November 26, 2017 – “Exiled”

Today’s text is from Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14.

Jeremiah is up against fake news. His people, the people of Israel, are in trouble. They’ve been exiled – banished, deported – from their home country to a strange and foreign land.

They find themselves in the city of Babylon. Their culture, their religion, their way of life – all of it – gone. They’re devastated, in pain, and looking for any sign that God will reverse their fortunes.

This is where the fake news enters the equation. False prophets are spreading false hope to the people. They’re telling the Israelites that in no time at all they’ll be back home in Jerusalem. That there’s no reason to worry, no need to fear, no need to put down roots in this foreign city because God is going to rescue them soon.

And this is where Jeremiah enters the equation. See, Jeremiah knows something about this exile that no one else does. Jeremiah knows that the people weren’t banished from their homeland by an enemy, or army, or hostile people. The people of Israel were sent into exile by God.

The hope of leaving anytime soon is simply untrue  – because God is requiring 70 years worth of exile in this foreign land.

70 years. That’s multiple generations. There’s no hope of leaving tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or in the next decade, or even in a lifetime.

The false prophets bringing the false hope are a dangerous virus in the midst of a weary people. It’s a deadly bug that strikes the exiled people of Israel, and us, right in the heart. It hits our memories of what used to be – for the people of Israel it was life in their own country, in their own city, with their own customs and rituals and norms. False hope was a pair of rose colored glasses that looked at the present in front of them and only dreamt of the past and not visioned for the future.

False hope would prevent them from addressing their current reality, false hope would reject the future because it was filled with unknowns and anxiety and fear, false hope longed for the past, for the what had been, for the glory days.

God hears their cries, it’s just not the answer they want. And so Jeremiah tells the people what they need to hear; the truth. That there’s no going back, there’s only going forward. That this is the hand the people have been dealt. So now what. Now what are they going to do about it?

This, so often, is life. That no matter how much we pray, cry, dream, wish, or hope – that often the disease remains, the pain won’t go away, the diagnosis won’t change, a loved one can’t come back, friends let us down, job doesn’t pay enough, can’t catch a break, the meds don’t help, the anxiety won’t go away.

In times like these it’s easy to think back to a better time, to dream of the past and wish it were the present. But Jeremiah warns the people – and us – against such false hope.

Jeremiah says this is the hand you’ve been dealt – now what? Wish for better cards or play the hand you’ve got? Hope and dream for the past to become the present? Or hope and dream for the present to become a new future?

So often we as a people look to the past and dream it were our present. But as Jeremiah asks the people of Israel, and us, what was so great about the past? The people of Israel were sent into exile because their past was less than stellar.

And we, as a people, when we hear about being made new, being made great, is it in reference to the past or the future? Is it a hope that lies in what has been or what could be?

See, hope is a powerful thing. Hope of newness, beginnings, hope built in the reality of the present. Because sometimes our present reality is bleak. Sometimes we might wish that God would snap a finger and make everything better. Sometimes a new chance, a new family, a new job, a new city, a new home seems like it would make all the difference.

But this isn’t the purpose of our faith, this isn’t the mission of our Savior. In Jesus Christ we have each been called to live in the midst of the world around us. We’ve each been called to spread the hope of new life through every aspect of our lives.

We’re each been called to create a new and hopeful future, not simply dream of what could have been, but what could still be.

We might not always like the answer. The people of Israel knew that God was with them, knew that one day they would be in a better place.

But for 70 years they had to wait. And for 70 years God called them to make this foreign land, this strange city, this place that felt desolate and void of anything meaningful – God called them to love the creation around them just the same. God called them to love their neighbors as themselves. God called them to be hopeful for a new future instead of dreaming only of the past.

Because no matter where we are in life we have the ability to be Christ to the world through our words and actions. No matter what hand life has dealt us, we can look to the future with hope: because in and through Jesus Christ we have already received peace, joy, love, and salvation.

And so, we wait. We wait together as one people of God. We wait together in peace and love. We wait together through joy and sorrow. We wait because this is not the end, it’s only the beginning. And while we wait, we hope, we love, we sing, we pray, we dance, we cry, we forgive, we continue to bring about the future we wait for by doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. 

By loving one another, whether they are stranger or friend, native or foreigner, in the same way Jesus Christ first loved us: Abundantly and unending.