Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Lament and Hope: Finding Light in the Darkness, In the Shadow of God’s Wings (Seeking Comfort)

During the season of Lent, we are exploring Lamentations. In Chapter 2, we see the people of Israel seeking comfort from their sorrow, loss, and distress. They search for comfort in their despair. They cry out to God who made a covenant with them.

Today, as followers of Christ, we seek encouragement in God’s promises. We find solace in God’s presence, even in devastating circumstances. Maybe, we don’t feel devastation at the level of Lamentations. But every human at some point in life feels loss, emptiness, and confusion. Knowing that God brings comfort and hope even in the worst of times can help us find peace. Our faith in Christ prepares us for those moments when life becomes difficult and seems hopeless. With God as our Father and Christ as our Savior, we live by faith knowing there is always hope and that love always triumphs.

Let us enter the sacred journey of Lent through the words of Lamentations. In this ancient text, we find a powerful expression of grief and sorrow as the people of Jerusalem mourn the devastation of their city. They mourn the sinfulness that brought its destruction. During this Lenten season, we too are called to reflect on the brokenness of our world. We are called to repair the brokenness by seeking reconciliation with God and one another. May our Lenten reflections move us to repentance and reliance on God.

Lamentations Chapter 2 gives a stark account of the repercussions of God’s wrath.
Lamentations 2:1-2

How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
with the cloud of his anger!
He has hurled down the splendor of Israel
from heaven to earth;
he has not remembered his footstool
in the day of his anger.

The Lord has destroyed without mercy
all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
the strongholds of daughter Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
the kingdom and its rulers.

As we look upon the utter devastation this describes, it helps to understand the unique relationship Judah had with God.

Let’s read Psalm 57:1-3

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.

The people of Judah had a special relationship with God. Jerusalem housed the temple of God. It was God’s dwelling place here on earth. The Jewish people believed that Jerusalem was a heavenly city. They believed they were blessed by God. They believed that they lived under the shadow of God’s wings. God would protect them from the ravages of war and the brutal reality of the ancient world.

The history of Judah had a pattern of alternating periods of obedience and disobedience to God’s commands. When they followed God faithfully, they experienced prosperity and peace. When they strayed from God’s ways, they faced consequences. The destruction of Israel was the culmination of their persistent disobedience and idolatry. Judah continually ignored the Prophets’ call to repentance. Then, Judah’s life of idolatry and injustice had its final reckoning. God removed the shadow of his wings from Judah.

Ultimately, the people of Judah learned that their actions must align with God’s character. That they must act with justice and holiness in fulfillment of God’s Law. Lamentations speaks sobering words of the consequences of sin. It calls for repentance and renewal.

After centuries of protecting and blessing Judah, God finally said no to their idolatrous and unjust society. God was tired of their inhumanity to their fellow man. That is when God removed the shadow of his wings from Judah.
Lamentations shows what happened when God removed his protection and blessing. It shows God’s wings replaced by God’s wrath. The poet of Lamentations depicts God taking an active role in the destruction of Judah.

I understand why the poet would describe God acting with vengeance to destroy Judah. It makes sense based on their understanding of their relationship with God. From Judah’s point of view, God unleashed fury on them. I have a hard time thinking of our God as vengeful and full of wrath. That’s not the God of peace and justice that I experience.

I come at this story from a historical perspective. The power and reach of the Babylonian army are well understood. Without God’s protection, Judah was no match for the earthly power of the Babylonians. Whether God took an active role to destroy Israel or God simply removed his protection from Judah is a theological debate. What appears clear, based on what happened, is that God removed his presence and care. When the Babylonians destroyed Judah, they ransacked the Temple – the place where God dwelled. God seems to have discarded his house among the people. God seems to have lost his concern for Judah, God’s chosen nation.

The Cost of Sin

Ancient Judah avoided for centuries the cost of their sin because God continued to shelter them and call them back. Yet, finally, they were left to pay the cost of their sin. The destruction came home to their beloved Judah. The sin of Judah was a national sin. Every member of Judah suffered the sin of the nation. The wrath of God fell on the good and the evil equally. The cost of sin was certainly extreme.

As I read Lamentations, I get a feeling of dread. Do we grasp the cost of sin in our lives? Are others suffering the consequences of our sin? Do we bear responsibility for the injustices in our society? Personally, I forget about the cost of sin. I want to believe that I am under the shadow of God’s wings. I want to believe I do not have to worry about God’s wrath.
As Christians, we center our life on God through our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Similarly, my dog Hazy builds her life around me. She always wants to know where I am. If I leave her at home, when I get back, she expresses both her disappointment that I went away and her joy that I returned. She needs and relies on living in the shadow of my protection. Yet, she obeys me and is sinless only in my presence. If I am absent or turn my head, her dog nature takes over. She will eat stuff on the counter. She will take off instead of staying. If she smells a critter, all bets are off. She will not obey. It is Hazy’s nature to structure her life based on a pact with me. It is also her nature to ignore me if her instincts take over. Hazy may wag her tail and be adorable and loving, a great dog with an angelic nature. Many of you here have experienced the angelic Hazy. But you haven’t cleaned up after she’s gotten into the garbage. Hang around her for any time and you realize that she is much more of a devil dog who has no concept of the cost of her sin.   
Like Hazy, we often think of ourselves as angelic humans, or we ignore the cost of our sin. We commit ourselves to God and then our nature takes over. We display our nature when we judge each other or exclude others or exploit others or insist on our way or have unreasonable expectations of others. Perhaps we burden others without asking or without showing gratitude. Perhaps we fail to contribute where we know we are needed. Maybe we ignore those in need that we have the capacity to help. In our nature, we are sinful. When we realize this about ourselves, we can feel the weight of God’s wrath.
Lamentations helps us to understand God’s wrath. As we look upon the destruction of Judah, we can fully appreciate the cost of sin for humanity. In the end, the death of Judah and the dead bodies strewn around Jerusalem help us understand the real cost of sin. It is death.  

