Bearing the Yoke
5th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 8) LSB #809
Text – Lamentations 3:27
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
BEARING THE YOKE
“God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” Have you heard that before? It’s a clever way of emphasizing a particular quality of God’s character. In spite of the fact that we often use the word good to refer to various human beings, Jesus teaches that being good is a unique quality of God alone. In Mark 10:18 we read:
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’” (ESV) Jesus said, “No one!” Given that, by Jesus’ definition, ‘being good’ is such a rare quality I have a question for you. I’d like to challenge that saying “God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” Here’s the question: “How do you know that God is good?”
Did you notice how I emphasized the word ‘you?’ I don’t want an answer you might find in the Bible, however sound & theologically correct that may be. What I want to know is: “How do you know that God is good?” Yes, that is a personal question. Maybe it’s too personal for you to willingly answer, but I’m asking it anyway.
God sometimes guides your pastor to probe into your spiritual life to discover if anything is alive in there. It’s similar to a doctor probing a wound, which may cause pain, but he does it for the purpose of diagnosing the illness. Only after determining the problem can the doctor intentionally work to bring healing.
“How do you know that God is good?” All of God’s children should be able to answer that question, & most everyone should have at least a somewhat different answer. Our heavenly Father is not a one size fits all type of God. He knows each of you personally & individually. Yahweh custom designs a plan for every day of your life. For that reason each one of you should have a unique story to tell others which answers the question, “How do you know that God is good?” When the submarine I was on should have been blown to pieces, God rescued me from certain death. As a pastor out in North Dakota, God rescued me from certain burnout & despair.
Those are matters of temporal & temporary existence, but my Lord also rescued me from certain eternal destruction. He suffered in Hell in my place, & that all by itself proves that God is good. I came to know & understand that through my personal experiences during the entire six years I spent serving in the Navy. God’s house has been a precious place to me ever since.
You also have unique, detailed & personal stories of God’s goodness shown to you. Only you, no one else, can tell that story with the power of God behind it. You don’t have to be the prophet Jeremiah in order to let the people in your life know that God is good. The book of Lamentations is part of Jeremiah’s story, & as we study it, it helps us learn to tell our story.
It’s important to note, though we often refer to the events of our lives as ‘our story’ ultimately they are not ours, but the story of God as He works in & through our lives. Yahweh is the author, not just of your life, but of the story of your life. I’m not a fan of the KJV of the Bible, however, one aspect of it that is widely loved is the phrase, “And it came to pass.”
In the 396 verses of the Bible where that appears, it always introduces the reader to a significant event that God wants you to take notice of. Here are a few examples:
Genesis 4:8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, & slew him. (KJV)
Genesis 7:10 And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. (KJV)
Mark 1:9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, & was baptized of John in Jordan. (KJV)
To tell others how you know that God is good, all you have to describe is what has
“come to pass” in the days of your life. You can do it with confidence because God says He orders & directs our days. Telling others what has come to pass is easier if you regularly spend time thanking your Lord for the all the blessings He’s given you from the day of your birth till now. Practice what you’ll tell other people while you’re praying to your heavenly Father.
This is one of the ways Jeremiah said it: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” (3:22-23) Jeremiah is telling you how he knows that God is good. Now, we have to consider the context.
Jan & I used the song based on that text at our wedding, a common day of celebration & joy. Yet, Jeremiah is telling us how God is good on an occasion when few people will celebrate. He wrote as an eyewitness to the divine judgment on Jerusalem. The city has been destroyed, famine is in full swing, & the once great nation is now nothing more than a province of Babylon.
Under those circumstances, how on earth could Jeremiah know that God is good, let alone convince anyone else of it? First, the people of Judah had abandoned God for false idols, despising His love & blessing. Then, God brought judgment on them for their rebellion.
Flanked by 2 chapters on either side the 66 verses of Lamentations chapter 3 rise like cresting wave over a sea of tears. Lamentations is a book of five poems, each one an outburst of grief caused by the destruction of the city & the kingdom. It is a deeply emotional book, openly acknowledging the presence of weeping (1:7), groaning (1:8), & grief (2:11).
The OT is full of national & individual laments, all due to the corrosive effects of sin or the resulting discipline of a loving heavenly Father. The nation of Israel affirmed that suffering is real & significant. Though their language of lament can be shocking, & even offensive, to us (cf. Jer. 13:22-17; Psalm 137), it nevertheless pulsates with authenticity & transparency.
