Don’t Worry: Jeremiah

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, ceiling of Sistine Chapel

Don’t Worry: Jeremiah
A Message on Jeremiah 29:10-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 20, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NRSV)

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

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In spite of what the rock group Three Dog Night told us in 1970, Jeremiah was not a bullfrog. Nope. (You older folks will have to explain that one to the younger folks…)

Jeremiah was a prophet, known as the “weeping prophet,” who is credited with writing not only the book of Jeremiah but Lamentations as well.

One of the verses we read today from Jeremiah is rather-well-known, verse 11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” It was even our Bible verse for Mini Methodists this past week.

As with all scripture the context is very important. There are some who preach the “Prosperity Gospel” that use this scripture to try to convince people that the more money you give to their ministry the more money God will give you. It’s kind of like a spiritual stock market, I guess. Give enough money to the ministry and God will tweak the alignment of the Universe to make great things happen in your life and you’ll get rich! After all, God loves you and wants you to have everything your heart desires, right?

Uh, no. God is not an ATM machine that gives you money if you punch in the right code. No.

If we look at the context of that verse we find a much different meaning.

The timeframe is around 650-570 BC, and the Jewish people, who had been split into two kingdoms, were both invaded by foreign armies, their cities destroyed, and the people taken away into exile in Babylon.

The person who was writing this was named Jeremiah. He was the son of a priest, which I guess makes him a preacher’s kid. Jeremiah was a prophet, and because of that he had a pretty tough life.

You see prophets did more than predict the future. They served as the conscious of the people, calling them back to obedience to God’s word when they started straying from it. And as you can imagine people didn’t really like someone telling them what they were doing was wrong.

And what the people were doing was wrong. What’s the first of the 10 Commandments? Do you remember? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:2-3

Well the Jewish people weren’t doing that. They started worshiping other gods like Ba’al and Moloch, even going so far as to sacrificing their children to Moloch by burning them alive!

So it wasn’t like the people had a tiny infraction here and there. This was some serious stuff!

Jeremiah was from the northern kingdom, Israel, but lived in Judah, the southern kingdom. He lived during the reign of five different kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.

Now when Jeremiah became a prophet the kingdom was not yet in exile. Josiah was king of Judah and was a pretty good king. He tried to get the people to turn back to God and had some success, but it didn’t last.

Jeremiah started his prophecy during the 13th year that Josiah was king of Judah, about 626 BC, telling the people (in the words of the rock group Santana), “you got to change your evil ways, baby.” (Well, probably not the “baby” part.)

It wasn’t easy to be a prophet. In addition to telling people what they didn’t want to hear (but that they needed to hear) prophets faced other dangers. It seems that the test of a prophet was whether or not their prophecies came true. If they did, great. If they didn’t, well then the punishment was being stoned to death. (Man, talking about not wanting to be wrong!)

So when Jeremiah started prophesying Judah was still it’s own country. Things were pretty good and the people just did whatever they wanted, ignoring God’s laws and failing to worship him only. It was in this environment that Jeremiah started telling them of the destruction that was going to come upon the nation, how they were going to be invaded by a foreign army if they didn’t straighten up and fly right. And the people just pretty much ignored Jeremiah.

Well, we know the people didn’t change their evil ways and what Jeremiah predicted happened. The Babylonians invaded, killed a bunch of people, destroyed much of the cities–including the Temple that Solomon had built–in 587 BC. Those that survived were marched off to Babylon where they lived the difficult life of an exile.

It was in this exile that we pick up with the scripture today from Jeremiah. Notice that the first sentence we read says, “For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” Jeremiah 20:10

Jeremiah was telling the people that they would be held captive for 70 years, but then, at the end of that time period, he would restore them back to their land and cities.

Now 70 years seems like a long time. But, it is a finite amount of time. Jeremiah was telling them that the exile wasn’t going to last forever. That it would eventually end.

Jeremiah was more than just telling them what was going to happen, he was giving them something they really needed: hope.

I have a friend in Houston that serves a branch of Chaplewood UMC that is called Mercy Street. They meet on Saturday evenings and minister to the least and the lost. They have former drug dealers, recovering addicts, those that have spent time in prisons and jails, and those who have gone through some severe emotional trauma. Basically it’s the people our society pushes to the edges. The church uses a term that I really like and that I’m going to steal… er, uh, “borrow” for today’s message. That term is “hope dealer.”

My friend, Rev. Melissa Maher, said the term was coined by a former drug dealer that turned their life around when they found Jesus at Mercy Street. They said something along the lines of, “I used to be a dope dealer, now I’m a hope dealer.” And it stuck. Their tag line is, “We’ve got the good stuff.” The ministry has been and continues to be a very successful one.

Jeremiah was a “hope dealer.” He gave the people hope by telling them that even though times were tough (and let’s face it, being an exile in a foreign land where you were forced laborers is a pretty tough time) that something better was coming! Jeremiah told them to have hope, that after 70 years they would go “home.”

If you think about it, the Bible is a book about hope. The Old Testament tells us of God’s love for his people, of God’s pursuit of his people, his forgiveness, and announcing that a messiah is coming.

The New Testament tells us of Jesus who comes to fulfill those scriptures. Jesus becomes the new covenant between God and his people, establishing a new hope that our debts are already paid and our sins forgiven, and that we have a hope and assurance of life everlasting.

As Christians we should all be “hope dealers.” And what the world really needs now are hope dealers.

While we are not captives living in exile, we are going through some difficult times. The Corona Virus has turned our worlds upside down. Nothing is normal anymore. I don’t know a single person that hasn’t been affected by this.

In addition to the pandemic it is an election year where it seems to be like both sides try to scare the other to death about how bad our country will be if the opposing candidate wins. And the national media covering all of this is like adding oxygen to a fire, increasing stress and anxiety levels.

Protests. Violence. Wildfires. Hurricanes. COVID-19. Sex trafficking. Disappearing young folks. There’s plenty in our world to make us worry.

And yet… as Christians we believe in hope. We know that no matter how much the world goes to hell in a handbasket, Jesus is Lord. He is our hope, our living hope.

Psalm 20:7-8 says, “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.”

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

1 Peter 1:3 tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

So my challenge for you this week is to be a hope dealer! Tell everyone you know the scripture we read today from Jeremiah: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

No matter how dark the skies of life may get, no matter how chaotic the world may be, no matter what difficulties and challenges we face, as Christians we can have hope because we know that Jesus’ death and resurrection is more powerful than anything the world can throw at us. We know that no matter how bad things get that Jesus is Lord and his unconditional love for us gives us the power to face the future unafraid. We don’t have to worry. We can be bold and be “hope dealers” to others because we indeed have hope.

Jeremiah was not a bullfrog. He was a hope dealer.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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