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Lamentations 2

June 29th, 2015
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Recent Flourishing Life Conference

 The Mediatorship or High Priesthood of Jesus.

 Hebrews 2:9-18

 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory,

The purpose of God’s love in sending his Son in to this world. What a glorious future awaits us –beyond anything we can imagine.

it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

Jesus identifies himself with us so that everything we are is in him.

Being a Christian means being united to Christ

My identity

My security

My significance

My destiny

 But the following verses I used to quickly pass over now become very significant. Here is the man Jesus our mediator standing with us in the congregation representing us to God. Not only does he represent the Father to us, he represents us to the Father.

 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

He is our worship leader.

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

He is the faith of the congregation.

And again he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

I am with my brothers and sisters. We will never be separated.

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

 This leads to an understanding of the faithfulness of Jesus’ mediatorship. He stands in our place on our behalf. It means two major things for us:

 1. Everything he is is given to us continually, without variableness because of who we are. Our struggles do not change this giving. We are recipients of his gifts with empty hands/open hearts receiving in thanksgiving.

 2. We are clothed by him in the presence of the Father so we always belong.

The giver is the gift.

 It is a strange relationship. On one side it is constant, every promise is continually yes, every gift continually given.

 On our side variableness, struggle, unfaithfulness and yet the reality of who God is for us, revealed by Jesus and experienced through the Holy Spirit never changes.

 So where is our security, meaning , identity – in him. Not ourselves, the church or any spiritual program.

 The final point to me is undeveloped but something that opens up a lot of insight to be reflected on as we live our lives.

 Jesus as our mediator who has joined himself to our life has implications for all our relationships.

 He is present in all our relationships. We don’t have any direct relationships without his mediatorship. I think we can appreciate this in the church: we have only to read 1 Corinthians 12-14 to see that he gives gifts for the other. Which as we know means he gives himsef to us for others. The gift really is the giver.

 But is this true wherever we go? And what does it mean? Is Jesus present mediating, giving gifts in all sitautions? We have our expectations about life – including marriage children, work, friends,etc.

 Cathy Deddo:

 Too often we have our own expectations about life. If they don’t happen we can become critical about our congregation, marriage, children, friendships, pastors. It can build resentments. Our wishes are not happening. We need to die to our expectations to see God’s gifts.

A thankful heart realizes that no one owes me anything. No one needs to be kind to me or invite me into their life.

 This makes every moment one of deep grace. We become filled with thanksgiving because:

 We will see what he is doing

He is more faithful than we are

We can be the work of God to each other.

 It means that God is working even in the worst of situations. It doesn’t all depend on us with our weaknesses. He can give gifts no matter what the struggle. Something to think about more.

 Sermon

Robin Parry: Lament and the Role of Israel in Salvation History click here

 J. Michael Feazell:We’ve been talking about lament in Scripture and about when Jesus was on the cross and he declares, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Many times people look at that and they see the despair included, but doesn’t that imply the entire Psalm from which it comes, with its conclusion that resolves a sense of despair?

Robin Parry:Absolutely. Oftentimes when in the New Testament someone will quote from the Old Testament, they might just quote a verse or even a phrase, but they call to mind… the hearers will know the Scriptures; they were immersed in the Scriptures, and the hearers will call to mind the whole context, the whole story, the whole Psalm or whatever. So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we need to remember that Jesus would have been well aware of how the Psalm ended, and the Psalm ends with deliverance.

The book of Hebrews in chapter 2:22 quotes from the salvation part of the Psalm22 and applies that to Jesus. In the early church, the Christ-followers saw it as very appropriate to take the second part of the Psalm as applying to Christ and the resurrection, and Christ as the one who praises God in the congregation.

