Sunday, May 18, 2008

Graduation Sermon

Jeremiah 29:10-14

Graduation Sunday

May 18, 2008

Plans to Give You Hope and a Future

Some of you my have heard that David and I recently got a puppy. She’s wonderful- we are totally in love. She’s a little stray that our friends found on a hike. She’s a mutt that looks like a lab and beagle mix and her name is Dolly. Dolly, David and I are learning routines together and each day when David and I leave the house for work- Dolly goes to her crate in the garage. As soon as we get home she is wagging her tail happily and ready to join us for a walk or a meal. One day I ran home to take Dolly for a walk- but left her in her crate while I went to the bathroom and put my walking clothes and shoes on- I stood in the kitchen where she could see me from the glass door and I heard her let out two low barks. Dolly rarely barks so I immediately understood what she said, “Hello! Dog in a crate! Let me out!” I did let Dolly out and we went for a walk- but her barks to me reminded me of a fundamental human truth- we like our freedom and don’t much enjoy being told where we can live and where we can’t. We like being with people that we love in places we are familiar with.

In this morning’s scripture we are reading a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the Israelites who have been exiled to Babylon. God’s people were forced to live in a foreign land and God is saying to them through the prophet, “Relax, settle down, stay a while. You are going to be here for about 70 years before you are free again.” Seventy years is about the span of a human life- so this is hard news that Jeremiah delivers. Freedom is not on the horizon, but God does have plans for the people- plans to give them hope and a future.

God had in store for them plans for hope and a future- this must have been hard to hear as they sat in captivity. Dogs do not like to be confined- and humans like it even less. This may seem trite of me to use my dog as an example of the human truth the people like freedom- and it is. The truth is that most of us don’t have any idea what it is like to be a captive. We are privileged Americans who have always had freedom, who take it for granted. But the Israelites were in captivity, and what I do know is that many people who are held in captivity by others are treated worse than most Americans treat their dogs. Captivity is not a good place to be.

Graduates, I hope that there is never a time in your life when you are held captive. I hope there is never a time when you are exiled in a place you’d rather not be- but the fact is, there may be times in your life when you feel like you are exile. The fact is- when you move away from home, you may feel exiled. You may feel as if you are living in a strange land where you discover that laundry does not clean and fold itself, and you have to cook if you want to eat, and bills come each month for things like rent and internet access. You might even find yourself moving away form home some day to a very strange land- in my case that strange land was Tennessee.

No matter where you go, whether or not you ever find yourself in exile like the Israelites the words of the Lord through Jeremiah should be of comfort to you. God declares, “I know the plans I have for you- plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God has plans for your ultimate good in this world. I imagine the Israelites throwing up their hands when they first heard these words, “how can God have good plans for my future when I’m living in exile?” This might sound a little like our modern questions like, “How can God be working for the good in my life when my loved one has cancer? How can God be giving me hope in the midst of my divorce? How can God promise plans for the good and not harm when my child is on drugs?” These are life’s hard questions. The way God is working all things together for good is not always so obvious in the midst of crisis- but God does have good plans for your future.

One scholar said about this scripture, “The blessing of God is- as it was once before- away from the place we might expect.” In other words, God’s blessings will not always come to us in the way we might expect, in the place we might expect. Our life may not look like the perfect dream we had imagined for ourselves, but that does not mean God is not still working for the good in our lives.

Graduates, one of the gifts in your bag this morning is a keychain with this verse on it. Go ahead and dig it out of the small black box in your bag if you would like. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I hope that you will keep this verse close to you- at least the words close to your heart, if not your keys on the keychain. The words of this scripture have been of extreme comfort to me in my life- especially when I have been scared, or felt in danger, or been faced with a tough decision. God has good plans for my future- that is a comforting truth for me. One that makes me want to say, “thank you God!” and “Amen!”

If you keep reading the scripture, the prophet declares a few more words about how to be in relationship with God when the future is uncertain. Another truth this scripture has is that you can call on God at anytime. God declares, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” What another amazing truth- any time you call on God in prayer- God will listen to you. With everything going on in the world- the concerns of millions of people, God says to us individually, I will listen to YOU. All you have to do is pray- sounds easy enough. However if we everyone here today were to ask themselves if they pray enough- the answer for most of us would probably be no. Graduates and everyone else here- I am telling you to pray more. I am challenging myself this day to pray more. Be intentional, set aside time each day- steal moments in your day to check in with God in prayer.

Praying will help us tune in more with God, and perhaps the more we pray the better we will understand this future that God has planned for us. If the all-powerful, all-loving Creator of the universe can tell each one of us that we will be listened to when we pray- the least we can do is set a few minutes each day to talk to God. We need to share everything with God- what makes us frightened, and what makes us joyful- we need to lift up concerns for others and tell let God know what the desires of our hearts are. I think one tremendous benefit of prayer besides a deep relationship with God is that we will know ourselves more fully. If we understand ourselves and our own lives more deeply, perhaps we will see where God is at work to give us hope and a future.

Another fundamental truth that is proclaimed in this scripture is that God is never lost from us. God is never lost from us even when we are in our darkest times. God is not lost from us, even when we are in literal exile, or the exile that comes as a consequence of our own poor decision making. Through Jeremiah, God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek with all your heart. I will be found by you and I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Whenever we seek God in our hearts, as individuals, as a church family, or even as an entire nation like the people of Israel, we will find God. God can never be lost from us forever. In our book gift to you this morning called “Only One You,” the little fish Adri is given some life advice by his parents. One of my favorite bits of advice from the book is, “If you make a wrong turn, circle back.” When you make a wrong turn in life, when you make a bad choice, you can always circle back to God. And God will not be lost to you. God promises to be near when we seek with our hearts.

There may be someone here this morning who needs to hear these words so I’ll say them this way: you are never too far lost to find your way back to God. At any time that you choose- you can turn back, seek with all your heart and find God. To find God it only takes a desire and a willingness to be in relationship and God will welcome you back with open arms. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve strayed, or the severity of what you’ve done- or what some hell-fire and brimstone preacher told you in the past- if you seek God today, you will find. God is ready and waiting to be found again in your life- no matter how far away you feel.

There may be no greater comfort about the future than the words of God found in the twenty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah. We learn from Jeremiah that God has plans for us, to prosper and not to harm us. We also learn that we can call on God at any time- and that prayer is an important part of God’s future for us. Also we know that God is never lost from us- all we need to do is turn back and desire a relationship. What better words for our graduates as they face their own futures- and for each one of us hear today. I pray that we would go forward this day and fully live into the future God has planned for us. Amen and amen.


Sally said...

I love that text, it mens more with every passing year. Welcome to revgals

Jiff said...

The Jeremiah text is one of my favorites, too.
Welcome to Revgals. It's a great group!

revabi said...

Welcome to the revgalblogpals. Hope you join us on Saturday's for the preacher party and on Tuesday for lectionary leanings.

Love your sermon.