Bloom Where You Are PlantedPosted: October 16, 2016
Bloom Where You Are Planted
SLIDE 3: READY TO GIVE UP
The Jewish captives in Babylon were suffering major depression, and rightly so. Their nation had been dismembered. They had lived through a terrible awful siege and destruction of the City of Jerusalem. Thousands of friends and family members had been killed. And now they were slaves in a foreign land. The depths of their despair is captured in Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
SLIDE 4: MAKE A SURPRISING INVESTMENT Many of the Jews in captivity were ready to give up. So, the prophet Jeremiah who had been allowed to stay in Israel, when most of the rest of the nobility and talent of Judah had been deported to Babylon wrote to the captives and advised them to make a “Surprising Investment:”
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 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. 7 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.”
SLIDE 5: PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER
Jeremiah was fully aware of the pain and despair of the community to whom he was writing. He did not discount their grief and anguish, but he did see beyond their present depression advising them to act to keep hope alive for the future. Put one foot in front of another. Plant gardens, build homes, have children, because the future of the Israel depends upon your getting on with your lives in difficult circumstances — bloom where you are planted.
SLIDE 6: BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED
And bloom they did. The Jews prospered under the Persians. The Babylonian Talmud became the standard of Jewish scholarship. The Netzer Clan, the family of Jesus, did not return to Israel and settle in Nazareth until about 120 years before the birth of Jesus. His family thrived in Babylon for over 400 years before returning to Israel. By blessing their persecutors, the Jews established themselves in Persian society which allowed the survival of Jewish culture, when Jerusalem was utterly destroyed in 70 A.D. Without the Jews who stayed behind in Babylon Jewish culture would have been greatly diminished.
SLIDE 7: DO NOT GIVE UP
God is maybe speaking to some of us this morning through Jeremiah. When we wake up in the morning and everything hurts. When we prepare for another day of work already exhausted. When the only light we can see in the long dark tunnel of life is the head lamp of the oncoming train and we want to throw up our hands in despair, God just might be speaking to us through the prophet Jeremiah. And what is God saying?
Do not give up. Hope is alive and well, as long as we put one foot in front of the other. We may not feel like we are making any progress, but by putting one foot in front of the other doing the simple things like planting gardens, making homes, having children, getting an education, going to work, making dinner, singing songs of faith, finding time to care for family and friends, we are preserving life and hope. God is in the little things, and where God dwells there is always hope.
SLIDE 8: REMAIN CENTERED IN WORSHIP
The Jews in Babylon wrote heart rending laments. They felt bereft, because their beloved Temple had been completely and utterly destroyed. The Temple had been the center of their faith, but following Jeremiah’s advice, they did not give up. They invented an entirely new focus of Jewish life, that remains the center of worship, prayer and study in Judaism down to this day – the Synagogue. God may be speaking to us through Jeremiah reminding us even when we are tempted to give into depression and despair, remain centered in the worship and fellowship life of the congregation.
SLIDE 9: PRAYING WITH AND FOR EACH OTHER
Here at United Church we nurture our individual and corporate faith by praying with and for each other. That is our covenant, and while we may not be able to attend every week, we can always call in, email, text, and Facebook our prayer requests. Know that when we share our needs there are good spiritual friends who lift us up in prayer. Also at United Church we study together and share fellowship not only Sundays and after worship but during the week at Bible Study and the Sharing Table. A while back Molly Baskette wrote a devotional entitled “Showing Up.”
SLIDE 10: SHOWING UP I can’t tell you how often people are absent from church for a while, then come back, and when they pass through the receiving line at church say sheepishly, “Sorry I haven’t been here – I’ve been bad.” They seem to expect disapproval or punishment. In 16 years of ministry, I still haven’t quite figured out what to say. I usually opt for the non-judgmental, compassionate cadence, “Of course not! We’re not about guilt here! We’ll be here whenever you need us!” But while this is true, there are a couple of problems with this response.
SLIDE 11: IF YOU WANT TO GET WET, YOU HAVE TO GET INTO THE WATER Maybe they need to be needed, and missed. Maybe they need to know there’s something at stake in them not coming. That, if they are formal members, the promises they made to us mattered. And even if they are not formal members, they matter — that we notice when they are gone, and we are diminished by their absence. Maybe they need to hear that if they do come more often, their life might just get better. I say might, because churches are flawed institutions, and mine among them. But if you want to get wet, you have to get into the water. If you want grace, peace, hope, comfort, growth, you have to get into, or near, the people and places that have them.
SLIDE 12: WHEN WE PASS THROUGH THE PORTAL What I want to say to people when they come before me and hang their heads is, “listen – you get out of it what you put into it.” I can’t say it, because it doesn’t sound very pastoral, but really it’s just a logic statement. You can’t win if you don’t play. And God, though She rarely tells us this to our faces, needs us in church too. Some of us can only get the grace She wants to give us when we pass through that portal, into a sweet, slightly dusty, hardworking, authentic faith community. It’s not that grace is unavailable elsewhere; it’s just that — we’re tuned to the right frequency when we’re there together in worship. So if you want a blessing, come to church. Ninety percent of grace is showing up.
SLIDE 13: PRAYER AND WORSHIP HELP
Like the Jews in Babylon we may feel like spiritually displaced persons. We may not like our jobs. Maybe we are suffering major stress in our employment or in our family life. We may have hoped for better circumstances. Our health may not be good. We may struggle with mental health issues — ADHD, anxiety, depression, bi-polar, PTSD, and all manner of addictions, food, drugs, alcohol. But no matter what issues may plague us God is still with us as we cultivate our spiritual lives. Remember, the Prayer Wheel from three weeks ago, was developed by a psychiatrist, who found that using prayer and meditation helped many of his patients relieve stress and get better. Even if we aren’t sure we believe in prayer, praying helps. A friend of mine was told by one of his kids, that he should pray for someone he didn’t like, and he didn’t even have to mean it, the prayer would change his attitude toward that individual, and it did. Whether we believe in it or not prayer works. Just because we don’t believe in miracles doesn’t mean that miracles don’t happen. And one of the places miracles can happen is in worship.
SLIDE 14: MAKE A SURPRISING INVESTMENT
So make a surprising investment. Put one foot in front of another and come to church, and bloom where you are planted.