“Plans to Give You Hope And A Future: Home”
Jeremiah 26 (excerpts)
July 24, 2016
**May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.**
When I was a kid and would spend the night at friend’s houses, I would get sooo homesick. I had to be bussed home from summer camp once with the naughty kids because I was so pitiful I made the counselors and other campers miserable. My mantra was always “I want to go home!” I would rock back and forth in my bunk or sleeping bag, clutching my teddy bear and waiting desperately for my mother to come get me. And, bless her heart, she always did. Except for that time on the bus. They didn’t want to wait around on her to get rid of me.
As a grown up, I still find myself, in times of real stress and strife, thinking, and sometimes blurting “I want to go home.” Sometimes I feel like that even when I am sitting in my very own home. My house. The one where I live, with the pink door and grumpy dog and questionable sanitary condition. It doesn’t get any more “home” than that! When I was thirty-something I had an epiphany, which my then-therapist poo-pooed…”home” wasn’t my house, I proclaimed, or even my momma’s house…”home” was with God. As in “this world is not my home.” As in, “I don’t want to be here, now, in this place, on this planet, in this universe. There’s something better waiting for me and I’m ready to get there. Now.”
And sometimes I still think that. But I’m trying to change my way of thinking. Let me tell you a little story about “home.”
So, it’s around 600 years before the birth of Christ, and things aren’t looking good for the citizens of Jerusalem. They’ve fallen back into their old ways and the Babylonians are gunning to take the city as part of their empire-building plan to take over the eastern world. It wasn’t a surprise attack: the King of Babylon had told the people of Judea that they were coming for them. But they didn’t believe it. You see, the Jews had been taking it for granted that their God would surely save them. After all, He had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt, hadn’t He? They were the chosen people, right?
So they didn’t listen to the rumblings and threats from Babylon.
And they didn’t listen when a man named Jeremiah told them what exactly was in store for them.
You see, Jeremiah was a prophet. A real live, talk-to-God, everybody thinks you’re nuts, prophet. The trouble was, the message Jeremiah had to deliver from God to the Jews was not exactly happy news. In fact, it was pretty terrible news. God told Jeremiah to tell the Jews that He was mad. He was really, really mad. When God gets mad, we know what happens, right? God’s message was that as punishment for turning away from him the Jews were going to be conquered by Babylon, and it was not going to be pretty. And so Jeremiah told the people exactly what God had in store for them. They didn’t believe him. The more he talked, the more upset the Jews became. They decided to find their own prophets, and for the right price folks from all over were happy to tell the leaders that Jeremiah was most certainly wrong! Everything was going to be fine! So, when the Babylonians did take over the city and take their leaders and craftsmen captive…they were somehow very surprised. But they shouldn’t have been. It was the ultimate “I told you so” moment for Jeremiah.
But guess what? Jeremiah’s job wasn’t over. The captives, still under the influence of those false prophets, continued to believe that they would get to go home very soon. And Jeremiah had the dubious honor of breaking still more bad news to them—they had better get comfortable, because they weren’t going to go home for a very long time.
“How long?” they asked. Seventy years. That’s what Jeremiah said in a letter to the elders who were living in Babylon and ready to pack their bags and split. This is what he wrote:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper….When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’
Jeremiah is not telling people to hunker down and wait this punishment out, peeking out of their hidey holes and putting their lives on hold while waiting to be rescued. He’s not telling them to lay around feeling sorry for themselves. He is telling the people to settle in, build houses, have children and pray. He tells them that if they stay faithful to him throughout their time of exile, he will bring them back to Israel. God’s promise to bring his people back to the Holy Land is real.
Jeremiah was telling the people of Israel about God’s promise and they really needed to hear that message of hope for the future. Do you know who else needs to hear about God’s plan for the future? We do. Today. Here. Right now, the people of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge Louisiana and Nice, France and Damascus, Syria need to hear that message. WE ARE THE EXILES. We have been sent to this Earth to live out our own seventy-year sentences in a world full of hurt and hate and doubt and darkness. We feel like we have been banished and we don’t know when we’re going to get to go home or how we’re going to get there. We have wandered so far away from God that we can’t even hear his voice anymore. Whether it’s the jobs we do, the people we spend time with, the media that bombards us, our poverty or our illness, our shame or our guilt, we are so wrapped up with the thought that we’re being punished that somewhere along the line we stopped listening. We need to hear that God is in control and that he has a plan. And in fact we do hear it often— that phrase has been cross stitched on pillows and doodled in prayer journals across ages. But here’s the kicker—that plan may not be about wealth or success or even happiness as we think we know it. That plan isn’t even really about going forward toward something. God’s plan is for us to go back; back to that place where we were so close to God that we could feel His presence. We are not promised something new. We are promised the restoration of something we lost. God’s plan is for us to come back to God in faithful love, to trust Him, to pray to Him and to draw near to Him in love and worship. The relationship we had with God, which was so perfect in the beginning but which we have ruined with sin and selfishness, can be restored and brought back to life. We can leave the land of sin and evil and go with God to a land of goodness and joy. This is the promise, the blessing…everlasting life with a father who is faithful to His people. But he asks for faithfulness in return.
I ask God, every day, to show me His plan. But I don’t stop to listen to his answer. I’m too busy looking for a job, looking for a husband, looking for a pair of shoes that will make me whole. My plan is to find a plan and I still don’t have a plan. And that makes me crazy and that makes me sad and that makes me cry out “Work with me, God! I’m spinning my wheels here. I’m going and going and going and I’m not getting anywhere…and I’m certainly nowhere near home.” And that’s where I stay most of the time, on this treadmill of fear and shame and doubt that’s turned up way too fast. But every once in a while, when I slow down and shut up just long enough to hear my own heartbeat, God whispers to me…”Hush. Shhhh. You are going in the wrong direction, darlin’. You have to go way back before you can move forward. You have to come back to me. And you are already home.”
So, I’m going to do my life sentence here on Earth, my seventy years in exile. I’m going to plant a garden (someday) and work in my community and create a beautiful family out of the people in this very room. But instead of going forward in fear and waiting to be taken to some distant, future, “home,” I will go backward in joy. My future, my plan, my home, is about reconnecting with the God who created me, who knew me in the womb and claimed me and named me and made me His own. I will seek God with all my heart and He will carry me back to Him. I will call upon God, and He will listen to me. I will cry to God, and He will comfort me. I will praise God and He will lift me up. I will honor God, and he will take me home.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. May the peace of Christ be with you.