But we need to be careful not to collapse or to somehow downgrade the despair or the lament of Christ on the cross as if he knew it was going to come out all happy in the end anyway, so he wasn’t really lamenting. Christ isn’t just putting on a show. He isn’t feigning lament. He really is suffering in our humanity, he really is lamenting on our behalf. He is expressing precisely how he feels. It’s the positive part. In Mark and Matthew, this “why have you forsaken me?” thing comes right near the end. This is something that’s been building up through the whole experience on Calvary. It comes out near the end, “why have you forsaken me?” It’s not just a passing thing and then he gets over it.

We need to beware of somehow collapsing the hope and the despair together — so he’s despairing, but actually he’s happy. He’s lamenting, so we need to take that utterly seriously, but also to recognize that Jesus has not given up on God. He says, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” This is lament within a relationship with God where he knows… for the joy set before him, as it says in Hebrews, he endured the shame of the cross.

This is an important tension to hold onto, that we have cross and resurrection. Alan Lewis does this wonderful thing on the theology of Holy Saturday where he says, Holy Saturday is situated between cross and resurrection. In a way, it holds them apart, and it holds them together. On the one hand, Holy Saturday means we can’t have the cross without the resurrection, or the resurrection without the cross. We have to have the two, we have to hold them together, but we don’t want to collapse them into some smudge. So it gives them a bit of distance between the two. We need to hear them, he says, in stereo.

On the one hand, we need to hear the cross almost as it would have sounded, as it would have felt, without looking back in retrospect from the perspective of the resurrection. But on the other hand, if that’s all you do, that can’t be a Christian way of looking at the cross. At the same time, you have to hear the cross through the resurrection, seen from that perspective.

This is very instructive for how we should understand lament and lament within the Christian life. On the one hand there’s a space for lament and we don’t want to collapse lament and salvation together, so that the lament isn’t really lament. We need to give it space to be itself. But it never has the last word. In a biblical theology, it never has the last word. We are a people who believe in the cross and the resurrection. If you let lament have the last word, it’s like saying, “Go there, but there’s no empty tomb.”

If you look at the biblical book of Lamentations, this comes out nicely in that, Lamentations ends with the one voice that they’re desperate to hear. The people in the book of Lamentations, they’re saying, “God, come on, save us, rescue us.” The one voice that does not speak by the end is the one voice they want to hear, which is the voice of God. The book ends (in the canonical form, the form in which God has seen fit to preserve it for us) without the salvation. They’re looking, they’re calling, they’re begging, and it hasn’t come. But the book of Lamentations is also preserved for us in a canonical context, and we can’t read it as if it’s not part of these other Scriptures, which proceed and follow it.

The book of Isaiah picks up on Lamentations on numerous occasions. In the book of Isaiah we see God’s speaking, God’s solution. Just to give one example of this: in chapter 1 of Lamentations, over and over and over again, we see there’s no one to comfort her. Jerusalem is desolate and there’s no one to stand by her, no one to offer consolation. Isaiah picks this up specifically. Chapter 40 begins, “Comfort, comfort my people says your God.” Over and over again God says, “I am Yahweh, your comforter.”

On the one hand you need to hear Lamentations to give it space to be itself, because God preserved it in that form and the Bible doesn’t rush in and say, “Oh but don’t… quick, quick, quick, let’s get to the hope, let’s rush to the hope.” It leaves the pain, the breathing space. But it can’t let it stay there, and it wouldn’t be a Christian, it wouldn’t be a Jewish, it wouldn’t be a faithful hearing or recension of Lamentations to hear it just in its canonical form but not in its canonical context. We need to hear it in stereo.

Lamentations, in a sense, is Israel’s reaction to its exile.It’s looking back to the exile and it’s looking forward to the restoration. It’s a bit like Holy Saturday as we look back to the cross and forward to the resurrection. In some ways, as Christians, we can see Lamentations as the Holy Saturday literature of Israel. It’s a way of trying to look back at what was, and what’s been lost and what’s been destroyed…it’s looking around at the grave, at this destruction that surrounds them, and it’s looking forward to a salvation that is to come but has not yet come.

