First off, please read our text today, which is Lamentations 3: 37-42
These 6 verses are a humbling challenge and dose of reality more than anything else. Who are we to question God? Who are we to wonder why he does and does not do things? Who are we to defend ourselves against an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God? We are finite and He is infinite. We are broken and he is whole. We are sinners and he is perfect…and we are down here while he is up there. Once more, we are faced with the truth and reality of who God is (as we spoke of his Nature in the previous post) as well as who we are. And once more the reality of just how opposite God is of us, or we are of him, is the pill we must swallow. And yet it’s not just a pill we are to follow – there is a challenge here for us as well. But we’ll get to that.
Let us remember that at this point our observer, Jeremiah, has entered into the reality of the people of Jerusalem. That their pain and suffering is now his pain and suffering. He no longer stands outside of and watching as he now is within and experiencing. And while at first he was in the midst of suffering – he now is in the midst of understanding that suffering. It’s not that he isn’t suffering any longer it’s just that within that suffering he now has found a place of truth and understanding. That if God is high and almighty, that if God is above all and sees all, that if God is the one who creates, and allows, things to happen – then who are we to speak otherwise… ESPECIALLY when recognizing that what I am going through is because of my own sin?! And so these first 3 verses really are/is this declaration that then flows into 3 more verses that encourage and call upon the people of God (and himself) to reflect on the nature of who we are, the sins we have committed, and then turn to the God of forgiveness and SEEK His forgiveness.
While in college we seemed to frequently have traveling street-preachers that would come through town and park their “information” in the middle of our campus. They’d come with their overly-large signs declaring, “Repent!” or texts like John 3:16 and other various quick snippets of scripture as well as either a megaphone or amplifier and microphone. And I know I shouldn’t generalize all campus street-preachers (and even those in my own city now) but it seems like they all worked with the same idea – and one that is similar to our text here. Their goal was to turn people to God. And so either by fear, or condemnation, or even anger, they yelled, called out, quoted scripture, and hurled “sinner” at all passersby. And I’ll be honest, while I never engaged with them, I did find it amusing to watch. Did this style of missionary work really do anything? Did they ever convict someone to the point of conversion? Is this really an effective form of ministry? I had lots of questions – but never would I ask them (I was too afraid).
I wonder if that’s a snippet of what Jeremiah is doing. And while we can wonder and ponder that question there is a glaring difference between the street-preachers I see and what Jeremiah is doing here. Jeremiah isn’t just declaring others sin – he’s declaring his own too.
All the traveling, megaphone blasting, amplified street-preachers that I have come in contact with are quick to declare YOUR sins and that YOU need to repent but never do they declare their own as well. It’s all about YOU and not about me. It’s all about how broken YOU are and how you need Jesus and never about how devastatingly broken I am, my need for Jesus, and that WE need him together. And yet while it is true that you are completely broken (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:23), me declaring those words and that truth is not helpful. Nobody is going to listen and engage with me if all I do is point at them. So Jeremiah’s invitation for “us” to examine our ways and “us” to return to God, and for “us” to lift up our hearts and hands, and for “us” to declare that “we have sinned and rebelled” is, well, powerful. Many times we come from a place of division and yet our text is challenging us to come from a place of unity, a place of honesty and truth, and a place of self-reflection and togetherness.
I think part of the struggle many non-believers have is that religious people can have a “holier than thou” attitude. That while we declare the grace of God, the redeeming work of Christ, and the constant working of the Holy Spirit, for whatever the reason, we now have placed ourselves in this righteous indignation position. As if once we became a believer all our sins ceased to exist. But it doesn’t work that way. A saved sinner is still a sinner. And I think we could argue that a saved sinner is in a different position in that THEY KNOW they are broken – so they must RECOGNIZE their own brokenness. That just because you declare the work of God it doesn’t give you a free pass on judgment, condemnation, and righteous indignation. It’s why the words from Mathew 7:3-5 are so strong. We must check ourselves before we seek to help others.
