Woe is me!

Listen for the word of the Lord from the Old Testament prophet Micah:

Woe is me! For I have become like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned, finds no cluster to eat; there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger. The faithful have disappeared from the land, and there is no one left who is upright; they all lie in wait for blood, and they hunt each other with nets. Their hands are skilled to do evil; the official and the judge ask for a bribe, and the powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of their sentinels, of their punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand.

Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household.

But as for me, I will look to the LORD, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. (Micah 7:1-8)

How profoundly sad and utterly hopeless Micah must be!

Apparently, when he first puts pen to paper, Micah has got nowhere to turn, no one to trust, no good options from which to choose.

I’ve been there, felt that, too. That’s why I appreciate Micah’s forlorn words. I can relate to what he’s saying.

Over the years, I’ve experienced mistreatment and betrayal, endured emptiness and insecurity, fumbled around aimlessly in darkness and hopelessness. Most of us, I suspect, have experienced times when we’ve felt like the world is against us.

Passages like this are part of Scripture for good reason. Neither the narrative of the Bible nor the story of our lives has ever chased “living your best life ever.” Face it, we’re a long way from the Garden of Eden, and Micah is describing how God’s people find themselves wandering from God’s path, missing the Lord’s mark, and falling away from the Kingdom of Heaven.

Those many words describe what can be boiled down to just one word: Sin.

But the hope within Micah’s sad sack of misery is this: Sin provides fruitful opportunities for learning, growing, overcoming and becoming. Living a life that’s entirely free of sin and brokenness will always remain out of reach until we cross from this life to the next. So, for now, the best we can muster is grabbing hold of opportunities to mature in faith through our weaknesses and trespasses. Without a doubt, sin is still here, but without question, you don’t have to be its slave.

“Do not rejoice over me, my enemy,” Micah declares.

“Do not rejoice over me, my sin.”

“Do not rejoice over me, my mistakes.”

“Do not rejoice over me, my hopelessness and my past.”

“Because when I fall, I will rise.”

The problem isn’t how much or how deep you fall – or how far you are thrown, because, from time to time, life over and over will knock you for a loop and toss you to and fro. That just comes with living in a broken and fearful world. Much as we wish it weren’t, sin stubbornly remains part and parcel of the package deal.

You and I sin great and small whenever we miss the mark, commit an error, make a mistake, wander from the path of honor and righteousness – or miss the path altogether! Sin shows up in the outward choices we make, and sin also lurks within our hearts and minds when we opt out of walking down the path of God.

In Micah’s words a chapter earlier, we too often take a pass on doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly (Micah 6:8). That means we’re choosing not to participate in the kingdom of love and grace that God establishes and Jesus champions.

When you fall, when you wander from the path, when you willfully reject it, when you miss the mark and remove yourself from the sharing of grace, you’re not being a faithful resident of God’s Kingdom, and sin always results. Which, in turn, breeds separation and isolation. Which, in turn, breeds fear and shame. It’s a downward spiral with the power of a cosmic black hole that sucks in everything around it.

But, by grace, sinlessness is not a qualifying factor of God’s love. God’s love reaches beyond, around and through our shortcomings, isolations and failures. Our sins might knock us down, but we’re never down for the count or beyond reach of grace.

God – and cross of Christ – are all about love. And sin is no match for it. When you fall, you will rise again – just as Jesus did. When life happens, when you’re knocked to your knees or off your feet, when find yourself stumbling around in the dark after wandering from the path, you will rise again. Love will always stand you back on your feet and help you find your bearings.

Spiritual writer Richard Rohr puts it like this:

“Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change, is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.”

To me, the verbal picture that Micah paints is like an epic reflection of the landscape of the human spirit:

Up and down, fallen and risen, high and low, in and out, sinner and saint.

If we’re honest, sinner and saint are what best describe most of us. I’ve yet to meet many actual saints in the true spirit of the word. We all have something that’s unraveled us. But we all nevertheless have something unique and beautiful to contribute to the world and share with others. Life is a contradictory mix of passion and monotony, thrills and boredom, pain and joy, beauty and ugliness, lost and found. Life is messy, and pretending that it isn’t just makes it worse.

