Go Settle

Jeremiah 29:1-14
1 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.

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 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. 7 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. 8 For 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, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. 10 For 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. 11 For 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. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I 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.

 

[Play Stand by REM]

Stand in the place where you live. This late 80s pop hit sang about the importance of living right where you are, no matter the direction you’re facing, if you’re at home or at work. Just stand. Just live. And Jeremiah seems to be singing the same song to the people who have a whole new life in front of them.

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 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.

Yet these verses often get over shadowed by verse 11: For 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.

Who has Jeremiah 29:11 cross-stitched on a pillow or tattooed or framed and on your wall? They are words of hope, aren’t they? God assuring us that someone knows what’s going on with your life! Yet, the story surrounding this much-loved verse should give you pause. Because it’s not about you. Because the plans God seems to have are found in the pre-ceding verses about living and planting and marrying and multiplying.

So here’s that backstory. The Israelites have been dragged from home into Babylon against their will. They’ve been conquered and displaced. 2 people battling for prophet status are trying to send word to the Israelites: Jeremiah and Annaniah. Annaniah is telling them that they’ll go back home soon, that everything will go back to the way it was.

Jeremiah tells them to get comfortable, don’t pay attention to the prophet of quick fixes. Instead, make a life, claim this foreign land as home because their generation won’t know another home. So he tells them to get married and have kids, to go about life in Babylon. Home sweet home.

For 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.

These are the plans? To not go home but to make a life in this place I was dragged to against my will? To know I will never see my homeland again? These are the plans?

Well, did you read verse 10? 10 For 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.

Not 70 minutes or 70 days or even months but 70 years before they will return to their homeland. Which means these plans are not about them! These plans are for their grandkids, for future generations.

These plans? Wait. Settle in. Live. Make this your home. So, in a very critical way, God is not saying just to tolerate their new home but to thrive where they are. To care deeply for this land that they’ve probably only seen as enemy territory. And not only that but to marry and settle down. Learn how to love your enemy, says God. Yes, the very ones who came to your hometown and defeated you and marched you to Babylon.
Settle where you are. 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.  (29:7)

Oh yes, I know the plans I have for you. Put down your calendar. Cancel your plans. Those big dreams? Let them go. The plans I have for you? Love your enemy. Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s as if God is saying, “this is not about you. This is not about your individual future. This is about everyone. This is about your neighbor.”

*Aren’t we in the midst of our 70 years, River of Hope? River of Hope began when there was a great leave-taking. Two Lutheran churches in town left the organizing body of the ELCA and those who wished to stay within that organization of the ELCA? They were suddenly in exile. Suddenly without a home. Their churches left them. Friendships changed or ended. Families strained. Suddenly, many of you felt marched off with no familiar community around you.

Now, some left the church completely. Some went to other churches. Some, most actually, stayed with the buildings. And yet we have seemed to follow what Jeremiah was saying – make a new life in this unfamiliar time and place. The only constant thing has been God’s faithfulness to us. God’s love. God’s presence. It’s only because of God’s work within us that we are here today. And look around you. We’ve got offspring now. You who were not part of the great marching off but have since come to be part of this River of Hope, showing us that God is truly working in incredible ways. That the future is rooted.

Yet, it would be far easier to believe the prophets who promise a quick fix with the false promise of a homecoming and things being just like they always were. But if you’re always waiting to go home, to not be where you are? What kind of life is that? Then you’re always planning for and dreaming about what’s next or what could be next and therefore not living right where you are.

There’s no going back. Even for those of you who have been promised that going back would be just the same, that nothing has changed, that of course you want to go back, you know that’s not true. This is not the life you imagined but now, here you are! Here we are.

We are building a home here. God has been planting seeds in us so that we too will plant seeds and see them take root and grow. Let us dwell here, let us make a life. Let us live into each new day.
For 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.
A future with hope… perhaps a River of Hope.

This is the mystery of faith and of our daily lives. God does not promise easy answers or quick fixes. God points us toward each other and says, “pray for each other, work for each other’s welfare. love one another.” And we do this not with our own power but God’s. Be here now. Stand in this place where you live. Settle down, settle in. And God is with us. Amen.

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