“OTE 17: EXILE AND RETURN”[1]

JEREMIAH 29:1-14

NOVEMBER 22, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            Do you ever remember yourself saying, “I cannot wait until …?

            I cannot wait until school is out.

            I cannot wait until I am out of debt.

            I cannot wait until Christmas.

            I cannot wait until I get my driver’s license.

            I cannot wait until I can begin drawing Social Security.

            I cannot wait until this sermon is over.

            For the people in the southern kingdom of Judah who had been taken into exile, they could not wait for this period of their lives to be over.

            If you were here last week you will remember the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Not only were the buildings of the city destroyed, but many people were exiled to Babylon. Though we do not get exact numbers, many people died in the siege of the city, and among those who survived, the leading citizens were taken into exile and transported to Babylon. The poor of the land were permitted to remain in Judah, which was incorporated as a province of Babylonian empire. Of course, the number of poor outnumbered the upper classes that were taken to Babylon, but the removal of the priests, the royal class and merchants decimated those left behind.

            So, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the people of God were fragmented. Some were in Babylon and many were in Judah. For those in Babylon, they could not wait until they could someday return home. And the question for us this morning, as we bring our Old Testament Essentials sermon series to a close is this, “What are the exiles to do until they can go back home again?” Jeremiah, echoing the words of God, says they are to do four things. Those four things, by the way, apply to just about all “until then” situations in life, including those of the present day. If you have adult children and their kids living in your basement, you may be thinking, “I cannot wait until they get to move into their new house!” If 2015 has been a challenging year you may be thinking, “I cannot wait until this year is over!” If you are running on fumes at work, you may be thinking, “I cannot wait until my vacation begins.” So what are we to do in those “until then” situations of life?

            First and foremost, “Until then,” seek God’s perspective on the situation. Note verse four in Jeremiah’s letter to exiles … Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles from Jerusalem to Babylon.

            “Thus says the Lord of Hosts.” Whose counsel is Jeremiah sharing with the exiles?  It is God’s counsel. And who allowed the Israelite people to be carried into  captivity? It was God! God put them in Babylon for a reason.

            This can be a difficult truth to accept. God may have placed us in the situation we find ourselves today. Most of the tough stuff we face in life comes from our less than wise decision making, but some of it comes from God. Here, in the case of the exiles, it is both. They made poor decisions, turning their backs on God, so God used the Babylonians to teach the leadership of the people of God a lesson.

            Gaining perspective on our situation is always important. It can even ease our pain. It’s something like what the legendary coach John McKay said to his team after they had been humiliated 51-0 by Notre Dame. McKay came into the USC locker room and saw a group of beaten, worn-out and thoroughly depressed young football players who were not accustomed to losing. He stood up on a bench and said, "Men, let’s keep this in perspective. There are a billion Chinese who don’t even know this game was played."  That’s perspective.

            Go back with me to the fifth Old Testament Essential, to a guy named Joseph. If you saw the musical “Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat” you know the story. Joseph was his father’s favorite son and Joseph would throw that in this brother’s faces until the day they had had enough and got rid of Joseph by selling him to slavery. They thought they had gotten rid of him for good, but they ended up being reunited with their brother who had turned lemons into lemonade and had become the second most powerful man in Egypt. They feared that Joseph would repay their actions with vengeance. In that crisis moment Joseph shared God’s perspective on his situation. He said to his brothers do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Joseph saw God’s hand at work, even in his adversity. Joseph saw God’s perspective.

            So, “until then,” until the situation that is weighing us down comes to an end, seek God’s perspective. Second, until then, get productive where we are.

            Look at what God told the people in our text. Note verses five and six …

 

            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.

 

            Every time Trudy and I moved it was a bit of a “culture shock.” We grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles and when we were first married we lived in Boise, Idaho, when I worked for the YMCA. That was something of a shock moving from large, urban area, to a city of a population around 75,000 at the time. And a lot of hunting and fishing and no professional sports. Then after seminary, we moved here from Los Angeles, and it was another culture shock. You may have noticed. It’s a long way from the beach from here. And people said “hello” to you here when you met them on the street. That took us by surprise. Then we moved to Brookings, Oregon, to a very small retirement and logging community on the Pacific Ocean. It was a culture shock having just about everyone in town knowing who you are. Then we came back here again, and it was less of a shock, more like home, but then ten years later I took a church in Maitland, Florida, and suburb of Orlando, and my oh my. They talked funny down there … a little like Alva Butler and Mary Perry and humid, whew it was humid, and finally we came back here for a third time, and now this is home, and it felt like home as soon as we crossed the state line.

