Sunday, February 5, 2012

Investing in Now.


Jeremiah 29:1-7

Feb. 5, 2012

Hope UMC

For the last 81/2 years or so I have spent at least a part of most Sunday mornings in this place, and a part of most of those mornings with most of you. I am glad for that. I enjoy being here, hearing and participating in that old old story in a familiar time and place and surrounded by folks I know and love and who know and (I think) love me. Together we say “Yes.” “Yes, this is true.” “Yes, this I believe.” “Yes, I'm going to try to embody this in my own life.” Together we say to one another “In the name of Christ, you are forgiven.” And together we go out into the world to lead our own, separate, but joined, lives. It''s a familiar routine made all the more comfortable by its familiarity.

But what happens when the familiar is no more? What happens when the rug of familiarity is jerked out from under us? What happens when we find ourselves strangers in a strange land?

We too often view the writings of the Old Testament prophets as if they were some kind of divinely inspired fortune-tellers gazing into a crystal ball and revealing either the coming exile or the coming messiah. We don't see them as writing to folks in the here and now. But that's just what Jeremiah is doing in this mornings lesson. The Babylonians have come down from the north and conquered Judah. In 587 BC they hauled the religious, political, and economic leaders of Judah back to Babylon. In spite of the way we often think, not everyone was deported—only the leaders; only those who could effectively foster a rebellion. They hauled these folks off together with their families intact. They were taken away from their temple, their friends, their homes, the graves of their ancestors, everything that was familiar and comfortable to them. Now they found themselves in a strange land, where people spoke a strange language, ate strange foods, and practiced strange customs.

Imagine how they must have felt. Psalm 137 captures their dismay. (Psa 137:1) “Beside the rivers of Babylon we thought about Jerusalem, and we sat down and cried.

(Psa 137:3) Our enemies had brought us here as their prisoners, and now they wanted us to sing and entertain them. They insulted us and shouted, "Sing about Zion!"

(Psa 137:4) Here in a foreign land, how can we sing about the LORD?” We can almost hear them saying to one another: “Who ever heard of singing prisoners?” “Why should we build anything? This isn't our home/” “Why marry, why have children in this foreign place? Why plant, or build, or make anything? Why help the people who are our enemies?” In the musical Godspell, one of the song includes the lyrics: “On the willows there, we hung up our lives.”

It was a sad and depressing time for the transplanted Israelites. Of course they hoped their captivity would be short-lived, and I'm sure there were plenty of self-appointed prophets willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear—there always are: especially in an election year.

Jeremiah was not among such prognosticators. Rather than tell them what they wanted to hear, he didn't pull any punches. “You're gonna be here for the long haul—70 years. So this is what God says,” he wrote from Jerusalem where he had been left behind. "Build houses and make yourselves at home. "Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. 6"Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you'll thrive in that country and not waste away. 7"Make yourselves at home there and work for the country's welfare.” And perhaps the craziest command of all: "Pray for Babylon's well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”

Seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Work, build, become part of the nation. Invest in a place you will never posses. 8-9 “Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel's God: "Don't let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don't pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They're a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me."

Invest in now. That's what Jeremiah says. Even if now is not the now you want it to be, invest in it anyway—build what you will never posses, give of your time, your talent, your abilities even though you'll never completely own the place. This strategy of investing in the now is as valid and important today as it was 2600 years ago.

There are some here today who have an idea of what it must have been like for the Israelites. This is not the church they grew up in. this is not the place they were married, the place they buried their loved ones, the place where their faith was formed. It may be familiar, but it isn't home. Jeremiah says to them: “build, work, invest, and pray for this community.”

There are some here who say: “I'm tired. I've done my share. 20 years I taught Sunday School! Eight years I led Vacation Bible School! I ran 27 rummage sales and only the Lord knows how many chicken dinners I cooked. “I've done my share. Jeremiah responds. “Build, work, invest, and pray for this community.

There are some who wonder what this congregation will be like come July. What will the new pastor be like? Will she want to change things? Will he each like pastor Dann? Will they want to live in the parsonage? Will they have children? Will they be active in the community? Jeremiah says: “Build, work, invest, and pray for this community.

No matter how much we may think differently, this is not our church. We do not own it. We can never own it. The church belongs to God and to God alone. Remember that. And remember, even when you are feeling like this is home, it isn't. You and I are simply enjoying a gift from the giver of all good things. All the things we think make us happy aren't really it at all. The beauty of the sanctuary? It's not God. It's good, and it is beautiful, but it's not God. The friendly familiar faces—a reflection of God, the image of God, but not God. Those decisions of which you took ownership? They are God's decisions. So if you feel your life changing, if you are feeling a new peace in your soul, if you find your faith suddenly more relevant, it isn't the sanctuary, it isn't the preacher, it isn't the music. It's the work of God through His Holy Spirit, finding you, reaching out to you, touching you, and restoring you. And that same touching, restoring, giving God has prepared this feast for us. A simple meal, and yet a banquet that defies description. The table is set. Come, share, give thanks and rejoice! AMEN.

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