Summary: This sermon explores Jeremiah 29s call for us to be engaged with our community, and recognize that "in their peace, we will find ours."
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” The famous words of Jeremiah 29:11. A well-known, well-publicized, well-memorized, even a life verse for many.
But do we know the context for that verse? Do we know what those words sounded like to the people who were hearing them for the first time?
This morning we need to journey into our imaginations. Otherwise, we have no frame of reference for such a verse. So first, journey to your favorite geographical home (i.e. childhood, teen years, college.). Next imagine with me a few scenarios:
Scenario 1 – Your city, that favorite home location, is ravaged (i.e. 9/11/2001)
Scenario 2 – Your friends/family/co-workers are killed (i.e. day at school)
Scenario 3 – You are taken hostage (i.e. Iraq, China, North Korea)
Scenario 4 – All of these things happen at once. . .together.
Then you hear the words of Jeremiah 29:11. Have you ever heard a scripture, a message, read a verse or Biblical promise and thought, “Yea, right?” (i.e. financial prosperity, healing, salvation and obedience of children). Ever been there? If so, then you might get it. You might understand what it felt like to hear the words of Jeremiah 29:11 hit the ears of the listeners. At just a surface level.
You see, Jeremiah is writing a letter to people who have been, in what are incredibly sterile terms for describing their plight, forcibly relocated to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. A man whose resume gets credit for destroying Jerusalem not once, not twice, but three different times.
And while the Jews are grumbling, which they have every human right to do, in their Babylonian ghettos a thousand miles from Jerusalem, wallowing as victims in their hopelessness, which they have every right to be, the prophet Jeremiah has a bigger picture to proclaim to them.
Look with me at Jeremiah 29. But this time, let’s go back to the beginning of the letter. (read through verse 14)
Now, notice several key points to this letter. Things that were probably not missed or quickly looked over by the original recipients of this message. First –
1. GOD TAKES CREDIT FOR BEING THE CARRIER – THE CAUSE OF THEIR MISERY.
The NIV translates verse 4 like this, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” What was that pronoun? What do you mean, ‘those I carried?’ Didn’t Nebuchadnezzar drag me over here?
Did you hear it or notice it the first time? (re-read verse 4)
Viewed from God’s perspective. From a theological perspective. From the perspective we are now afforded through the Scriptures. These exiles are not victims. God has apparently sent them there. Dare they say it? Dare we say it? Could they have actually been sent to Babylon by God, on a mission? Could what they see as an exile, and we see as a horrific tragedy, really be an evangelistic journey? Next. . .
2. GOD WANTS THEM TO GET COMFORTABLE.
Verse 5 (read through verse 6). Now typically, a refuge would keep their most valuable suitcases packed. Right? Have you seen it on the news? The pictures of exiles, refugees, sitting along the roads on their suitcases and belongings.
When you are a refugee, no one intends to stay. This is just a short, life detour. Right? The last place we would want to stay is here in Babylon. We can’t raise our kids here. They would become bilingual. Are grandchildren might end up biracial. Our enemies just might become our friends. No God, we are not going to get comfortable here. Are you kidding me? It gets worse.
Not only does God take credit for their plight. Not only does He want them to settle in. But to top it all off. . .or so it would seem to be the topper. . .
3. GOD DESIRES THAT THEY PRAY FOR THE PROSPERITY AND PEACE OF THE BABYLONIANS.
Verse 7 (read). Now that is really pushing it, don’t you think? Pray for them to prosper? After what they have done to us?
Imagine what it would be like for a Hebrew war victim. Forced to march from their home in Jerusalem to Babylon. Leaving behind destruction, fatalities, a life that was, and to be told to pray for the Babylonians prosperity.
God is not asking them to lead a passive, patient life in the enemy city. To wait for justice to be served, or in today’s language, for Christ to come again. He actually wants them to actively work for Babylon’s shalom, as they would have known it. Their peace, justice, and prosperity.
This is God telling John McCain to pray for his enemies that have taken him as a prisoner of war. This is two young women from Texas praying for their Taliban hostage takers. This is God really expecting quite a bit beyond the reasonable, don’t you think. There is one more kicker. . .