Re-Blog: Lament as Mission in the Suburbs

So I’m taking some time off this week.  As such, I’ll be sharing some blogs that I read regularly. 

Today, this blog I’m sharing addresses the hope that comes from teaching suburbanites how to properly lament, because we like to live under the veneer of the American Dream and self-help. 

Please take some time to read this blog:

Gravity Leadership: Lament as Mission in the Suburbs


  Pr Michael Jannett


Close to God

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Hebrews 10:1 The Law is a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the real things themselves. It never can perfect the ones who are trying to draw near to God through the same sacrifices that are offered continually every year.

O (Observation):  God’s Law stands as a corrective for God’s people, namely, the 10 Commandments.  The Law also stood as an identity marker for how God’s people were to love God and love neighbor.  The Law portrays a peaceful Kingdom, yet God’s people fall short of that ideal.  Even though God’s people fail, that doesn’t mean the Law was not effective.   The Law was a guiding light for a people who wandered time again.  

God’s grace is what pulled them back into relationship with God.  

Hebrews leans heavily on sacrifice as the scapegoat for error of God’s people.  I think this author transforms what was an important custom of making sacrifices to God into a final “sealed the deal” event in Jesus’ sacrifice.   

The emphasis is less on appeasing God, and turning towards how Jesus fulfills the Law…how Jesus brought us closer to God than any earthly sacrifice.   

A (Application):  Some days, feeling close to God can be a challenge.   Challenged by finances, relationships, social media wars, lack of joy, addictions…we face many challenges.  We try to follow God’s path for us, but are we on it?  What do we do to make up for our wandering?

And this is where the grace comes in.   God shows us mercy, welcomes us back on the path. In this grace our eyes are opened once again to the wideness of God’s mercy.   As we soak in this grace, we can’t help but be transformed.  We realize that while we still were sinning, God was loving us through those moments.  And that makes me want to get on my knees and pray for forgiveness even more.   

Grace, forgiveness, repentance, transformation.  Pretty much in that order.   No sacrifices necessary. 

P (Prayer):  Lord, we thank you for guiding us back into the path…always.  Amen.  

What Does Hope Look Like?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Lamentations 5: 19 But you, Lord, will rule forever; your throne lasts from one generation to the next.
20 Why do you forget us continually; why do you abandon us for such a long time?
21 Return us, Lord, to yourself. Please let us return!  Give us new days, like those long ago—
22 unless you have completely rejected us, or have become too angry with us.

O (Observation): The framework around the despair here is that God’s people understand the devaststion of their land (and people) as recompense for their turning away from God.   

And when we zoom in on these verses here, we can see that their faith in God is challenged to the point of wondering if God is still even “for them” anymore.  

A (Application):  I in no way attribute the recent hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria) or the earthquakes in Mexico to God’s doing – not in any way shape or form.   And yet I can see how those devastated by the storms and quakes could share similar lamentations.    

Regardless of how one sees the cause of God’s people and land being destroyed at the time of the writing of Lamentations, or the cause of today’s horrific natural disasters, the crying out of all peoples is the same:  why?!  God, where are you?!

My hope and is that we can help be the answer to that prayer.   That we would take up our chainsaws and shovels, rakes and buckets, trash bags and hard hats.    That we would send money and prayers where they are needed most.  

God is at work through our hands and wallets and spirits.   Let us follow the call to serve, to help where needed most.  

P (Prayer):  Equipping Lord, call us to the places where we can serve those who have lost their homes and maybe even loved ones.  Amen.  
(More on aid to Puerto Rico here. )

God Helps Those Who…

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 109

28 Let them curse—but you, bless me!
If they rise up, let them be disgraced,
but let your servant celebrate!

29 Let my accusers be dressed in shame;
let them wear their disgrace like a coat.

30 But I will give great thanks to the Lord with my mouth;
among a great crowd I will praise God!

31 Because God stands right next to the needy,
to save them from any who would condemn them.

O (Observation): The psalmist knows the deep, deep needs of the helpless.  When others persecute the author, the author seeks God to sustain him or her.  This is the source of thepsalmist’s  hope: God stands right next to the needy. 

A (Application):  Re-read the title of this post.   How did finish this sentence:  “God Helps Those Who…”?  Did you automatically fill in “…those who help themselves”?   I did.  And yet…this psalm seems to point in another direction:   “God Helps Those Who are…needy / helpless.”

