10 Oct Home
There’s No Place Like Home
Home. It’s a word that can elicit a vast array of emotions…And feelings… Memories of an idealized past… Home is where the heart is. A person’s home is their castle. Robert Frost once wrote, “Home is defined as the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in!” A home is not defined by four walls and a roof. A house is made of boards and beams; a home is built with love and dreams. Our stories begin at home. As Mother Theresa once said, “Love begins at home.”
In 19 years of marriage, between the Air Force, seminary, internships my wife and I have moved 13 times. We found out home is where you hang your hat. Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”
And we talk about our churches like Homes, don’t we? New members to our community often describe how one campus or the other reminded them of the church they grew up in. It felt just like back home. And we yearn to find a place to call home in our lives. A place to belong, a place full of peace and security and warmth and comfort. There really, truly is no place like home.
Chapter 29 from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:11-14) is focused on that longing for a home. It’s a letter from 587 BCE written by the prophet to the Israelites who have been taken captive and exiled to the Babylonian Empire after the fall of Jerusalem. They’ve been gone so long they’ve forgotten how to even dream of their home. You see in those days a conquering army would take the social elite, the wealthy landowners and religious leaders captive. And make them cheap labor for their overlords. By eliminating the wealth & power of an enemy, You eliminated the chance of any future retaliation.
Far From Home
The poor of Jerusalem simply became refugees in neighboring countries, But both groups lost everything, their families, their temple… Their language and culture, their beloved city… their homes. So, hear Jeremiah again, expanded a bit, we will focus on this passage throughout the month of October during our BEYOND campaign.
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take 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. 7But 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.
8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. 10For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I 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. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
You see earlier both Ezekiel and Jeremiah stated the destruction of Jerusalem and resulting exile were God’s punishment for the sins committed by that generation. But now it’s been over 20 years, the typical length of a generation in those days. Elders were dying off and they were no closer to home. So, in rides the prophet Jeremiah with reassurance from God. “Thus says the Lord…” But it was not quite what they expected. Instead of saying, make sure you have a current passport, the prophet Jeremiah says make yourselves comfortable, it’s gonna be awhile.
The original Hebrew isn’t quite as specific saying 70 years, The word used is meant to indicate a really, really loooooong time. But the prophet’s advice is as timeless today as it was 2500 years ago. Do not decrease! Do not decrease! Plant gardens… Get married… Have kids, Build houses, fill them with generations of your family, make it home! You may be in exile, but you are never exiled from God!
Seeking the Welfare of the City
And here is the amazing part that we so need to hear in our world today, Look at what God tells the exiles… A group of Israelites turned slaves, Violently dragged from their homes, Who endured a forced migration, over 1000 miles, they’ve lost everything! If they could’ve clicked their heels 3 times & said “There’s no place like home,” they would’ve done it in a heartbeat. But Jeremiah says, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile!” Pray to the Lord on your enemy’s behalf. Your well-being is tied to theirs. Can you imagine?! Pray for your captors?! Your welfare is tied to theirs?! I would say, we CAN’T imagine in our world today.
Because we’re much more Inigo Montoya than Mother Theresa. I mean imagine a world like Jeremiah is describing. Where our well-being is tied to the well-being of those around us. Even those NOT like us, those we are at odds with, our enemies! A world where, as God’s children we are connected to all humanity, Connected to God’s creation in a way that makes it clear. That our actions in the world matter How we care for one another and the world God made matters.
Martin Luther King Jr. once famously preached: “All I’m saying is simply this: that all [humanity] is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of identity. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Beginning to Dream
And today in Jeremiah we see this is how it has been for God from the beginning. And in these words from Jeremiah God promises the Israelites something that is more priceless than anything they’ve lost. Something BEYOND their current situation. “A future filled with hope!” “Plans for your welfare, not your harm.” The Israelites can start dreaming again.
And in the weeks and months ahead, As a community, we are going to start really dreaming again. Calling on God, praying to God, seeking God with our whole heart as Jeremiah describes. To see where God’s Holy Spirit may be leading us in the future. To see who God might be calling back from exile, to this church home. To realize that no matter where we find ourselves, We are never exiled from God.
And honestly, I don’t know what that is going to look like… None of us do. But I know we took a major step last week, Ensuring this home is a place where ALL people can find the warmth and security and peace that comes from a place to belong. A statement that shows we believe our welfare is directly tied to the welfare of our neighbors and thanks be to God for that.
I pray together we might be a people who have the faith, & perseverance to seek & search for God, And dream God sized dreams on this journey we begin today, A journey BEYOND our present reality, BEYOND the cross and into our future as the people of God.