“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (Thanksgiving sermon on Lamentations 3:22-33, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-33)

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”: The hymn our choir sang earlier and which we all will sing at the end of this service–this is definitely an appropriate hymn of thanksgiving and praise on this Day of Thanksgiving. How true are the words of the refrain:

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!

And since today is the Day of National Thanksgiving, we can also say the same thing about the Lord’s blessings on our land, here in America: Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto us!

Great is Thy faithfulness: A very positive, uplifting celebration of God’s great faithfulness, mercy, and love. Now I don’t know if you noticed it or not, but maybe by hearing the choir sing this hymn right after the first reading today, you caught the connection. This hymn’s refrain is based directly on these verses from Lamentations 3:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Thanksgiving to the Lord for his great faithfulness is always appropriate, but I think what will deepen our thoughts on this Thanksgiving Day is to know the context for these verses from Lamentations. What was going on in the life of the person who wrote these words? It sounds like the guy’s life must have been going pretty great that he would pour forth such beautiful words of praise.

Well, no. And that’s the point. This guy’s life was not going great; quite the opposite. And the same for the land in which he lived. Things were stinking, lousy, miserable. Think of it. After all, the name of this book is “Lamentations.” And “Lamentations” means poems of lament, mourning, and sadness. And yet in the midst of the mourning–and this passage in chapter 3 is literally smack dab in the middle of the book–the poet breaks out in this song celebrating the Lord’s faithfulness. Friends, I think there’s a lesson in this for us today, in our context, both in our personal lives and in the life of our country.

The man who wrote Lamentations was almost surely the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet,” as he is called. The prophet Jeremiah was filled with sadness at the strong words of judgment he had to preach against unfaithful Judah and Jerusalem. Judgment was coming, doom and gloom and judgment, and there was no stopping it. The Lord was going to bring the Babylonians against Judah, who would take the people off into captivity. Judgment was coming in particular against Jerusalem and even against the temple itself. The Babylonians would destroy the city and level the temple to the ground.

All of which is exactly what happened. The judgment did come. The Babylonian Captivity. The destruction of Jerusalem. The destruction of the temple, in 586 B.C. Terrible, awful judgment. And certainly that is a major theme in this book of Lamentations, namely, mourning for the fate of Jerusalem. Listen to the laments. The book opens like this:

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

And the cause for this devastation? The prophet goes on to tell us: “The LORD has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.” And again, “Jerusalem sinned grievously.” Sadly, Jerusalem herself must confess: “The LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word.”

Dear friends, on this day when we think about our own nation of America, we too must confess, “We have rebelled against God’s word.” How America is ripe for God’s judgment! Think of it. Our nation has legalized murder in the form of abortion, causing the holocaust of millions of unborn children. Our nation has countenanced and condoned the abomination of homosexuality, with some states even legalizing so-called “same-sex marriage,” which is an impossibility. Immorality and violence–the same vices that brought the flood upon the earth and fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah–immorality and violence run rampant in our land and pour out of our televisions and movie screens and computer screens. We glory in our shame. We call good evil and evil good. Truly America is ripe for judgment, just like Judah was in the days of Jeremiah.

And the Lord’s judgment did fall on Judah. The prophet laments:

The Lord has become like an enemy;
he has swallowed up Israel;
he has swallowed up all its palaces;
he has laid in ruins its strongholds,
and he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah
mourning and lamentation.

And Jeremiah himself, even though he did not go along with the rebellion of the people–even so, he felt the weight and the anguish of God’s judgment falling on the land. He writes:

I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.

Maybe you feel like this sometimes. Maybe you feel like a man or woman who has seen affliction. It may seem like God has become your enemy. You cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. Aging, illness, affliction, financial reverses, family breakups, distress over the direction your children are going–so many causes of grief we experience in this world! And we wonder where God is in the midst of all this. Sometimes we feel just like Jeremiah when he says of the Lord:

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the LORD.”

But even at this low point–a low point for Jeremiah, a low point for Jerusalem and Judah–something begins to nudge the prophet in the direction of hope. He writes:

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” This is the turning point in Jeremiah’s lamentation. His thoughts turn now to the steadfast love of the Lord, God’s great covenant love that he has pledged to all who put their trust in him. And this–this is where we pick up the words of our text:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Dear friends, there is hope for you! There is hope for us! This hope is found solely in the steadfast love of the Lord, in his mercies, which are new every morning. The Lord’s great faithfulness to his covenant, his faithfulness to his promises, all fulfilled in Christ–this is what gives us hope and a song to sing on this Thanksgiving morning!

Think of this: Christ Jesus, the very Son of God–he is truly the man who has seen affliction, once and for all. The man of sorrows, who bore the sins and the grief of his people, when he bore our sins on the wood of the cross. He took the judgment we deserve, each one of us, taking the sentence for our sin on his sinless shoulders. Jesus deserved only praise and commendation. Yet he suffered shame and condemnation, innocently, on our behalf. See the steadfast love of the Lord that he would do this!

Now we are counted righteous and forgiven on account of this righteous one. Through faith in Christ, every believer has eternal life now and on forever into the age to come. In him is life, and this life is the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. God in his mercy has allowed this light to continue to shine in our sin-darkened land. The gospel light has not been snuffed out here in America. To be sure, more and more of our countrymen are turning away from the Lord in unbelief. But there is a faithful remnant, and the Lord is gracious enough to not allow our land to be destroyed.

“His mercies never come to an end.” By God’s mercy, America is still a very prosperous land, by world standards, in spite of our many sins. We still enjoy the freedom to practice our religion–although that freedom is being increasingly threatened by our government. The crops of our fields are yielding their harvest in abundance. The natural resources America has are just amazing. The brainpower and industry of still many of our citizens are a great blessing to us. These all are things to give thanks to God for on this Day of Thanksgiving.

But what about when our sight is filled by the adversity of our circumstances? Do you ever feel like God has become your enemy? Join the club. Join Jeremiah in his lamentations. But join Jeremiah also in his hope and thanksgiving, as when he says:

For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.

Luther comments on this passage and says: “God stands hidden among the sufferings which would separate us from him like a wall, indeed, like a wall of a fortress. And yet he looks upon me and does not forsake me. He stands there and is ready to help in grace, and through the window of dim faith he permits himself to be seen.”

Friends, this is the word of hope for you today: Even when the loving God seems hidden from you, hidden in your sufferings, you know a faithful God, who is true to his word, and he will see you through. The message today is this: Because of God’s great faithfulness, thanksgiving is possible even when things are not going so great. Just ask Jeremiah. For because God’s promises are all fulfilled in Christ, then even in the midst of our lamentations, hope and thanksgiving ring out:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand 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!


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