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06.10.18 God’s Faith and Ours Lamentations 3:17-26 Sermon Summary

by on June 13, 2018

The book of Lamentations is like a hymn. Each chapter we can see like a verse. Lamentations is a poem, expanding the utility of words. And when poems are set to music, the words become saturated. The setting is the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem. It was like 9/11 if the attacks were followed by the deportation of our prominent citizens and the occupation of our nation.

In the Hebrew Bible the title of this book is simply “How?”—the first word of the book. “How did this happen? How could this happen? How could YOU, God, let this happen?!” When religion is identified with a nation, what happens when that nation falters?

The people of Jerusalem were trying to make sense of it all. Lamentations is written as an acrostic poem, each line beginning with successive letters of the alphabet. It suggests that when all other structures fail, find a structure, something, anything, and begin rebuilding.

This summer we begin a new series: Hymns of Faith (Presbyterian Church). These are hymns chosen by you, related to the Bible, and discussed in sermon. Like no other medium, hymns encapsulate theology. Not all hymns are equal—some are better than others. This is why we are grateful for trusted hymnal editors. Today we look at one of the greatest hymns in the church’s repertoire.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness” was inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!” These verses are part of the solution to the “how?!” question in Lamentations.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness” does not arise from such a traumatic event as that giving rise to the verses that inspire it, but it offers the same assurance. In the words of Lamentations 3, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” If you cannot wait quietly, you could sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.

Verse one says, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is not shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions fail not. As Thou has been, Thou forever will be.” Whatever else changes, God remains constant.

Does God change? The traditional answer is no. But the yes answer has gotten some traction lately. It’s hard to imagine that God is not moved by the suffering of his children and creation, that God doesn’t somehow change in response to our plight.

But God’s movement with us is faithful; God ALWAYS moves with us. No matter where we move or where life moves us, God faithfully moves with us. This movement of God with us is what is unchanging.

Verse one reminds us to “look back” and to remember how God has faithfully delivered us in the past. Verse two tells us to “look around”: “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness, to Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.”

All nature manifestly witnesses to God’s faithfulness, mercy, love. These characters of God affirm that God IS indeed moved by our situation. As nature changes, yet remains constant, so God changes but remains sure.

This is the foundation of lament: God loves us and is merciful. Lamentation cries out to God to remind God of this. “Do something!” lament says. Lament reveals God’s faithfulness.

After looking back, then around, verse three directs us to “look ahead.” “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow—blessings all mine, and ten thousand besides!” When we look, we discover that God guides us. God gives us hope for tomorrow.

Like Lamentations, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” calls us to look back, look around, and look ahead. It’s like a river or the wind: God’s faithfulness is a constant current surrounding us. We can surrender to the flow and join it for assurance, joy, and hope, even in disaster.

Like the acrostic of Lamentations, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” also uses structure. It is written in triple time, which brings to mind immediately the Trinity. Triple time marches, or better waltzes, forward with a constancy suggesting the faithfulness of God.

Likewise, there are patterns embedded in the hymn. The structure of the hymn is ABCD; EFC’D. This is to say, it evolves line by line, but if you follow it through to the end, the familiar returns. We have to be patient through the changes of life to recognize again the assuring C’ and D.

Another structural observation has to do with the second measures. Most of the second measures break the triple beat just enough to keep the tune from becoming monotonous. Given that, notice 2nd measure of E. It breaks with the pattern and in so doing emphasizes the word “faithfulness.” It draws the attention of our ears to this word which is the center of the hymn.

Then notice the second measure of F. In contrast to every other second measure, it does NOT change. Undergirding the lyrics “morning by morning new mercies I see,” the rhythm does not change. It suggests that morning by morning by morning by morning God’s constancy returns over and over again and again like clockwork.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness” is one of the greatest gifts to the church. It is relatively easy to memorize. Through words and music it summarizes the foundational truths of Bible—that we can live in hope and faith because God is faithful.

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