Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Digging Deeper: Vision Sunday

God has given us incredible people. God has placed us in incredible cities. God has blessed us with incredible resources. Some of us have lived in our city our whole lives. Others of us, many of us, have not. For those of us who have not, or who have lived in many different places, it is hard to feel at home in any place. You expect that you will be uprooted again at some point, so you may find it hard to grow attached to your current city, because if you grow attached to it, you know it will hurt more if you have to let it go later.

This is how God’s people must have felt in the Old Testament. First, in the story of the Exodus, they had grown accustomed to their lives in Egypt, and when God finally freed them from their slavery, the realized that their slavery was something that, even though they hated it, they had grown fond of it. This led to a lot of rebellion in wilderness and they ended up wandering in the desert for 40 years because they refused to truly settle in to their new home to which God was bringing them.

Jesus says:

“For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

Later on in Israel’s story, they were still rebelling against God even though they had finally settled in their new home, the city of Jerusalem. But they were not fully present in their city. Jeremiah tells us how they were self-absorbed and abusive to each other, even going so far as enslaving their own brothers and sisters, all the while trying to keep up appearances to make it look like they were really serving God when they were not.

Jeremiah compares their hearts to an “Arara” which was a type of fruit bush that grew in the desert. The fruit looked great on the outside, lush and juicy and green… but you opened up the fruit, it was full of air and nasty dry webs that had little poisonous seeds in them.

Jeremiah calls them to trust God with their whole selves so that they will be like the “Acacia” tree instead of the “Arara” bush. The Acacia tree also grows out in the desert and it remains healthy and alive even when it goes for years without raining. This is because it has a hidden quality – its roots go very deep, and spread so far that they can find the underground sources of water that sustain them and give them life out in the desert. The trees are used for high quality perfume and incense. Because they remain connected to the source of life, they are able to give back to the world around them… unlike the Arara bush.

Paul says:

“Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

During Jeremiah’s life, God’s people were exiled from their city to new cities in Babylon against their will. And they loved their old city. They even wrote dark songs and laments to their old home, and the great tragedy they had undergone, such as:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

They were very disappointed with how their lives had turned out.

Disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.

After the people began to be carried off into exile in one wave after another, Jeremiah wrote a letter the exiles and told them to settle down and raise families in Babylon because their rescue was far-off.

But a false-prophet named Shemaiah told the people they would be delivered very soon and tried to have “that maniac” Jeremiah arrested. But God said he would punish Shemaiah for prophesying lies.

However, God also promised to restore His people from captivity. God promised to plunder the nations who had plundered His people. God promised to restore David’s line.

God would turn the mourning and suffering of His people into joy and celebration.

Jeremiah also reported that God was making a new covenant with His people.

Moses wrote the old covenant on scrolls and stone tablets, and as the people read it, they knew what God expected.

But in the new covenant, God would place his law in His people’s hearts to a level He had not done in previous times, and God’s Spirit would guide their lives from within them in a deep, new way.

Jeremiah mourns the loss of the old city but he allows God to speak hope into his life as well. He tells God’s people to embrace their new lives in their new cities, and to work for the benefit of the people and communities in their new cities. One day, God will restore all things, and all that was wrong will be made right. But God wants to work through his people to bring about that restoration wherever we are at in life. He wants his people to be present in their city. Even though they failed in the old city… that doesn’t mean they are beyond hope. They can partner with God in any time and place if they let His transformative Spirit work on their hearts.

Peter says:

“Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!”

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