From Wreck to Restoration: We Are Called

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla Family begins a new six-week sermon series – From Wreck to Restoration – as we study texts from the book of Jeremiah. We begin our study with the prophet’s call story.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to spend time with my sweet sister-in-law, Vivian and nephew, Jacob. Jacob is 11 months old and such a joyful little boy. And with his age comes a bit more suspicion about people he is not familiar. Upon seeing Andrew and me, Jacob was cautious and gave us the look of “I think I know you…but my mama better stay right close.”

We spent the afternoon playing with toys and swimming. Andrew took Jacob to the piano for a lesson and I watched as Jacob visibly eased into comfort with Andrew. It was not necessary for Vivian to be in Jacob’s line of sight; Jacob knew he was okay.

Me on the other hand – Jacob’s unfamiliarity lingered – and that was okay. I remained near. I spoke kindly. I smiled. And just before Andrew and I left to come home, while Jacob was playing on the floor and I sat nearby, he crawled into my lap and wrapped his arms around me in tHe best Jacob-size hug.

It won my greatest hug of the day award.

In that moment, Jacob knew me. I was (am) a safe place for him. I was (am) someone that loves him. With me – with Andrew and me – our nephew will always have a family and be at home.

The book of Jeremiah – like all our prophetic texts – tells the story of God’s people being anxious, suspicious, and hesitant in returning to God. They are in exile in Babylon. They hope God has not forgotten them. They wonder if God will forgive them. The prophets affirm that God is with them and that God knows them…but I can imagine the people of Israel and Judah looked suspiciously at the prophets just like Jacob looked at me early Monday afternoon.

The people’s suspicion was okay. And God remained. Through the prophets God spoke words of kindness and affirmation. Through the prophets God communicated a message of hope and salvation. The people would return. And no matter what, they were (we are) God’s children and God was (is) their (our) God.

God wants each of us to let down our guards, to suntended our hesitation, and to climb into God’s arms. God wants to and does hold us close – most especially in the moments when we experience exile. We are members of God’s family. With God we have our home and God is always welcoming us home.

I encourage you to draw near to God. In doing so we move from wreck to restoration.

Prayer: “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. Born of the one light, Eden saw play. Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.”* Amen

*”Morning Has Broken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 145.

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Longing for Spring: Early Stories of Intentional Community and Church Renewal

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 29:11-13

Jeremiah 29:11 is quoted prolifically throughout graduation season. It is a verse that offers comfort and hope as young people venture forward having completed one stage of life and transition to the next. It is interesting that this verse would serve as a sort of mantra for hope and expectation for the future because of the context in which it was originally given.

Hope was probably one of the last thoughts on the minds of God’s people in Babylon. They were in exile and were reluctant to see beyond their own circumstance. They wondered how they would “sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land” (Ps 137:4)? Would they ever return home? What would be waiting for them there if and when they did?

God through Jeremiah begins to speak words of hope about coming home. Home was not determined by place or possession. Home was and is where God is. While aliens in Babylon God says, “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” (29:5-7). “Take up residence,” God says. “Establish yourselves because we will be here for a while.”

And then we arrive at our Scripture text for this week. “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” (29:11). God knows the plans and God is already bringing about the future in the present. Even in exile God poured out blessings instead of curses. Yes, God’s people were in a strange place, but that alone was their burden. They were not without a future. They were not without a way forward. They are not without a home. They are not without their God.

God’s future for God’s people continued in Babylon. For so long God’s people thought that their God was contained within the boundaries of the Promised Land; their faith was intimately connected to their geographic location. Through this time of exile God’s people learned that our God is not landlocked. Our God is present everywhere in every moment in every circumstance. In all things God seeks our welfare – in sickness and in health, in feast and in famine, in the known and the unknown – God seeks our welfare. Our God is bringing about good things even when we cannot see them, especially when we cannot see them.

I think we often tell ourselves “If I can just get beyond (this), then circumstances or the future will be different.” I think this mentality is limiting because it is so I/me centric. This mentality does not leave much room for recognition of what God is already doing. Am I aware of how God is creating space for me rest, providing strength for me to continue working, offering wisdom as I write and study and craft? Am I so caught up in feeling distracted or separated or even in exile from the life I think I should be living that I miss the blessings God is pouring out right in front of me?

