“Wait Quietly” – Lamentations 3:22-33
Introduction: the context of Lamentations
Last Sunday, as I began my sermon on the life of Job, I said that it would not be surprising to expect a sermon on patience. But I also said that you would have to wait… patiently… for that sermon on another Sunday. Even I did not realize that “another Sunday” would come so soon, as we heard from Lamentations 3: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” So, thank you for your patience in waiting for this sermon on waiting.
Just before we get to waiting, I am going to ask you to wait a little longer. I mentioned last Sunday that the book of Job, the story of Job, may be unfamiliar to a lot of you, so I gave a quick summary of the story. In the same way, the book of Lamentations is probably unfamiliar to a lot of you. Unless you make a point of reading it, this is the only Sunday in our regular three-year cycle of Bible readings that we hear from this book. So, let me give you some context to this five-chapter long Old Testament book.
This Bible book is generally believed to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah, so the context is much the same as his book of Prophecy – the attack of the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the deportation of many of the Israelites into a 70 year long exile in Babylon. So, it was probably written in the 570’s or 580’s B.C. It’s called Lamentations because it is comprised of several laments or complaints to God based on the despair the prophet was feeling over the hopelessness of that recent invasion. Yes, there is a lot of sadness in this book, brought on first by the fact that the leaders of Israel did not submit to the headship of God. Of course, the people followed that lead and rebelled themselves. But, in the middle of these laments we find this 12 verse long jewel that speaks of hope, love, faithfulness and salvation – all based on the natural goodness of God.
1. Waiting for things
OK… enough waiting… let’s get to our topic of waiting. If there’s one thing that we Canadians don’t like… it’s waiting. I sent out a poll earlier this week to help me with my sermon. Here are some things that you said frustrate you because you have to wait: medical test results, on hold on the telephone, at an appointment, at a traffic light, the cheque to arrive in the mail, new TV show episode, long automated phone messages, kids to get ready for bed, planned trips, appliances to be repaired, to fall asleep, to get to heaven.
Now, think of those things – a lot of them are minutes-long waits: traffic delays for 30 minutes to get around an accident; doctor’s room delays for 20 minutes after your appointment time; that unbearable 4-minute long wait at the fast-food window; and what about that 90 second long wait for your computer to re-boot and load the updates. We have come to expect things to instantaneously submit to our time-line and will. I’m not sure that I will ever use Door-Dash to deliver my take-out order or use a personal shopper to pick out my groceries, but I am beginning to understand why people do that – time is a precious commodity.
2. The 70 year-long wait
So, let’s go back to Jeremiah and his Lamentations. There was going to be a 70 year-long wait for the Jewish people who had been taken into captivity in Babylon. 70 seconds? No! 70 minutes? No! 70 hours? No! Not even 70 days or 70 weeks or 70 months… but 70 YEARS!! And Jeremiah’s heart ached for his brothers and sisters and their children as they waited for God to restore them to the land He had promised. Part of their despairing attitude was expressed in the Psalm 137 lament: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion… How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” Jeremiah’s book of prophecy had made it clear that the captivity was going to last for 70 years. The people knew, but they had no choice but to be led away by the conquering army of Nebuchadnezzar.
OK, so can you imagine being in a snaking back and forth line up for your second vaccine shot, or at the drive-through window, or at the ferry terminal and a sign flashes: “Estimated wait time – 70 years!” 70 YEARS!! But there is no U-turn option… you’re stuck, waiting, for 70 years!!! Oh, I did notice that one of those “waiting for” things that someone mentioned – waiting for the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup – that’s getting close to 70 years! You can appreciate Jeremiah’s patience!!
That’s what the Israelites faced. Helplessness and hopelessness are similar, but hopelessness is worse. The Israelites only faced helplessness. They had no way out of their exile situation, but they did have hope. God provided that little light at the end of the 70-year long tunnel.
3. The hope that God gives
In a Bible book filled with laments and complaints and despair, the light shines brightly right here in chapter 3. Listen to the hope that God gives:
a. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
The Hebrew word for “steadfast love” is ‘chesed’ and it is a rich theological term in the Old Testament. It is used over 100 times in the Psalms in familiar phrases like “His steadfast love endures forever.” It refers to God’s loyalty and commitment and faithfulness to His covenant people, but not merely out of His own covenant obligation. Instead, God’s mercy, kindness – maybe the best word is grace – His grace is shown freely to His people even though they are undeserving, even though they have failed in their keeping of the covenant promises. Will God’s ‘chesed’ fail? Never!! It will never come to an end, not in this life, not in the life of the world to come. Rather, those mercies are new every morning… God is faithful about that. It’s not that there are actually new mercies that come with every tomorrow, but that every morning they are still there, always there, as if a whole new set of compassions has come. This morning God says to you, “You are my child! I love you! I’m starting you off today with a clean slate of forgiveness. I’m going to walk with you through the entire day because… well, you don’t know what this day is going to bring, but I DO! I’m going to be your faithful, compassionate God.” And then when this day is done, and you wake up tomorrow morning, God will say the exact same thing to you, but it will sound fresh, and new, as if you’ve never heard it before. God doesn’t supply us with all that we need for our entire life on the day we are born. In the wilderness, God supplied the Israelites with the manna that they needed just for that day. In his final blessing before he died, Moses said, “as your days, so shall your strength be.” That is to say… God’s mercies are new to you every day!
