You can pick your friends, but not your relatives.
My family has perfected the art of teasing and taunting to a fine degree. Even today when we get together, we rehearse inside jokes, dumb things said long ago, and various humiliations—all to rounds of laughter. But nothing mean-spirited. We are after all, a family. We know our own eccentricities, and accept them, but we never hold each other up to the ridicule of outsiders.
You can laugh at your family, but remember, you came from it.
You can criticize your school, but you graduated from it.
You can complain about your town, but you live in it.
And here’s another one: You can find fault with the church, but you’re part of it.
That’s right. Even if you don’t meet anywhere. The day you believed in Jesus, you became one of His members.
Not members of an organization. Not even members of the group you meet with. Members of the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:5). We often attempt to atomize the church into tiny component parts and denominations, so as to deny involvement with anyone else’s embarrassing behavior.
“There’s the visible aspect of the church and the invisible,” we say. True. But even those who are involved with the deeply profound invisible aspect of the church at the spiritual life level, can get in trouble, too.
We’re stuck. There’s no “better” body of Christ to join.
This makes it hard, because humiliation by association can be a bitter pill to swallow. One writer said the church at large is true family, and in every family, there’s a weird uncle. We’re just going to have to deal with it. Besides, maybe you’re the weird uncle.
Jeremiah dealt with this problem as he warned his nation about God’s wrath. They didn’t listen. Israel was God’s people, no doubt, but they were overrun with dysfunctional relatives. Then judgment came. The book following is called Lamentations, and true to the name, it’s full of grieving and sorrowful expressions.
The entire first half of the chapter, Jeremiah portrays Israel as a tragic “other,” a wife gone astray.
But in the second half of the chapter, he returns to saying “I” and “Me.” Jeremiah wasn’t personally involved in the sin of the people, yet he understood his spiritual place among them. In some sense the judgment upon the whole had fallen upon him, too.
Before God, he was both an individual, and a member, all at the same time. This sentiment comes through in his laments.
Today, would-be Jeremiah’s have done a lot of calling out, using the lingo of “they” and “them.” Church bashing has become a popular sport, especially for those who have dropped out of congregational involvement, if not the Christian life. The ammunition is fairly abundant. Examples of abuse, oppression, bullying, greed, though forbidden in Scripture, can still be found among us–easy targets for cranks and scolds.
But these “prophetic” rants never call for repentance unto edification, nor are they motivated by any particular love for God’s glory. They seem, rather, to emanate from a deep need in the “prophet” to justify personal bad decisions, or simply vent hatred.
Jeremiah, though, got it right. He knew how to add “I” and “Me” into his laments. He recognized his kinship with Israel, and accepted its burdens.
We can’t help but think of another, immeasurably greater, who fellowships with us, even when we prove strange and problematic, even as we cry under discipline.
“He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11).