Lenten Series

A Lament for Unfaithfulness

lightstock_208633_small_byrene_haney

Ash Wednesday

A Lament for Unfaithfulness

“Great is Your Unfaithfulness.”

 

“My transgressions were bound into a yoke;

by his hand, they were fastened together;

they were set upon my neck;

he caused my strength to fail;

the Lord gave me into the hands

of those whom I cannot withstand.”- Lamentations 1:14

What’s the purpose of Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the 40 days of Lent.  Lent is a six-week period (not including Sundays) dedicated to reflection, prayer and fasting (or the giving up of certain foods or activities) in preparation for Easter. It ends on Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter) that marks the Last Supper.

Lent is a season in the life of the Church to provide Christians a time of self-denial, moderation, fasting, and the purging of activities.  These spiritual disciplines can lead priorities getting back in line with our faith walk. Ash Wednesday is the launching of this period of spiritual renewal. Ash Wednesday and Lent are observed by most Catholics and some Protestant denominations. The Eastern Orthodox Church does not observe Ash Wednesday; instead, they start Lent on “Clean Monday.”

The people in the Old Testament used dust and ashes as symbols of repentance and mourning.

And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. 2 Samuel 13:19

 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. Esther 4:1

 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Job 2:8

 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3

The ashes, usually made by burning the palm fronds distributed on last year’s Palm Sunday making the sign of the cross on the bowed foreheads forehead of Christians begins the time of reflection and penitence leading up to Easter Sunday. As they “impose” or “dispense” the ashes, the pastor or priest reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

The Sermon Outline: A Lament for Unfaithfulness.

 The Human Condition

The final verse of the classic hymn, “Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing” is the summary of the challenge we Christians face, that of a wandering heart.

 O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee

Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above

The wandering soul plagued the Children of Israel.  The prophet Jeremiah warned them of the pending punishment due to their unfaithfulness.  Unfaithfulness separates us from the Creator.  That unfaithfulness is sin and sin strains our relationship with God. Sin creates the need for God to discipline His wayward children.

Lamentations 1:8-9 describes just how far Israel had fallen.

Jerusalem sinned grievously;

therefore she became filthy;

all who honored her despise her,

for they have seen her nakedness;

she herself groans

and turns her face away.

 Her uncleanness was in her skirts;

she took no thought of her future;

therefore her fall is terrible;

she has no comforter. [1]

 The uncleanness of Israel found in v.9 is the effect of the sins she has committed. That uncleanness is symbolized by referring to menstrual blood which has stained her clothing. Her sin is out front so to speak for the whole world to see.  Jerusalem’s sins render her unclean just as menstruation makes a woman ritually unclean. “If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. [2]” Lev 12:2.  You can see how this description would also be offensive in the public proclamation, so this is just to give you a deeper understanding.

Sadly, Israel, “Took no thought of her doom.”  In her unfaithfulness to the LORD, Jerusalem had overlooked the possibility of punishment. You can see Isaiah 47:7 uses similar language concerning Babylon, also pictured as a woman. The expression no thought of her doom or “fate” may in some languages require saying, for example, “she did not think about where she would finally end,” or idiomatically, “she closed her eyes and did not see where she could come out.” Therefore, her fall is terrible is the consequence of failure to take thought for her future in the previous half-line. Fall refers to Jerusalem’s downfall or defeat. [3]

We like Israel can escape punishment, only with true repentance. We need to confess our sins and God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

“The more secure and content we are with our current status in life, the more the soul of mankind tends to see little need for the Divine.” Keith Haney

As we lament and contemplate our sinfulness, our hearts that are prone to wander, see the need for the savior.  Our hearts are prone to wander into self-reliance.  Prone to wander away from the truth of God’s word.  God’s Word calls us to repentance.  The prone to wandering of the human heart, find comfort in the forgiveness of the Lamb of God received through faith.

The Redemptive Power of God

Illustration:

A drunkard husband, spending the evening with his jovial companions at a tavern, boasted that if he should take a group of his friends home with him at midnight and ask his Christian wife to get up and cook supper for them, she would do it without complaint.

The crowd considered it a vain boast and dared him to try it by a considerable wager. So the drunken crowd went home with him, and he made the unreasonable demands of his wife. She obeyed, dressed, came down, and prepared a very nice supper just as quickly as possible and served it as cheerfully as if she had been expecting them.

