Beckett: Sermon – Lessons of Lent: Lament

Date: March 23, 2022
Festival: Lenten Midweek 3
Text: Psalm 10
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Appointed Scriptures: Daniel 9:1-19; Psalm 10; Matthew 23:37-39
Sermon Hymn: LSB #752 Be Still, My Soul

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Introduction

Last Wednesday, we spent some time contemplating prayer as something we do while we fast, specifically what we are praying for in the Lord’s Prayer. Tonight, we continue this theme as we contemplate a form of prayer called lament. Jesus laments over the murderous Jerusalem—the city and people that were called by His name, as Daniel puts it. Daniel laments over the sins of his people that caused their exile in Babylon and begs God for mercy to forgive their sins. And the psalmist laments over God’s apparent absence while evil people afflict the weak.

If we play close enough attention, the Scriptures teach us how to lament, especially the Psalms. Now, what does it mean to lament? Strictly speaking, it means to express deep sorrow and/or regret, often in the form of a complaint. Does this mean we can complain to God? Yes. But as we will see, there is a fine line between complaining to God and blaming Him. Psalm 10 is one of those psalms that teach us how to lament without profaning God’s name, but before we examine the psalm you need to know the three parts of a lament that appear in these psalms: First, a lament begins with a complaint; second, the reasons for the complaint are listed; and third, the lament ends with trust in God.

Psalm 10

If we were reading the Psalms from front to back, the placement of Psalm 10 would seem odd. Just before this, we would read Psalm 9, which tells of God’s “active and positive presence in the life of God’s people” [Saleska, 254]. But in Psalm 10, we seem to get an entirely different side to God—people are suffering at the hands of evildoers, and God seems entirely absent in the lives of the suffering. So, the psalmist asks, “Why, O Yahweh, do You stand far away? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble” [v. 1]? In other words, “God, how could You allow this to happen?” A question that should sound familiar to all of us. But the psalmist “is not interested in hearing objective… well-reasoned arguments” from God. Rather, in his rhetorical questions he is begging God to do something [Saleska, 255]. Such is his complaint.

In vv. 2-11, the psalmist develops a case against the wicked. But his purpose is not to develop a reasonable argument as if he’s in God’s court to compel Him to action. Rather, “these verses read more like a list of indictments against the wicked” [Saleska, 255]. If you don’t know who these evil people are, by verse 11 you know exactly who they are. He doesn’t give generic descriptions but specific ones. In their arrogance, the wicked are oppressing the poor; they boast in their pride; the greedy renounce the Lord because in their pride and prosperity, they find no need for God; these evil people are prospering and escaping God’s judgement; from their mouths come cursing, deceit, oppression, mischief, and iniquity; they murder; they ambush the defenceless; and even they say God is absent and aloof to the weak. They say, “God has forgotten, He has hidden His face, He will never see it.” These last words in v. 11 hang in the air as a direct challenge to God.

The psalmist’s indictments against the wicked end here, and what does he do next? He could blame God, as we are so prone to do. But instead, he speaks on behalf of the afflicted—he gives a voice to the voiceless. He cries out to God to rise on their behalf. But in verse 13, his lament is not yet spent. He circles back to the question that is still on his mind and asks rhetorically, “Why do the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call to account’?” In other words, he wonders, “Why do the wicked challenge God’s presence, thinking they will not account for their evil?” He asks this question not to challenge God but to challenge those wicked people. In verse 14 he says of God, “But You do see, for You note mischief and vexation,” and so on. Despite God’s supposed absence and indifference, the psalmist knows God is fully aware of the afflictions of the poor, the weak, and the suffering.

This is an expression of the psalmist’s faith. By faith, he confesses a reality that contradicts that of the wicked and even his own doubts. The wicked thing God is absent, but the psalmist—despite his own skepticism—insists on a different reality: God is not absent, but He knows all about these wicked people and the suffering they’re inflicting. Therefore, despite appearances, God is present since He sees all things. The psalmist knows this because he recalls times when God has been the helper of orphans—the weakest and poorest among them [v. 14].

