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The Redeemed Life

Sermon - 10/18/09
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Lamentations 3:25-36, 55-58

We are continuing in our reading of Lamentations that we began a few weeks ago, and concluding this morning.  Once again in the 3rd chapter, verses 25-36 and 52-58.  I'm going to read from the New Revised Standard Version, which is the same version that is in the pews, and we invite you to follow along:

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul that seeks him.
26It is good that one should wait quietly
   for the salvation of the Lord.
27It is good for one to bear
   the yoke in youth,
28to sit alone in silence
   when the Lord has imposed it,
29to put one’s mouth to the dust
   (there may yet be hope),
30to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
   and be filled with insults.

31For the Lord will not
   reject for ever.
32Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
   according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33for he does not willingly afflict
   or grieve anyone.

34When all the prisoners of the land
   are crushed under foot,
35when human rights are perverted
   in the presence of the Most High,
36when one’s case is subverted
   —does the Lord not see it?


55I called on your name, O Lord,
   from the depths of the pit;
56you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear
   to my cry for help, but give me relief!’
57You came near when I called on you;
   you said, ‘Do not fear!’

58You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
   you have redeemed my life.


There were two stories in the Register Guard in the last week or so that caught my attention.  Both involving murder and the response of family members. 

The first was a case of a murder that occurred some time ago that was only recently solved, and a family member in response to the long ordeal said that the whole affair had caused them to re-think everything in life including God.

The second was a drive-by shooting last year of a single Mom, and after the sentencing of the killer this week her mother told the Register Guard:  "I don't know how people go through something like this without the support of a loving God and a loving church family".

Two different views, almost at the opposite ends of the spectrum.  It is in such times of crisis we learn what we truly believe, what faith is all about.  And what is of most importance to us.

The author of Lamentations describes such a time when Jerusalem lay in ruins, and many doubted their faith in God, were re-thinking God.  Some even giving up on God altogether.  And you can hear in these pages the author's own struggles, trying to make sense of it all.

Verse 38, part of that passage that I skipped over, the writer reveals that his underlying belief is that God is the source of all that is.  The good and the bad.  And that belief leads him to conclude that God is in control, and therefore everything that has happened must be the will of God, including the destruction of Jerusalem.  It therefore must be punishment upon the nation for their collective sin, turning away from God.

Now, we may reasonably question that premise, at least in our own time.  Indeed, I think we should.  Otherwise, it leads easily one to conclude that September 11th, hurricane Katrina, even that game in Boise State [Ducks lost], all of that was the will of God.  And we know that isn't so.  And seriously, I do mean that, regardless of what happens in football.

Speaking only for myself, not for this text, not for the church or anyone else, I must conclude from my own observation that God is either loving and just, or God is all-powerful, but God cannot be both.

From my own experience, like that of the second parent I cited above, I choose to take my stand on the side of a loving and just God.

And so my reading of history may be different than the author of Lamentations.  But my reading of God is really the same.  For even though in the author's experience it feels as if God has rejected the nation, as if God is justly punishing her people.  Regardless for how great God's anger, how severe God's punishment, God's compassion is greater.

From my own experience, I would say that is certainly true.  This is the bottom line, the 'take-away' from this text, that no matter how deep our sense of abandonment, no matter the enormity of the sin, no matter the completeness of God's rejection, God's love is greater.  God's love is always greater.

So the poet/prophet affirms that God hears his cries, God takes up his case and redeems his life.

The word "redeem" in Hebrew has a little different connotation than English.  We think of redeemed as something like a coupon -- you know, I go to Starbucks every week and I get that little card that I redeem on iTunes for a free song.  Or we speak of something having 'redeeming value' if it makes up for something else.  The Ducks have redeemed themselves after that terrible game at Boise State.  Or we might speak of someone who has redeemed their life after overcoming an addiction or doing something worthwhile after a time in prison.

In ancient Hebrew culture, redemption was more than that.  Redemption was the responsibility of a relative for members of their family.  If my son incurred a debt and lands in debtors prison, I redeem him by paying that debt, and thereby setting him free.  If my brother dies, leaving a widow, I redeem her by taking her into my family so that she does not spend a life in poverty.

To say, then, that God 'redeems' someone is to imply that God has a special relationship and a special responsibility as well.  In other words, redemption is based in relationship.  Without that relationship, there is no redemption. 

The author of Lamentations is making not just this boastful claim about something God has done for him (I mean, goody for him that his life is redeemed!), no, the claim is about God's relationship with us as God's people.

To live the redeemed life, therefore, is to live in that relationship.  We live in gratitude for that relationship we have with God.  We live the redeemed life.

When we forgive others as we have been forgiven, we live the redeemed life. 

When we 'belove', as Marcus Borg says, what God 'beloves', we live the redeemed life.

In that redemption, as children of God, our life and every life takes supreme value.  If we know the worth of life, then we will show it in our work for life.  And if our faith in God has any value to us, then it will be evident by what we give back to God.  Or, I should say, what we give back to God reveals the value of the faith we have in God, the value that we place in that relationship we have with God.

In the video from last Sunday, and the one I'm about to share with you, we heard the voices of leaders from our community telling how much they value the relationship of this church to our community.  And I want to share it this morning with you, or at least this portion of it, not just so we can feel good about ourselves, but to show how valuable this church is in this community.  And how important our witness is to be a light to the world here in the heart of Eugene.

It's not just the value that we give the church, or the reflection of how much we put into it (it's all of that and more), it's what we give and do that reflects what it means to be a community of people redeemed by God, and a community by God redeeming people.

So, let's hear from these folks:

[Dan then played a video with community leaders from the Eugene area speaking about the importance of First Christian Church]

You get a sense, I think, of what it's about - what we're about, how we're seen in the community, the importance of our support for this work.  The relationships that we build because of our faith in God.


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