Hope In The Midst Of Despair (Lamentations 3:22-33)

Text: Lamentation 3:22-33

Are the words hope and faith the same or different?  It has been said before that faith is what begins our spiritual lives as Christians and hope is what continues our Christian lives.  In other words, the word hope has a futuristic aspect to it. 

When we think of the word hope we think of things in the future.  In a lot of ways hope takes our mind off of the present circumstances and refocuses us to a better place off in the distant future.  Hope keeps us going in the midst of the troublesome times.  G.K. Chesterton once said that, “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless.” 

I once heard a story about a little league baseball game.  A man approached the game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing--we're behind." "Boy," said the spectator, "I'll bet you're discouraged." "Why should I be discouraged?" replied the little boy. "We haven't even gotten up to bat yet!”  As you can see  hope is looking outside of the context to something better, something firm and something dependable.  Hope anchors itself in something objective and apart from the hopeless present circumstances.

Our verses from today are all about the idea of hope.  If you were to spend the afternoon reading through the Old Testament book of Lamentations you would find that it is a very depressing, hopeless feeling and heavy book.  It was written some 600 years before Christ came to us in the manger.  It was written right after the nation of Babylon destroyed the city of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple had been destroyed.  The majority of her people had been led away into humiliating exile, displaced to live in a foreign country name Babylon. Those that were left were experiencing complete impoverishment and a terrible famine that actually led to cannibalism. (Lamentations 2:20). Nobody would’ve been able to say, “Things could be worse!” Things couldn’t have been worse.  There was no glimpse of sun in the complete stormy chaos in Jerusalem.  The book of Lamentations means what it sounds like.  It is the Lament and Tears of Jeremiah the prophet over his current circumstances.

Unlike our sermon from last week, in this text we know exactly why Jerusalem had been destroyed.  In the opening chapters of Lamentations we read that judgment had come upon Jerusalem for its sin.  Jerusalem’s spiritual leaders were spiritually bankrupt, they were heretical.  The people were in constant rebellion.  Thus the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was a judgment against them for their sin; it was God disciplining the people of Jerusalem.

In the midst of the chaos, destruction and violence we come upon our verses in our text today.  These 12 verses are like clean and fresh water in the midst of a sun-scorched desert.  In the midst of the lamenting, the agony, the pain and the loss we read these 12 verses that speak of hope.  They speak of hope that is not found in the current surroundings of Jeremiah.  They speak of hope that isn’t found in the abilities of the Israelites.  They speak of hope that isn’t found within the feelings and cultural ethos of Jerusalem.   They speak of hope that steers our eyes away from Jerusalem to almighty God’s faithfulness.

It seems to me that we often judge hope on our present circumstances or the possible positive circumstances of the future.  In 2008 we can all recall as Barrack Obama’s message was one of Hope.  If I am not mistaken the slogan was, “Hope You Can Believe In.”  Hope that things can and would get better under his leadership.  We also hear the same cry of hope from others who want to return us to the days of our foundation.  Ron Paul has a plan to restore America.  He promises hope in the future by returning to America’s hopeful past.  On the other side of the coin, I have also heard the lamenting of many long term Americans who share that they are lacking hope for America’s future.  There was a recent poll awhile back that shared that hope among today’s youth has reached an all-time low in America.  My point is not to begin a political debate for us in the church this morning, but rather to show that we often attach this idea of hope to the circumstances of life that surround us.  If we look for hope by how things are going in this life and how we believe things will be going in the future or if we try to derive hope from our past, we can end up hopeless.  Hope is then attached to things that are temporary and fading.  My friends, what if America doesn’t improve and fails like many of the other great world empires of the past?  What if your present circumstances, your present finances, your current health, your current burdens and problems don’t get better but actually get worse?  What if the oil market dries up and the oil markets crash?  What happens if crop market prices fall and we face major hail and disastrous flooding?  What happens if the cattle market plunges?  I am not trying to be a defeatist.  Rather, I am attempting to show us that placing hope in the events of life is typically a 50/50 gamble.  Not only is it unstable but we tread dangerously close to being ensnared in idolatry when our hope becomes misdirected.  Our hope is only as good as the desired and realistic outcome of what our hope is in. Typically, history has shown us that the future is uncertain when it comes to the events of this life.  Therefore, we cannot put hope in the events and situations of the present nor future, for they shift and change just like the weather.  Furthermore, placing hope in the things of life other than God is to break the first commandment and to create an idol. 

