About 8 months ago, I decided to preach the book of Lamentations for this year's Hope in a House of Blues at Lake Forest Church. Past blues-Bible-books we've covered in the series include Psalms of Lament, Job, and Ecclesiastes (next year I'm holding myself to preaching the blues out of the New Testament). The idea is to sing our blues in worship, then God to meet us in our blues through his specific, targeted Word to people singin the blues. There's plenty of material, both for singing our blues, and in Scripture.
So, last summer I went away to begin to prepare to preach Lamentations. You should know that some of my sermon series are completely original (like Ordinary Jesus - I just read the four Gospels with a notepad beside me), some series are hardly original (Under the Influence leaned into a well-defined ministry strategy for partnering with parents, I made the teaching my own), and the vast majority of my series are an amalgamation of originality, commentaries, other sermons, books, ideas from our worship planning team, and random 80's tunes that come to me while I'm in mid-sermon.
As I began to look around for examples of sermon series on Lamentations, applying the book's themes for today, I discovered something that both troubled and energized me. Nobody ever preaches the book of Lamentations! Oh sure, most pastors preach a one-off sermon on chapter three ('his mercies are new every morning'). That's as easy as taking candy from a baby, as obvious as an MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice joke. But the rest of this depressing, troubling little five chapter gem? Nada. Okay, I found ONE extended sermon series that treats the entire book, but its by a preacher I so admire that if I listened to his whole series, I'd just preach his ideas.
Lamentations is rarely preached for a number of reasons: 1) it is very difficult to wade through theologically, 2) it is depressing and taxing emotionally, 3) it is an obscure book at the end of the Old Testament, 4) it is all poetry, all the time, 5) God is never personified as speaking in the poems, only people; the reasons go on and on. But another reason that is bit more obscure is this: there is no plot for Lamentations. It does not have a beginning, climax, and conclusion in the traditional sense. Lamentations is not linear. It is a collection of 5 poems, written by the creative pen of one who sees tragic events and wants to put them onto paper lest he/she forget them. And if we neglect the literary elements of Lamentations, we are neglecting the literary form inwhich God, in His sovereignty, has placed truth about Himself.
So that's what I got. 5 poems weeping, wailing, singing the blues toward God over a ruined city, which equals devastated lives. I am a bit daunted at taking on a preaching task that is such uncovered territory (who am I to do such a thing, and/or am I an idiot pastor who just didn't read that memo in seminary, 'stay away from Lamentations - its the graveyard of pastors!'). But I'm excited also. These Words of God are fresh for me.
So if you don't mind, please pray for me as I prepare. And read Lamentations 1 before you come to church next Sunday. Most importantly - invite a friend who doesn't have a church home. The blues are universal - in life and in the Bible. I don't think even I can screw up that connection.