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?   God should reward those in control of their lives.  (Who is ever in control, really?  No one!)

Yet in the Scriptures (and many of us attest from personal experience) we see God helping those in need, too.   Standing next to those in need…protecting them…bringing resources around them…caring for them.  

I thank God today for standing next to the needy.  And in some way in all of our lives, we have a need:  forgiveness, humility, financial need, need of friendships, awareness of injustices around us, and more.   

May God stand with all experiencing devastation from natural disasters.  Today, we seek God’s guidance on how to react to the devastation in Peurto Rico.   A quote from a Vox article:

“The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years,” Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez told CBS News. “I can’t deny that the Puerto Rico of now is different from that of a week ago. The destruction of properties, of flattened structures, of families without homes, of debris everywhere. The island’s greenery is gone.”

Looking back, can you remember a time when a need arose in your life, and you realized God was standing with you?   I have numerous times through seminary and my family life and in my ministry.  Sometimes we can only see God’s presence looking backward in our lives.  Savor those memories.  This is a building block of our faith.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to know that you stand with us and others in our need.  Amen.  

Can I Be Honest for A Minute?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Lamentations 1
20 Pay attention, Lord, for I am in trouble. My stomach is churning; my heart is pounding inside me because I am so bitter. In the streets the sword kills; in the house it is like death.

21 People heard that I was groaning, that I had no comforter. All my enemies heard about my distress; they were thrilled that you had done this. Bring the day you have announced so they become like me!

22 Let all their evil come before you. Then injure them like you’ve injured me because of all my wrong acts; my groans are many, my heart is sick.

O (Observation):  A godly prayer would certainly include a plea for suffering to be removed from one’s self.  However, to ask God to visit that suffering on someone else??? Is that appropriate?   No, but is that real?   Yes!

Let’s be honest:  the people of God have seen their country literally and spiritually torn apart. The author wishes for God to bring hope to their country and their people – the promised hope.   And yet at the same time, they wish for their enemies to suffer the same the same things they suffered as God’s people.  

Not holy, but honest. 

The book of Lamentations is a real inside look at the hearts and minds of God’s people in the wake of the downfall of the Judah and Israel. Their bitterness shows through, especially in this verse.  

And even though today’s scripture uses a singular, personal pronoun “I,” this pronoun is being used as sort of a universal “I,” as in it functions more practically as a national suffering and bemoaning.

A (Application):  I am so thankful that the history of God’s people has not been sterilized / scrubbed clean.   The Bible includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

Our nation right now is in a really tough spot.  Protests, natural disasters, a President that speaks divisive words (rather than creating spaces so the protestors concerns can be addressed so we can all listen), systemic racism, a government all twisted inside itself so that nothing fruitful is coming from Congress, a church shooting in Antioch, and more.  

I have such a heavy heart this day from all of these issues I just mentioned.  Even though these issues don’t compare to the burden that people of color in this country have to deal with.  

But I still cry out this day: “God, where the heck are you?!?!?”   

Now…pause…breathe…take a few seconds to center yourself.    We don’t erase our cries to God, neither the cry of those of Lamentations, or even my own cry.   We let the cry, the yelling, the cursing, the suffering exist…and we lift it or shout it to God.   And we realize that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.   

Maybe…no, definitely, we will find a way forward.  

Crews will respond to nature disasters (as will many of you readers).  Just this Saturday I was driving back from Atlanta to Murfreesboro, and I saw a whole line of power company trucks waving Canadian flags.  I realized that this crew was sent from Ontario, Canada, to Florida to help with the recovery of power throughout that state, in the wake of Hurricane Irma!   This is awesome!

And Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR)…we have boots on the ground in Texas and Florida…and they will be there for quite some time.   LDR is also helping with recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated much of Peurto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands, and other parts of the Caribbean. This recovery effort is awesome!

Last Tuesday, our congregation hosted another Theology on Tap session – this time regarding Race Relations.  We had a very constructive conversation!   And we will continue the conversation over the next several months.  This is awesome!

So…let us cry out to God when we suffer or those around us suffer.  Let us walk alongside those who wish to be heard, or those who have no voice.  God can handle our short-sighted cries and lamentations.  And God can also bring redemption and transformation directly and also through our hands. 

