Genesis 15:1-12; 17-18
15 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”[a]3 And Abeam said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord[b] reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7 Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
The Lament over Jerusalem
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me,[a] ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[b] you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
What does the word “lament” mean to you?
We’ve all experienced disappointment in our lives. I know I have. We can probably all think of times when we hoped for something, and then not have it happen.
More than hoping for a new bike at Christmas, or warm weather, or even who wins a football or a basketball game, we have other hopes and aspirations for good recognition at work, paying the bills, going on a much needed vacation…or even more approval from others, for relationships to be healed, for connection with a friend or family member that you have not talked to for a while. As a church, we often don’t know what we want to see happen other than the church to survive. Maybe we have deeper hopes for it to thrive….yet, our definitions for thriving may be hard to articulate at times.
It’s safe to say that at our deepest hopes are with relationships. We are wired for relationship with the world around us and with people. It doesn’t matter if you are introvert or an extrovert, we all crave connection on some level and have some hope for relationships.
I like the story of Abram, before he was named Abraham. Abram was a faithful man according to the biblical accounts of him. His faith was based on a relationship with God and with others. Abram was advanced in age, he wanted an heir, a child that he could pass along his family name and legacy.
He went to God and lamented to God that he didn’t have an heir.
Lament is an interesting word…it’s a passionate word that means to wail, to express deep sadness or disappointment. Lament is an active expression of denial to the status quo as Walter Brueggemann, the great Old Testament scholar and friend, would say. It has a meaning of involving your whole self, affecting you physically even.
When we are faced with something that deeply moves us, it can potentially lead us towards anxiety, or some kind of stress…it affects us, it can move us into situational depression even. However, lamenting can come afterwards and be a positive movement towards healing and transformation.
Abram is in that place of lament. He is sad. But, there is a difference in this lament. Abram’s faith is in a relationship with God and in community with others. God hears Abram’s lament and affirms Abram and blesses him with a promise. His children will outnumber the stars in the sky. What happens next? A deep darkness falls over Abram. Not exactly what you’d expect after God gives him some news. But, lamenting does lead to growth. Growth happens in the midst of confronting one’s self, in the midst of struggle, which brings movement towards a deeper understanding of God’s purposes in your life and in your community.
God’s promised also leads to two sons: Isaac and Ishmael, and those descendants outnumber the stars in the sky. It may not have been exactly what Abram thought, but it certainly says that we are all brothers and sisters.
The text from the New Testaments finds Jesus lamenting as well. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem when some sympathetic pharisees, or religious rulers warning him that Herod wants to kill him. Jesus calls Herod a “fox”, which is interesting to note. The understanding of a fox in this text is not that Herod is cunning, but that Herod is a small animal that does not have power, is impotent. Jesus says in affect, I’m casting out demons and have the relational power to overcome unseen forces. Herod has no control over me. Jesus then goes on to say that he must he has work today for the next couple of days and that it will be finished on the 3rd day. This could be a reference to Jesus death and resurrection.
Jesus certainly gives his hearers a reference that he cannot be killed outside of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has a hold in the imagination of Israel at the time. It is the center of Jewish faith at that time, the city where the temple of God is. Jewish folk believed that God’s Presence on earth dwelt there. It is also the place where prophets are killed. When prophets came with a message of lament, of a need for change, repentance, relational restoration…the established system, those in power, felt threatened, they would be killed.
Even though persons in the religious establishment may not have been very joyful, they still had control and did not want to give that control up. They were in a place of broken relationship with each other, themselves, and with God. They were what I’d call “resistors” and resistors have roadblocks that can often thwart their growth, their joy, and the growth and joy of others. Yet, resistors do have a part in the story as well.
Jesus laments, deeply, with great emotion for Jerusalem. Jesus understands the important of “place”, that people are deeply rooted in a community and that has potential for great things, but when not living up to it’s potential, when resistant to God’s desire for genuine relationship and community, a place can be destructive.
So, Jesus laments, describes a God who longs to take God’s people, all people, under God’s wings like a hen protecting her chicks. A God who longs to be in loving relationship with God’s people, to protect them, to bless them beyond measure with friendship and Presence.
Jerusalem not only signifies the center of religious life for Israel, it can also be descriptive of the church. God longs for the church to be a place of deep relationship, not only for those inside the church, but for those outside. Jesus represents all of humanity, and Jesus demonstrates that God is not limited to a building….Jesus goes to places outside of the temple, the synagogue, and continues today to go outside of the church walls. Jesus says that the temple, the house, is abandoned by God, but God does not abandon God’s people.
And, Jesus laments that Jerusalem kills its prophets. But, God keeps on sending those prophets. There is a flow in and through God that cannot be stopped.
Friends, hear this the good news, lamenting can come out of being dark places in our lives, but lamenting leads us towards growth. Jesus loves Jerusalem, and Jesus loves his church. Jesus has promised, and demonstrated, that even though he aches for us, he also aches with us. He is with us in all that we experience and is with us in the lamenting and in the darkness. We also know that God, through Jesus, demonstrates that darkness doesn’t win and that we can grow and move towards the promise of blessing as Jesus comes to us. Lamenting can produce faith. Faith in and through God’s commitment to us even in the midst of life’s hard places.