Tell Me Again How Much You Care - As Seen on Sunday
Lord, you are good and your mercy and grace endures forever
We are needy. We need your mercy and your grace.
We are greedy. We keep your mercy and grace to ourselves.
Forgive us in our greed as much as you give to us in our need.
When it doesn't matter anymore
Another name for Lamentations is "The Wailings."
Immediately the image of a desperately broken person comes to mind. Her red cheeks are water- logged with tears as a snot river flows from her nose. Every muscle in her neck is tight and sore from the involuntary clenching that comes with prolonged guttural moans.
She doesn't care who is watching. This is not a time for prim and proper posturing. This is a time of severe devastation and mourning and it doesn't matter if her makeup is running or her hair is frazzled.
It just does not matter.
Because reality stands in stark opposition to the way things ought to be.
Instead of living the blessed life in the land of milk and honey, the Israelites experienced:
- The destruction of any political or religious order
- Famine that led to cannibalism
- Families ripped apart via slave trade
This reality was 180 degrees away from the vision that God gave them when they left Egypt.
Because of their sin they had nothing left to do but weep and wail. It no longer mattered who was looking. This was not a time for keeping up appearances. The appearances had been shattered.
Jeremiah the Innocent
For hundreds of years, Israel repeatedly lived a lifestyle that continually broke their covenant relationship with God. They slowly became sinners who no longer cared that they were sinning.
Comfort will do that to you because comfort gets boring after while.
God's gift to the people was a group of prophets who warned the people to repent and return to God. They were announcers of grace and justice.
They announced grace by proclaiming God's forgiveness to those who repented. They announced justice by reminding the people that God's grace will not be forever abused.
A faithful God must always keep his promises or he fails to be considered faithful.
Jeremiah was one of these prophets. If a person could be innocent and immune to the punishment brought upon a people, then Jeremiah would have certainly fit the description. He was a faithful servant of God and he was faithful to his calling. He repeatedly begged his countrymen to repent and turn back to God only to be continuously rebuffed.
Yet when the city of Jerusalem fell he was not spared. He lived through the pain and agony with his people. He wept both with and for the suffering city of people.
If he was anything like many modern American Christians he would have probably acted differently.
A Modern Response to Suffering
The sad reality is that many modern American Christians react like foolish children when their countrymen experience pain and oppression.
I have witnessed too many professing Christians proclaim that "they got what they deserved" and "it serves them right." And sure a snooty ego can tempt you to look at the hardships of others and find comfort in the fact that "at least it's not me."
If anyone had the right to say "I told you so" it was Jeremiah. He owned the moral high ground of being obedient to God while others sinned away in whoring themselves to other idols.
Jeremiah could have easily sat on the hill and looked at the burning city and said, "they got what they deserved" just like the many multitudes of Christians do today.
Instead, he penned words like this:
He wept with the people and he felt their pain. He felt his pain! He was, after all, living this new altered reality. The world he saw around him made him physically ill.
There was no time to pass judgment on people, there was only time to lament and wail and find a way to get through it all.
What is our response?
Americans love causes. We love to rally around them or point out how inferior they are to our enlightened way of living.
I want to address both of these attitudes.
First, we will attend to those who love sitting on their mountain top and proclaiming superiority over those who are oppressed and suffering. Then we will look at the who rally around causes but may have hidden personal agendas lurking in their motives.
High-Horse Christians that look down upon the weak, oppressed, and sinful must have forgotten their pre-Christ broken state. There was a time when sin kept all Christians in oppressive bondage.
If not for Jesus' mercy the bonds of sin would remain and grow stronger. Yet Jesus and his church brought compassion, hope, and the saving Gospel. Yet, some Christians forget this. They have morphed the grace of Jesus into a religion of self-righteousness. Sure, they proclaim the reality of sin - and they are not wrong by calling a sin what it is. But, as is always the case, the attitude and delivery can taint the truth so that it has become undiscernable and unaccepted.
Christians who look down their nose at those oppressed and sinful may correct conclusion concerning the sinful lifestyle of others, but their own sinful attitude of superiority renders their message useless.
Jeremiah had every opportunity to become a mountain top Christian. He could have looked down on the suffering of his people and reigned down judgement from his "holier-than-thou" positions. Instead he suffered with the people. He empathized with them and instead of silencing them he have them a voice.
All About that Cause
The second group of people that we should discuss are those who actively align themselves with the causes of the weak and oppressed. On the surface, they act opposite of our first group who cast their judgments from their secluded mountaintops. They rally around those who are weak and oppressed but for reasons that are also not so pure.
It is easy to fall into the temptation to care for causes. The problem with defending a cause is two-fold. First, causes can de-humanize the people who are actually suffering. The weak and oppressed are robbed of their humanity and can be recognized only by their plight. A true social change will only come about when we start fighting for people instead of causes.
Second, there are those who rally around protest simply because of the benefits they receive if they win. Leading change has always been a shortcut to gaining power and often times when the oppressed get power they can abuse it (For a real world example look at the history of our American political system).
Jesus offers freedom from oppression, but not as a gateway to powerful positions. He taught of constantly loving and serving others, debasing ourselves, and aligning ourselves with people.
The Messiah was never about the cause of the Pharisees or Sadducees. He wasn't about the cause of the Zealots. He wasn't about the cause of the Romans. He was about Nicodemus. He was about Malchus and his ear. He was about Zaccheus the tax collector.
Fighting for causes can make us lose sight of the people in oppression, but it can also make us lose sight of ourselves - that we too are capable of falling into the same temptations as those who oppress us. Hurt people hurt people, after all.
The EC Challenge
Leave here and talk to a person. Get to know their name and their story. Come down from your mountain and listen to the plight of the weak. Put down your picket sign and hear the story of the injustice. Be about a person not about a cause.