May we find hope in the midst of our lamentations.   

P (Prayer): Lord, give us hope.  Hear our cries.  Amen. 
Click here to learn more about Luther Disaster Response (including how to help directly with recovery efforts, or making donations).

All-Access Pass

Photo credit here

S (Scripture):Hebrews 6: 13 When God gave Abraham his promise, he swore by himself since he couldn’t swear by anyone greater. 14 He said, I will certainly bless you and multiply your descendants. 15 So Abraham obtained the promise by showing patience. 16 People pledge by something greater than themselves. A solemn pledge guarantees what they say and shuts down any argument. 17 When God wanted to further demonstrate to the heirs of the promise that his purpose doesn’t change, he guaranteed it with a solemn pledge. 18 So these are two things that don’t change, because it’s impossible for God to lie. He did this so that we, who have taken refuge in him, can be encouraged to grasp the hope that is lying in front of us. 19 This hope, which is a safe and secure anchor for our whole being, enters the sanctuary behind the curtain. 20 That’s where Jesus went in advance and entered for us, since he became a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

O (Observation):  God promises to Abraham that God will bring about many descendants from Abraham.  Abraham had little to do with this, other than to be patient and let God prove trustworthy.  Generation after generation are born, and we have proof of God making good on a pledge.  

Knowing that God makes good on pledges, this gives God’s people hope.   That hope includes access to what was known as the “inner sanctuary” of the temple.   This was the “holy of holies.”   This space was where only the high priests could be admitted.   And this was also where God was believed to be most fully present on earth during the times of Temple worship of God.  

And yet, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the temple curtain was torn, and God made it known that ALL have access to God – Jesus being the first with full access to God.  Now, Jesus makes it possible for all of us to access God fully.  

A (Application):  When was the last time someone broke a promise to you?   When was the last time you broke a promise you made to someone else? 

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”   “Yeah, I can help you move.” “Yeah, I’m open that day.”

Unfortunately, as a parent, I break promises to my kids: “I’ll be there in a second,” “we can go to the playground after school,” “we will go out to see that movie.”
Whether for time or budgetary issues, I break promises, and that hurts me and my kids.   My pledges are not always kept.  I repent of that and wish to be wiser in my commitments.  

But thanks be to God that God makes good on God’s pledges to us all.  God continues to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants.  And in some amazing turn of events, we are seeing many different groups of folks blessing one another.  

The world isn’t perfect, but I can see some perfect things in the world:  the innocence in my 5 year old; people helping in response to natural disasters; my wife, as she begins working as an educational assistant for special education (and putting up with me on a full-time basis).  

Blessings abound, since we have full access to God, just as Jesus does.  God promises to make many descendants from Abraham.  God also promises to bless the world through Abraham.  

What blessings can you see?   How has God blessed you?   Or perhaps a better questions is this: How is God working through you to bless others?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to have hope in your pledge to be present in the world and to have access to your full presence.  Amen.  

Work?  Rest?  Yes!  In a Rhythm…

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Hebrews 6:1 So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, 2 of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. 3 We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

O (Observation):  The author is concerned that once the believers learn the basics of their faith in Christ, they will stop pursuing God’s call for them in the world.   That if they stop after the basics, they will find further challenges and not meet them.   The author is saying that if they turn from their disciplines of learning and living out their faith, they will be challenged to find the time or effort to keep on learning and living out God’s calling for them.  

They need to press on. 

A (Application):  But how much is too much?  Is too much Gospel a thing?   Are we offended by the Gospel call?    Sometimes we are.  Sometimes we can only handle so much as individuals…as faith communities.     This tiring should not bring shame, but neither should it bring disdain.  

Every healthy organism finds a rhythm of rest and work.   When God calls God’s people to get to work, they do so, or miss an opportunity.   When God calls people to rest, they should, lest they have no energy to do the work they will be called to do down the road.  

Every group must discern the right time for work and rest.  Whether to be out front, in the middle, or in the rear.   There is a time to be in each of those places.   

Sitting back…saying nothing…doing work…sharing the story…  we have lots of options.  

You have lots of options.  

What will you do, today?

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us wisdom to discern what to do when.   Amen.