By means of these laments Israel’s public worship provided people with a venue to grieve
their losses. As a direct consequence, they were empowered to face enslavement & national humiliation & then to move on with the lives through which God was still blessing them. First Israel & then the church has placed these Biblical laments into our hands to correct any euphoric notions of faith we may harbor that portray the Christian life as one of only sweetness & light.
The texts are in Scripture so we avoid a one-sided, happiness-only view that fails to deal forthrightly with the harsh realities of life. If we lose these laments – by neglect or ignorance – we will lose Yahweh’s gracious gifts of comfort, guidance & healing. Sadly, Israel’s language of lament is largely absent from life in the middle-class church of the United States.
Worship often construes the Christian faith in the “major key” with melodies that are symmetrical, congruent & primarily geared toward peace & equilibrium. In some corners of the church liturgies & homilies do everything they can to avoid texts of lament.
Broken people who attend such churches arrive at this unavoidable conclusion: sorrow & lament belong somewhere else, anywhere else, but not in the church. By removing Israel’s “off-centered” texts of lament we are in danger of creating an exclusive rather than inclusive church.
We may be nurturing a church for mainstream people who are content & well positioned in the dominant culture of American capitalism. But what about people who live on the economic fringes of society, or whose lives are in emotional chaos? Their cries of pain & loss are not comfortable. Their presence is disturbing & thus unwelcome.
Why? Because their lament does not mesh with our pleasant & comfortable idea of “church.” By divorcing ourselves from Israel’s texts of lament, our worship services may be geared for the well & not the sick, for the whole & not the broken (cf. Matt. 9:12-13). This is strikingly antithetical to the Gospel.
It not only misses opportunities for healing & compassion, but refuses a hand of
solidarity to those experiencing divorce, unemployment, poverty, racism, or death. This disparity – between Israel’s texts of lament & our church culture – could be driving people away from our churches. People are crying out for an expression of the Christian faith that is honest, transparent & real. Whether they know it or not, these people are longing for texts of lament.
Human emotions are like a river flowing out of the heart. This river needs a “bank” so our feelings can take on depth & direction. Apart from Israel’s laments we’re left with our culture’s shallow expressions of loss, & are then stuck in meandering sorrow.
But with the words of Lamentations we have categories & expressions that allow our brokenness to come before Yahweh’s healing throne of grace. Through a renewed appreciation & use of Israel’s laments we become communities where weeping is allowed to endure for the long nights of life, while yet affirming that joy will come in the morning.
That joy which comes in the morning is the joy of the Easter resurrection! Then, our Lord’s own lament was turned into a song of everlasting deliverance (cf. Ps. 22:1, 24). For us who believe in Jesus as Lord & Savior, we will experience that resurrection in our own flesh & blood. But for this life, it is better that we bear the yoke while we are young.
What that means is this – we are far better off learning to submit to the will of the Lord early in life. A repentant heart is a gift from God, but it’s not an easy gift to receive. It runs against every grain of our sinful nature. Bearing the yoke is a figurative way of describing what it is to endure discipline & then to accept submission – submission to God’s infinite wisdom.
The songs of lament, in Holy Scripture, are there for our training & instruction, however bewildering & uncomfortable they may be. They are words of real life in a world where it came to pass that the 1st born son of Adam & Eve murdered the 2nd born. They are words of real life in a world where it came to pass that the people God created murdered the Son He sent to rescue them. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” were words of lament spoken by that Son from the cross. The words we read & heard from Lamentations are words of repentance & submission, but they are also words of great joy & peace. They are the words of a peace that surpasses all human understanding.
“And when [Jesus] had entered, He said to them, ‘Why are you making a commotion & weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at Him. But he put them all outside & took the child’s father & mother & those who were with him & went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand He said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up & began walking…” (Mark 5:39-42 ESV)
You have similar stories, from your own lives, which clearly have taught you that God is good. You have similar stories, from the good old days, of times when you had to bear the yoke & yet received blessings from your heavenly Father, while you were bearing it, & again when He lifted it from your shoulders. There are people in your life dying to hear those stories. Amen.
Pardon for sin & a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer & to guide; strength for today & bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside! Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet