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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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Faith In a State Called Melancholy

October 3, 2019

FAITH IN A STATE CALLED MELANCHOLY

New Millennium Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Lamentation 1:1-6


1How lonely sits the city
   that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
   she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
   has become a vassal.


2 She weeps bitterly in the night,
   with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
   she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
   they have become her enemies.


3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering
   and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations,
   and finds no resting-place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
   in the midst of her distress.


4 The roads to Zion mourn,
   for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
   her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
   and her lot is bitter.


5 Her foes have become the masters,
   her enemies prosper,
because the Lord has made her suffer
   for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
   captives before the foe.


6 From daughter Zion has departed
   all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags
   that find no pasture;
they fled without strength
   before the pursuer.

 

Lamentation 3:19-26


19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
   is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
   and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:


22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
   ‘therefore I will hope in him.’


25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
   for the salvation of the Lord.

God, the refuge of wanderers and exiles,
the mother and father of the homeless,
you weep with those who are uprooted from their homeland,
and you suffer with those who exist without shelter and security.
Grant that your faithful love may reach out,
and that your healing mercy rise like the dawn
on all who are oppressed.
We ask this through Jesus, your Son,
who knew hardship and died outside the city wall. Amen.

 

You cannot locate it on any map or find it mentioned in books about travel.  There are no signs or other navigation tools available to help one know where it is located.  In fact, the people who live there may not know its name.  But there is a state called Melancholy.  

There are no festivals in Melancholy, for it is not a festive place.  The customary sights and sounds of tourism will not be found in Melancholy.  People who live there do not invite others to visit.  People who do not live in Melancholy hope they never get lost there, and certainly don’t want to go there on purpose. Tourism is not practiced in Melancholy because Melancholy does not appeal to anyone as a place for sightseeing, vacationing, exploring, or leisure.

Although there are no maps to Melancholy, no signs about Melancholy, and no references to Melancholy in books about travel, Melancholy does exist.  Melancholy is not a virtual place.  People actually live in Melancholy.  People work in Melancholy.  

 

People don’t want to live and work in Melancholy, but Melancholy is a hard place to leave once one arrives there.  Melancholy sort of grows on you, like moss grows on a tree, to the point that eventually it is hard to separate oneself from Melancholy.  It becomes to know where one ends and Melancholy begins.  

And it is especially hard to find a way out of Melancholy.    Just as there are no directional aids to help one locate Melancholy, there are no signs that point the way out.   There are no signs that read, “You are entering Melancholy.”  No signs that read, “Thank you for visiting Melancholy.  Come back soon.”  No signs that read, “Exit” in Melancholy.  

How do people leave a place no one can find?  How can people help those who must live in that place escape?  How do people survive life in Melancholy?  Where do people in Melancholy find hope?

 

The book of Lamentations in the Hebrew Testament is about Melancholy.  It is about the physical, emotional, moral, social, political, cultural, commercial, and religious gloom that descended on and dominated the lives of people after the kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.  Most of the people were forced to leave the only place they knew as home.  Some fled to Egypt.  The majority were sent to Babylon.  But whether people escaped to Egypt or were relocated to Babylon, the effect was the same.  They were not in Judah. They were not home.  They were in Melancholy.

The Babylonians deported those who were considered “leading figures” in Judah to Babylon, where they had to learn to speak a new language, eat food they were not accustomed to tasting, seeing, and smelling, and experience customs and practices unknown – and often forbidden – in Judah.  That’s how life goes in Melancholy.

The same was true for the small number of people who the Babylonians allowed to remain in Judah.  Although they stayed in Judah, Judah wasn’t the same place after the Babylonians conquered it.  So even though they hadn’t left Judah, Judah had become Melancholy. The familiar land didn’t look right.  The familiar food didn’t taste right.  The usual sounds were gone, the landmarks were gone, the friends and neighbors were gone, and the songs and other aspects of their culture were gone.  Judah wasn’t Judah anymore even for the people the Babylonians allowed to stay there.  It was Melancholy.

 

Lamentations is a deep and hard look at faith in the state of Melancholy.  The passages we read force us to admit that Melancholy is a hard place.  It is a hard place for anyone.  It is a hard place for everyone.  

And it is hard to hold onto faith when one lives in Melancholy.  Melancholy is a faith-choking, faith-starving, faith-suffocating, faith-blinding, faith-deafening, and faith-numbing place.  It seems that hope is impossible to find in Melancholy.  On the other hand, the sight, sound, smell, feel, and taste of gloom is everywhere in Melancholy.

