Monday, April 21, 2008

Sermon 4/20/08 Graduate Sunday: "Bloom Where You Are Planted"

“Bloom Where You Are Planted”
Jeremiah 29:11-14

My good friend Daniel told me of his story of visiting a gym for the first time with his wife the other day. For those who do not know Daniel, he is from a small town in Mississippi. After college, he moved to what his family calls “The big city of Chattanooga.” Daniel grew up on a farm and spent a lot of his time working outside and he stayed in pretty good physical condition. Now that he has been in Chattanooga working at an office job and getting older, his wonderful wife encouraged him t visit the gym with her.

Daniel goes to the gym for the very first time and gets ready to work out when he notices that everyone around him has towels. Daniel, not wanting to be left out, decides to take a large bath towel with him to do his exercises. Thankfully his wife helps him find the correct size towels. Daniel then proceeds to the elliptical machine where he gets on and begins his workout. About ten minutes into the workout, his wife notices that he is moving backwards. Then, she looks down at the machine and realizes that nothing is lit up. My good friend Daniel spent tem minutes running backwards on the elliptical machine while it was turned off. It was quite obvious that Daniel was a man in unfamiliar territory.

Today we are celebrating Graduation Sunday for those who have graduated from high school and college. While this is always an exciting time in our lives, there are many unknowns ahead. Many of our graduates will find themselves, like Daniel in the gym, in unfamiliar territory. Some of our graduates will be going off to college, some will be leaving school and heading to work, some will be moving from one town to another.

In the book of Jeremiah, the Hebrew people where undergoing a very difficult transition and are now “out of place”. At this point, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, has come into Jerusalem and taken a large group of people to Babylon. Now that these exiles are arriving in Babylon, they are unsure about what to do. Some so-called “prophets” where telling them not to work because God would soon come and rescue them from captivity.

In order to help those in exile, Jeremiah sends them a letter from Jerusalem in which he says,

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.

The first part of the Jeremiah’s advice is that the exiles should carry on with everyday life as if they were still in Jerusalem. They should plant gardens, build houses, get married, and have children. Next Jeremiah tells them they are to seek the welfare and pray for the city they are now living in because in doing this, they are seeking their won welfare. This advice is in direct opposition to the advice many of those among them claiming authority.

On one hand, this advice seems like common sense. You would think they would have been driven to succeed no matter where they were located. The fact though, was that this advice ran counter to their way of thinking. They believed God had given them the their land and now that they were in exile, all they should do is try to get back to their promised land. Those claiming to be prophets were making matters worse because they fueled this line of through by telling them that God would come and rescue them soon.

Jeremiah goes on to tell them why he is giving them this advice. He says, “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.” In order to understand this, we need to understand that numbers took on more significant meaning than just the meaning of the number itself. Seventy, because it is a multiple of 7 normally meant “completion or fullness.” Jeremiah was saying that you will be in exile for a “completed amount of time” before you come back home. In actuality, the exile lasted around 50 years. Jeremiah is telling them that they should try to prosper and pray for the land because they are going to be there for a while.
One of the things I have learned about life is that you should not make your plans “too definite.” When we set off to college or we begin our career, we may think we have an idea of all the details that will follow, we in actuality we really have no clue. Being uncertain is a freighting thing and for this reason, we like to stay where it is safe. The Israelites wanted to go back home where it was safe and we want to be in familiar places where we are safe.

In the play “You’re a Goodman Charlie Brown” Snoopy has several random lines throughout. At one point Snoopy says, “Sometimes I think I’ll just pull up stakes and move out of here. Broaden my horizons, meet new people. But something binds me to this spot. That old supper dish.” Many good Christian people have missed out on what God could have done because they have been too scared to be uncomfortable. Jeremiah tells Israel that they will be gone for some time so they should stop thinking about home and move on.

Jeremiah adds to this thought by saying,

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.

Jeremiah is telling his audience that even though they are going to be in exile for a long while, they can still trust God because God has plans to prosper them and to give them hope and a future. Although things seem grim now and it appears that all has been lost with the destruction of the temple and their wonderful city, God still has plans for them. This is great news!

Jeremiah adds that then they will be able to call on God and he will listen, they will be able to seek him and they will find him. This is especially important because the place in Jerusalem designated for calling on God and praying was the temple. Now the temple is gone, but God can still be found. As Robert Davidson nicely puts it in his commentary in the Daily Study Bible Series,

He (Jeremiah) challenges them to see that, having lost Jerusalem, the Temple, their homeland, everything that they had previously considered essential to their faith, they had in fact lost nothing. True faith consists in praying to a God who hears, in seeking “with all your heart” and finding; and that can be done as surely by the waters of Babylon as in the temple in Jerusalem.

The truth is that God does not care whether you live in Kalamazoo, Michigan or Memphis, Tennessee. God wants you to seek him no matter where you go. God is bigger than any city, any where. God can even speak to you in a different church! HE can even speak to you in a different denomination or a different zip code. All he asks of us that no matter where we are transplanted to or for how long, we seek after him with our heart.

One of the greatest questions I get from people who are graduating or from people who are planning ahead for their future is, “How do I know the plans God has for me?” We somehow think that God ahs already mapped out our path and that if we do not follow this detailed blue print God has laid out we will be miserable.

I hope this passage can ease your thinking some because this passage reminds us of the resourcefulness and the flexibility of God. Notice what Jeremiah is telling his audience. God had brought them into the Promised Land, but now they have been exiled to another place. God says, “This is not a big deal to me.” “You can still find me and I still have plans to prosper you.” Often times our concept of God’s will limits what God can do. It is not where we attend school or what job career we choose. God can still be found. The heart of the matter is whether or not we seek God with out heart in the midst of the situation we find ourselves in.

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