b. The Lord is my portion
Verse 24 goes on to say, “The Lord is my portion…” What does that mean? The Hebrew word can mean ‘portion,’ or ‘share,’ or ‘allotment.’ It, too, refers to an undeserved gift of grace. Perhaps we can best understand it when we consider how the Promised Land was being allotted to the 12 tribes of Israel after God had led them to conquer it. Each tribe got a certain geographical area, but no territory was given to the Levites. To them – the priests or church workers of the Old Testament time – God said, “I am your portion and your inheritance.” For the Israelites of Jeremiah’s time who were going into exile in Babylon, God was saying that having Him was their greatest need, but also their greatest gift. As their portion, He gives their lives meaning and value. It is the same for us – God is saying that everything we need we have in Him. He is our portion!
c. It is good to wait quietly
And that gets us to 3 consecutive sentences that talk about waiting: “Therefore I will wait for Him.” (or “hope in Him”) and “the Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” and “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
What are you waiting for from God right now? Some of the waiting examples people gave me are not so significant in the whole scheme of our lives, even though things like waiting on hold on the phone or waiting in traffic can be frustrating. Some of the examples are more personally profound like waiting for medical results or waiting to hug friends and family members. Let me just say that everyone experiences frustrations in life – whether they involve waiting or not. There are frustrations in our personal lives, in our family, in our church, or community, or nation, or world. We have all experienced the frustrations of Covid-19, and we have all been waiting for life to return to normal. We have all felt the pain of the discovery of the graves of the First Nations children in Kamloops and now also in Saskatchewan, and we may be waiting for a wholesome and compassionate “steadfast love” relationship to develop between people of all cultures in our country. Sometimes our frustrations are caused by our own evil behaviour; other times they are caused by the evil deeds of other people. Some are intentional, flowing from our sinful nature; others are “accidental” and due to the fallen state of this world. Whatever we are waiting for from God, Lamentations 3 calls us to wait quietly. Waiting quietly implies waiting for God’s timing, not ours, and waiting for God’s answer, not ours. Waiting quietly means… no complaining, because very few people that I know can complain quietly.
4. The Jairus’ story
a. Jarius’ waiting
Let’s jump to our Gospel reading from Mark 5 and consider what it was like for Jairus to wait. You heard the story. Jairus is a synagogue ruler. That’s a position of local and religious prominence. His daughter is dying at home, and he had heard about this man Jesus who had healed people in the past. He knew Jesus was in town, so he hurried to find Him. It didn’t take a lot of searching because except for the market, the only crowd in town was the one that surrounded Jesus. Jairus put his personal pride aside and got down on his knees in front of Jesus: “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come, heal her!” Here was a daddy who loved his little girl. Here was a dad who was faced with the sickening reality that he could do nothing for the person that he would do anything for. When Jairus said “Come,” he meant “Come NOW!! Come QUICKLY!!” And Jesus went. He always had a heart for the hurting and those in need.
It’s very likely that this episode took place in Capernaum, and it was not that big of a town. It might take 10 minutes to get to Jairus’ house if they walked briskly. But on the way, Jesus gets interrupted / waylaid by a woman with bleeding. She touches His garment and is healed. But it’s not that simple. Jesus recognized that healing power had gone out of Him, and He turned to find and engage the woman. He wanted to talk with her and bring healing also to her heart.
Can you imagine Jairus’ waiting? His daughter is dying and he’s getting impatient while he’s waiting for Jesus to have this conversation with an already healed woman. Can you hear his thoughts? “Jesus, let’s go! She’s already healed, and my daughter is dying.” Can you see him impatiently tapping his foot, or maybe subtly grabbing Jesus’ arm to pull Him along? And he’s looking ahead, realizing that there’s only two more blocks to go, but Jesus is dawdling. “Come on, Jesus, we don’t have time for this?”