Hope is also not found in our abilities.  Often times we attempt to find hope in the way that we are able to respond to hopeless situations.  We say, “If life hands me lemons, I know how to lemonade.”  It is easy to do this.  Things look hopeless and we respond with a confident assurance that we are going to be able to make the best out of the situation.  My friends, while it is good to have a positive outlook on life, the problem is that we are not always able.  Furthermore, if we really peal back the layers we will recognize that the source of despair typically arises from our own doings as humans.  Why would we run to our own workings for hope when our own workings are often the source of hopelessness to begin with?  Practically put, what happens to hope when the situation is bad and your abilities are even worse?  What happens when health problems are out of control, what happens when you physically and mentally do not have the stamina to overcome?  What happens when you lay in defeat, beaten by the world and sin? 

It is a good feeling to have hope.  One walks with a smile, the world seems lighter and one walks with a skip in their step.  However, we need to keep in mind that hope is not found in our feelings nor is hope a feeling.  Hope is not found in how good or bad you feel about yourself or the world around you.  Often we judge things on how good we feel.  If we have excitement in our gut or enthusiasm about an idea, we say that we are hopeful.  Like the current circumstances of life and our own abilities, feelings can come and go.  Feelings of hope rise and fall like the waves of the ocean.

My friends Christian hope arises only from the fact that God has mercy upon us and instill hope into us.  Christian hope never has any other object or matter or foundation than the simply mercy of God, not our works, not our abilities, and not our feelings.  Hope must always have an object that it can anchor to.  Hope needs a source and hope is only as good as the source that it is in. 
In our text Jeremiah expresses hope not in his sadness or the current events of his time but rather hope in the faithfulness of God.  His hope was in God’s steadfast love, God’s unending grace.  Think about this for a moment, Jeremiah had it bad, far worse than any of us can imagine, and the hope that he was given was in God’s faithfulness.  The same can be said of all periods of time.  There has always been sickness, greed, corruption, perversity, war, death and despair.  And there has always been God’s faithfulness and His enduring promises. 

So are we to simply look away from the problems of life and man up to hope in God’s faithfulnessBelieve it or not, but lamenting isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can be. Our laments and agony about the pains of life can become quite sinful and slanderous and "gossipy," but lamenting, faithfully, is precisely how God created us to be. Jeremiah lamented over the hopelessness of his circumstance and the inabilities of the people.  He confessed the sin of his people and the problems and pain of life.  He lamented to God, He cried out for mercy?  When bad things happen in life, Jeremiah puts it best: "Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid upon him. Let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope." Basically, we get to lament the hopelessness of our circumstances to God and we also get to hear the hopefulness of God’s faithfulness to us in the midst of the hopelessness that we face.

My friends, hope must have an object and that object is God’s faithfulness shown to us in the person and work of Christ.  Because of God’s faithfulness to us in the person of Christ we have salvation.  In Christ we have the promise of the resurrection. In Christ, we have the promise that everything will be refined. 

Paul in 2 Cor. 4 confesses that he is a mere and weak fragile jar of clay, but the Lord’s power is greater than him.   Paul confesses that he is hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.  He confesses that he is perplexed but not in despair.  He confesses that he is persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.  Paul says that even though the outer nature is wasting away that he does not lose heart.  In other words, Paul does not lose heart because he knows that it isn’t this temporary life that we derive hope from.  Rather we derive our hope from what is eternal and sure.  Christ is sure my friends.  God’s promises are sure in the midst of uncertainty.  Your identity and worth are in Christ.  Nothing in the events of today or tomorrow can change what Christ did for you.  God’s love is steadfast for you because Christ’s salvation still stands for you.  There is hope in the midst of despair for you and I, that hope is the Christ.  May you be comforted by the faithfulness of God in the midst of your valleys as well as your mountain tops.  May God gift you hope in the cross and resurrection. 
Homiletic Sources:  Sermon Studies On OT Texts (NWP) ~ Pericope.org