By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
May 17, 2020
Video of whole service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/300383750971796/
Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11-14
This scripture is one of my favorites… and speaking of this scripture, I have a confession to make. It’s been a super busy week, and sometimes, during super busy weeks, it gets to be like Wednesday, and I think, “Yikes, I haven’t picked a scripture yet!” So sometimes, I pick one a bit hastily. You might say haphazardly. Or, if we want to reframe it: I just let the Spirit move me.
This week, my thought process went like this: “Okay, graduation…graduation…graduation… Surely you know the plans I have for you! Jeremiah 29:11! Perfect!” Upon a little further thought, I remembered that this is the scripture I preached on when I was leaving Omaha to head off to seminary in New Jersey. So it’s a good commencement scripture – a good scripture for starting new adventures.
So, Wednesday night, at 10:30 PM, I settled in to look at this scripture I had selected. I always read the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary to make sure I am understanding what it says, and I always check the context of the scripture. I know these words were written in a particular situation. What was that situation?
Imagine my surprise when I found out that these words were written in a really bad time for God’s people. See, these words were written to the Judeans when they were living in exile. Here’s what had happened: the place they lived, the promised land, had been invaded by the Babylonians. People had been killed. Their holy city Jerusalem – along with its glorious temple – was destroyed.…and they were taken prisoner and deported to Babylon. This was a disaster for them. They were in mourning. They were away from their homes and all their familiar places. Especially, they were exiled from their temple – the place they really wanted to be so they could worship God there.
When I picked this scripture, I wanted it to be about God having good plans for us even though we are in a pandemic and that these plans were going to happen lickety-split. Unfortunately, when you actually read the whole chapter of Jeremiah 29, you find out: that ain’t what’s happening here. Right, before this text of promise, there’s a text of “hold your horses.” It’s a text that says, “not so fast, people” or as my Dad used to put it so colorfully, “You can’t rush the cattle in the heat of the day.” Now, we were never farmers, but I think that means something like this: the time is not right to rush things along. We should be waiting, going slow, taking our time.
Right before this promise of a future with hope, Jeremiah writes this to the Judeans. He tells them: settle in to Babylon. You’re not going to be back for quite some time. He writes, starting at verse 4:
“4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.
10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
Sorry, graduates. I thought I was picking a text that said, “God is going to make it so you can get out there and do what you want – when and where you want it – right now.” Instead, I picked a scripture that said you’re going to have to wait. A long time. Sorry.
But not sorry. This scripture does not say we should sit around and feel bad about the current state of the world. Yes, we are in our own version of exile. We are living in a reality that we would not choose to be living in: social distancing, away from church, away from our friends, away from our extended family. But does God say just sit around and feel sorry for yourself in this scripture? No!
God says get on with living right here in exile. God says build a life here. God says go ahead and plant a garden. God says go ahead and get married and have children. God says: you can create a world of shalom – of peace and prosperity – even in exile. Even now, when the coronavirus has made things very much unlike we would want them to be, we can still prosper. We can still support and love one another. We can still take care of the most vulnerable. We can still plant a garden. We can still get married and have babies – we’ve literally been doing that in our community, right? The garden part and the baby part anyway, and we’ve got a wedding (albeit smaller than originally planned) this summer.
None of it is quite in the way that we would want. Yet the peace and love and presence of God we experience is real – even when we are in exile. Graduates – your first year of college might not be what you want it to be. You might be taking classes online. You might not have the dorm experience you were hoping for. But you can still have peace and joy and goodness even though you are in exile. I know. It sucks not to have things be what we want right now. It sucks to have big plans and have them interrupted. I hate that for you. I really do. I hate it for all of us: all this disappointment. I want the world to be magically healed, too.
But this reading from Jeremiah says, “hold your horses.” This is the time for a pause. It’s a time to take just the next step forward. It’s a time for you and for us: to plan and vision and imagine for the future. It’s a time to develop unrivaled skills of flexibility and resilience. It’s a time to heal from our losses and heartaches. It’s also a time to respond to the possibility of God that is new every morning – to embrace the possibility of peace and prosperity even now – right in the midst of our current reality.
That is true. This is also true: right now is not the end of the story. There is a promise here. There is a promise that if we are patient, and if we seek peace and prosperity and growth even living in this coronavirus exile, that the day of restoration will arrive. We will see the future God desires for us. (I’m gonna say out loud that we pray it won’t take 70 years in our version of this story. Can I get an Amen up in here?)
I am quite sure it will be much shorter than that…
Surely, the day is coming!
Starting at verse 11…
11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope… When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
The day is coming.
It will be worth the wait.
Thanks be to God.