But what I find so challenging in these 6 verses is the “inclusion” that Jeremiah speaks of. That while he may be on the street corner blasting out the saving grace of God, his “repent!” call is of the “we” and “us” nature. It’s not YOU do this and YOU do this…it’s WE are broken, WE need to be saved, so let US turn to God with open hands and seek his forgiveness. Once more I’m reminded that the gospel, while powerful on it’s on and doesn’t need me to spread it, it sure does lead to better, and easier, conversations when I acknowledge “us.” Bridges cannot be crossed if I’m unwilling to actually walk to you. And nobody wants to be preached AT. We need to be preached TO. And that only happens when I see you while seeing me. That only happens when I offer to you the acknowledgement and condemnation of my own brokenness. Once more Jeremiah reminds us of what it means to walk alongside someone and enter into their space – and that when that happens we allow life to be shared, walks to be had, life to be done, and hope to be heard.
It’s the difference between sympathy and empathy – right? We can walk with someone and want to call out their brokenness, or even their disjointed view on God or faith or Christ or even life itself… but unless we spend time with them, sharing with them where we’ve been, the journey we’ve been on, and the place we are now in – they aren’t going to listen. They have no reason to as I haven’t shared with them MY sin and what I have come to realize. And Lord knows that I have failed to be inclusive and enter into someone else’s space enough times to know that I am not better than you. That WE are broken and WE need forgiveness. And that when I share me, with you, then you are more willing to listen to the hope I have.
I remember growing up listening to preachers as a kid and my feeling was that they were always perfect. I remember hearing their sermons and I cannot recall them ever saying “we” or “us” or including them with me. Or when they did try to speak TO me their examples of sin and brokenness in their own lives never really compared (I know, I know, we should never compare sins – but we all do). They seemed to point down to me instead of leveling us up together (there simply was no common ground or shared understanding and space). There was a feeling that while I could ask the minister about certain biblical truths or concepts but if I wanted to talk specifically about a sin or a feeling or a struggle – they wouldn’t understand. I mean how could they? Their sin was NOTHING compared to mine. Right? And it was this thinking that kept me wondering about ever becoming a minister – even while I was in Seminary! Ministers were supposed to be “holier than thou” and I am clearly not. I even remember in Seminary being told that preachers should really not share too much personal info from the pulpit as it opens them up to scrutiny and possible problems later on. And for me, being someone who is relational and too honest at times, this was a struggle. How COULD I challenge people if I wasn’t going to share my personal challenges? How could I challenge people and point out sins if I wasn’t going to share mine first? But it was this topic, and truth, that finally CALLED me into becoming a pastor of a church. I finally realized that people didn’t want a holier-than-thou minister of old. They wanted a broken preacher who understood the gospel and saving grace of God and yet fully understood, and was willing to share, their own struggles, mistakes, and brokenness. That they weren’t going to preach at but that they would preached to.
So what does all this mean? Well, these 6 verses should challenge you and I to truly enter into life with people. That if you are going to want them to recognize the saving grace of God then you must be willing to share God’s impact in your own life – and all areas of it should be open to discussion! So if God’s work turned out to be dirty and messy then share that. That’s how relationships work. It’s not about hiding who you were but declaring who you now are…EVEN understanding that you STILL are not where you hope to be. That sin STILL runs deep. That if you’re challenging someone to examine their own ways you must let them know that you’ve fully examined your own – and while not perfect – by God’s grace you will eventually be. And once more, let us not forget that Christ entered into OUR messiness too. That while he was without sin he entered into our sin so that we could be saved. That he didn’t preach at people but he walked with them, shared with them, encouraged them, and gave them hope.
So who are we to defend ourselves against an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God (as asked at the beginning)? Well, we ARE finite and He IS infinite. We ARE broken and he IS whole. We ARE sinners and he IS perfect and we ARE down here while he IS up there. But by the love of God, the work of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit we are MADE whole, in the process of eventual holy-perfection, and brought UP to him after he came DOWN to us. It’s a process, and one that takes a whole lifetime to get to, but by God’s grace we are and will eventually be.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- Verse 40 is a huge text as it declares that when we examine ourselves, when we test our intentions and internal-ness, that we will find that we are FAR from God. That that “and let us return to the Lord” is a statement that no matter who we are or where we are…we aren’t where we should be with God. That’s a humbling reality. That no matter how good we think we are we simply are not. Why do you think new believers feel that that is the process they SHOULD get to – that once they become a Christian it’s all beautiful sailing from here! Is it the image we are conveying? Is it a lie we are continuing to share? Or is it just that we aren’t NOT dispelling it?
- How about you and how you have ministered to others? Was it just a straight-up “sharing” of the Gospel or did you come along side, share with them by sharing YOUR story, and then built a relationship from there? Which way is easier?