Lectionary Sermon for 28th Ordinary, C on Jeremiah 29:1, 4 –7

Jeremiah 29:1, 4 –7

Luke 17:11-19

The Shape of S

One thing is for sure: if someone is telling you to “make yourself at home” you are not at home.  And probably even though your host wants you to feel as relaxed at her house as you do in your own, that is simply not going to happen.  You don’t have to travel to the land of Oz to know how true Dorothy’s words were: “There’s no place like home.”

Where is Home?

Where is home?  How long do you have to spend in one place until it feels like  home?  Some of you have moved around a lot in your life; you have had to make a lot of places feel like home.  Almost none of us is native to Gulf Shores; we live here now – is this our real “home?”

Do we ever feel completely at home?  Or isn’t there a deep restlessness in us for a destination we were made for but have never been to (C. S. Lewis’ “island in the West)?  It is part of our human condition to both need to make a place “home” and yet at the same time, to feel that no place fits our ideal concept of home.  Perhaps the womb was the only home in which we were ever perfectly content; but having left it, no one is able to return.

Exiles, all

dai oni

 

So, in some sense, we are all exiles.  This is our point of contact with today’s scriptures.  The text from Jeremiah was a letter written by the prophet to his community in literal exile, far away from home, in Babylon.  The text from Luke is finally about a single man giving thanks to God for healing him of leprosy – and he was a foreigner; a person not-at-home; an exile.

So we enter these texts as fellow exiles, with two questions: how did we get here, and how should we get-on here?

Israel in exile asked the same questions – she had to; exile was a crisis.  Far away from Jerusalem’s temple, without a king, outside the land of promise,  she asked, how did we get here, and how should we get-on here?

How did we get here?

The question of how we got here was not simple; it was not finally answered “Well the Babylonian army came and conquered us and marched us off to their land.”  It was much deeper.  It had to include God’s role in the story.  How did we, the people of God, the people of the promise to Abraham, wind up as the losers, the victims, the exiles?

There was one explanation that made sense that Israel began to tell in exile, in Babylon.  It started as a story of origins.  God made a good world, he blessed the world.  It was a beautiful, bountiful, fertile world that supplied everything necessary for life.

God made humans and put them in this good world – male and female, made in his image, made free, and good.  God made them uniquely human – able to know and love him, able to know and love each other.  God made a perfect setting for total well-being, in Hebrew, “shalom.”  Peace, contentment, harmony, satisfaction, that is what shalom means; total welfare.

Choices and exile

But, the story that Israel in exile told continued.  We humans used our freedom to make choices which we knew were contrary to God’s good will.  So we broke the shalom of the Garden, our first home, our real home; we have been exiles ever since.

Being an exile is about knowing that you were made for a place different from the one in which you find yourself.  We were made for the Garden – to walk with God in the cool of the evening, to know one another, and feel no shame.

Israel in exile reviewed her long history as a nation of repeatedly making the same mistake, choosing wrongly, going against God’s good guidance, drooling like Adam and Eve over the nearest apple of delight, swallowing the bitter fruit, ending in agony.

So how did we get here?  Israel in exile answered the question: “we got ourselves here.”

Serrator

We were not made for this, but here we are.   Israel’s answer is our answer.  How did we end up as people who feel exiled from a home we were made for but have never seen?

 

St. Augustine put it this way: “You have made us for Yourself oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Confessions Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5)

Restlessness is knowing something is missing.  It is the opposite of the well-being of “shalom.”

How do we get-on here?

So here we are in the exile of our own design; how do we get-on here?  How do we live in exile?  Is there any hope of finding shalom in exile?

Israel in exile received Jeremiah’s letter which provides hope to exiles everywhere.   Let us walk through it carefully.  The letter begins,

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:

Hope starts from the first line: exile is not a place from which the community cannot hear the word of the Lord.  No, Babylon is not Eden; it is not so easy to have a relationship with God anymore; but it is not impossible.  The word of the Lord reaches all the way to exile.

Hope continues:

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:

Israel was conquered; God was not.  Even exile is within his control.  He sent us into exile because of our own fault, the Babylonians were his means.  Hope in exile is understanding that God is still in control.

No, it doesn’t appear as such, does it?  In exile, we think of loss; the housing market, cancer, the kids, the grandkids, recession, debt, danger.  But the prophet asserts a fundamentally contrary perspective.  God is still in control.  God is speaking to the exiles.  What does he say

5  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they

Habitat for Humanity

produce.  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.  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. 

Let us hear the final summarizing line again in a way that is more true to what Jeremiah wrote:

7  But seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its shalom you will find your shalom.

A Mandate and Hope

Israel in exile was given a mandate and a hope.  The  mandate came in two strong verbs of action: seek and pray.  Exile is not a time for resignation or despair.  It is not a time to be paralyzed by fear or immobilized by depression.

Seek the shalom of the city of  your exile.  Seek the peace, the well-being, the wholeness, the creational-fruitfulness of your city of exile.

In your seeking for shalom, pray to the Lord on behalf of the city.  The Lord who is able to speak his word to you in exile is also able to hear your voice from exile.  Pray to the Lord on behalf of the people of your city.  Pray for their well-being, their shalom.  Pray to be given daily strength and daily wisdom to go out and seek the shalom of your city.

Why?  Because God has so ordered the world that we will find our shalom in the shalom of our community of exile.

Here the word of the Lord again:

7  But seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its shalom you will find your shalom.

Our shalom, our well being is not achieved by hoarding and hiding behind secure walls.  Our shalom is found in the vulnerable, risk-taking of active involvement.  Our shalom is not achieved by cursing the condition of exile, but in praying for the Lord’s shalom to be experienced by the entire city.

Here for a reason

This is our mission mandate and the promise that provides hope.  We are here for a reason.  God has put us here to be vehicles of his shalom to Gulf Shores, to Baldwin County, to Alabama and the Gulf Coast, even to our country, and even to the world.

We start where we are.  Here is our hope: that in seeking the shalom of the people who need the ministry of the Christian Service Center, we find our shalom.  That in  providing winter jackets for school kids of of the region, we experience shalom.  In donating blood, we find shalom.  In every opportunity to minister to others, we receive shalom, well-being in return.

The Cure

experienceunh

 

Are you anxious about the future?  Are you down about your health?  Do you struggle with loneliness?  All of these experiences of exile could be substantially ameliorated, for example, by giving yourself to an elementary student who needs a tutor two days a week and praying for them the other five days of the week.

The principle is this: shalom functions in the shape its first letter, the shape of an  S – the circle that starts at the center and moves out becomes the circle that doubles back around and returns.  We are made by our Creator to find our well-being in seeking the well-being of others; to find our shalom in seeking shalom for our city.

As St. Francis said, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace (your shalom)… for it is in giving that we receive.”

We are living in the age of the abundant curse.  “Curse the government, curse the politicians, curse the bankers, curse the Muslims, gays, and everyone different.”  No one will find the well-being we are seeking in the curse.  We find shalom by actively seeking the shalom of our world.  We will not be people of the curse: we will be exiles of hope, bearing God’s shalom as we actively, persistently, hope-fully seek after and pray for the shalom of the city that today we call home.

 

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