The Long View
Pastor Doug Stratton – July 2, 2017
Jeremiah the Prophet was writing to Jews who were going through the most difficult time of their history. After a golden age of prosperity under Kings David and Solomon, they have now been conquered, their capital has been burned, their place of worship destroyed, their homes have been leveled and they have forced to leave their land and live as exiles in a strange and pagan land. These are the people to whom Jeremiah was writing.
This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
CCI: God’s Plans are not limited to those who seem the most able, rather they are rolled out for exiles.
What does it mean to be an exile? Merriam Webster defines the word Exile as the state or a period of forced or voluntary absence from one’s country or home. The people to whom Jeremiah was sending his letter were people in Exile. They had been forced from their homes, they were being kept as political prisoners because distance and military power. Political leaders who have been overthrown often live in exile. Today, most of those who are called refugees are actually people in exile, forced to leave their homes because of violence or persecution, they are exiled to an uncertain future.
Exiles come in all shapes and sizes. They are businessmen and mothers, pastors and nurses, students and construction workers, teachers and doctors. They are young and old, and every age in between. Our hearts break for the children who have been exiled. I recently ran across a song called a “Carol of the Refugee Children.” The words capture the pain of exiled people today and in Jeremiah’s day.
Away and in danger,
no hope of a bed,
the exiled children,
no tears left to shed
look up at the night sky
for someone to know
that exiled children
have no place to go.
The babies are crying,
their hunger awakes,
the boat is too loaded,
it shudders and breaks;
is thrown out to die,
the exiled children
will never know why.
Come close, little children,
we hold out our hand
in rescue and welcome
to shores of our land –
in touching, in healing
your fear and your pain,
with dreams for your future
when peace comes again.
“Exile” is a frightening word that is the experience of over 65 million people around the world. In Jeremiah’s day, much of the nation of Judah was living in exile, forced to leave their homes and their land because of terror, violence and persecution. The reality of the carol of Refugee Children is well known by children all around the world. The fear, the loneliness, and the uncertainty of life away from home crush the spirit of many today, just as it crushed the Jews.
For many Exiles, the longing of their heart is to return home, to have life return to normal, to put the pieces back together and restore the lives they knew before the terror and persecution descended upon them. Most of their energy was focused on returning home.
It was the longing of the Jews. They wanted to go home. There were even preachers who were telling them what they wanted to hear. “If you pray for what you want, God will send you home. Do not settle for life in Babylon, don’t let the dream of return die.” These were intended to be words of encouragement, they were intended to help the people focus on the promise of return. But Jeremiah had other words for them.
In perhaps the most surprising message in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jeremiah delivers a message from the Lord: I carried you into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Now, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Rather than return home, Jeremiah declared that they were to grow where they were planted. In fact he called those who told them to get ready to go home liars, deceivers and false prophets not sent by God. Jeremiah was not denying that there would be a time of restoration, he was simply saying, it is not going to happen fast, so let God use you where you are.
And that is a message for each of us. Exile is not only experienced by refugees or political prisoners. In fact, each of us experience exile when our lives are disrupted by experiences beyond our control.
Have you ever had experience of being in exile? Have you felt like a stranger in a strange land, alone and forgotten? Perhaps you became an exile when you were sexually abused. Perhaps you became an exile when your son or daughter died of an overdose, or chose not to take up the family business. Perhaps you were exiled when your wife asked for a divorce, or you realized you were addicted to pornography. Have you felt the loneliness of exile because of betrayal or financial collapse? Even illness or the illness of a loved one can make you feel like a stranger in a strange land.
What do you do when you find yourselves in exile? First, you pray that you might grow where you are planted. As the Jews were told to build houses and plant gardens, to raise their families and become part of the community, so when we find ourselves in exile, we, too, will find a way to settle in. We are called to build our lives where we are with contentment and even joy. To pine for what was, will only prevent our growth. To become locked in grief for what was, will be a roadblock to God’s future. Wherever you are, whatever you are facing, God is present with you in that moment. Grow where you are planted.
But that is not all. Believe that God has a purpose for you and for the people you care about. We are addressing this passage because of verse 11. This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. . .” You see, God had a plan for his people, he was going to restore them, but first they needed to be faithful where they were.
When we are exiled, we can know that one day, God will restore us to our homes, God has a plan for good things and not for harm, plans for hope and a future. But today, God has a plan for us while we are in exile. God wants us to grow where we are planted. God wants us to live in a way that impacts the people around us. Exile is painful as the Carol of the Exiled Children reminds us, but life continues through the pain.
When 13-year-old Lauren Blakemore was newly diagnosed with cancer, she became an exile from the life she had known. At that time, she heard a sermon at her home church and she knew God wanted her to do mission work with other kids with cancer. She said, “I can give them hope by telling my story.”
Lauren’s cancer, a primitive neuroectodermal tumor, was rare and aggressive. There are only about 450 cases diagnosed a year. The tumors invade bones and often lead to amputation. Lauren went through 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments. Today, Lauren’s recovery is considered a miracle.
Throughout her battle, Lauren found comfort from a gift she had received before she was born—a blanket. A neighbor named Mildred made a bright, multi-colored quilt as a baby gift for Lauren. This “Miss Mildred” blanket was always Lauren’s favorite. She snuggled in it through childhood and then through the nausea, fatigue, and sleepless nights that came with battling cancer.
After Lauren’s dad visited a children’s cancer ward in India, he returned home to tell her about the kids. Immediately, Lauren began to raise money by speaking at Rotary Club meetings and schools. She wanted every child to have a “Miss Mildred” blanket because “chemotherapy makes you cold all the time.” She spoke, she encouraged, she pleaded and she told her story of living in Exile with Cancer.
Then she connected with women in Bosnia working at Peace Crafts, a cottage industry started by Southeast missionaries from her church. Lauren asked them to make the blankets which would be purchased with the money she raised. Today, each child’s bed in the cancer ward is warmed by a “Miss Mildred” blanket.
“When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I knew God had a plan for my life,” Lauren said. “This is part of that plan.”
To the Jews who were living in Exile, God said, “You will be in exile for 70 years, but I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.”
What is God’s plan for you? I believe that plan begins to unfold when you decide to become a part of the community where God has placed you and then seek to be God’s presence in that community. Make connections with God and with others. Build a home, plant a garden, become a part of the community and trust God to open doors to ending your exile by leading you home.
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