Wednesday, November 9, 2016

9 November 2016
Jeremiah 29:1-14

Good afternoon, welcome. Today’s passage is a letter written by Jeremiah to the Israelites in exile in Babylon. Israel as a nation had consistently failed its God-given mission. The idea was that, by being faithful to obey God’s laws, Israel would demonstrate to the surrounding nations how God intended for His children to live. God would then bless them, demonstrating His power and steadfast love. The nations themselves would then turn to Him and be saved. Israel of course did not do this; consequently God raised up pagan nations against them to deliver His judgement. First the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria; next Judah fell to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jeremiah, writing from Jerusalem, is telling the exiles what God expects from them while they are away.

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. (Jeremiah 29:4-7; NRSV)
There is a sense in which this exile is a second chance for Israel; a new opportunity to demonstrate how God expects His people to live. False prophets are telling the people this is merely a temporary situation; a minor setback. Jeremiah says no, plan on being there a while. You will have to adjust to your new situation; here is what I expect-build houses, start families, plant gardens, multiply as you did in Egypt. Do not whine and complain; make a home here. Jeremiah reminds them God will be with them in exile: “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you” (v.12). More than that-as if that weren’t enough-God promises restoration: “I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes…” (v.14).

But before He makes those promises, He gives an unusual word of instruction: “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.” (vs.7). Babylon had been God’s chosen agent of punishment against Israel; now God is instructing His people to pray for their oppressor’s safety and well-being. He is, in effect, telling the Israelites to “…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28; cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

This is what I want us to see today. God is saying to His captive children ‘settle in, live your lives, demonstrate my presence, pray for your cities’. This past election cycle has been brutal for everyone. Many Christians on the losing side are feeling betrayed and fearful over what changes may be coming for us as a nation. I believe God’s words to them-to us-are the same words He spoke to the exiles centuries ago. Settle in, live your lives, demonstrate my presence, pray for your government (and your enemies) at all levels.

Brothers and sisters, now is not the time to be afraid. Now is the time to rise up and be the Church, to demonstrate our Lord’s presence. Our salvation does not depend upon our political system and the Gospel will not be spread by it either. It is time for all of us to “Work hard to show the results of [our] salvation” (Philippians 2:12; NLT). Love will always trump hate. Let it begin with us. JRG

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