Jeremiah 33:14-16The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Luke 21:25-36“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” *************************************************************** In our church, for a whole year we've been focusing on staying in our own backyard; planting, watering, raking, barbecuing, playing- an all around nurturing of relationships and building friendships. But as I said last week, we did this for two reasons: 1. To rest- the pace with which we were doing ministry was exhausting and spreading our resources too thin; worry about who, how and what was taxing us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 2. God had brought a number of new people to our community of faith, and it we needed to acknowledge that growth by intentionally pausing to get to know each other. (If you are interested in more on this and what our congregation looks like after one year of deciding not to worry, please see last week's sermon "Backyard Bounty:Abundance!" )
Now, at the end of a wonderful year of growth in all of those areas, we need to take a few weeks to figure out how to now move back out of our backyard and into the neighborhood. There is a richness here; a treasure of trust within these walls. You can feel it when you walk in. Warmth and smiles welcome all who enter, we feel safe and at home. So why leave at all? Cant we just continue doing what we're doing? The church is on its feet, we are feeling great! I understand that feeling. The thing is, we aren't called to stay in our backyard and invite people to come to us. We are called to go out and make disciples. We're called to go out and be agents of peace. We're called to go out and bring light to the dark places of the world. Imagine if the rest of the world could feel what we feel here? What a different place the world might be...
So, my friends, we are going to take this season of Advent; this season of preparation for Christ's birth, to ready ourselves for a birth of a new season of ministry for our church. This series, 'Backyard Birthing' will take us through four ideas that we can embrace as a congregation to make our work outside the backyard less daunting, and more daring. And not to belabor this point, but I totally understand how some of us are feeling trepidation about leaving the safety and security of our year of backyard living. Have you peeked over the fence? It seems pretty dark out there.
So it was in the time of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was actually in prison when he wrote the words Pastor Jen read for us this morning. His people and the city of Jerusalem in particular had been invaded by a foreign army and decimated- in the words of scholar Michael Chan, "The city devolves into a state of chaos, desolation, and lifelessness. The once bustling city of Jerusalem has been returned to a kind of pre-creational" void- formless and empty. And worse, the people knew that it was their own fault for dropping the ball, as it were. They had not been faithful stewards to the gifts God had given them, focusing on materialism and legalism instead of putting God first. And despite numerous warnings from people like Jeremiah, they continued to go their own way, leaving themselves wide open to be conquered. When the inevitable happened, they owned it. In their interpretation- they had disobeyed, and so "God was hiding God's face" in other words, God was allowing them to live out the consequences of their actions (or inactions) and truly, the future could not have looked more bleak. The people were filled with anxiety, fear, and despair.
It reminds me of how some of us talk about things in our world having gone too far- "it's too late" we say in areas like the environment, or political discourse between parties, or diplomatic relations. And like the ancient Israelites, we walk around filled with anxiety, fear, and despair.
But Jeremiah, one of the prophets who had been shouting the warnings of "people we have to change, or else," now that "or else" had come, lifts up- again, from prison, a song of hope. (As an aside, I love this about Jeremiah- most of us would be more likely to say, "I told you so," when our predictions of doom come true, but not him- Jeremiah says, "Don't worry- all is not lost. God has not abandoned us and still has a hope and future for us that is prosperous and powerful! And though we may not live to see the full restoration, we need to believe that God's love never fails- God's promise (or covenant) with us can never be broken. He reminds the hopeless people, "The days are surely coming, says YHWH, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David... And this is the name by which it will be called: “YHWH is our righteousness.” And then he takes it one step further, and matches his words with action. Jeremiah buys a seemingly worthless piece of land in the midst of destruction as an investment in that future- it is a sign to everyone that this is not the end- that God does indeed have plans for us.
How does he have faith like that? How, from a prison cell, with the world literally collapsing around him, to find not just words of hope, but an action to back them up? Because honestly, I would like to have that kind of faith. I would like to be able to see light in the darkness, that all is not lost. I want to be able to tell my children and grandchildren that the world they will inherit isn't going down the drain, and that God has a plan to proper and not harm, a hope and a future and all that...
And I believe that kind of faith comes from living the life of a prophet.
A prophet, contrary to popular belief, is not someone who predicts the future. They are not psychics or fortunetellers. A Prophet is a person who has the ability to see clearly what's going on in the world and tell the truth about it. Now most of us would love to label ourselves as prophets, because we see what's going on- and we can tell you how bad its going to get, no problem. The thing is, a prophet not only can see and shout the negative, but a true prophet has learned to look with a discerning, non judgmental eye at the world- they have trained themselves not just to notice the negative- that's easy. But the prophet is intentional about looking also for signs of hope, of goodness, and of promise. The prophet seeks out signs of God, signs of light in a dark world.
Nw to do this, granted, a prophet needs to sometimes read between the lines- or at least the headlines. Prophets don't only notice the action, they notice the reaction. The prophet sees both the immigration crisis, and the compassion that has arisen out of and because of that crisis. The prophet sees both the destruction of climate change, and the movement to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Sees prejudice and racism, but also the work of the resistors. The prophet sees not only the trouble we've gotten ourselves into, but notices God working in and through that situation to help us fix it- to return to the ways of God, to work toward our best selves s individuals and as a people group.
Generations later, long after the restoration came to pass, Jesus, the greatest prophet, answers questions of his disciples worried about the end of the world. Jesus doesn't deny that the world as we know it will be a very scary place- but he instructs and reminds them how to act in the face of calamity: "when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." A clearer translation: "When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”
This, my friends, is the kind of life we are called to live outside our backyard- we are to be prophets of God. Yes- it's dark out there. Yes, calamity and destruction are everywhere, the waves so high they threaten to overtake us, but we stand up- we stand tall with our heads high- we remind the world that help indeed is on the way- that God is never far from us- that God has not abandoned us or failed us or hidden God's face from us. The world needs reminders that no matter how things look, nothing is over until God says it's over. We, the prophets of God, call it like it is- and we shout it from the rooftops- but we also continually and intentionally look for signs of God's reign, look for signs of the body, Christ's hands and feet, resisting and marching building, we speak the truth of injustice, but also of the Holy Spirit's working in the hearts and minds of human beings, making all things new.
Look at the fig tree, says Jesus, "when you see leaves sprout, you know that summer is near." As we step out into the neighborhood what will we be looking for? People want, need, to see what we see- need to see what God sees- look for signs of hope and as prophets of God, point other toward that hope. Remember, says Jesus, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away- we are never alone- we are never out of God's care. Let's share that good news.