Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sermon for Oct 13, 2013; Jeremiah 29:1-9

Rev. George Miller
Jeremiah 29:1-9
“Building the Future”
Oct 13, 2013

This week promises to be a busy one at Highlands Little Theater as we get ready for the ZENON Awards: the musical numbers to rehearse, tuxedoes to try on, and presentations to prepare.

I’ve enjoyed my past year at the theater and I thank you for the support you’ve shown me and for granting me the ability to interact with the local community in such a way.

There is something about theater: it’s a way to tell stories and share lessons about life. Why pay hundreds of dollars to attend a motivational seminar or read an entire “How to…” book when you can simply learn all there is to know in a song sung on stage?

There are plays that are simply fun, like My Fair Lady, there are plays that teach lessons, like 1776, then there are those that speak about the fire that flourishes in human life, like Fiddler on the Roof.

One such play is Zorba the Greek. I love its opening song, which totally sets the stage: a group of characters take turns trying to find a simple way to describe life.

“Life is like a glass of rum” one man says. “Life is a sip of sage,” says another. “Life is another dream” states a woman.

This goes on and on until a robust woman interrupts them: “I will tell you” she states.
Then she sings: “Life is what you do, while you’re waiting to die. Life is how the time goes by.”

When spoken (as I am doing now) the words sound straightforward and bleak, but the music is joyful and made to dance.

The singer continues “Life is where you grin and grieve…Learning that the tear drops anywhere you go; finding it’s the mud that makes the roses grow.”

This is an unflinching song about what it means to live: heartbreaks and bounty, hardships and bliss; the human spirit and its resiliency.

Resiliency is such a great word. In the material world it means an object’s ability to spring back into shape.

In the emotional world it means the ability to become strong, successful or healthy after a difficult and tough time.

If you read last Sunday’s newspaper, you would have noticed there were not one but at least three stories of resiliency.

Syrian children returning to school amid war, where simply being in the classroom room and counting to 10 has reminded them of what life was life was like before.

The young woman Malala who was shot in the face by the Taliban and lived to write about it and speak before the UN.

Our local columnist Joyce Minor shared her experience of living with breast cancer. She wrote about scheduling an appointment for reconstructive surgery. She shared her thoughts about how she originally didn’t want to do it.

She wanted no more incisions, no more pain meds, no more treks across state to the Cancer Center. “Why should I put myself through the surgery?” she asked herself.

The answer that came to her was this: “Because you are worth it. After all you’ve been through you deserve to feel whole again. You deserve to have a body you feel good about, not just okay about.”

Resilience: the ability to recover, the ability to spring back.

Since July we’ve been talking about the theology of flourishing. In some ways we’ve been rather cavalier about it. It is easy to discuss and celebrate flourishing when it is happening all around you.

But what happens when it’s not? What happens when life suddenly breaks apart? What happens when situations occur that seem to go beyond your control?

That’s what we have here in today’s reading.

The people of Israel have been living in the land for centuries now; the land that God had promised them and had led them to.

And it is a good land.

They have built houses for themselves. Vineyards with delicious grapes to make delicious wine. Cows that bear much milk, bees and flowers that create sweet honey. They have the Temple they can go to and worship God. Their future is assured…

…then in 597 BCE, the King of Babylon has his troops come in and attack the city. And they take with them what we would call in our modern vernacular, the top 1%.

In other words they take the king and queen, the court officials, the town leaders, business owners, as well as their priests and prophets and skilled laborers, such as blacksmiths.

The exiles are forced to travel 700 miles to Babylon where they are made to settle in the communities there, where their money, time and talents are used to benefit the enemy.

Imagine the emotional dilemma this creates. Jerusalem, the land that God promised to your people, it attacked. Either you are seen as “good enough” and kidnapped, or you are seen as “fair to middling” and left behind.

Those in exile don’t know what to do. Their spirits are destroyed; their will to live is next to nil.

Some of their leaders have gone into denial, claiming this is just a temporary thing and in two years time they’ll be back at home, sleeping in their own bed, back to enjoying a glass of wine and desserts made of milk and honey with their neighbor.

“No,” says Jeremiah, in this letter he writes to them. “No, that is never going to happen in your lifetime. You will never go home, you will never sleep in your own bed, and you will never farm your field again. It will be like this for the next 70 years.”

This is harsh news. But out of love, Jeremiah is telling them the truth. They need to hear it; they need to know the reality.

Why? So that they can live…

Jeremiah is conveying to them a message from God. Though this message sounds like it is too much to bear, it is not without an element of hope, because the message Jeremiah conveys on God’s behalf is this:

“Don’t give up and don’t stop building your future. Though this isn’t what you hoped for, you have to keep living. Build homes that are not just okay, but that you feel good about living in.”

“Build beautiful gardens and plant fruit and vegetables that are good to look at and sweet to taste, because your bodies deserve to feel whole and well fed.”

“Don’t stop believing in romance. Fall in love. Make babies. Raise children. When they get married, hold magnificent wedding feasts. When they have babies, bounce them on your knee.”

“Why? Because you are worth it. You are worthy to flourish and not just to survive. You are worthy of living a life that is good, not just okay.”

Resilience indeed.

And in what’s the most grace filled notion of all, God tells the people “Don’t seek revenge on your enemy. Don’t lash out at them, but pray for them. Pray for their welfare because when they flourish you will too.”

This- this is the amazing, radical message we are given today. This- this is a formula for flourishing that goes beyond being cavalier or celebrating only when the sun shines.

This is finding hope in hopelessness. This is about finding plenty in the midst of loss. This is about finding treasure even in the muck and the mud that is far too often the composition of human life.

This is what faith is about.

This is what resilience means. This is why again and again and again people turn to the sacred scripture and find what they need to get through another day.

For after all, what is faith, what are fair words, if the moment something breaks, the moment something fails, we fall apart?

What is faith if it’s only the good times that we sing praises to God and in bad times we force ourselves to be silent???

…What is faith if we fail to recognize that in some way, somehow, all of us have been in exile or are in exile in our own little way and that it’s the love of God and call to Christ that is getting us through?

All summer we have been exploring the elements of our sacred texts that were designed to inspire and create that resilience, to help us build the future.

The story of Joseph and his brothers, how they did everything they could to harm and silence him, how their actions led to his exile and enslavement, and how through it all God found a way to restore and to bless, and Joseph found a way to forgive and flourish.

The letters attributed to Paul while he was being persecuted for his beliefs. Those who challenged him, the ridicule he endured, the disagreements he went to toe to toe on, and yet he found a way to preach a message of grace and justification, forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

The ultimate example for us is the ministry of Jesus Christ. His open challenges to the powers that be, his questioning the way of society, his love for God above all else and his basic belief that everyone is good and worthy of redemptive love.

For that he was nailed to the cross in hopes his future would be forever finished. We of course know how that turned out.

The people in today’s reading never got to see their beloved Promised Land again. They never got to experience a resurrection of their own. But it did not stop them from living or enjoying life the best they could.

And against all odds, even without their fields, their homes, their Temple, they did not completely lose their faith in God or the stories about God’s people.

For they still continued to believe, they still continued to live; that is why we are where we are today, right here; right now.

Living life. Not settling for what is ok, but believing in God that we deserve what is good.

In return, we are reminded by Jeremiah’s letter written 2,600 years ago, that we are to hold onto the promise even when it seems to be broken.

To hold onto our beliefs even when current situations make them seem unbelievable.

To continue to live, even when life seems unlivable.

God encourages us. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, we are called to create, to build, to fellowship and to dream.

To be resilient until all of our time goes by.

Amen and amen.

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