The fact that the Lord always reaches out to his people through the messiness of whatever we are experiencing gives me hope that God will always do the same for me. God knows my wandering heart. God knows my aches and pains. And none of it, however unseemly and unbecoming, is enough to turn God away.

Through grace, with grace, in grace, nothing separates you and me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). We have the freedom to choose to join and share once again in grace, which is always an offer that the Lord keeps placing on the table and the Spirit ever works to make irresistible. We are always welcome to step back onto the path of love, grace and peace.

Some of you may have had sins committed against you, and it takes everything within you to get through the day. Some of you have committed sins that have plunged you into the deepest regret and shame. Some of you have been sinned against and getting through the day with its burden strapped to your back is almost impossible.

It’s the same for me.

I’ve lost relationships, missed opportunities, and inflicted wounds – all due to things said and left unsaid, things done and left undone. And I have to live with that. I can perfect my behavior, offer apologies, and make amends until the cows come home, and none of that – however honest, sincere and well intentioned – might ever heal the wounds I’ve inflicted or repair the damage I’ve caused. The fallout of my choices is something that I walk through by grace.

Like all of us, I am, at once, a sinner – someone who’s forever missing the mark, and a saint – someone who’s saved by grace in spite of myself. Even though I stumble and fall, I rise. I will fall again, and I will rise again. Each time, the motion becomes more and more fluid and innate, because sin no longer has the power to keep any of us flat on the ground forever.

Perhaps, then, we need to go a little easier on ourselves and learn to accept our humanity – not as an excuse to bruise and batter others through selfishness, but to free ourselves from the pressure of perfectionism. That’s a fool’s false god.

As author Brene Brown writes, “Imperfections are not inadequacies. They’re reminders that we’re all in this together.”

Only in our vulnerable, flawed, human state can we experience what it is to be in awe of God, saved by grace, forgiven and healed by love. And it’s best when we do this together.

So, if you’ve stumbled, don’t despair.

If you’ve fallen, don’t wallow in grief.

If you’ve wandered off the path, don’t thrash around like a fish out of water.

Reach out. Help is available. You will rise again. And again. And again. No matter how pitch black the darkness feels.

Darkness is especially scary if you’ve fallen or are somehow incapacitated.

But just as God’s love gets us back on our feet and reorients us onto the firm footing of God’s track, God’s love in Jesus also lights our way forward. Christ’s light is gift of grace that establishes and re-establishes connection. Just as it is possible to live as both sinner and saint, it is possible to live both in the dark and in the light.

Some seasons are like bright sunny days. Everything is clear, light and easy. The way forward is obvious; the journey is a joy, and the burdens are light.

Then there are seasons that feel like the darkest of nights. Nothing is clear; the trek is a slog, and the loads are many and heavy.

At the end of the day – some of which seem longer than others, the sun shines and the rain pours on us all regardless of where we’re at. The point isn’t to stop the darkness, or the storms. It’s to learn to live by faith no matter what’s raging around you.

“When I sit in darkness,” Micah says. “The Lord will be a light to me.”

It will be a while before light destroys darkness for good. But as much for Micah as for us, as he and we sit in the darkness of sin, or situation, there indeed is supernatural light burrowing into that place. None of us needs to wait for the sun to rise, or for things to clear up, in order for light to shine into our dark place. God is light. And no matter what darkness envelopes you, God’s love illuminates any situation.

If you stumbled and fallen, if you’re lost in the dark, if you’re on the wrong path, you will rise, because there is a light that still shines.

Hear, now, Jesus calling:

Don’t be so hard on yourself. I can bring good even out of your mistakes. Your finite mind tends to look backward, longing to undo decisions you have come to regret. This is a waste of time and energy, leading only to frustration. Instead of floundering in the past, release your mistakes to Me. Look to Me in trust, anticipating that My infinite creativity can weave both good choices and bad into a lovely design.

Because you are human, you will continue to make mistakes. Thinking that you should live an error-free life is symptomatic of pride. Your failures can be a source of blessing, humbling you and giving you empathy for other people in their weaknesses. Best of all, failure highlights your dependence on Me. I am able to bring beauty out of the morass of your mistakes. Trust Me, and watch to see what I will do. (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, p. 136)

May it be so – for you, for me, and for all God’s people.

Amen, and amen!

Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message during worship on Sunday, May 9, 2021.

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