Angles on Preaching I: “Yet this I call to mind” – Geoff New

Rev Dr Geoff New is Dean of Studies at the Knox Centre for Ministry & Leadership and is based in Dunedin.  He has a particular passion for preaching and has been a director in the Kiwi-Made Preaching organisation since 2012.

Lam 3:19-23

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

These words do not belong in the place we find them: The Book of Lamentations. When you consider the sweep of Lamentations, these words seem like a slip of the pen. A major slip.

Lamentations (and the hint is in the name!) is a bleak book. This is not bedtime reading for young children let alone material for another “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kind-of publication. This book is bleak, horrifying and dark.

This ancient text is five chapters of poetry telling the story of Jerusalem as it is slowly being destroyed. However, not only are brick and mortar being besieged; so is the soul. Hope and faith are bleeding out.

The first four chapters are acrostic so that every verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Maybe the writer is saying “The suffering is so terrible that I am going to use every letter in the alphabet available to me. I am going to record the A-Z of this terrible suffering.” And maybe too, in the presence of such misery, the writer is trying to create some order in the chaos. But by the fifth and last chapter, this way of writing is dispensed with. Almost as if the effort is too much anymore.

But there – nestled in the dead centre of the book are the words of Lamentations 3:19-26. They just don’t seem to belong. But there they are; hope-filled and defiant. There they are touching on a common feature of humanity generation to generation, across the nations: the hope that things will get better.

Together – the whole Book of Lamentations and these words nestled in the middle are a metaphor for life. A picture of life.

People desperately hold onto the hope that “things will get better.” But they need help in that hope. They need examples of what that looks like. Stories which show such hope is not in vain. They need to see:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

They need to see someone standing in the dead centre of Lamentation existence centring on life. I like how one author puts it concerning King David:

“He seemed to understand something that few of even the wisest men of his day understood. Something which even in our day, when men [sic] are wiser still, fewer understand.

And what was that?

God did not have, but wanted very much to have, men and women who would live in pain. God wanted a broken vessel.” [1]

G.K. Chesterton made the point that Christians work at becoming Christ-like. Rightly so. But Chesterton goes on to make the point that as we pursue Christlikeness, we can miss something. Insofar as someone does become Christ-like (no matter how small the degree); to that extent you can then say that “Jesus is like that person.” Chesterton says such a person mirrors Christ like the moon reflects the sun. And the moon is smaller and closer, and not so blinding to look at. And therefore, if you study a person’s life who has sought to become like Jesus – it makes sense (does it not) that you might find yourself closer to Jesus than you ever realised.

I am suggesting your presence in the pulpit, embodying Lamentations 3:19-23, is akin to this dynamic amidst a life which can feel like Lamentations.

I am not suggesting that you as a preacher, embodying Lamentations 3:19-23, create a personality-cult.

I am suggesting that you as a preacher, embodying Lamentations 3:19-23, model authentic hope in Christ.

I am suggesting that insofar as people live lives which mirror the spirit of the Book of Lamentations, they need vibrant and living examples of the middle of the story; Lamentations 3:19-23.

Their lives have had those verses ripped out of their life.

Your job – and it is hard labour – is to write Lamentations 3:19-23 on the pages of their lives.

Every time you preach.

[1] Gene Edwards, A Tale of Three Kings (Tyndale: 1980, 1992), 10.

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