XCovid-19:Important Updates for Worship, Church Operations and Staying ConnectedRead more

Sermon Archives

Finding Our Way to Faith Through Lament

Rev. Jennifer Stuart
Sun, Oct 02

Texts: Psalm 137, Lamentations 3:19-26

I confess that I like to listen to some of the current pop music stations when I am in the car by myself. Well, maybe the true genre is indie rock – or alternative rock, or depending on your perspective, the golden oldies. I am compelled by these moody lyrics. When I can’t take another moment of election coverage or stomach the predictable news cycles, I turn to those rock tunes for solace. Quite frankly, the rock bands of today are pretty darn good at everyday lament. I listen to them on the drive home from work making my way slowly through the congested suburbs of Boston, seeking a break from our world news.

Recently, while watching television, I just happened to come across a live concert featuring the rock group, Imagine Dragons. Thousands of people sang with the front singer, Dan Reynolds:

"I'm waking up to ash and dust
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust
I'm breathing in the chemicals….

This is it the apocalypse."

And then the chorus: Welcome to a new age, a new age. I’m radioactive, radioactive. (1)

(And then there is the brilliant disillusionment of Green Day – “I walk the lonely road on the boulevard of broken dreams. I walk alone; I walk alone.”) (2)

With this in mind, let’s take a look at Psalm 137, part of this Sunday’s lectionary reading. Ready?

Psalm 137

137:1 By the rivers of Babylon-- there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

137:2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.

137:3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

137:4 How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?

137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!

137:6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

137:7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem's fall, how they said, "Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!"

137:8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!

137:9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

Whoa – that is some serious anger, and pain and despair. Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against a rock? I like to think of this as a bad moment for our psalmist, yet a distinct one that is honored and held by God. For our children mean the world and when they die or are killed or are taken from us in terrible ways, we don’t know how to go on. Today, we bear witness to the heart breaking pictures of the Syrian children standing in ruins, covered in dust and blood. The World Health Organization reporting that over 100 children have been killed in the last week alone. (3) Or we see the image of that mother in the Belgian airport next to an empty car seat, after the bombing there. There is no child in sight; dust and destruction surround her, while a Delta ticket-line sign is strangely still intact.

Our lives are changed forever when violence strikes. There is nothing that can take away our emotional and spiritual pain in the moment of grief. As a hospice chaplain and in my own personal experiences with loss and grief, the pain is beyond anything tolerable. We sometimes lash out hurting ourselves and blaming others because it is a pain that we cannot immediately rid ourselves of. We can only take the long journey through it.

Increase our faith, say the disciples to Jesus, increase our faith and our voices echo in unison. Yes, Jesus, increase our faith. Lament and faith, lament and faith: What does lament do for us?

As a very new hospice chaplain, I am learning to just sit with what Miriam Greenspan calls the “dark emotions”. Perhaps you are like me: I want to fix the problem or make it better. I am learning to pace myself differently. This process of acceptance and the willingness to breath into grief is a skill in development. After visiting a 50 year old woman in a group home last week, I returned to my car, empty. “Really, God you are asking me to have faith?” This woman, Sarah, has Down’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s; she can’t speak. Her home is hidden away on a suburban street. Yet, she looks me in the eye when, on a whim, I sing Amazing Grace, because it is the only thing I can think of to do. I imagine God saying: “Yes, that is what I ask; that is exactly what I need you to do.”

There is a pivotal moment in lament and it is one of strength. In claiming the pain, injustice and complete devastation there is a naming. Paradoxically, it is through lament that we find we can make our way through despair and shame. One particular literary character stands out to me, and that is Celie in Alice Walker’s novel, the Color Purple. In this story, Celie begins to claim her voice. Through her anger and suffering, and deep friendship with another woman, she finds the strength to call out her abusive husband. She stands up, facing her husband, Albert, head on. “The jail you plan for me is the one in which you will rot,” she tells him. He initially laughs at her, “Who do you think you is? ….You nothing at all.” She is suddenly filled with an energy that seems to reach through a void of tragedy. “I’m poor, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook. But I’m here.” (4)

First, there has to be hope….hope that something can get better. And sometimes this hope comes with even just a microscopic shift in thinking. Jesus grows a little impatient with his disciples on this subject of faith. I wonder if Jesus’ impatience stems from his concern that the alternative may be destruction. A United Nations doctor says that the conditions in Aleppo are “beyond unimaginable.” How do we manage our lament? How do we break through lonely despair into the action of hope?