Jewish worship does this brilliantly, because every year in the Jewish liturgical cycle, on the ninth of Av, the whole book of Lamentations is recited. On that day in the synagogue, people sit on the floor, there is no celebration, there’s no readings from the Torah, it’s a day of mourning and fasting. The next day it begins with the comfort thing from Isaiah, and it moves forward then, towards the liturgical cycle of Atonement. And so Jewish people have brilliantly captured this insight of saying there’s a time to weep and there’s a time to rejoice, and we need to give space for the two, but we need to realize that the time to weep is situated within a bigger story, and that story doesn’t end with the weeping.

As Christians, we want to say the reason we have hope…we recognize that there’s a cross, and we recognize that the creation is marked by brokenness, and we recognize that our own lives are often broken, but we know that it can’t end that way. We know that it ends with resurrection, because the tomb is empty. As Stanley Hauerwas says, we can never be hopeless people even if we might despair (maybe despair is the wrong word)…even if we might lament, even if we might feel pain, even if we might cry out. To have an honest and integrated and faithful relationship with God, we need to do that. That’s the appropriate human response on certain occasions, but if it’s a Christian response, it is never hopeless.10 mins 39secs.

 Luke 2:34-35

 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

 This lament captures this last statement: And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

 A piece of music in Greek )rthodox liturgy that utilizes lament centred on the death of Jesus.

 Nektaria Karantzi – Good Friday Lamentations Click here

 The gospel is light in darkness.

 This means to really appreciate the joy of salvation we have felt the pain of those walking with us with heavy hearts and broken bodies on life’s journey.

 Lament prayer is when we sit and speak out to God and one another—without even knowing what to pray for—stunned, sad, and silenced by the tragedy and absurdity of human events.

To experience this type of prayer, is to understand Jesus as the man of sorrows.

We begin to grasp the anguish behind Eli Eli sabbathani. My God, my God why have you foresaken me.

 It might actually be the most honest form of prayer to truly express how we really feel. It takes great trust and patience to “complain” to God.

 The Jews have been very good at it. Without this we do not suffer the necessary pain of this world, the necessary sadness of being human.

 We could think that such prayers make us appear weak, helpless,and vulnerable, and most of us don’t want to go there. We think, perhaps, they show a lack of faith, whereas they are probably the summit of faith. We are trusting God with our real thoughts.

 We forget that Jesus called weeping or mourning a“blessed” state.

 As Parry said, death comes before the rolling away of the stone.

 Do we try to roll the stone away too quickly without experiencing the realities of our losses and grief.We should allow ourselves and other to lament.

 Our losses, our disappointments can soften us, make us more empathetic. They can make us real – more solidified. We share our common humanity. We are not the fixers, the ones with all the answers. Jesus is the one who came to do that.

 To avoid, deny this darker side or artificially create “good “ emotions we can distort reality and become deaf to our own inner struggle. It too often means we are acting, pretending to be in control – mouthing the platitudes that we think we should say.

 Jesus wasn’t always nice and peacemaking when he angrily confronted the injustice or the ugliness of this world. Jesus is the friend who will roll about in the mud with us without judgment, allowing us to not be always noble.

 God loves us humans. He is not against us with our struggles in our humanity. The Bible shows it and Jesus lived it. God can use these times of lament to be our greatest teacher even when we don’t know what we are learning. With hindsight often we see that we have become more human but also we are aware that the stone is indeed rolled away and Jesus continued to be present with us despite what we have said or thought.

 And he changes not –there is is no variablene in his faithfulness. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Our struggles don’t change the reality of who he is for us.

Read more…

Message for the Day

Lamentations 1

June 23rd, 2015
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This is an overview of Lamentations from an historical point of view.

Lecture 20 – Responses to Suffering and Evil: Lamentations and Wisdom Literature [November 15, 2006]
Chapter 1. The Book of Lamentations [00:00:00]
Professor Christine Hayes

When Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon burned the temple and destroyed Jerusalem, the initial reaction was one of overwhelming grief and sadness, and that’s represented primarily in the Book of Lamentations. It’s a very short book of dirges that laments the loss of Jerusalem as the death of a beloved person.