After dinner one of the men, a little soberer than the others, asked how she could be so kind when they had been so unreasonable, and, too, they knew she did not approve of their conduct. Her reply was: “Sir, when my husband and I were married, we were both sinners. It has pleased God to call me out of that dangerous condition. My husband continues in it. I tremble for his future state. Were he to die as he is, he would be miserable forever; I think it my duty to render his present existence as comfortable as possible.”

This wise and faithful reply affected the whole company. The husband thanked her for the warning and became an earnest Christian and a good husband.—Sunday School Times[4]

I am amazed at the lengths God will go to the bring back the wandering.  In dealing with our, unfaithfulness God is patient.  His punishment is designed to bring back the straying.  Repentance and restoration start by turning away from the sinful behavior and receiving forgiveness.  The gospel proclaimed to the sinner is that recovery is possible.  God’s forgiveness is there and available to the one who has wandered.  The picture of the lost son in Luke 15 is an excellent reference here.  Repentance is identifying behavior that is out of line with God’s will for us and seeking God’s forgiveness.  This forgiveness God is offering freely through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  God’s desire is to pour out His love and grace is lavishly upon humanity.  Paul states this so beautifully in Romans 3, 3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.”[
a]

So, this Ash Wednesday we point believers to the lavish grace of the God of the universe, through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Proclaim boldly the love of Jesus to comfort the wandering.  Remind them that their sins are forgiven, and God grace abounds.

[1]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (La 1:8–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Le 12:2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3]  Reyburn, W. D., & Fry, E. M. (1992). A handbook on Lamentations (p. 25). New York: United Bible Societies.

[4] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 554). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

Advertisements
Lenten Series

Jerusalem Has Fallen!

lightstock_208633_small_byrene_haney.jpg

 

 

Judge Horace Gray of Boston, who would later go on to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court, once said to a man who escaped conviction on a technicality: “I know that you are guilty and you know it, and I wish you to remember that one day you will stand before a better and wiser Judge and that there you will be dealt with according to justice and not according to law.”

Man’s justice is always subject to errors, but God’s justice is perfect. No sin escapes His gaze, and though punishment is sometimes delayed as God grants room to repent, it is certain. No one escapes God’s justice on a technicality.

Israel ran face first into this reality.  It must have crossed their mind that they had escaped God’s judgment. But they did not know judgment was just delayed. God would use a foreign nation to execute his judgment.

Jerusalem Has Fallen! Not the headline on the front page of the New York Times image today.  It was 587 B.C.  After a long siege, and a valiant effort and almost superhuman resolve, Jerusalem is destroyed.  King Nebuchadnezzar lays waste to a once glorious city.  It was not just any city that has fallen.  It was the city of David.  The temple was destroyed, the place where the Ancient of Days took up residence.  The Chosen people of the Most High God have scattered.  Many of the key leaders including the king are taken into captivity.  This series is based on a little-known book, Lamentations.  It is not one that is read in church often.  It seems too dark and grim to highlight in the church.  We come to church to be encouraged, not depressed.  No one wants to come and be reminded of those awful times.

Lamentations was written to reflect what happened to the children of Israel.  It is tied closely to the writings of the prophet Jeremiah, who warned the people of impending judgment.  His cries were ignored.  “Not us,” the people said, “…we are God’s chosen ones.” Think of Lamentations as a historical account after a crushing defeat.  It is a continuation of the groundwork laid out by Jeremiah.  It is a stark reminder to all of us of the consequences of our sins when there is a lack of true repentance.

Repentance is much more than saying, “I am sorry.”  Repentance means not just to be sorry but to change the path and direction of your life.  Sorry is easy, change, of course, is where the difficulty comes into place.

This Lenten series is written for churches looking for a fresh approach to help people walk from Ash Wednesday to the empty tomb celebration of Easter.  This series is designed to take disciples on a reflective journey during the 40-days of Lent with a time to stop and observe what effects sin has on the fabric of our lives and the world around us.  The series begins with the topic for Ash Wednesday of “A Lament for Unfaithfulness” So sit back and join me on this Lenten Journey.  Every Thursday a new sermon prompt will appear in this series.  Next week: Lam 1:14 A Lament for Unfaithfulness.