Sunday, August 22, 2010

Making the Sermon: New Life in Lament

On Sunday, for the second week in a row, I preached two sermons. On Sunday, out of nowhere, I fell asleep so hard it wasn’t funny (except to my husband). I now call this the sacrament of the post-preaching nap. It is indeed sacred time!

Monday...began the sermonating process all over again. I read the lectionary texts, chose a Psalm, and began to meditate on it. (This process takes some time.)

Tuesday… I couldn’t shake Sunday’s hymn of praise, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I woke up singing it (again). I kept singing and singing, silently and out loud until I surrendered to it. Instead of preaching from the Psalms, like I had planned, I focused my sermonic musings on Lamentations 3:19-24. I have learned that when the Holy Spirit is nudging you in a certain direction, it is best to be obedient and go that way. I sat with the text, reading it over and over again.

Wednesday…I read the text in the morning and let it have its way in me as I went shopping, to lunch, and to the movies with my cousin Michelle and her daughter. They were spending some time with me in NJ, and what a blessing it was.

Thursday...I exegeted by the pool. Michelle, Najah, and I made our way to the pool at noon. We spent a total of 3 hours there. I spent my time reading the text—this time I read through the entire book of Lamentations, twice, to get context for Sunday’s text. The I began doing a word study, taking notes, and asking questions of the text.

Friday...went to the pool with books in tow. Poured over them. Closed them. Closed my eyes. Soaked in the Sun. Walked back to the house and prayed to God for the Word to bubble up in me and overflow before the end of the evening. Put the key in the door. Began singing Fantasia’s new song, “Bittersweet” in my head. Changed clothes. While changing clothes it hit me.

Saturday...sermon hitting me while driving. Wrote it down as soon as I get out of the car. Don’t want to take the Holy Spirit for granted. Officiated my first funeral, alongside Pastor Weaver who offered the eulogy. Read the text. Slept on my mom’s couch (I had a splitting headache) and then got up to write the message. I thought I was going to preach from an outline, but as I began crafting it, full sentences came out. So, I went with it. Just before 10 p.m. my headache was so painful I had to stop and go to bed. The words were in me, but they just weren’t on the page. I prayed for a healing touch and for God to have His way.

Sunday...God had His way. I woke up at 5:20, headache long gone, and fingertips ready to preach the word to my keyboard. The words poured out of me and I finished in time to get dressed and make my way to worship. The air in the sanctuary was still, for both services. I preached, and while there was little call and response in the moment of proclamation (I am coming to realize that I am not that preacher), there was an outpouring of response after the service. Our people are carrying burdens, feigning smiles, and not expressing their anguish/grief/sorrow/anger/frustration to God mostly because they have been taught not to complain. It was as if todays sermon finally gave them permission to take everything to God in prayer.

Here is the text:

Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

Here is an excerpt:

Have we forgotten how to Lament? Have we lost our ability to lament? Have we forgotten how to remember our pain and suffering?

In Orangeburg, South Carolina there was news of a 29 year-old mother of two young boys who smothered her sons and placd their bodies in a river. According to CNN News, “Authorities said Duley, a 29-year-old unemployed, single mother, may have been fed up with criticism from her mother and that her increasing frustration could have led to the killings.”

She was fed up, but I wonder what would have happened if she allowed herself to lament?

I am the first to admit my fascination with celebrity life, and my fascination with our cultural fascination with celebrity life. I watch Extra and Access Hollywood in addition to CNN. As such, I have been intrigued by the events surrounding singing sensation, American Idol, Fantasia Barrino. Alleged extra-marital affair. Alleged sex-tapes. Pending lawsuit. News of such threatening to permeate the radio airwaves, TV news media, and the blogs. In other words, folks would be talking about it. That is a heavy burden to bear. And so, Fantasia, according to news reports, swallowed a bottle of aspirin and took sleeping pills. It sounds like she was trying to take her life…to fade away without anyone noticing.

She was overwhelmed and afraid, but I wonder what would have happen if she allowed herself to lament?

Even as I was finishing this message, there were the sounds of kids screaming and yelling. There were the sounds of foul words being slung in every direction. There were sounds of their shoes clicking the pavement. I heard glass breaking and horns honking. These sounds were followed by the roars and beeps of police sirens. I heard an officer over her loudspeaker tell the young people to “go home.” My heart became heavy. I was saddened at the state of affairs in our neighborhoods. I was saddened that our children live life on these streets with nothing to do and nowhere to go without trouble all around them. I was saddened because, for some of them, home may not be any safer than the streets.

O church, I wonder what would happen if we lamented for our children?

These stories, which are but examples of countless happenings in our world today, cause me to think that we have forgotten how to lament. These stories cause me to wonder about the ways in which grief, sorrow, and anger becomes toxic when it is not expressed. I am convinced that when we don’t lament, grief overtake us. When we don’t lament, the grief kills us. When we don’t lament, the grief moves us to harm others.

The book of Lamentations is much like the Psalms, in that is a collection. Lamentations contains five chapters, each of which is a poem, focused on the “suffering, confusion, bewilderment by those who were in Jerusalem after the Babylonian conquest in 587 BC.” These were a people in captivity with hearts so heavy they could not contain it. The writer of Lamentations, whom many believe is the prophet Jeremiah, understood sin to be the cause of the suffering of the people. In the first poem (v.8) he says, “Jerusalem has grievously sinned; therefore she is removed.” Later, in verse 18 he writes, “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandments hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow...” The writer knows that the sin of the people had consequences that they were living with at the time of the writing. Their captors, the Babylonians, were less than kind. They were starved and murdered, and their women were raped. This was a difficult time in the life of Ancient Israel and Lamentations is the heartfelt expression of that experience.


To lament is to passionately express one’s grief or sorrow, it is a mourning, an articulation with disappointment or regret. Lamenting in the biblical tradition is one method, one type, of prayer.

Lamenting is not complaining. They may sound similar, but there is a difference. Complaining holds within it expression of annoyance with a situation. Complaining is whining, griping, and grumbling about a situation. While lament is expressing sorrow or grief over a situation. Hear the difference. When we complain, we are saying, “God here is what I’m going through, I don’t like it, and it seems you have no idea what you are doing.” When we lament, we are saying, “God here is what I’m going through, I don’t understand it, it hurts more than words, but I’m giving it to you because I know that you have a plan for my life, for good and not for evil, to give me a hope and a future.” When we complain, we are saying, “God get it together!” When we lament, we are saying, “God help me to get it together.” We are not to complain to God, but we are to lament before God.

There are different kinds of laments. Different moments when lament is the most appropriate form of prayer...

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