It may have arisen, however, because of all of the prophets, Jeremiah is the one who reveals the most to us about his personal suffering and grief, and because he was present as an eyewitness at the destruction. There’s no real logical development of ideas in Lamentations primarily because it’s structured by an artificial device. There are five chapters and four of the chapters are acrostic poems. This means that each verse, or sometimes a series of verses, begins with a letter of the alphabet in sequence. So in chapter 3 you have three verses per letter of the alphabet. But this kind of acrostic poetic formation gives the poem a kind of formal unity, at the same time that it has no logical unity or logical flow. And it’s been pointed out that that form is particularly appropriate for an expression of grief that is too profound or too all encompassing to be logical.

The Lamentations over Jerusalem resemble very much David’s lamentations over Saul. The mourner spends time contrasting the former splendor of the beloved to his or her present state. (And we have lots of Ancient Near Eastern prototypes for this kind of lamentation — lamentations over destroyed cities which are understood as the result of the deity’s decision to abandon the city.)

In Lamentations we’re given a very detailed picture of the great suffering that accompanied the final collapse. Lamentations 1:1:

“Alas!
Lonely sits the city
Once great with people!
She that was great among nations
Is become like a widow;
The princess among states
Is become a thrall.”

Chapter 4:

Alas!
The gold is dulled,
Debased the finest gold,
The sacred gems are spilled a
At every street corner.
The precious children of Zion;
Once valued as gold — 
Alas, they are accounted as earthen pots,
Work of a potter’s hands!
Even jackals offer the breast
And suckle their young;
But my poor people has turned cruel,
Like ostriches of the desert.
The tongue of the suckling cleaves
To its palate for thirst.
Little children beg for bread;
None give them a morsel.
Those who feasted on dainties
Lie famished in the streets;
Those who were reared in purple
Have embraced refuse heaps.
The guilt of my poor people
Exceeded the iniquity of Sodom,
Which was overthrown in a moment,
Without a hand striking it.
Her elect were purer then snow,
Whiter then milk;
Their limbs were ruddier then coral,
Their bodies were like sapphire.
Again, the description of the physical beauty of the beloved,
Now their faces are blacker then soot,
They are not recognized in the streets;
Their skin has shriveled on their bones,
It has become dry as wood.
Better off were the slain of the sword
Than those slain by famine,
Who pined away, [as though] wounded,
For lack of the fruits of the field.
With their own hands, tenderhearted women
Have cooked their children;
Such became their fare,
In the disaster of my poor people.

The poet here, though, does adopt the standard Deuteronomistic interpretation of events which infers sin from suffering, and therefore, harps on the sin and the uncleanness of Jerusalem that brought on this calamity. Their guilt exceeded the iniquity of Sodom in the passage we just read, and this is a strategy that of course justifies God. The poet singles out the corrupt priests, the corrupt prophets for blame. He attacks the popular ideology of the inviolability of Zion. Israel’s many sins are what caused Yahweh to pour out his wrath and destroy Jerusalem utterly.

The descriptions of Yahweh’s wrath, anger, his consuming rage, these are some of the most powerful and most violent poetry in the Hebrew Bible. They tend to divert attention, in fact, from the people’s guilt and focus attention on their suffering. Children crying for bread, children starving to death, women raped, men abused. In chapter 3, the poet switches into the first person so Jerusalem is speaking like one who is pursued and abused, beaten by an angry and violent master.

Chapter 3 [vv 1-11]:

I am the man who has known affliction
Under the rod of His wrath;
Me he drove on and on
In unrelieved darkness;
On none but me He brings down His hand
Again and again, without cease.
He has worn away my flesh and skin;
He has shattered my bones.
All around me He has built
Misery and hardship;
He has made me dwell in darkness,
Like those long dead.
He has walled me in and I cannot break out;
He has weighed me down with chains.
And when I cry and plead,
He shuts out my prayer;
He has walled in my ways with hewn blocks,
He has made my paths a maze.
He is a lurking bear to me,
A lion in hiding;
He has forced me off my way and mangled me,
He has left me numb.

