“Living with Others”
October 13th, 2019, Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith
“Hear now these words from the letter of Jeremiah, chapter twenty-nine, verses one and verses four thru seven.”
1 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.
4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 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. 7 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.
“Having listen to the reading of this text, let us now open our hearts and our minds to grasp the implications of its intended message to those that hear these words.”
“Living with Others”
When we were children, we didn’t get to choose whom we lived with. I never had a room all to myself until both of my older brothers had grown up, graduated from high school and moved out on their own. Most of us know what it is like to share a room with a sibling. If you were an only child or simply didn’t share a room with someone growing up, you missed out! Me, I was born a white-collar worker. I made my own bed, picked up my own cloths, combed my hair every day. Didn’t jump in mud puddles with my new dress shoes and I never ever put a snake or a frog in my brother’s dresser or bed! Nor did I get in fights with my brother as to who got which bed. Nope! He always got to sleep in any bed he wanted; and he went fishing in his new dress shoes, and often mom would find frogs and even a snake in his dirty cloths sitting on the floor. He even brought home a big black bird that ended up smashing through a window to get out! No, living in the same room with my brother was not a choice, rather it was an adventure and a training camp for survival in the outside world!
Many of us know what it is like when our parents decided to move to a different town or city. Meaning we had to give up our friends and acquaintances and start over. My oldest brother was pretty upset when we moved to a new town and he had to go from being on the football team to playing soccer. It was if he had been put into exile. He was not happy that’s for sure. Of course, after he became a key player for the team he seemed to adjust to the change. Then he graduated and joined the Navy. When he came home on leave – he was changed. I never understood what his new life was like, until I joined the Air Force a few years later. Being forced to move and go places, places where we don’t want to be – it is a hard adjustment. And yes, it does change us.
Now, as an adult, with many opportunities to adapt and learn how to live into a new community, I have gained some skills and learned how to adapt. I suspect we all have some insights in this regard. No, we don’t all move to new places, but most of us know what it is to find ourselves in different communities and different life situations as the years go by. How we adapt is the key to how we move forward with our lives. Some situations are easier than others. We don’t all go into the military; however, we may go away to college or a trade school. Perhaps we have gotten married, taken on a partner and began a new family of our own. Things change and we learn to adapt, striving to find our life amid change, even if every situation isn’t to our pleasing, at least not at first glance. The flow of live is not always easy and the only thing that is certain is that things will continue to change as the journey moves us ever forward and onward.
Our scripture reading speaks about what life has been for the Hebrew tribes of Jerusalem and what they had to endure as their journey progressed. The King of Babylon, back in the seventh century before the time of Christ, had conquered the Israelites in Jerusalem, taking the remnant back with him into exile in Babylon where they were forced to adapt and live life. The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to a group of these exiles urging them to adjust to what life offered them there. He told them to eat the foods that others ate and learn how to plant and grow their own. He even told them to make it their home, letting their men take wives and the women to take husbands. He was encouraging them to make the most of the life that was now theirs and not to give up hope. He even told them to become part of this their new community and pray for the new place they found themselves in and help it thrive.
We now live in a world where many people are exiled or become what is called refugees. Many folks, in much of the world, have been forced to adapt and adjust to new communities and new neighbors and even to share rooms with people whom are truly different than themselves. Storms like the hurricane that virtually destroyed much of the Bahamas, or tornadoes that destroy whole communities and towns in the Midwest are all too real. Wars displace the innocent and people are forced to flea or be crushed under the tyranny of rebels, terrorist or oppressive dictators. The list of circumstances that cause disruption and change in the lives of tens of thousands, millions even, are countless and diverse, causing hardship and unwanted change. This is the reality in the world in which we live.
Sometimes it is easy to set aside the plight of others. Many do. It is easy to put the troubles of the world on a side table as we go about our day to day lives. The Old Prophet Jeremiah even seems to suggest it to those whom are exiled. He does, doesn’t he? But, is that really the message. Sure, he was telling them, the exiles of Jerusalem, to focus on their daily lives and to work with, and live within the society they found themselves in. Yet, Jeremiah was also telling them to get involved in the fulness of the community, the society they now resided in. He did not tell them to turn a blind eye to other’s plight. Let’s look again at the last verse of our writing.
Verse seven, opens an important perspective of this passage. Remember, as a prophet, Jeremiah always wrote in the voice of God. “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.” Take for example: If we find ourselves out on the highway, we can do more than simply drive around the scene of an accident. Of course, if there are first responders already on the scene, such as police and other emergence vehicles, then yes – go where you are directed. But you can still offer up a prayer for the well being of those directly involved. It does make a difference. There may be other opportunities to help another or adapt in a way you had not considered previously. We, as a community, reside in Palm Bay. Jeremiah is saying to us that God wants us to care about the welfare of the community – the neighborhood we are a part of! As individuals, we may find ourselves in different areas, living with diverse people, when we go out from this place of worship. If that is true for you, then consider how you can assist the welfare of those around you, in the place you call home.
Let us be reminded that the world we live in is constantly changing and we are a part of this world. What the world needs now are the hopeful words of Jeremiah. Through his writings we are reminded that God has given us the Spirit of new Hope, hope which can give us peace. Through God’s ever-present love, we can learn to live together in harmony with our families and friends, and all whom we journey with, as well as those we encounter along the way. In childhood we are meant to learn how to laugh and play and come to know about the love of God through the ones closest to us. This is hopefully done in a constructive way. Prayerfully, we are taught how to read the Bible, learning about God and the people of God throughout the ages. It is with this foundation that we are able to change and cope with disappointment and live through and sometimes with hardship. In a dynamic and changing world, swirling all around us, we need good foundations.
Some of us here this morning, perhaps some of you out there listening through the mystical connection of Facebook, perhaps you didn’t get the foundation you needed. If that is you, there is hope. Learning how to live life on life’s terms is something we can all be taught. Surely, of those whom first read the Prophet Jeremiah’s words – they were not in a good space nor a joyful frame of mind. They had been ripped from a place they had come to feel was their homeland. They were now forced to live in a new social setting with themselves at the bottom of the social latter. Jeremiah knew of their hardship and the customs and rituals which they were forced to leave behind. He was seeking to give them permission to live life fully once again! “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” /Jeremiah 29:5/ Through his written words he was giving them his blessing, the blessing of their God to live into their new reality.
Everyday, you and I, we have the opportunity… to give others our blessing as well. Thereby, passing on the love of God to those whom we have the opportunity to interact with. Someone moves in next door to you and they come from a culture with different customs. Work to accept them as they are, receive them for who they are; as they too, are children of God. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to work, side by side with another who has a different skin color then yours or speaks with a very different accent then your own, do so knowing that your acceptance of who they are can be a true blessing which they perhaps need; a blessing which will give them new hope as they settle into and adjust to their new setting. Some of us may be the prophetic voice others need to hear.
Living with others is a give and take. God gives us love, unconditionally and we accept it, we take it freely and willingly. We pass this unconditional love on to others. We give it without prejudice or intolerance. Most children do this instinctively. Jesus is quoting as saying: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” /Matthew 18:3/ When I was a child, I respected the workers from Jamaica and Puerto Rico in the tobacco fields, where I worked in the summers, because they worked harder and longer than me and my friends did. I loved the Lox and Bagels a neighbor friend shared with me when his parents weren’t at home, I really didn’t realize his parents came from a different country. I love the tacos and enchiladas I eat at my favorite Mexican restaurant too. I truly love the diversity of others, others whom have come to us from other cultures, I enjoy what they bring to our communities. I have learned to enjoy living with others. Have you?