Melancholy is the place where people in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico now live because the sight, sound, and stench of death and despair are their constant companions.  Asylum-seeking children who have been separated from their parents live in Melancholy, as do their desperate and worried parents.  People in prisons and jails across the world live in Melancholy.  

 

People with addiction and other diseases live in Melancholy.  So do people who live in relationships that are abusive, self-destructive, or that seem to offer no way out that makes sense.  

People in the Little Rock School District live in Melancholy.  People who live where toxic chemicals have poisoned the air, water, soil, and food and are producing clusters of sickness live in Melancholy.  

People who are un-wealthy and are being uprooted and dislocated by wealthy people due to something called “gentrification” live in Melancholy.  Undocumented workers who are trying to avoid being deported back to places where their lives were threatened by war, disease, calamities, poverty, and other forms of violence are living in Melancholy.

Melancholy is a gloomy and painful place even when the people who live there try to be brave and joyful.  Even so, it is painful to admit that Melancholy is where we are.  When we’ve lived in Melancholy long enough, Melancholy becomes who we are.

  When we  finally recognize that Melancholy is home, we are forced to retrace the route we traveled to get there.  How in the world did we end up in this relationship, this sickness, this jail or prison, this administration, this debt, this outfit, this ____? Whoever wrote Lamentations did that.  

 

The author(s) of Lamentations also documented – detailed – the gloomy realities of Melancholy for its inhabitants.  The kingdom of Judah with its capital Jerusalem was no longer a proud and hopeful place.  Notice the words of loss and grief.

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!  How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! (Lam. 1:1)

She weeps bitterly in the night with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies (Lam. 1:2) 

Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe (Lam. 1:5)

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!  My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me (Lam. 3:19-20).  

 

It’s painful to document the details of life in Melancholy, but that’s another feature of being there.  In Melancholy, it is much easier to find signs of loss, grief, and failure than it is to find hope.  Hope dies quickly and often in Melancholy.  Grief and loss seem to have the fertility of rabbits and the tenacity of cockroaches.  

Where do people in Melancholy find hope?  How can we break free, get loose, escape, or somehow be delivered from Melancholy?  This is the big question.  

The answer is provided in this passage.  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam. 3:21-23). 

Somehow, the author(s) write about hope even still.  Despite the daily grind and sorrow of life in Melancholy, the author(s) manage to hope by remembering the unending “steadfast love of the LORD.”  Despite the constant and pervasive presence of oppression and gloom of Melancholy, the author(s) of Lamentations “call to mind” that God’s “mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; they are new every morning.”

God’s love cannot be kept out of Melancholy.  The mercies of God for asylum-seeking migrants will not be kept of Melancholy by Trump’s wall or Trump’s ways.  The mercies of God will find a way to deliver or children and parents in the Melancholy better known as the Little Rock School District.  

 

The mercies of God will find a way because God is faithful.  The mercies of God will find a way because God does not give up on us, even when we mess around and work our way into Melancholy.  The mercies of God will find a way because the merchants, tyrants, and other oppressors who rule Melancholy are no match for God’s goodness.  They are no match for God’s obsession to deliver us.  They are no match for God’s faithfulness.  

Even when we in Melancholy have lost hope, God’s hope will find a way to us. God’s faithfulness will keep working even when our faith has been shattered by life in Melancholy.  God’s goodness is everlasting, ever-acting, ever-scheming, and ever-mindful to make what the elders called “a way out of no way” morning by morning, day by day, situation by situation, even, and especially, in the state called Melancholy.  

When life in Melancholy produces gloom, God’s love promises goodness.  When life in Melancholy brings sorrow, God’s love promises “new mercies.”  When life in Melancholy brings fake friends and fierce foes, God’s goodness promises “great faithfulness.”  The goodness of God cannot be kept out of Melancholy to comfort us.  The faithfulness of God does not fear busting into Melancholy to deliver us.  

 

The Psalmist expressed God’s goodness and faithfulness at Psalm 27:1 in words that Lillian Booknight put to a wonderful song we sing.  When we sing The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation (#160, African American Heritage Hymnal), I love to sing the second stanza because it reminds me that the troubles of life in the state of Melancholy are no match for God’s goodness, mercies, and faithfulness. 

In the time of trouble He shall hide me.  In the time of trouble He shall hide me.  In the time of trouble He shall hide me.  Whom shall I fear? 

Whom shall I fear?  Whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the strength of my life.  Whom shall I fear?

Hallelujah!  Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2019