How do we make sense of God’s wrath? In Judah’s situation, I do not feel God’s anger as much as I feel God’s detachment from the destruction. God, who once protected Israel, in his wrath, simply left Israel. I find God’s detached wrath to be frightening.

Like Hazy, who needs to know I am there, I too want to know God is present. I want to feel the Holy Spirit with me. I want to know that Christ’s love and presence are always there and will never leave me. The feeling of God’s absence would be chilling. I am comforted to know that because of our new covenant in Christ, nothing can separate me from the love of God.

We need to understand a different covenant was in place between Judah and God. In the old covenant with Judah, both God and Judah had tasks to perform. The task of Judah was to love justice and mercy. They were to follow the heart of the Torah. They were to have no Gods before Yahweh. They were to be a center of love for humanity. They were a symbol of God’s character in the world. If Judah lived according to God’s Law, God’s task was to provide security, guidance and prosperity. Judah failed their tasks. God’s divine judgment led to the withdrawal of God’s protection and blessings. In the harsh reality of the ancient world, without God’s protection, the world destroyed Judah. The Babylonians were eager to carry out the destruction of Judah.

It can be extremely hard to see God’s wrath and withdrawal as loving. But God gave Judah what they wanted—a life free from God’s covenant. Yet, God never really left. God waited for the Lament and prayers of Judah. God welcomed them back and gave them a chance to reflect, repent and get on the right path.  
Before Judah could return to God, they needed to grieve the depth of their suffering. So great was the suffering of Judah, that there was no comparison. As they sought comfort, there was no comfort. Their pain was too great. Judah was in total ruin, its devastation as vast as the sea. As God’s nation, its destruction took on biblical proportion. They cried out in their despair, but to whom? Top of Form

Top of Form

Lamentations 2:13

What can I say for you, to what compare you,
O daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you,
O virgin daughter Zion?
For vast as the sea is your ruin;
who can heal you?

What is the answer to the poet’s question, who can heal you? It’s a haunting question. They know that God is the one true God, above all other gods. God is the only one they can turn to. They know God is a just and righteous God who demands justice and righteousness from his people. They feel the weight of their sin, and they mourn the consequences. Yet, the God whose wrath destroyed Jerusalem is the God who is the ultimate source of healing and restoration. Only God could heal Judah. Only God could offer comfort. The remanent of Judah could only reach out to Yahweh in prayer.

Lamentations 2:19

Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
at the head of every street.
So vast was Judah’s need that they needed to pray without ceasing. People woke in the night to pray to God. During the first night watch they prayed. A new group arose and picked up the second night watch and prayed. A third group awoke and awaited the dawn on the third night watch and prayed. They pour out their grief, their hope and their heart like water pouring forth. Even in their tattered world, God is present to receive their prayers. They lift their hands in prayer. They pray for their children.

In Lamentations, the poet can accuse God of the destruction of Judah and at the same time hold Judah responsible for God’s wrath. But God is God. In times of distress, grief and unimaginable loss, there is only one healer. There is only one that can renew and provide comfort. There is only one God.
I have seen this truth working with people in GriefShare and others who have experienced the pain of loss. In my own experience of struggle, I have experienced it. In grief and pain, many cry out to God and bitterly weep and complain. They blame God for their suffering. They wonder where the shadow of God’s wings went and why they were subjected to great pain and loss. They pull away from God, feeling abandoned. Yet, in the end, the world cannot heal a broken heart. The world cannot bring comfort to a person in deep grief. In the end, only God can heal. Only God can answer prayer. Only God can renew our soul and spirit. Only God can create a new life.

Place of Grace Fellowship, God is waiting for you. God wants to bring you comfort. God wants to renew your broken heart. God is waiting to hear your prayer. We live in the shadow of God’s wings.

At this time in our worship, we will take some time in silence and prayer before God’s presence:

–to lament our sin and the consequences in our life and for others.

–to bring God our pain, losses, doubts and ruins.

–to seek comfort and healing from our Lord and Savior.

You are invited to come up for prayer, kneel at the front pew, write your prayer on a card and place it at the foot of the cross, or join hands with a brother or sister in Christ and pray together. During this reflection and prayer, Andy and I will go backstage to prepare for his baptism.

Gracious God,

May we find comfort and renewal in the shadow of Your wings, as we lament our shortcomings, receive Your grace, and walk in the light of Your truth. Today, we are reminded of the cleansing and renewing power of baptism, symbolizing our union with Christ and our participation in His death and resurrection. Just as the waters of baptism wash away our sins and bring us into newness of life, may Your Spirit continue to work in us, transforming our hearts and renewing our minds. Grant us the strength to live as Your beloved children, guided by Your truth and empowered by Your grace. Help us to embody the love and mercy of Christ in all that we do, as we seek to honor You and fulfill Your purposes in the world. Amen.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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