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Lamentation for a World Undone

Pentecost 17, Common Lectionary Year C

Jeremiah 4:11, 23-28

©2016 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

“Look! See!
The earth is in mourning, and the heavens are dark with grief.”

Do we really need to be reminded?

Just two weeks ago,
I was applauding one person in our community
for their decision to stop looking,
to stop seeing the nightly news,
because it was making them sick in body and soul,
filled as it is with this unending barrage of the world’s undoing,
most often by human crassness and stupidity.

So forgive me, or bear with me, if I seem now to contradict myself
by drawing our attention to the repetitive imperative
that lies hidden in plain sight in both our texts today;
“Look, See!”

What God first saw as she fashioned creation
from primordial chaos –
Light, pinpricks of light in the canopy of an expanding universe,
as it stretches over and cradles a small blue planet,
the teeming creatures of the sea,
flocks of birds in v-formation, weaving,
across oceans and prairies,
filled with wild beasts, and herds,
grain and fruit bursting with sweetness –
And God looks, and sees, and says
It is good. Very Good.

Which is what makes Jeremiah’s vision so achingly sad.
“I looked, I saw,” says Jeremiah,
“I saw all God’s world-making goodness undone!”
“Look! See!” He demands.

You know, when you spend two-three months
studying Jeremiah’s book,
it’s depressing!
I’ve wished he would just ‘shut up’ with the wailing already.
I’ve wished he’d stop yelling at us to “Look and See!”
the ugliness of his world and ours undone.

But here’s the thing.
Here’s the hard, crazy Gospel for today.
For forty plus years,
through captivity, exile, persecution,
he kept looking.
He would not close his eyes to
the undoing of his world,
until he could see in it the touch,
the heart of God.

That’s what prophets do, you see.
They are Seers.
They look, they see,
but their sight is deeper,
heightened, sharpened
by their captivation with the Dream of God.

They see what we can’t,
or don’t
or won’t,
until, with their terrifying eloquence,
their lamentation for the world undone,
they compel us to really see what we have done
to unmake our world by our foolishness,
by our willful blindness, our selfishness,
our crazed lust for more, bigger, better, safer.

They compel us to see deeply into the pains of a world
unwrought by its own natural disaster,
deserts gasping for rain,
children, animals, crying for shelter when the earth quakes
and the rivers flood.

But this searing lamentation,
this piercing sight, what is it for,
what is its purpose?
Is it the salacious grasping for disaster
of ratings-hungry news channels,
that make us sick to death of human stupidity?
I don’t think so. In fact let me be more emphatic.
No.

It’s taken a long hard summer with Jeremiah
to begin to glimpse what took him a lifetime to see.

As Jeremiah sees, and shapes his lament at what he sees,
he chooses, of all possible language,
– rage, anger, despair, cynicism, disdain,
the words of divine creation!
The effect is amazing!
Look see, like a gossamer veil, cast over an undone world,
God’s vision of the world as it could be, even while it’s not.
Into all the truth telling of the world undone,
echo the declarations of God’s good world,
forever before, beneath, and beyond current chaos.

At its best, this is what true, faithful lamentation is.
It is first seeing, like a prophet,
seeing and truth-telling
the ugliness of a world undone.
Lamentation is telling the truth that guns in the hands of people, kill.
Lamentation is truth telling that racism blights human community.
Lamentation is truth telling that structural injustice robs and disenfranchises
those for whom God’s justice is intended.

When our lamentation is spoken with the vocabulary of God’s Dream,
it becomes provocative speech.
It provokes in us an anger,
an urge, a God-given burning in the gut
to re-make the world, and ourselves in God’s good image.
It is also just as likely to provoke in others, an anger
that we would dare to dream again
the world as God initially created it.

Lamentation is dangerous speech….
singing of a balm in Gilead in the cotton fields of the South….
singing the Magnificat… in the barrios of Central America..
Singing of the world about to turn
is likely to provoke the wrath of those for whom the status quo
is one of unequal privilege.

Lamentation is what we,
the people of God need to be doing today,
of all days,
and every day that the world seems to us and others to be undone.
For lamentation using the vocabulary of God’s good creation,
is but a prelude and a prologue to our partnership with God
in remaking, and mending the world.

Let me end with two stories,
one is Jeremiah’s and one is ours.
Jeremiah’s comes from near the end of his life.
He’s still in the thick of a world undone,
he is a prisoner, in chains, in exile, in Babylon.
But because he has learned
the vocabulary of faithful lamentation,
he can now see, God’s vision beyond his own.
He sends word to a relative to go back
Anathoth, the two-bit town a Sabbath day’s walk from Jerusalem.
It was then nothing but bombed out rubble,
no bird, no creature, no person walked its cratered streets,
nothing grew in its desert ground.
He tells the relative,
“Buy me a field in Anathoth.
Pay for it, seventeen shekels, signed, sealed.
Put the deed of purchase in a clay jar, and bury it safe to last a generation.
Because, God has declared,
look, see!
My people will live again in Judah,
they will plant vineyards, press oil, and give birth to their young in their own land.”

And our story?
A year ago, we sat in this sanctuary and lamented
a world in which a little boy’s body washed up on the shoreline.
We lamented a world filled with refugees from failed states.
And our lamentation, overlaid with the echoes of God’s good dream,
means that now we sit, with money in the bank, and more to come,
held in trust for a Syrian family waiting to leave temporary fragile shelter in Turkey
to begin a new life in Canada.

Will a field in Anathoth, will support for one refugee family of five change the world,
remake the world?

Oh yes!
Never underestimate the lamentations of God’s people,
and the will of a few committed to changing the world.
As many times as it takes.
Shall we?

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