Saturday, September 25, 2010

Making Yourself at Home Jeremiah 29:4-7

Many of you know that I have a rather large collection of elephants. They come from across the globe and are made of things ranging from volcanic rock from Indonesia to water buffalo tusk from India, from Delftware china from Holland to rough hewn jade bought in the streets of Bangkok. I bought the first of the lot in the mountains of Northern Thailand where elephants still call home. In Thailand these mighty and majestic beasts once served as the military mounts to royalty, beasts of burden for those harvesting wood in the jungles, and served as the symbol of the Siam. Now you are more likely to find the elephant used for jungle treks for tourist or in elephant parts were they are trained to play soccer or do demonstrations of might for interested audiences. One afternoon I had the opportunity to talk to an elephant handler who had brought his team to Southern Thailand. I look with amazement as I noticed what contained them was not massive mobile stables or portable steel fencing. Instead, these huge and powerful beasts were six to eight feet lengths of well worn-seemingly semi rotten- rope tied to one back leg of the elephant on one end and secured to a ten inch wooden stake driven part way into the ground on the other. I thought that with a tug of the leg the rope would snap or the wooden stake would pop from the earth. So I ask the handler why the elephants did not simply walk away. He explained that when an elephant is young it a heavy chain is tied to its leg and a secured to a steel stake driven deep in the earth. For a while the young elephant will struggle and fight, trying to break free. After a while it would quit trying; not just for the day but for a life time. As hard as it is to image, for huge elephant in front of me - a veritable bulldozer with four legs - the memory the so real for him that the feel of the old rope on his leg was enough to stop him from going anywhere. The powerful and majesty beast is more tethered to its memory than to the rope.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah found the people living in exile in Babylon stuck. They longed to be back in Jerusalem. Their shared memories so tethered them to another place and another time that they were missing living life where they were. They waited, they wondered, and they dreamed of another place and another way of life, and in the process they found themselves stuck. While their bodies may have been captive in Babylon, they had allowed the heart and mind to be held captive by the power of their memory and their future hope and dreams. So of us can relate to how they must have felt. We find ourselves stuck, not able to go forward and knowing there is no way to go back. We fight and fight and fight and grow weary. After a while there is no more energy left to fight so we wake up every day and go through the motions, waiting for something to happen; for something to change. God’s word through Jeremiah to the exiles were life changing for them and can be life changing for us as well.

His first words to them are that you are where you are on purpose. It was easy for the Jewish exiles to blame the Babylonians for their difficult place in life. It is always easier to blame someone else. But Jeremiah tells them that God had carried them from Jerusalem to Babylon in exile. This was not a mistake of history or a tragic series of unintended consequences. God’s hand had brought them there. While the place where they found themselves was difficult, it was time to find new hope. God was ready to move in the lives. God is ready to move forward in your life.

Next Jeremiah tells them to invest themselves into community where God had placed them. The prophet tells them to quit waiting on life, but to settle down, to make themselves at home where they were. The images he uses are those everyday living kind of things; build a house, plant a garden, get married, and let your kids get married. He told them to make the kind of life where they could prosper – to find life and joy – where they were. This word was countercultural then, and is equally countercultural now. There were plenty of voices telling them to wait until they were back in Jerusalem to begin family; that the life they wanted and planned for was just around the corner. In verses 8 and 9 we hear God tell the people’ 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them," declares the LORD. In other words; ignore the people that are telling you what you want to hear just because they think you will like it, they are lying to you. God wanted them to realize that their hope is not found in another place, it is found in living out their lives faithfully as the people of God wherever they were. They did not have to be in Jerusalem to be the people of God. Their hope was not to be locational but relational; their future would not be born not at the Temple but in trust. God was ready to move through their witness right where they were.

It is so tempting to wait on whole heartedly investing ourselves until things are like we want them to be. For some there is a memory of a golden moment, and ideal era, when life was good and the memory tethers them from living in the now. Others of us have constructed an image of the perfect family, the perfect home, the perfect church, the perfect life and find themselves tethered to a future hope. The word from God is to quit waiting, to settle down, to wholeheartedly invest yourself, to make yourself at home where you are right now. God stands ready to be a part of your life story, no waiting, no wondering, right now.

Another word Jeremiah brought the exiles to invest themselves into the people among whom God has placed them. Jeremiah told them to seek peace and prosperity for the city and to pray for the city. Jeremiah wanted them to remember and live out their lives as the people of God in the midst of the city and as a witness to all they encountered. He wanted the exiles to understand that were a people with a unique story – a story shaped by the hand of God. Their investment in the lives of the people and their prayers for the city would bring a witness of God’s power, God’s peace, and a prosperity that was more than silver and gold – prosperity of a life with God. They did not have to wait for some future with God in Jerusalem. It was time for them to break away from the memories and future dreams that held them back and live their lives boldly as the people of God.

We too are people of the story. Earlier in our worship service we celebrated a time at the table. We remembered that we are the people of the incarnation; the people of “God is with us.” We remembered that we are the people of body, celebrating the work and the teaching of Christ. We remembered that we are the people of the shed blood, forever shaped by the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of sin. We celebrated that we are the people of the resurrection; that place where the cross gives way to the empty tomb; where judgment gives way to grace; and where death gives way to life - real life now and life with God for eternity. But celebration of the story is not enough. It is supposed to come to alive in us and through us. We are the living witness of the story – the people transformed by the cross and resurrection – a people living in its redeeming power and witnesses this grand act of God. Our city sees people consumed by their own wants and own needs every day. Our city sees people who are willing to exploit, even destroy, others for their own benefit every day. Our city sees people who are willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead every day. Our city cries for the people of God to tangibly live out their lives our faith in their midst, to give them a glimpse into God’s way. We are called to invest ourselves into the people around us that they might find the peace that God intends for them and prosperity of a life in God. God stands ready to work in our witness to impact those around us.

We also hear from this Old Testament prophet that we are called to pray for our city. Many of you know that I spend most of last week in Texas for a conference and a seemingly endless series of meetings. It was fun to tell people how much I loved Oklahoma City and what a great place it is to live in. But, as I prepared for this message I had to ask myself how often I prayed for our city. We are easily drawn to prayer for people we know and love, but Jeremiah instructs the exiles – and by extension all those gathered in this room – to pray for the city where they now live. He tells them, and us, that our wellbeing is tied to the wellbeing of all who call the city home. How might we act differently, serve differently, care differently, pray differently, if we truly believed that our wellbeing was tied to our city’s? What if we understood that our presence is supposed to make a difference in the halls of power and at the table of the poor? What if we understood that our prayers were critical in how God moved in our city? This is exactly what Jeremiah pled for the exiles to understand and what we must claim in this moment. God stands ready to work through our prayers to change the life of our city.

What is keeping you tethered to the unsatisfying place where you are in life? Is the power of memory that holds you captive? Is it the waiting for what might be just around the corner? Is it the hesitation to fully engage waiting for some future idealized perfect situation? Though our relationship with God we have the power to move forward. No more excuses. Hear God’s word for you. 11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD. Seize the life that God has for you now and let others be transformed by your witness and your prayers.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Wonderful job Pastor Tom! Thanks for this great message!