A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on March 20, 2022
Scripture: Jeremiah 29: 1-9
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. . . .
It said: Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare
.. . .
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Super Saturday yesterday: Dean Sarah Drummond said “planning in this COVID season has been something like building castles in the sand” …. And much of the time, dry sand, with no stability.
Who here doesn’t know what she means?
As I’ve been thinking about this sermon all week, I’ve been constructing a mental list of all the challenges we’ve faced in the last, oh, five years or so:
Remember opening the paper, or turning on the radio/tv every morning to find out what new horror had happened in Washington?
And then, add on a new, creeping, epidemic…. Some weird, unfamiliar disease which seemed to really kill people, lots of people? Remember those pictures of hospitals with refrigerated trucks outside the doors?
The epidemic got worse and worse: how many of us washed our groceries with Clorox? Who here stripped to the skin every time they came home, to change into clean clothes before entering the main part of the house? We lived in fear.
Yay, an election. O my God, an insurrection! Yay, a vaccine…. Oops, it needs boosters…. No, not another wave!!!
Missing high school, graduations, teaching in person., starting school and making friends… all gone, and for a lot longer than we had expected.
And now, today, a European war. I don’t know how much more can go wrong.
We feel close to the edge. This past week a number of you have shared with me your exhaustion. And when we look back at all that’s happened, exhaustion makes sense. It’s been a hard time, and it’s not over yet.
In our conversations, we’ve talked about the things we might do to lower our stress level…. more walks in the woods, maybe get a pet.. take naps.
I stopped watching tv news about a year ago. It just began to be all bad, all the time, and when the show was over, I felt worse. And have you who use Facebook seen how easy it is to find yourself in an argument there? In these tense times, it’s ever so much easier to get angry than it ought to be. Read the newspaper instead, read it on line. Nothing’s going to happen so quickly that we need instant news reports to survive.
Back in the day, I knew two couples in a local church. As it happened, they were long-time friends of one another, all semi-confined to their homes because of failing health. Visiting them was a delicate thing – though Frances and Joe were struggling, they were totally upbeat and always a pleasure to be around But Alice and Larry lived for bad news. They were so determined to find the bad in everything that it was difficult to be around them. The day I met their visiting nurse after one of my visits was life-changing. I discovered they had the exact same effect on her. After that, it was easier to be with them, easier to cope with their worldview – because now I was not picking their gloom up and giving it houseroom in my heart.
Sometimes these days, it’s as if we’ve moved permanently into that world my friends inhabited. No matter what good’s out there, we’re so overwhelmed, and rightfully so, with all the bad, that we’re losing the ability to see anything else. We’re exhausted.
I think it’s the shock of moving from a world where we pretty much knew what the future held, where our world was mostly stable. Our problems, when they came, were serious, but generally just about one person, one family, one company at a time.
Today is totally disorienting.
The real power and importance of our Christian faith is in times like these. Christianity was built for the times when we can’t see the way forward, when we just don’t know what today is, much less what tomorrow will bring.
The reading from Jeremiah that I shared gets right to the core of things. All the leaders, probably all the literate people, in Jerusalem had been driven into exile in Babylon. Google tells me that’s about 1600 miles, or 5-6 months, walking all the way. It’s not a competition, but I think we can agree that their experiences were as bad as ours.
And, it looks like, just as with us, they began to run out of resilience. They had arrived, but it was as if they were in suspended animation. What next? Where would they focus? On returning to Jerusalem? Or on living in this new place?
Jeremiah, who had stayed behind, wrote: settle into to your new place. Don’t spend your time pining for yesterday, when you had nice tidy homes back here. Build new lives. Plant, harvest, marry, have children, encourage your children to marry and have children. Look for what is good where you are, and trust that God will be with you.
We want to get settled and to know what’s going to happen, and live in happy expectation of better and better. But God says to us, don’t wait until you know all that – you may never know! Go ahead, build on what is there now.
We’re filled with worry about what might happen tomorrow…. Jesus said to us, “So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” Take a deep breath.
Step away from the worries about a new COVID variant. If it shows up here, we know how to deal with it. We’ll bring out our masks, and go back to all the other cautions. We know how to handle COVID when it comes. But while it’s not here, by golly, we’re going to live.
Is the war in the Ukraine going to end soon? I don’t know. Will it spread to other countries? I hope not. Can I do anything about it? Yes, I can send relief money and I can pray. But I can’t stop it in its tracks. So, let’s do what we can do. Pray about the Ukraine. Give of our resources to take care of refugees.
In the midst of these terrible times, let’s follow Jeremiah. Don’t let the bad stuff keep us from seeing the good in our midst. We’re not asked to close our eyes to the evils in our world; we are only asked to keep an eye on the good as well.
Last week, the Civil Rights icon, and UCC minister, Andrew Young, celebrated his 90th birthday by preaching at First Congregational Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He said:
“What I have seen after these 90 years is time and time and time again we come to the edge of a cliff and an angel comes in our path and rises up and we rise up and find ourselves in a new power, in a new spirit. And that’s where we are now.”
© 2022, Virginia H. Child