READ: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
What did you want to be when you grew up?
And then in adulthood, are you who you thought you would be?
Are you living the way you wanted to?
Is it better or worse than you thought?
Are you living in the place where you want to live?
I never in a million years would have thought I’d be a pastor.
I never thought I’d be a cancer survivor.
Never thought I’d be a divorced, single father of two boys.
And I never thought I’d have three graduate degrees.
And after living so much of my adult life near the ocean, I never thought I’d be landlocked in Central Pennsylvania.
Can anyone here relate to any of this?
My guess is absolutely, we can.
For whatever reasons, sometimes our plans go a bit sideways.
And that doesn’t mean that where we are today isn’t a good place —
—and for many others, a much better place than they would have imagined.
Some people were born here in Bellefonte and dreamed of living in sunny California or maybe even traveling the world like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
But then found themselves — just like George Bailey — tied to the roots here, settling down, raising a family, building a career and a life.
Adding to the roots and being entrenched in the community…
Finding there’s no place they’d rather be.
Others maybe never wanted to move away,
but because of economics and jobs and spouses and opportunities, they had to go far away.
Of course, today is just today.
Today is never tomorrow.
What I mean by that is that tomorrow, a new day, can take us where ever we want.
Or don’t want, sometimes.
What’s the difference?
Well, tonight, we’ll look to this reading in Jeremiah to get a better idea of God’s will in and for our lives, and what we’re called to do wherever we may find ourselves.
Just to briefly set up our reading, the backstory is this:
God’s chosen people were led by God through Moses out of Egypt and into the promised land, which we call Israel.
The country thrived under God’s hand, and for a long time, things were really good.
Somehow, this tiny nation of God’s chosen people could hold its own against the large, surrounding and warring countries such as Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia.
Adhering to God’s Law — the 10 Commandments and everything else — God provided and protected.
And things were very good.
The only problem was that when things were very good, God’s people sort of started forgetting about God.
They stopped relying on God, and going to God.
They started doing stuff that God didn’t want them to do.
And God sent prophets to warn them.
But they kept on doing what they weren’t supposed to do.
And God sent more prophets to warn them.
Still, the people did what they wanted, and they went against God’s will.
And God’s hand left Israel — what we would call Judah around the 597 BCE,
and those surrounding countries such as Assyria and Babylonia infiltrated Judah, scattered God’s people and relocated them into their own countries so to dilute the Jewish population and ensure no large group of Jews could rise up and revolt.
Many of the people were taken some 400-500 miles from their homes in Judah to Babylonia and Assyria.
Now let’s imagine that.
Being forced to move to a whole different country.
Worse, it’s not like a family move
— your family may have been split up, or worse…
They had no power, they were discriminated against, they were despised, even.
This was a forced move.
There was no choice.
And in short, the people were traumatized.
They were suffering.
No end or hope in sight.
Worse, they remembered that they once were God’s chosen people.
What did it mean that they were taken from God’s Promised Land?
God gave up on them?
And now, 500 miles from the Promised Land, there are different gods there.
Does the God of the Jews have any power in Babylon?
These were all questions that the people were dealing with.
Along comes Jeremiah…
Well, along comes Jeremiah…
Jeremiah was a major prophet, who first warned God’s people to repent.
And when God’s people were scattered, God sent Jeremiah a new message: Hope.
Here’s the thing: It’s not going to be easy.
God’s people are going to have to work for that hope.
We call that faith.
They’re going to have to repent and seek God,
and remember, they still think God is in Judah, not in Babylonia…
And to make matters worse, Jeremiah doesn’t go to Babylonia;
He stays put in Jerusalem with the remnants.
He sends a messenger with a letter — a very unusual event in the Hebrew Bible…
Usually, prophets just sort of appear or are in the right place at the right time, and deliver their messages.
No, this is a letter from home.
A prophecy given by God who doesn’t appear to be with God’s people.
And what does the letter say?
Basically this: Bloom where you are planted.
Beginning in Verse 5:
“Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.”
And then God, speaking through Jeremiah, says You’re gonna be there a long time…. 70 years…
Is this good news for the people?
Well, in one sense it is: God hasn’t forgotten them.
But on the other hand, they’re not going home anytime soon.
That pesky number 7 in the Bible usually alludes to something being complete, finished, done, over with.
In other words, a very long time. Forever, even.
Whatever happened, make the best of it.
Again, did God give up on God’s people?
And they will eventually — some only 50-something years — will be led back to Judah, back to the Promised Land.
And they will rebuild.
But for the time being, they have to be fruitful and productive.
They can have hope in the homecoming, but they don’t know when that would be.
And so they have to live and flourish, as is God’s will.
Sometimes, we’re a lot like the diaspora Jews — the scattered people, the exiled — in a lot of ways.
First, there is the very physical location of our lives.
Like I asked above: Where are we?
Is this where we thought we would be?
Are we living, or are we waiting for something?
I used to think, many years ago, when is life going to start?
You know, before you’re married, before kids, still working toward that degree or getting to that employment goal…
What are the things that compose a “life” in this sense?
See we can keep saying, “Well, next year, I’ll be able to do this, and then everything will fall into place.”
For those of you who are parents, did you ever say — like I did — “I’m not ready to have kids yet… I still need to get my finances set and have a house or move to that place…”
Then you have the child, and none of that other stuff matters.
Everything just sorta works out.
That’s life, and that’s living.
Life meets us right where we are today.
In the place we always wanted to be, or our own exiles.
Those exiles can be financial, health-related, relationship-related, work-related.
And they also can be spiritually related, too.
We may feel like we are just not where we should be, where we want to be with our relationship with Christ.
And we say things like, “I’m just not ready for that yet. I need to be closer to God first.”
So we give ourselves lots of slack when it comes to discipleship and living as Christ calls us to do.
We undervalue our communities, and don’t take advantage of the opportunities to share the gifts and talents we were given by God to help others.
We undervalue our own selves, and even prostitute the vows and beliefs we’ve made before God because we’re not where we think we ought to be.
Look at the exiles, and look at Jeremiah’s words:
This is your life.
It might change soon.
There is always hope that you’ll be where you want to be and where God wants you to be.
But today, right now, even in this moment?
You may not be where you want to be or even where God wants you to be;
But God’s love, grace, mercy and will for us is never constrained by geographic borders;
nor is it constrained by the circumstances that we face.
God is never defined by our circumstances;
and you know what?
Neither are we.
Because our identity isn’t in our exiles, our Babylons, our sins, our maladies, our weaknesses, our brokenness…
No. Our identity is in Christ.
That identity is eternal love.
It’s salvation, it’s hope, it’s faith.
And it’s abundant.
So you see, we have a choice — just like the exiles did:
We can start living at this very moment knowing that God’s got us, and God’s never letting go.
And we can begin to do God’s will because while we might not feel established where we are,
we are established in Christ.
The Holy Spirit will help us achieve God’s will.
So it’s time to start living.
To bloom where you’re planted.
To give thanks for the abundance that God already has given you.
Because the gifts we may be thinking are valuable are nothing compared to the gifts God already has given us.
And we can use them now, and understand all the while that homecoming is in our hearts.
Search your hearts; that’s where Christ lives.
“When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.”
When we search, we will find that we’re already home.