Some of you may have seen the play “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education,” that was here in Cambridge not too long ago. The actress, Anna Deavere Smith, portrays a principal from a Philadelphia school where conditions are terrible, and education happens in the midst of poverty and fear. In the play, the principal speaks of a former student from her school. “This girl, she was a really bad one. I mean really bad,” she emphasized. Yet, this youth came to visit the principal a few years later to say thank you. Unbelievably, she had gotten into college. “Sometimes,” marvels the principal, “just saying something nice at some point in someone’s life can change the day.” The principal continued, “You got to give kids hope, you just got to. Hope is how you get to faith.” She recalls her own college graduation ceremony. “You know,” said the principal, “my mother stood up in that crowded auditorium and said into the silence, ‘Thank you Jesus.” No one asked her mother to sit down. (5)

Our lamentations are indeed words of despair but they are also words of power. A voice is finally heard, understood and validated. Seeds of hope begin to emerge out of the rubble and ashes. The chains of denial are broken.

Returning to Lamentations 3:19-26 that Denson read earlier:

3:19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!

3:20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

3:21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

3:23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Going back to the music band Imagine Dragons, the words and tone begin to change course: I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones. I’m radioactive, radioactive. Welcome to the new day, to the new day. The crowd raises their cell phones in solidarity and they sing together at the top of their lungs.

I will end with this final real life story of Rev. Samuel Youngblood, former pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Brooklyn, New York, an area that the pastor refers to as a “war zone.” The front doors of the church have an electronic surveillance system in place. The journalist, Samuel Freedman, writes of this NYC minister and his congregation. One Sunday, Rev. Youngblood invites members of his congregation “to get up in the face of God.” He invites them to share together the stories of their lives: the stress of poverty, and gang violence, and the hope for a son trying to get to college. Afterwards, the people come together for communion. Rev. Youngblood says to them, “I had a go around with God last night. At first, God did not answer.” But then Youngblood says his answer came in the morning listening to the choir sing an aria. The music selection was a little different for them and he acknowledges this. “It was a change for us. And I know you are open to change,” the pastor says to his congregation. So, “let’s eat together,” he brings the cracker to his mouth. He touches the grape juice, “let’s drink together.” And “against bigotry and poverty and murder and war, against the gates of hell, Rev. Youngblood turns to the choir director: Let’s go down, singing.”

Our Lament is held in a communion of loving witnesses. Jesus welcomes us to a new day. Wake up, feel it in your bones. For God’s faith and love for us never falters. Rise up, rise up indeed, and let us bear witness together. Amen.

1) http://www.directlyrics.com/imagine-dragons-radioactive-lyrics.html
2) www.google.com/search?q=green+day+i+walk+alone+lyrics&oq=green+day++a+wa...
3) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/01/world/middleeast/aleppo-syria-civilian...
4) Walker, Alice. The Color Purple (Harcourt Books: Orlando), 1982.
5) This play was created, written, and performed by Anna Deavere Smith, Music composed and performed by Marcus Shelby, Directed by Leonard Foglia.
6) Freedman, Samuel. Upon This rock: The Miracles of a Black Church (HarperCollins: New York) 1993.

Looking for ways to support our community during this unprecedented time of need? The Missions and Social Justice Committee has compiled and vetted a short list of organizations looking for assistance to aid in their work in the COVID-19 response...

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Shelter has expanded into Sage Hall to allow for greater social distancing, and is now open to guests around the clock, thanks to additional funding from the Commonwealth. They would very much welcome...