Jeremiah was at odds with other prophets, the text tells us. And in the chapter before this reading today, we learn that one of those other prophets was Hananiah. Hananiah predicted that the Babylonian exile would end in just two years. Sounds good, but is it false hope?
Jeremiah, in our lesson today, warns against false prophets and “the dreams they dream”. He was talking about Hananiah. Meanwhile, Jeremiah isn’t going to sugar coat the suffering that his people are enduring in exile in Babylon. (Taken captive by Assyrians, now Babylonians have become the world’s superpower...) He isn’t going to sugarcoat this, and yet he speaks both a comforting word to them about God’s ongoing presence and plans, as well as a very interesting and challenging call: not only to live among their captors but even to marry them and pray for their wellbeing. (When Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, I wonder if he was recalling the prophet Jeremiah’s prophesy…)
This is a really interesting text, here on Christ the King Sunday — the last day of the 2017 Church Year. So here we are at the end of the church year, and we have a text that snaps us out of moping, as one commentator puts it, and paraphrases God’s words to Jeremiah like this: “Your old life is dead. Your new life is to be found in Babylon. Deal with it. Settle down. Adjust!”
How’s that for a year-end message from God!? Jeremiah was shooting down Hananiah’s false optimism. Like the other good OT prophets, Jeremiah’s keepin’ it real. And keeping God right in the center, despite and especially with the long haul that is before the exiled people — that’s us too. God is with us through it. “Make the best of the situation.”
Our family has been obsessed with the famous broadway musical Hamilton for the past few years. It’s amazing how well our kids know those rapid-fire hip-hop words of the brilliant composer Lin Manuel-Miranda. It’s even seeped into their everyday vernacular. (This past week, we were on Katie about chores, etc. Pick this up, brush your teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast...and she drops a line from George Washington: “I cannot be everywhere at once, people! I’m in dire need of assistance.”) Hamilton is the story of a man who was born into some incredibly unfortunate circumstances, and yet, as if he heard Jeremiah’s challenge: “Your old life is dead. Your new life is to be found in [a new place (America)]. Deal with it. Settle down. Adjust!” (This is archetypal immigrant story.)
How are you settling in to your less-than-ideal circumstances? How are dealing with your long-term challenges, your exile? Because Jeremiah’s not going to sugar coat it: this could last for a while.
But ere’s the interesting Bible twist (breaking a bit from Hamilton and many great pull-yourself-up gritty storylines): Unlike most of those plot lines, it’s not about taking down your adversaries at all costs, whatever and whoever those might be! [pause] God calls us, through Jeremiah, to pray actually for our captors! To settle in. To make a home with them. Even to marry our children to them! To work on behalf of their welfare and the common good. To live in hope and joy. (Weddings were a symbol of a future with hope and joyful prosperity...of new life and expanding community!)
Who is your captor? Who is your enemy? This doesn’t just mean foreign and domestic enemies that our Armed Forces are called to protect us against (although it could be). But usually our captors, to get more personal — those who keep us in exile in some form — are much more everyday enemies. Maybe someone at work or a family member you’re deeply at odds with. [pause] Whoa. That just got real. How might you “marry” them — that is, open yourself to a future with them that is hopeful and even joyous? How might you live in the land with your captors, and even pray for their wellbeing?
This does not — by any means — mean roll over and accept suffering and persecution as your lot! In fact, the opposite. But it does mean doing some serious soul-searching work, digging deep into those cold and dark places in your heart. [pause] What a great thing to do here at the end of the year! And it probably means that the hard place in which we find ourselves might just be our home for some time.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, that’s all part of this journey that God has loved us into! This is all part of our transformation back into being the people that God as created us to be. We don’t move and live in strange, tough, exilic places dry: Friends, we are sopping wet in God’s baptismal grace that flows from the font of forgiveness! In these waters (that little Irving is about to be “plunged into”), in these waters come this promise from God that we see today even amid Jeremiah’s challenging words: “Surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope...I will let you find me, says the Lord, I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
And finally, God’s gonna bring us home! Amen? Someday — it might not be for a long time, so let’s live well in this place that we are now — but someday, God’s gonna restore us, gather us in, fill us with eternal hope. God longs for our peace, for the peace of this whole world, even amid our chaos.
And that peace is made manifest in Jesus Christ. In his birth, in his death, and in his resurrection — our troubled, exile home becomes his home too. [pause] Incarnation, God-with-us, the word made flesh: Jesus Christ. With Christ, we can live in our deserts, our foreign, harsh places, struggle with our captors... and even find peace and joy today.
These are good days that we’re in, new days, and Christ is deeply present with us here even now — through bread and wine, the waters of baptism — and through you. (That’s why we reverence both ways.) We are Christ, deeply present with one another. Jesus’ love flows through us and outward into this exilic wilderness, where we are sent to live.
God’s got us: God’s the one who sent us out there, and God will lead us home...it just might be while. This is the true prophet’s vision — “the God of peace be with us always” means always. Even and especially in exile.
Thanks be to God. And Christ’s peace be upon us. AMEN.