He didn’t know whether to blame God or to run to God.

He says, “The good news is that now I know, that I didn’t have to know. … I do know this: the Spirit of God does not pray an eloquent poetic prayer for you when you are so numb that you can’t pray; it just comes beside you and begins to groan.  It is a prayer that can only be grown (groan) out of human experience.
The Day I Couldn’t Pray,, The God Article

I would suggest that Mark had experienced the power of lamenting faith – faith that cannot be expressed fully with words, faith that can only be experienced as we live in the reality of the present and hope for the reality of the future.

The Pharisees told Jesus to walk away from Jerusalem, but Jesus kept walking toward Jerusalem in lamenting faith as he said, “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”

The Pharisees told Jesus to walk away from Jerusalem, but Jesus would not be deterred from his journey in lamenting faith as he said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and yet you were not willing!”

The handwriting was on the cross as Jesus walked in lamenting faith to Jerusalem.  His face was set.  The path was clear.  It was time for God’s louder song to be heard.

As we travel on the journey to the cross, may God bless us with the lamenting faith of Jesus.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Lamenting Faith
by Pastor Marc Brown
March 13, 2022

Accompanying Scriptures: Luke 13:31-35

Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for March 13, 2021

Scripture Lesson            Luke 13:31-35

The Good News               Lamenting Faith”

Music                                  “Grace Alone” by Scott Brown



Closing Music              “Kingsfold” by Penny Rodriguez

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