Trusting God With Our Lament


A sermon on Luke 17:5-10 and Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Following our worship today, we will be holding the last of three intentional conversations about how we can faithfully engage politically-charged topics in worship. In this conversation we will be focusing on the need that some of you have identified for having a way to give voice in our worship to the pain and shame that arises from such topics.

When our hearts are broken by stories of human suffering…

When we feel helpless to stop things that we believe are wrong…

When we, perhaps, feel burdened by complicity in systemic harm…

What do we do? How can we bring this pain and shame before God in a way that accesses gospel hope for ourselves and our broken world?

I did not intentionally schedule this conversation to coincide with today’s readings, but they fit really well.

The reading from Habakkuk offers us a model for faithful lament. The prophet is crying out to God about the pain and shame in his society. He is naming conditions that violate God’s law and that cause suffering and harm, and he is calling on God to act. It’s a helpful model for our worship, but we also need the lesson of the gospel.

The gospel is less direct in teaching us how to address pain and shame, but I think we can find a helpful lesson in the way this story challenges us to rethink what faith is.

Our gospel reading begins with a petition from the disciples to Jesus: “Lord, increase our faith.” They are responding to Jesus’s command to practice radical, unlimited forgiveness even in the face of repeated harm, and – understandably, I think – this seems to them like an impossible command to follow.

Their petition that Jesus increase their faith is a request for help to do this impossible thing, but it is also their diagnosis of what their core problem is: They think they have a scarcity problem. They think that faith comes in different quantities and that they don’t have enough of it to do what Jesus is telling them to do.

I can resonate with that assessment – especially when I am caught in pain and shame. In those shadow times my faith can feel too little – because it’s not just magically relieving the negative feelings… it’s not empowering me to confidently assert God’s goodness, and God’s plan for the world. I feel like a need MORE faith.

And that sense of scarcity can make a lament – like the prophet Habakkuk’s – feel dangerous. Because lament – speaking out loud my pain, and my frustration – can feel like an expression of doubt about God’s goodness. It can feel like a broadcasting of how weak, how little my faith is.

But in today’s gospel story, Jesus doesn’t seem to agree that the disciples have a scarcity problem when it comes to faith. Faith the size of a mustard seed is enough. They don’t need more. They need to understand what faith IS.

Commentator Debie Thomas explores this shift in thinking about faith by asking “what if… faith is engagement, orientation, action? What if faith is something we do? Not something we have?”[1] She then goes on to consider the people whom Jesus praises for their faith in the gospels, to see if she can find a consistent characteristic that draws Jesus’s praise. She writes: “As far as I can tell, the only thing they do is turn to him. Orient themselves in his direction. Trust him. What earns his admiration is their willingness – even in difficult, painful, and potentially risk situations – to lean into his goodness, healing, justice, and mercy.”[2]

If this is right… if faith means not being strong ourselves, but rather bringing our weakness and need to Jesus… then the faithful response to societal pain, and suffering, and shame is also to bring it to Jesus... to say, like those who sought him for healing: “We are in pain. We have these wounds. We need your healing.”

Instead of praying “increase our faith” we should be be praying “come, Lord Jesus, heal us.” If faith is the active work of trusting Jesus as our healer, then we DO faith in worship by offering our lament. By naming the wounds in our lives, and also in our society, that need healing. The most faithful thing we can do in response to the things in our world that break our hearts is to call out to God, like the prophet Habakkuk, and say “how long, O Lord, share I cry for help?”

So, today, I invite you into a practice of faithful lament. I invite you to "do" your faith, by joining in a voicing of grief for some of the pains and shames in our world. Of course, there is endless brokenness in our world, so I will focus on the particular kinds of social pain sin that are elevated in today’s texts, and in today’s worship service. With each lament I will conclude with the petition “Come, Lord Jesus, heal us.” And if you wish to share in this lament you can echo back “Come, Lord Jesus, heal us.”

Let us cry out to the Lord, our God and our trusted source of healing.

We cry out for the pain and the shame of violence in our country.

We mourn for lives lost to gun violence – whether in mass shootings, or domestic violence, or gang violence, or accidents;

We mourn for the epidemics of veteran suicide and teen suicide;

We mourn for the lives and families ripped apart by all kinds of violence, and we long for solutions, and for the will to enact them.

Come, Lord Jesus, heal us.

(Come, Lord Jesus, heal us.)

We cry out for the pain and the shame of strife and contention in our nation.

We are frustrated that those elected to lead us are addicted to a pattern of partisan bickering that obscures the need for the healing of our democracy and the affirmation of our core values;

We feel bombarded by strife also in news sources, and social media interactions, and even in our real-life relationships;

Our society seems to have lost the capacity to honor each other’s intrinsic value as children of God beyond our partisan divides.

Come, Lord Jesus – heal us.

(Come, Lord Jesus, heal us.)

We cry out for the pain and the shame of justice undermined.

We are angry at a legal system that privileges those with resources and connections, and that fails those who cannot afford or get access to a lawyer;

We fear the erosion of civil rights for LGBTQ+ workers and for trans health care consumers;

We grieve for the pain and frustration of all who feel invisible, or whose voices are silenced when they ask for justice.

Come, Lord Jesus – heal us.

(Come, Lord Jesus, heal us.)

We cry out for the pain and the shame of slavery.

We voice our horror that in our day, the Global Slavery Index estimates that more that 40 million men, women, and children are living in modern slavery.[3]

We lament for all whose work is undervalued or coerced. For victims of human trafficking and for immigrant workers disproportionately exploited by wage-theft and abuse.

We grieve for coal miners, and factory workers, and small farmers, and all who are victims of global economic systems that have devalued them or left them behind, and for how helpless we feel to make any change.

Come, Lord Jesus – heal us.

(Come, Lord Jesus – heal us.)

Finally, we cry out for the pain and the shame of endangered animals.

Our hearts are broken when the animals we love are lost to us.

And we mourn also when we learn of whole species that are being threatened and disappearing as their habitats change.

We long for the healing and protection of God’s good creation.

Come, Lord Jesus – heal us.

(Come, Lord Jesus – heal us.)

We offer our lament to God as an act of faith. It’s the decision to turn toward Jesus and to confess that he is the one in whom we trust. The only one who can heal our deepest wounds. But lament does not stand on its own. The final verses of the book of Habakkuk move from lament to an explicit assertion of trust. The prophet has declared his pain and frustration to God, not as a complaint, but as an expression of faith that God IS the one who will be faithful.

So, as the final words of this sermon, hear the prophet’s declaration:

“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. 19 God, the Lord, is my strength.” (Habakkuk 3: 17-19a)

Thanks be to God.

[1] https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2384

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2019/findings/executive-summary/

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