You Can Count on God

Lamentations 3:19-33

What is the worst thing that could happen to you? I’m guessing if I went around the congregation I’d get a whole bunch of different answers to that question, but may I suggest there really is only one right answer to that question? The answer to that question is that the worst thing that could happen to us is that God would withdraw his presence from us. Because if God were to withdraw his presence from us then there could never be any love, never be any joy, never be any peace, never be any kindness, never any goodness, because all of those things come from God and come from God alone. And so at the end of the day, the very worst thing that could happen to you and to me would be for God to withdraw his presence from us. Make sense? In the Old Testament God made that very very clear to his people and the way he did it was through the temple. He already started in the exodus with the Tabernacle and God would lead the people with a glorious fire and when God descended down upon the Tabernacle they knew it was time to stop and his glory would rest there above the Tabernacle. And when it was time to travel, he’d lift up, and then they knew it was time to go. Well, there was a bit of a pause in the action when they got to the Holy Land but then when Solomon built his glorious temple in Jerusalem on the day it was dedicated the glory of God came and inhabited that temple that God wanted his people to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was there, that although he was everywhere this was his dwelling place that he was right there in the midst of his people specifically the most holy place but the temple in general that was the house of God. Can you imagine that day of dedication of that temple and how amazing that must have been? To see the glory of God in such a visible way and to see it fill the temple like that? The priests and the Levites couldn’t even go in and do their stuff because the visible glory of God was there. And then yeah and then Solomon made a hot mess out of it all didn’t he? With his 700 wives and 300 concubines or maybe I flipped those. And God chose to break the kingdom in half the northern kingdom almost immediately plunged into crass outward idolatry and less than a couple hundred years after Solomon’s grand temple was dedicated, they were conquered and disbursed And they were gone. The other kingdom, Judah should’ve learned a lesson. Guess what? They didn’t. So God allowed the Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar, to come and to conquer Judah. A whole bunch of people were taken off in exile. But the Israelites continued to rebel against God. God in faithfulness sent Jeremiah. He was the major prophet that we know about in Jerusalem and Judah at that time and oh man did Jeremiah feel the sting of the people’s unbelief. One time the king took the book of Jeremiah listened to it being read and little by little chopped it up into pieces and threw it into the fire trying to destroy the Word of God. Shockingly God prevailed. One time they took Jeremiah and threw him into the stocks. One time they took Jeremiah and tossed him into a cistern that was muddy at the bottom said he sunk into the mud and left him there to die. Thankfully some people came and pulled him out. And this was all after the Babylonians had already subjected Judah. Should not the people have been going duh we need to get back to God. Yes? No. And so they keep rebelling against God. They keep rebelling against the Babylonians. So the Babylonians come back in 597. Kill more people destroy more stuff take more people in exile. They come back again in 592. Kill more people destroy more stuff take more people off into exile. Do the Israelites get it? No. They keep rebelling against God. They keep rebelling against Babylon. So in 586 ish, all those dates are a little ishy but in 586 ish the Babylonians come back and they’re sick of it. And so they break down big chunks of the wall of Jerusalem. They loot the temple and then they leveled the temple. Wait a minute. What did the temple signify? The presence of God. If there’s no temple therefore no presence of God. At least not in that outward external visible kind of a fashion. Make sense? If there’s no temple there can be no sacrifices. There can be no great day of atonement. There can be no morning and evening sacrifices reminding them that they’re the people of God. There can no longer be the evening burning of the incense symbolizing the prayers of the people going up to God and God listening to them and loving them. Because there’s no temple. God isn’t there. For an Old Testament believer could there have been anything worse than that? No. And so almost undoubtedly the book of Lamentations was written right after the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. It starts off with words like these. How deserted lies the city once so full of people. How like a widow is she who once was great among the nations. Bitterly she weeps at night. Tears are on her cheeks. The roads to Zion mourn for no one comes to her appointed festivals. Look Lord and consider I’m despised. Look around and see as any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger. From on high he sent fire, sent it down into my bones. He made me desolate, faint, all the day long. If those words sound familiar to you those are the words that we read in the darkness on Good Friday night. Because what happened on Good Friday? We lost God. God died. Could there be anything worse than that? No. The Old Testament people, the few believers that were there, they were a mess. They were in grief, in torment, in despair. What could possibly go right about this? How could this possibly be good? The temple is destroyed. It’s smack dab in the middle of the book of Lamentations that the words of our text are found. Now I’ve been your pastor long enough that you know what happens in the middle of Hebrew poetry. That’s the mountaintop, right? That’s the key point. That’s where we want to really focus our attention because this is going to be the most important part of the literature. “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 hope because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail.” Wait, what is he looking at? He’s looking at a city that is leveled. He’s looking for the temple and it’s not there. “They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” That sounds familiar. That’s what you just sang, isn’t it? “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’s 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. There may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him and let him be filled with disgrace. For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion. So great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” The word of the Lord. What is Jeremiah looking at? What is Jeremiah thinking about when he pens those words? His whole life is in ruins. The nation is a shambles because the temple is gone. So what does he turn to? He doesn’t turn to a place. He doesn’t turn to a building. He turns to the God who made that place and made that building to be special. Because ultimately it wasn’t the building. It was God’s presence that mattered. And what was God like? Your compassions are new every morning. When my kids were growing up one of my favorite things to say to them at bedtime was, “Tomorrow is a whole new day.” Oh, it wasn’t like there hadn’t been days before. Of course, there’d been days before. But tomorrow is a whole new one. What blessings would God bring? What challenges would God bring? What opportunities would God bring? Who knew? Tomorrow is a whole new day. And as Jeremiah looked around at the wreckage around him, can you imagine? Tomorrow was a whole new day. Why? Because great is thy faithfulness, O God our Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee. That probably doesn’t speak to us very well in 21st-century America. I’m not sure exactly when that hymn was written. What does it mean? It means God is faithful. It means that God doesn’t change. Oh, what an incredibly important thing for the Old Testament people of God like Jeremiah to cling to, particularly at this moment. They needed to know that they had something they could count on. What could they count on? God! Because God cannot and will not change. And so in the midst of all this mess, Jeremiah can say, and he can mean, “The Lord is my portion.” What does that mean? God understand a little bit about Old Testament stuff on this. Remember the Levites? The Levites were scattered around the land of Israel to be teachers primarily, all around the country. And so God said to them, “You’re not going to get any portion of the land. Rather, God will be your portion.” And so when Jeremiah says, “The Lord is my portion,” what he’s saying is, “I still have God. And if I have God, then I have everything I really need.” And my brothers and sisters, you have God. Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age Jesus promises to you and to me. You have God. Is there anything else that you really, really, really need? No. Because God is gracious and compassionate. Because his mercies are new every morning. Because his faithfulness is always consistent. And is it possible that we recognize that the most clearly in times of difficulty and struggle? I think maybe that’s the case. You can kind of see a hint of it in our Gospel reading today. We know next to nothing about Jairus except for what our text tells us. His little girl’s dying. Where does he go looking? To Jesus. Why? Because finally there was nowhere else to look. Was it a cry of pure faith? Was it a cry of a desperate father? I don’t know. But at the end of the day, there was nowhere else to go. And when Jerusalem is in shambles around you and the temple is leveled and your little girl is dying and your health is failing and the checkbook is empty. What’s left? What’s left is the only thing that matters. The Lord is your portion. You have God. And what is God like? Great is thy faithfulness, O God, my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not. Great is your faithfulness, Lord, unto me. Amen? And amen.