"My Life in Ruins", is the title of a little known 2009 movie about a Greek-American tour guide whose life is in ruins as she attempts to guide people through the ruins of ancient Greece. It would also be an appropriate title for the book of Lamentations. Most scholars believe that Jeremiah is the author of Lamentations. Lamentations is a poetic response to the horrors of the Babylonian seige and sacking of Jerusalem. It was written by a man literally sitting in the ruins of all that he loved and held dear.
Weeks ago as we began this series of messages from the book of Jeremiah, I told you that Jeremiah is known as "the weeping prophet." His ministry spanned a period of over 40 years--from the impressive, but ineffective reforms of Josiah to the horrors of the Babylonian seige and exile. Jeremiah's eyes had seen it all and they were filled with tears at what he saw.
Pull up a stone from the ruins of Jerusalem and sit down with Jeremiah and listen to his lament.
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.”
Sooner or later all of us will experience the bitterness of life in the ruins. Last week, we as a congregation were shocked to learn that our former pastor Nick Protos is suffering from a brain tumor. In the coming weeks he will begin an aggressive steroid and radiation treatment. For pastor Nick and family this is their life in the ruins.
Over the last several years, thanks to the "War on Coal", members of our church and community have sat in different ruins--the ruins of lost employment and vocation.
Other of our congregation have sat in the ruins of children or grandchildren destroying their lives through drugs. Some have known the ruins of an untimely death of a loved one. Still other have know the ruins of mental illness.
The list could go on and on. Life is filled with the ruins of broken dreams and hopes. In the midst of these ruins God can seem like a enemy. Jeremiah describes feeling this way. He describes God as being like a wild beast, waiting to tear him apart.
He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;
He goes on to describe him being like a cruel warrior who tortures his victims.
he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood.
In the end, Jeremiah confesses that both his endurance and hope in the Lord has perished.
so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.”
Such talk seems shocking coming from the mouth of a prophet! Such honesty with God and man is not allowed according to the rules of "Politically Correct" evangelical Christianity. Where is the "Victorious Christian Living" in such talk? Doesn't Jeremiah know he is making a "negative confession"? Perhaps he risks offending God and making him even more angry.
If Jeremiah was being "Politically Incorrect" them all the other authors of Scripture were as well! From Job, Moses, the psalmists, the prophets and even Jesus, who cried out, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?", honesty with God is not only allowed, but encouraged. Remember, every book of the bible has two authors. The human author and the Divine. As He did with Jacob, God is willing to get down on the mat as He did with Jacob and wrestle with us through the night. He does this because He knows that if we wrestle with him long enough we will Find Hope in the Ruins.
In verses 21-23 there is suddenly a change.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
What happened? Jeremiah suddenly remembered something--he remembered God's covenantal love and faithfulness towards His elect. He remembered the vastness of God's mercy. The funny thing about hope in God is that it is impossible to have it as long as we have hope in anything else.
Jeremiah says something quite significant in the very next verse:
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Remember that Jeremiah was from a priestly family. As a Levite, Jeremiah had no inheritance but God.
And the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.
Asaph was another Levite. He was one of the three musicians David appointed for worship. Psalm 73 was his "My Life in the Ruins" psalm.
Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Asaph wrestled with God as well, listen as he describes what happened.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Asaph was only able to find hope in God when he remembered that God was his only hope!
It is only when we have hit rock bottom that we are prepared to Rise Up From the Ruins.
Listen to the words of Jeremiah:
“I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’
Notice how Jeremiah described his situation: "the depths of the pit"! It is in the depths of the pit that Jeremiah able to hear the still quiet voice of God saying, "Do not fear!"
Isn't it significant that even prophets, who "heard" God voice in a way that average believers do not, still had to be taken down to "the depths of the pit" to really heard God's voice? I think of the great prophet Elijah, who after his victory over the priest of Baal had to be taken down to "the depths of the pit" to really hear God's voice.
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
What happens at the bottom of the pit that allows us to hear God's voice and climb out? I think the answer is found in verses 40-41 of our text.
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven:
Even the best of us, even prophets need to test and examine his or her ways and return to the Lord! I think of Job for example. Even though all the disasters that came upon him were not the result of any particular sin, Job needed to test and examine himself, repent of some bad attitudes and theology and return to the Lord. Suffering is not intended by God to destroy us, but to perfect us. To bring us closer to Him.
In the end we "lift up our hearts and hands to the God of heaven." These words speak of both worship and prayer. Sadly when life is easy, there is very little of either worship or prayer in our lives. I think most of us would agree that it is in the ruins that the most fervent prayers are said, but what we often miss is that it is also in the ruins that the most holy worship takes place.
There has probably been no Thanksgiving more worshipful and joyous than that first Thanksgiving in 1621. It was so joyous because during the previous year the Pilgrims' Life was in the Ruins! During the winter and spring of 1620-21 Forty-five of the 102 immigrants died of hunger and disease. That was over forty percent!
Perhaps you feel you life is in ruins this morning. It is a hard place to be and I know that God can seem far from you there, but don't stop wrestling with God. It is only in the ruins that we remember that God is our only portion and hope. It is only in the ruins that we can hear God's voice whispering to us, "Do not fear!" It is only in the ruins that we can truly lift our hands and voices in praise and prayer!
Let us pray.