A remarkably violent passage. And in another remarkable passage, the poet describes God as refusing to hear the prayers of Israel. He no longer can forgive. He simply has to punish. This is in chapter 3 as well, verses 42 to 45.

We have transgressed and rebelled,
And You have not forgiven.
You have clothed Yourself in anger and pursued us,
You have slain without pity.
You have screened Yourself off with a cloud
That no prayer may pass through.
You have made us filth and refuse
In the midst of the peoples.
So God is simply refusing to even hear Israel’s prayer. This is an emphasis not so much on Israel’s guilt, but on Israel’s tremendous suffering, God’s hardheartedness.

The poem ends with a plea of reconciliation in 5:19-22.

But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever,
Your throne endures through the ages.
Why have you forgotten us utterly,
Forsaken us for all time?
Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself,
And let us come back;
Renew our days as of old!
For truly, You have rejected us,
Bitterly raged against us.
Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself,
And let us come back;
Renew our days as of old!

Lamentations represents one response to the fall of Jerusalem. It’s an overwhelming sense of loss, grief, misery, a sense of shock too at God’s treatment. And also a longing to return, a longing for renewal and reconciliation. The 200 years following the destruction would prove to be a time, a very critical time, of transition. And Israelite literature in this period reflects the Israelites’ struggle with the philosophical and religious challenge of the destruction.

Another viewpoint from Harvard’s Harvey Cox who co write a book on Lamentations while the other author Stephanie Paulsell wrote on the Song of Solomon.

The lament, as Harvey Cox tells us, “does not depict what we “ought” to be like in the face of tragedy: noble, stoic, patient, long-suffering. It depicts what we really are like – miserable, engaged, confused, and vindictive” (Lamentations and the Song of Songs, p.34).

 Also from Lamentations we will see the seriousness of the situation this world is in.

 This is his brief talk about Lamentations:

To view start  at 16min 59secs When was the last time you heard a sermon on Lamentations

and finish 26min 52secs do something we need to know about.

 Next week we will see something remarkable and surprising in the middle of the book of Lamentations. There is hope.

 An attempt to capture this pain is  The Music of the Bible Revealed: click here

Sermon

 Most people in our culture recoil at the idea of God’s wrath. The well-known theologian, Miroslav Volf, (presently at Yale) once did too, until he experienced the brokenness of the world in some of the most horrific ways. In his book, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, he writes:

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them.

My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.
Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where over 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them?

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love (138-139).

God hates what we do to each other on this earth. There is great suffering all around us. The circumstances in Jerusalem described in Lamentations is a consequence of the evil abounding in Judah. It is in one sense a warning to the world that God hates evil. He hates all that destroys what he has intended for us. It is also a reminder of his sovereignty –he is not mocked by the ‘respectable’ games people play – even in his name.

We will come back to this at the end of the sermon.

But I would like to now focus on the significance of lament being canonized in scripture. Because the lament is a human response to very tragic situations.

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Message for the Day

John McLean’s Life Together

June 18th, 2015
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GCI National Conference: A Flourishing Life

 A truly wonderful, positive, joy and love-filled weekend was enjoyed by the more than 200 people who gathered on the Gold Coast for our GCI National Conference June 13-14. The conference was an outstanding success, a great learning opportunity, an occasion for connection and reconnection, and a vital spiritual boost to all who attended.

 FL Conference 1

 We were blessed to again have with us our President and Pastor General, Joseph Tkach, and Gary and Cathy Deddo. And Keith Farmer returned by popular request from our previous conference.

 FL Conference 2

 In a really special dimension to the conference, we had people not only from around Australia, but from nine countries gathered in fellowship and communion together. Fiji, Tonga, Nauru, Malaysia, India, New Zealand, and the Philippines were all represented. We really are an International Communion of Grace!

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