In the final verses of the psalm, he maintains his confidence in God. He moves from request to confession. He confesses that God is still King not just over Israel but over all the nations. The fact that God is King means that pagan, or godless, nations will be expelled from His land. As history attests, Yahweh, who is God over the heavens and the earth, acts on behalf of His people. The psalmist is confident that God will answer his prayer. He trusts that God will hear the desire of the afflicted, that He will strengthen their hearts, and that He will give ear to their cries for justice [vv. 16-17].

To summarise, the psalmist describes these evil people with three truths: (1) The wicked are getting along quite well without God; they do not need Him. In fact, it appears as if their way of living is the best way to live. (2) Both the God-fearing psalmist and the evildoers seem to agree that God is absent, and the fact that the weak are powerless against the evildoers seems to confirm this. And (3) the dominance of the wicked is only temporary and a façade [Saleska, 258]. Contrary to all appearances, God, as King, is still in control of all things and the psalmist, by faith, remains convinced that God will hear his prayer and the cries of the afflicted to deliver them from evil.

And the psalm ends there. We do not know if God answers his prayer because he doesn’t tell us. But the psalmist ends his poem with unwavering trust that God will deliver the afflicted, and therefore we are to assume that God indeed answers his lament with divine favour.

What Are Our Laments?

This psalm brings us to consider our own laments. What people or powers do the words of this psalm recall for us? What laments—or complaints—do we shout to God? These are the laments I’ve heard from God’s people: 40-50 million unborn babies are killed every year worldwide, which corresponds to about 125,000 abortions every day. Like the psalmist, in our prayers we give a voice to the voiceless, and may even wonder ourselves, “God, where are You?”

Children are being indoctrinated into questioning their sexuality and gender at an age where sex is utterly inappropriate for their current stage of development, making their teachers nothing less than sexual predators. God’s own people are being persecuted by governments in over 50 countries. Christians are murdered in Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, and many others. In less bloody places, in countries like China and Ukraine, churches are destroyed, and Christians are imprisoned for teaching sound biblical doctrine contrary to government policy. Innocent civilians die as casualties of unnecessary wars, such as the ongoing Ukrainian-Russian conflict and ongoing tribal genocides in various African countries. The list is almost endless.

Clearly, we have a lot to lament. The question before you tonight is: How are you going to bring these laments to the Lord? I encourage you to complain to Him just like the Psalter, the Prophets like Daniel and Habakkuk, and the faithful kings of Israel. But here’s a further question: Will you blame Him or trust in Him?

The author of Hebrews writes that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” The saints who have gone before us have set for us faithful examples on how to lament. So, he writes, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” [Heb. 12:1-2].

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses of saints whose faith we can imitate in lamentable times. Even Jesus lamented in His suffering. When He prayed in Gethsemane, He lamented His imminent death that He would drink from the cup of God’s wrath. He even asked God the Father to remove this cup from Him, but like the psalmist, He trusted in God’s will [Matt. 26:36-46]. And as we know, His death gave fruit to His resurrection, setting the pattern for all His saints who follow Him.

The saint we learn from tonight, though, is the poet of Psalm 10. What is the example he sets before us? (1) He complains to God, and in a crisis of faith he even questions His presence. (2) He lists the reasons for his complaint with his indictments against the wicked. Then (3) he looks to God—really, he looks to Jesus—the one who reigns as King forever and ever, who has control over all things, and trusts that He will act. He doesn’t know how or when God will act; he simply knows He will.

Therefore, as we lament, we let it all out before God. We can even admit that it appears He’s entirely absent to us, listing before Him our reasons for our lament. We may even fast like Daniel if our spirit is so distraught over these sins. Ultimately, though, we look to Jesus. We do not remain in our complaints and despair, but we continue running this long race as we look to Jesus on the horizon.

We first look to Him on the cross—that though we and others suffer many things, Jesus suffered and died for you. As the author of Hebrews also writes, “we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” [Heb. 4:15]. Jesus knows what it’s like to be weak, He knows what it’s like to suffer evil, to be persecuted by the government, to suffer death, even to suffer war since He waged war against sin, death, and the devil, as was quite evident in His wilderness temptation, Gethsemane, and the cross. There is no suffering that is beyond Jesus’ comprehension and no suffering that He is indifferent to, because He suffered it all in His full humanity. We therefore look to the cross and say, “I don’t know why this is happening and I don’t know why I feel that God is absent, but I trust in what Jesus did for me on the cross and I hope in the resurrection, for He is the resurrection and the life.”

