The prophet Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet because there is so little good news to share. Jeremiah is the prophet during some difficult times in the history of God’s people. We know his words well. In chapter 8 he cries out, ““Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22) Throughout the book of Jeremiah God calls us to look at our lives and our world. Daily life is a complicated and filled with a mixture of experiences both good and bad. Jeremiah helps us to remember that God is present with us through all the ups and downs of life.
The reading for today is no exception. At this point Jeremiah has probably been a prophet for 30 years – warning of difficult times ahead. And now here they are. The first wave of exiles have been taken to Babylon. These are the upper class – the priests, the artisans, the elders and people responsible for keeping the tradition alive. Jeremiah is still in Jerusalem and he writes them this letter, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.” (Jeremiah 29:4 – 7)
Jeremiah is warning the people not to listen to the false prophets who are promising that they will be home soon. Jeremiah says it’s not going to happen. You need make the land of your enemies’ home. It is no easy task to build a new life in Babylon and to pray for the wellbeing of the city where they are captives. But says God, in working for the health of this new city, the people of Israel will find their own health.
Exile is a hard place – especially when there is no end in sight. It is a challenge to trust that God is with you when the world as you once knew it was gone. It’s a challenge to praise God in new ways. Here is what is most striking about the passage from Jeremiah. The Lord says, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” Jeremiah is saying that it is God who sent them into exile. That somehow God is at work even in the land of the enemy. That somehow God will be with them as the build new lives.
As I pondered Jeremiah’s words it made me think of the church. In so many ways it seems that church is no longer what it once was and that we find ourselves in a strange new land. I’ve heard the stories of the days when this church was full, when there were 300 children in Sunday School. I’ve heard the stories of the days when key leaders within the church had ready access to the prime minister’s and premiers offices. I’ve heard of days when the church was influential in society and how in times past nothing happened on Sunday except church.
The world has changed and those days are long gone. In some ways it is like the church is in exile. Sunday morning at 11 is no longer the domain of the church. So many different things happen on Sunday morning along with church. I admit that I was surprised the first time a birthday party invitation came home from school for Sunday morning. But I shouldn’t be. The world has changed. As the church we have a choice. We can complain about it or we can find new ways to be church. It is challenging times to be a person of faith and sometimes it can feel like we are lost.
So what can we do? Jeremiah says it so well, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. …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.” (Jeremiah 29:5, 7)
That is our calling – to seek the welfare of this new place we find ourselves as a church. It’s what God’s people did in ancient times and we can do that again today. We can get to know our neighbours and make their well-being a priority. We can get involved in community activities. We can be advocates for those who need our support. We can find new ways of sharing the ancient story of God’s love for us and we can show that love at work in the world. That is what Jesus and the first disciples did.
I do not know what plans God has in store for our church here and across Canada. The world is changing and this is a time of uncertainty. In the midst of all this change one thing does not and that is God. Keith Anderson in his article, “Stop Complaining about Sunday Morning Sports” concludes with these words of hope, “We risk making the same quick judgements in our time – that this is just godlessness all around – for we too would be wrong. While the church and its clergy may have been displaced in our culture. God has not. God is where God has always been – embedded in the lives of God’s people.” http://pastorkeithanderson.net/item/pastors-stop-complaining-about-sunday-morning-sports
And this is God’s promise to us in every age, “For surely you 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.” (Jeremiah 29:11) It was true in Jeremiah’s day and it is true in our day. As the church moves into the future, seeking the welfare of the place where we find ourselves, let us never lose sight of God’s promise. “For surely you 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.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Amen.