            And that was only moving to different cities in different states in the same country. I can only imagine what it’s like moving to another country. That would be significant culture shock, and being forced to move to a place you hadn’t chose, well that would be very disorienting. Look with me at Psalm 137.  It’s on page 502 of your pew bible. It’s a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. Listen to it …

 

            By the rivers of Babylon - there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

            On the willows there we hung our harps.

            For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

            How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

 

            When the going gets tough, some folk don’t get going. They shut down. They forget that they can be a blessing wherever they are. We don’t need to wait until our situation improves. We can keep on living. We can even sing songs in a foreign, troublesome land.

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, kept on living in a difficult situation. He was a German theologian who was arrested by Hitler’s Gestapo in the house of his parents on April 5th, 1943. He wrote one of the classics of Christian literature, The Cost of Discipleship. While Bonhoeffer was in prison he changed the environment of the prison. Listen to what someone said of him. Bonhoeffer greatly inspired…all those who came in contact with him. He even inspired his guards with respect, some of whom became so much attached to him that they smuggled out of prison his papers and poems written there, and apologized to him for having to lock his door after the round in the courtyard.”

            He didn’t want “until” his situation improved. He got productive where he was.

            Third, “until then” don’t be fooled by some people who claim to speak in God’s name. Listen to God’s exact words. I’m reading from verses eight and nine.

 

            For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.

 

            What is a prophet? The Oxford English Dictionary says that a prophet is "one who speaks for God." Actually the definitions and their roots go on for most of a whole page, but the "one who speaks for God" sums it up as far as we are concerned.                       Unfortunately, not everyone who claims to speak for God, actually speaks for God, and God tells the exiles to ignore those folk.

            In this regard, I hope you constantly ask two questions whenever I speak to you on a Sunday morning.  First, “Does what I say correspond to the Scriptures?” and second, “Do I tell you things you do not want to hear as well as what you want to hear?” If you are never offended, by what I say here, it’s likely I’m just telling you what you want to hear, and not always what you need to hear.

            Several years ago one of the greatest scandals ever to hit the music industry occurred. Two young men had formed a group called Milli Vanilli. They cut an album called "Girl, You Know It's True." They won a Grammy Award for that album. They were invited to give concerts everywhere. They were making money by the boatloads. There was only one problem. It wasn’t their voices. They had lip-synced the entire recording, and they had to return the Grammy.

            Now, in the music industry lip-syncing is a bad thing, but in the preaching and prophesying business, it’s a good thing. Lip-syncing for God, speaking for God, is what every good prophet or preacher is to do. Not everyone, however, does that.

            So, until then, don’t be gullible.  Don’t be fooled by every person who claims to speak in God’s name.

            Fourth, “until then,” until your situation improves, remember that God is more interested in our obedience than in our comfort.

            Verses ten through fourteen …

 

            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. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for your harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will 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.

 

            If God wanted these people to be comfortable God would never have had them to spend 70 years in Babylon.  Of course, challenges in life, adversity, less than ideal situations are not much fun.

            I think of the time Bubba's wife, Verdene, had gone into labor, and his truck wouldn’t start. He dialed 911 and explained the situation. “Could you please send an ambulance to pick us up at our house?”

            “What street do you live on?” asked the operator.

            “415 Eucalyptus Drive.”

            “Could you spell that, for me?” asked the operator.

            There was a long pause. Then Bubba said, “If I walk her over to Oak Street, could you pick us up there instead?”

            From time to time Oak Street looks really good. We wish we could move from Eucalyptus Drive to a less trying location in life.

            Yet, as Rick Warren says n his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick “God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development.” Sometimes God has us spend time in a desert to build character and to test our obedience.

            Well, that’s it for today, and that’s if for our Old Testament Essential Series.  If you missed any of them or want to review any of them, just go to our web site and bring yourself up to date.

            Next Sunday, Advent begins and I hope to see you then.  Happy Thanksgiving.  Amen.


[1] Much of sermon borrowed R. Kevin Mohr’s message “Making Ourselves at Home.”