[Side-trip: three stories]
I remember an occasion like that almost 38 years ago. I was driving through rush hour traffic in downtown Saskatoon at 5:00 P.M. with a pregnant wife in the seat beside me experiencing increasingly rapid contractions as we made our way to the hospital for the birth of our first child. It was just then that a “woman with a bleeding disorder” waylaid traffic and put more panic into those moments than there was already. Actually the “woman with a bleeding disorder” was a fire truck that needed to pull in and out of rush hour traffic in order to back into the fire station. I was as impatient as Jairus. “Come on, fire truck, let’s go. We don’t have time for this!! My wife’s about to have a baby!!” [Spoiler alert – we made it to the hospital with less than one hour to spare!!]
Back to the Jairus story… while Jesus was still talking with the woman, some men came from Jairus’ house and with tremendous insensitivity blurted out: “Your daughter is dead… don’t trouble Jesus any more.”
When I was a pastor in Winnipeg, within the span of about 4 months, one set of middle aged parents and one more senior widow heard those same words: “Your daughter is dead.” Joanne was about my age – 40ish at the time. I was from Regina and she was from Winnipeg, but we had met and become friends through some Lutheran youth ministry events when we were both young adults. She actually went on to marry a man who was in my Grade 10 class. [Small world!] She developed cancer, and just before Easter she died. Her mother had to receive that phone call, “Your daughter is dead!” Then about 3 months later, Jillian, a 21 year-old university student from my church was in Rome for a short course studying architecture. If my memory is right, it was the evening of Father’s Day in 1997, that I received a call from her dad, Ken. He had just received a call from Rome: “Your daughter is dead!” – killed as a pedestrian by a speeding car on a street in Rome. I remember it so clearly because this very story from Mark 5 was the Gospel reading the very next Sunday, and I could have used it for the funeral sermon.
b. Your daughter is dead
“Your daughter is dead,” Jairus heard, and he probably thought, “I’m too late. I waited too long! The Lord is too late! He waited too long!” But Mark tells us that Jesus – while He was still focusing on the woman – overheard the announcement of the girl’s death, but He ignored it. Jesus ignored death, like it was just a pesky mosquito. He turned to Jarius and said, “Do not fear, only believe.”
In the Gospels, Jesus raised three people from death. One had been dead for days – 4 days. One had been dead for hours – maybe 4 hours. This girl had been dead for minutes – maybe only 4 minutes by the time Jesus and Jairus arrived… but she was dead – the official mourners were already there, wailing and sharing grief with the mom and any other members of the family.
As Jesus arrived, He scolded the people for making such a commotion. “The child is not dead but sleeping.” That replaced the mourning with laughter for a brief moment, because Jesus obviously didn’t know what He was talking about. But He went into the house, took the girl by the hand, and said, “Little girl, arise.” And she did. The waiting was over. The Lord had answered. The Lord had come, and had brought life, joy, and peace with Him. He is the Lord of life. He does not answer to death; death answers to Him, on His time, on His terms.
Think of Jairus. Think of Him in that very moment when his little girl got up and started walking around. Think of Jairus and say these words from Lamentations along with me: “The Lord is my portion… therefore I will hope in Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Think of Jairus, but also think of Jesus. There were actually 4 resurrections in the Gospels: 4-day dead Lazarus; the 4-hour dead young man from Nain; the 4-minute dead daughter of Jairus. And then there was Jesus, Himself – the one who was crucified in your place; the one who died to forgive your sins; the one whose resurrection is the sure and certain sign that death itself has been defeated; the one who faithfully brings the ‘chesed’ (the steadfast love and grace of God) and the salvation of the Lord to those who wait quietly for it.
5. What we learn while we wait
As we wait for those more significant and serious and spiritual things of life, there are some things that we learn:
God cares about what happens to us. We are not alone in our times of waiting.
God intentionally intervenes at times so that we know He is present and that He loves us.
Suffering and pain will not go on forever.
God is good to those who wait quietly, and faithfully.
God promises to act according to His steadfast love, and to pour out His “new every morning” mercies and compassions.
Jesus does not promise to solve your every earthly problem in the time and in the way that you want it solved. Jairus was made to wait, and Christ had something better in mind that Jairus couldn’t even imagine. You, too, may be made to wait, perhaps for a long while (hopefully not 70 years!!). Waiting is hard. Waiting quietly is hard. God’s answer to your prayer in this life might be the gift of endurance, learning patience, and being a witness to others through your suffering. But seek Him. Wait quietly. He is your portion. Take time to acknowledge God’s ‘chesed’ – past, present and future. In the Jairus story, we also get a glimpse of our future – that day when Jesus reaches down to us in our death and takes us by the hand. “My precious child, I say to you, arise.” Then our waiting and our trusting will finally see with our own eyes the salvation of the Lord. Amen.