Like the psalmist, we also look to Jesus in His ascension, who “is seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” who is “King forever and ever.” Christ’s seat at the right hand of God’s throne is not a spatial placement but rather a statement of His authority as God. Before He ascended, He told the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” [Matt. 28:18]. Thus, let us read the end of the psalm this way, “Jesus Christ is King forever and ever… O Jesus Christ, You hear the desire of the afflicted…” [Ps. 10:16-17].

When we pray, and especially when we lament, we are calling upon the name of the ascended Christ who is ruling over all creation. He is always in control of the situation even when it doesn’t look like it. It didn’t look like Jesus was in control during His crucifixion, which is why His disciples ran in fear instead of trusting in their King, but behind it all He was in control by breaking the power of sin, death, and the devil in His own death. Likewise, in His ascension, He still has control over all things, and He is still reigning even when it doesn’t look like it. As St. Paul says, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial shall pass away” [1 Cor. 13:9-10]. We know Christ reigns, which we only know in part because we do not yet see Him fully, but in the perfection of time, we will know fully that Christ reigns when He returns to cast the devil and his evildoers to Hell.

Therefore, we end our laments with trust in Jesus Christ our King. That’s what it means to have faith. During times of doubt, weakness, and suffering, faith confesses the opposite of what we are experiencing—it looks to Jesus and confesses His salvific reign. Like the psalmist, we do not know how or when Jesus will deliver us from evil. But what we do know is that Christ, at this moment, is reigning as King and has all things under His control. And we know that He is coming again to inaugurate the new creation and the New Jerusalem when He raises us from the dead. Again, we don’t know what this will look like, and we do not know when.

Nevertheless, we exercise the rule of faith: We trust in our King, and we trust in His promise to ride in on that white horse wielding the Sword of the Word of God as the answer to all our laments, subduing our enemies under His feet, beheading that 10-headed dragon Satan, and bringing us into the City of God as His redeemed refugees where we shall dwell with Him for all eternity. To Him be all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.


The following laments were prayed during the Prayers of the Church.

Let us pray:

O God, we lament 2 years of the coronavirus: its death, its despair, its division, its fear, its isolation, its alienation, and its confusion. We lament the things it has taken: lost loved ones, lost opportunities to mourn, lost days for worship and Christian fellowship, lost joys, lost time with family, lost friendships, lost trust; and lost celebrations of marriage, birthdays, births, and anniversaries. How long, O Lord?

O Christ, we lament those who don’t believe in your name: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends, those near, and those far off. How long, O Lord?

O Holy Spirit, we lament divided communities and peoples: divisions of political party, divisions of race, divisions of class, divisions of sex, and divisions of belief. How long, O Lord?

O God, we lament the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ: the violence done against them because they bear Your name, the intimidation of their families, the restrictions on their practice of faith, the political pressures on their communities. How long, O Lord?

We lament failings in Your church: abuses of power and people, divisions and disunity, compromise with the world, false and impure doctrine, unwillingness to forgive, arrogance, anger, suspicion, and fear. How long, O Lord?

We lament failings of body and mind: for chronic pain, for cancer, depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, and thoughts of suicide. How long, O Lord?

We lament loss of life by abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, accident, malnourishment, natural disasters, disease, murder, war, and suicide. How long, O Lord?

We lament loneliness from infertility, isolation, the death of friends or family, singleness, and exclusion. How long, O Lord?

We lament evil in our nation: greed, selfishness, injustice, violence, wantonness with life, arrogance, cruelty, and attempts at self-definition. How long, O Lord?

We lament our sin: the sin we welcome, the sin that chases after us, the sins we commit repeatedly, the sins by which we hurt and harm our neighbour, the sins by which we hurt and harm ourselves, and the lack of faith we often show. How long, O Lord?

We lament the persistent work of Satan among us: his works, his ways, his exploitation of our weakness, his stoking of division, his attacking our insecurities, and his attacking of joy in ministry. How long, O Lord?

Nevertheless, we trust in You. We trust in Your mercy to forgive our sins, to bring us relief, and to bring us into everlasting life, knowing that You reign in all majesty and power; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bibliography

Saleska, Timothy E. Psalms 1-50. Concordia Commentary. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2020.

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