A great new sitcom, in my opinion, is on CBS called The Neighborhood. It’s about a white family that moves into a predominantly black neighborhood. It highlights the differences in cultures in a way that is insightful and, of course, hilarious at times.
The opening episode of this season is a BBQ scene - where two wives - one black, one white - are discussing whether to mention if you don’t like a gift given to you.
Y’know...someone gives you a shirt that you don’t like. Do you say “oh, thanks, this is great” with an awkward smile or do you say “thanks for the thought, but it’s not really my style?”
As the two women were discussing these options, the one who believed you should say “thanks! this is great!” said “well, I guess we were raised differently.” A passerby at the BBQ interjects with, “I heard her say she’s better than you!”
Well, that’s NOT what she was trying to communicate - but it’s how it sounded to the passerby.
Funny how two people can hear or read the same words and take two totally different meanings from it.
I first read today’s selection and heard “life can be really hard, but you need to push past it and be hopeful and cheerful because God is good.” In some ways, it felt placating to me - too easy, too simple. As if we should wash over the troubles and move toward the hope.
I did not like that message. It didn’t feel right. The balance between the troubles and the hope has to be in there. That simplistic message didn’t feel right to deliver to someone who, for instance, was a victim of assault, or someone suffering from mental illness, or someone moments after a loved one dies. There’s no rushing through those troubles.
You try pushing someone through their laments in those moments, and you’re likely to hear a few choice words in return!
The author likely didn’t intend that message, yet it’s what I heard. It’s what I needed to work through.
You may have heard the Scripture differently, though. You may have heard the hope not as a push to ignore the lamenting, but simply as a reminder of God’s presence amid hardship. Also, we may hear this Scripture differently at different seasons in life. (It’s why it’s so great to discuss these things and dig deeper...to learn from each other and our connections.)
This book is titled Lamentations. It’s a book of poetry lamenting the people’s exile from their home. Interestingly, each chapter, in its original Hebrew poetic format, somehow corresponds to the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This isn’t a formal letter or historical recording, this is poetry. This is lyrical.
It is likely something that would have been read at Temple - during gatherings much like how we gather for Sunday morning worship. It could have been read in community - recognizing among the people the hardship of being forced from their homes and looking for where the hope may be. The entire book offers personal laments, like what we read today, and also broader laments for the nation.
The author indeed knows hardship AND uses the connection in the community to remember that even though they have been forced to travel away from their home, their faith in God can travel with them.
The words throughout Lamentations and the fact that this was likely read at Temple gatherings show the author’s reliance on community. They aren’t getting through their season of exile alone! The author gives voice to their trials. Much like how songs or poetry or books speak to our souls because we connect in experiences or feelings, that’s what these words of Lamentations did and still do. They create connection.
This is where the game changer in the message came in for me. This connection about connection. This is where the message that I heard changed from potentially placating to hope-filled and inspiring! This holding of sorrows and hopes doesn’t happen by one person. (If you were here a few weeks ago for the Great Hula Hoop Fiasco during children’s message, you’ll recall that faith/fellowship/service all stay in motion when we’re connected.)
Like a fan that doesn’t work unless connected to an electrical source, our hope and faith can power down when not connected to community. I’m certainly not going to give you a guilt trip if you are here in worship for the first time in months (we all need time away)...and I’m also going to remind us all of the importance of staying connected.
I couldn’t agree more with a statement from Fred Gaiser (workingpreacher.org): “If it takes a village to raise a child, it will certainly take a congregation to support or restore my faith -- to recite it to me in the creed, to proclaim it to me in the sermon, to sing it to me in the liturgy and hymns.”
Gaiser draws a direct line from being connected with the faith community to finding hope when our faith is wavering.
Today is celebrated by many churches as World Communion Sunday - it is a day when we are reminded to lean on the lessons of those not only in our close community, but across the world. It is a day for Christians across the globe to celebrate communion together - and to remember we are not isolated in our faith.
Last year, we heard from some of our church members who were not born in the U.S. and why/when they moved here. In sharing their stories of moving here, we hopefully heard their experience and broadened our worldview. It was a step further in being connected to one another.
This message is more than simply being in relationship with another; it is being connected. More than just saying “how ya doing” - it’s actually listening for the answer.
Sharing these pieces of ourselves is so important for when the doubts or the hardships come creeping in...for when we feel darkness all around us….for when we see no hope for healing….for when we feel exiled and tossed away from home….for when we need reminders on where to find God….for when life at home is too busy or too quiet….that’s when we draw on our connections.
We experience connection at LCCC in worship, in book studies, in service, even online with Facebook.
We experience connection whether we are extroverts or introverts.
We experience connection in prayer. In our Healing Ministry that is being offered today, we can experience literal connection in the laying on of hands.
This is why we do what we do each week...to instill and remind each other of godly hopes. As the people in exile would gather to read poetry and lyrics, reminding them of their faith in difficult times, so do we gather in the midst of whatever is going on in our worlds to remind ourselves of faith in difficult times.
Hear me say: your sorrows and struggles are real. There is hope and love to be found within the community of God’s people, because God’s hope and love is real. No matter where you are in the journey from sorrow to hope and everything in between, let’s hang out. I pray we all find the connection we need.
Scripture: Lamentations 3:19-26