+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Jeremiah 29:4-7
Theme: Hope For The Exiles
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Complacency is a child of prosperity. When things come too easily we often cease to strive. We lose motivation. How do societies and individuals avoid becoming victims of their own affluence? History is littered with failures. Complacency is also a cause of spiritual decay. When the blessings of God are taken for granted it's a sign that faith is resting on its laurels. The jolt back to reality can be sobering. The stubborn will is not easily broken. Jeremiah addressed just such children of complacency today. Their world was about to be shattered.
God's advice to the exiles may seem strange at first. “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Mary and have sons and daughters…”1In other words, “Make yourselves at home. You’re going to be there for a long time.” Jeremiah encouraged the exiles to accept the reality of their situation. It was God’s will that they be put through this crucible. It was necessary to refine and refocus them. Their understanding of what it meant to be God’s people was almost lost. Jeremiah was trying desperately to make sure that not all ties were severed.
The Israelites considered themselves to be victims. In reality, their association with idolatry was closer than their relationship with Yahweh, the true and living God. It's a critical lesson for the spiritually complacent. Dear friends, your association with sin is never just a matter of victimhood. Yes, you are a victim of the selfless transgressions of others. That is an inevitability no one can escape. People have, do, and will continue to sin against you. Yet, to be sinned against is not a cause for your condemnation. No one is ever just a victim. You are also a perpetrator. Your thoughts, your intentions, your schemes, plans and actions are not free from impurity. You, like me, are also the offender. Firstly, your offence is against God. Secondly, it is against your neighbour. The prodigal son made his confession saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”2Every sin is firstly a sin against the authority and integrity of God. Repentance involves an honest disassociation with every selfish pursuit that is contrary to the will of God.
When the reality of the exile hit home the Israelites were seized with fear? Causes of fear are different for everyone. Some of us fear loss of wealth or reputation. Others fear declining health. Some fear the future their children or grandchildren may face. Some fear loneliness or inadequacy. How many fear losing the true knowledge and mercy of God? How many fear God Himself? The most common fear is death. It's not easy to reassure even Christians that God has it in hand. The Holy Spirit must convince the heart. Like the two men who were unexpectedly marooned on small, remote island when their adventure tour went amiss. One man paced back and forth like he thought it was the last day of his life, while the other man relaxed and appeared unconcerned. The first man said to the second man, “Aren’t you afraid? We are soon going to die.” “No,” said the second man, “I made a $100,000.00 commitment to our church building fund. But it’s not in the will. My pastor will find me.”
But certainly the most universal human fear is mortality. Life is fragile. Death can strike suddenly. What happens then? What happens for the believer is Christ. The Scripture says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy Him who holds the power of death- that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”3
God promised the Israelites, languishing in Babylon, they would be restored to their home in 70 years. How distant the promise must have seemed! In seventy years an entire generation would be lost…and then some! Those taken into Babylon in their youth were unlikely to ever return to their native land. Their culture and identity were at stake. Their lament is recorded in the Psalms, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”4 Yet, God had not forsaken His people. They were just experiencing mandatory interim separation from the only security they understood. But it would seem to them like it was a permanent reality. They needed to come out the other side as changed people.
So, they were told to make the best of their situation. We might wonder if any of them saw the fabled hanging gardens of Babylon during their exile there? It would have given them little comfort. Their God was in Zion. But He was not limited to that place. God had not moved; they had, though they didn’t understand it as their conscious choice. Still, they were His witnesses to a foreign people in a foreign land.
It's an important role God's people still play. The Christian church makes intercession also for the needs of the unbelieving world. It does this not only through the private prayers of members but also in its public worship. Paul instructed Timothy saying, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- for kings and all those in authority, that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”5When we gather in this sacred assembly we are served by God to the end that our capacity to serve others might be nurtured. We’re here for the bigger picture or we’re here for the wrong reasons.
The idea that human society in this fallen world is a permanent establishment cannot be reconciled with the biblical promise of the coming destruction and restoration. Christianity is not finally concerned with just mitigating the great threats to human hope and happiness. There is no truce with the chaos and corruption wreaked by sin. There is no negotiation with the power of death. There is no compromise with the kingdom of Satan. We should hold no false assumptions about managing to eke out an existence in this fallen creation in perpetuity.
We are pilgrims. We are transients. We have no permanent home here. Foreigners now, we will be indigenous in the world to come. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”6 Mortality will be swallowed up by Life. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Jesus is not the means to an end. He is not the ticket to an afterlife of self-directed indulgence. He is the destination. He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
In the future we may feel much more exiled from our culture than we do now. It will challenge our faith and test our resolve. But we are never without hope. The promise is never distant from us. Christ has come to us in the flesh. He is Immanuel. We are His baptized. He went to the cross to tone for our sins. He rose from death to give us life. He welcomes us to His banquet of forgiveness. We are not complacent; we are content in His promises. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
9 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Jeremiah 29:5-6
2 Luke 15:21
3 Hebrews 2:14-15
4 Psalm 137:1-4
5 1 Timothy 2:1-2
6 2 Corinthians 5:1