St. Matthew’s Sermon10-13-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon10-13-2019

It’s Not the End of the Story

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Psalm 66:1-12, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

To set the scene for our Old Testament reading; Judah has been conquered by the Babylonians, Jerusalem, including the Temple have been reduced to rubble, and most of the leadership, including the Temple leaders, have been marched some six hundred miles into exile in Babylon. God’s chosen people have been devastated, their only place of worship has been torn down, and, no doubt, their spirits are broken.

Some false prophets are trying to lift the people’s spirits by declaring that this will be a short period of suffering, just a couple of years, but Jeremiah, with words directly from God, tells them that this isn’t so; the exile will last for generations, 70 years in fact.

Understandably this message wasn’t good news to the hearers and, let’s just say, it didn’t make Jeremiah a popular messenger among the people as they’re being told that those living now will not likely live to see the end of this disaster, many of their children won’t either, perhaps the same for most of their grandchildren. Life the way it once was, life as they want it to be now, isn’t the life they are going to live.

Yet, elsewhere in Jeremiah are words of hope for the people. In fact just a few lines on in chapter 29, that we’re dealing with today, are these words, often quoted throughout history as words of encouragement, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope”. (verse 11)

So where we are now, in today’s reading, is the space between what was and what will be; held in the tension between the past, where life was at least tolerable, and the future, where life will be even better than it was before; in the disheartening space required to bring about change.

In that time of despair the changes that were resisted in prior years, the changes required for the betterment of the future, were forced upon the people of God. They had to adapt to living in other places, they had to learn that worship could be performed with validity in places other than the temple, and that life itself could continue without the preconceived necessity of a “homeland”, purity of culture, and self governance.

In hindsight we know how it all worked out; seventy years passed, the exiles were allowed to return, the nearly five century old Temple was replaced with brand new construction and, for a while at least, freedom and prosperity returned for God’s people.

But there’s more to the story than that, it doesn’t end there.

Through the lessons learned during that trying time, people of Judaism learned that they could spread themselves out over the known world and, as they did, they assured the continuation of the faith by not allowing their total destruction in subsequent conflicts and conquests; always leaving a remnant somewhere in the world to reestablish itself in a life of faith. Even after Jerusalem and the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans some five hundred years later, after the Muslims conquered Jerusalem again a little more than five hundred years after that and still again, even after the annihilation of six million Jews, about two thirds of the faithful in Europe, by the Nazi’s in the past century.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

The lessons of the Exile aren’t limited to the people of one faith in one time and are not limited to creeds and nations but also feed our individual lives.

As individuals, all of us have had our struggles with forced change, of that I am certain. Today I think Henry can speak well of lessons learned in troublesome times of transition and transformation. He has had his trials over the last several months; it’s been difficult for him and those who love him; and he is aware that there is still a rough journey ahead of him toward recovery. But he also knows that this is not the end of his story.

Nationally, our civil war was such a necessary forced change; it caused much suffering and cost many lives. But in the end it brought about the abolition of slavery in our nation and renewed the unity of all of our states in stronger bonds than existed before. It was not the end of the story of the United States of America.

That being said, in our current situation we see division in our nation that predicts even greater conflict to come among us. But this, too, will not be the end of our story.

Worldwide today we are seeing the immediate affects and future threats of global warming that we may or may not be able to do anything about. We are being told that this could be the end of life as we know it here on earth, but even this won’t be the end of the story for life on earth.

And, within our Christian faith we are seeing a great decline in the numbers of believers and active participants among those who profess to believe. Yet even this isn’t the end of the story of Christianity; at least not if those remaining hold fast to our faith, stand on the promises of God and Christ, and seek our blessings within the transitional period, looking with hope toward the future, not with nostalgia at the past, and endure the turmoil of change with the reassurance, comfort, and sustenance found in the truth of the words “For surely I know the plans I have for you… plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Amen

 

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
29:1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
29:4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
29:5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
29:6 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.
29:7 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.

Psalm 66:1-12
66:1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
66:2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
66:3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
66:4 All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah
66:5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
66:6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him,
66:7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations– let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah
66:8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,
66:9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
66:10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
66:11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;
66:12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

2 Timothy 2:8-15
2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel,
2:9 for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.
2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
2:11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
2:12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us;
2:13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself.
2:14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Luke 17:11-19
17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,
17:13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.
17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
17:17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?
17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
17:19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”