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Yahweh’s Covenant Faithfulness July 1, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Lamentations 3.22-33

Proper 8

June 30-July 1, 2012

Focus: God is faithful to His covenant.

Function: That the hearers place their hope in Yahweh.

Structure: This is the historical situation in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

Yahweh’s Covenant Faithfulness

Have you ever felt like your life was unlucky, or that you had run into a string of bad events? No matter what, the human spirit can be an amazing thing. Take for example the case of Larry Hanratty, who was named by the Los Angeles Times in 2007 as the most unlucky man in California.

This poor man was nearly killed in a construction site accident. For weeks he lay in a coma with his lawyers fighting for his liability claim — until one of his lawyers was disbarred, two of them died suddenly and his last lawyer ran off with his wife!

Then after his recovery in June, he was in a terrible car accident and before the police arrived on the scene, he was robbed of $55. On July 4th, his insurance company tried to stop his worker’s comp claim; he came within 2 days of being evicted from his home. By the end of July of 2007, he was suffering from lupus and the start of a lung condition that required him to carry a canister of oxygen with him; Larry was taking 42 pills a day for his heart condition and his liver ailments.

Finally the City Council came to his aid and then his friends rallied around him. After all that had happened to Larry that year, he said to the Mayor of Whittier, “There’s always hope”!  Even though he was stricken in one year with very bad circumstances, that never stopped him from doing what he did best. You see he was a Deacon in his church and was constantly helping others in their time of need. Everywhere he went in his town he was known as “HOPE” because he always told everyone… “There’s always hope.”

We won’t be talking about luck today.  Instead, we are focusing on men like Job.  Men who suffered so much in their days in this world.  Larry fits that bill.  And yet, like Job, he kept his eyes focused on the bigger picture.  He continued to believe that there is hope; he continued to believe in a faithful God who sent His Son to die for us.

The prophet Jeremiah, in this way, had much to share with Larry.  Jeremiah was called upon by God Himself to be a prophet, to be God’s mouthpiece to His people.  And while Jeremiah had his good days, much of his service was filled with the groanings of a faithless people.

As God’s children, they were to follow Him.  They were to believe in Yahweh and be His people.  But so often they went astray.  In fact, there were large periods in their history that they didn’t even remember who Yahweh was, let alone follow Him.  To this, Jeremiah prophesied.  It was his role to warn them of the errors of their ways.  To warn them that everything they knew and held dear was coming to an end.

That doesn’t mean Jeremiah delighted in his work.  The book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s groaning.  In the course of the five chapters, he composed four poems and a conclusion.  They may not look like much in English, but in the Hebrew language, they were strong.  Chapters 1, 2 and 4 are each 22 verses, the first verse beginning with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and continuing until the final, 22nd letter.  And chapter three contains three verses for each letter, for a total of 66.

Jeremiah’s poems weren’t happy or mushy; they weren’t written in joy or in love; they were sorrowful, poems of mourning and loss.  The writings of a man in grief.  Jeremiah had lived and seen the sinful glory of a prideful people, much like the kinds of happiness and lifestyles we see in our own culture today.

And then he watched it all get destroyed.  Villages and cities toppled.  The holy ground of God Himself, the temple in Jerusalem, lost to savages.  People dying from murder and sickness alike.  I’ll refrain from details, as there are many other things going on that would make for an R rating, or worse.  And yes, that’s in the Bible.

But as is good Jeremiahan prophecy, right in the midst of all the gloom and doom, he puts a ray of light.  If we start our Old Testament lesson one verse earlier, with verse 21, we read: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:” Jeremiah proclaims hope for the people.  Hope, as in the words of our text today.  It’s probably not a coincidence either that this is the only snippet of Lamentations that we use in our worship services throughout the year.

Hebrew grammar works differently than English.  The typical, normal order of a sentence has the verb first, then the subject, and then the object or predicate.  If the word order is changed in any way from that formula, the writer is emphasizing something.  Here, the very first word of verse 22, the first word following that hope, is ds,x, (hesed).  This word is translated any number of ways in English, and in fact shows up twice in this reading.  In verse 22 it’s “great love.”  In verse 32 it’s “unfailing love.”  Other definitions can include steadfast love, mercy, and grace.  But my favorite of them all is “covenant faithfulness.”

Unless you’re a visitor, you’ve likely heard me talking about God’s covenant before.  He came to Abraham and made the covenant with him and his descendants after him.  A covenant that He would be their God and they would be His people.  A covenant that included the blessing of all nations through His seed.  It included the rescuing of his offspring, the nation of Israel, from 400 years of bondage.  It included the promise of land that the Israelites would indeed possess.

But perhaps even greater than all these things about the covenant is how it was made.  Covenants were blood pacts.  Animals were sacrificed, cut in half and laid out so that the makers of the covenant could walk between them, signally their approval and ratification of the covenant.  Because a covenant is made in blood, if it is broken, bloodshed is the result.

Now I say that this covenant is greater because God alone did it.  He walked through the blood of the sacrifices, but Abram did not.  So the covenant is truly God’s covenant for us.  He is our God and He has made us His people.

So translating ds,x, (hesed) as covenant faithfulness brings out a much deeper meaning.  When you view it as God’s covenant faithfulness, it actually defines what you mean when you say love.  There is no greater depiction of God’s love for us than that He kept the covenant.  Because of Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness, we’re not consumed or destroyed.  Despite all our sin, despite our breaking the covenant bond, He is faithful and His compassions never fail.

Because God is faithful, He is our portion, and we can hope in Him.  For we hope and wait for the One who gives salvation, and that One is Yahweh, through His faithfulness, through His Son.

Though He brings grief, whether by the deserved punishment and consequences of our sin, or by allowing evil and sin to remain for the time being, God will show compassion, for so great is His covenant faithfulness.

God is forever faithful to His covenant that He made to us, for us, and with us, that He would be our God, and we would be His people.  Throughout the ages of man, through the plagues of our sin, God remained faithful, He remained our God, and we His people, when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant.  He is the seed of Abraham through whom all of the nations of this world are blessed.  He is the One whose death grants us forgiveness, and as we are forgiven, we are restored to our God and Father, Yahweh.  So it is that through Christ, through Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness, we can join together with the prophet Jeremiah, with Job, with unlucky Larry, and all the rest of God’s people, in placing our hope in Yahweh and the salvation that He gives through His faithfulness and through His Son.

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