God is seeking my welfare. God has a plan and a future. And I do not have to wait to cross some threshold or check some task off the list to receive that blessings of that plan and future. God’s blessings are present now – even if I, even if we – feel like we are in a strange land. Wherever we are, whenever we are, we have hope and we are home with our God.

Holy God, open our eyes that we may see, open our ears that we may hear, open our hearts that we may receive. Your mercies are new and bountiful each and every day.

Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”* Amen.

*”Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 707.

Advent Prophet Parade: Jeremiah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 33:14-16

This Sunday begins the liturgical season of Advent, which marks the Christian new year! 

Happy New Year!

(Must work on an Advent ball dropping for next year…would it be an ornament?  And if so, what shape…and color…and will glitter be involved?!  Hmm…this will require further thought.)

Advent is the season when we prepare ourselves to receive God’s greatest gift, Jesus.  It is a time of getting ready for the celebration of Christmas while also being a time where we reflect on why we need this great gift of Jesus. 

Our Scripture passage this week invites us to such a place of reflection and remembrance.    Jeremiah is a prophet to God’s people in exile.  He is aware and lives in the midst of Israel’s brokenness, pain, and despair in Babylon.  While Jeremiah bewails the people’s circumstance and admonishes their behavior, Jeremiah brings messages and signs of hope. 

Fulfilled promise is near.  A righteous branch is sprouting.  By God’s hand you will be safe and saved.  The Lord is our Righteousness.

In one word: Hope.

My favorite Advent carol is O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  This hymn choruses the journey from human despair to hope in Christ our Lord.  It reminds, it reinforces that death and despair do not have the final word.  Hope is the final word.  

But it also stirs me towards this revelation: if I am or my faith community are surrounded by hope, then we cannot use that hope to cloister us away from the despair that continually surrounds.  We are called to walk the sometimes lonely road from despair to hope alongside our neighbors.  And if we walk together, then it is not so lonely after all, is it?

And more to the point – rather than if we walk together…

It’s when we walk together. 

Reflection: How is God preparing me to walk my own path from despair to hope?  How is God preparing me to walk with my neighbors from despair to hope? 

Prayer: Rejoice.  Rejoice.  Emmanuel.  Shall come to thee, O Israel.  Amen. 

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Restoration

Sunday’s Scripture – Jeremiah 31:31-34

In this week’s text God foretells of a coming covenant that will reconcile the fractured relationship between God and God’s people.  This new covenant will heal all brokenness – physical and spiritual.  Receiving this new covenant will begin a process of renewal and transformation of all creation whereby God will reclaim God’s people and all the earth for God’s purposes alone.  This process is one that God will complete in God’s time – we don’t know the day or the hour of its completion.  We do know that we presently live in the goodness of this new covenant and we wait expectantly for God to complete the redemption of all creation.

As Christians from a Wesleyan perspective, we can discuss in our theological vocabulary what happened to the people of Israel when they received this new covenant – a covenant of grace-filled forgiveness – without challenging the integrity of this Old Testament text.  We do not want to project onto or read into a text.  This is known as eisegesis – the process of misinterpreting a text by projecting our own presuppositions or biases onto it.  (This includes being a Christian and reading an Old Testament text!)  We could jump to or gloss over everything in the Old Testament and say the answer is Jesus…but the answer isn’t always Jesus…and that’s okay!  So when it comes to eisegesis – in the vein of The W’s – it is BAD!  Therefore, we want to engage in exegesis – the process of providing a critical explanation or interpretation of a text by enlivening information lifted up by the Scripture text.  So exegete…because it’s good for you!

(Now after that break for our Eisegesis vs. Exegesis PSA – back to Jeremiah 31:31-34!)

In receiving the new covenant the people of Israel were, as Wesley would say, justified and regenerated.  Justification, Wesley believes, “changes our outward relation to God, so that of enemies we become children” and by regeneration he believes “out inner most souls are changed, so that of sinners we become saints” (John Wesley, The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God, Point 2.  You have view the full sermon here.)  In justification we know that God has acted on our behalves; God has rescued and saved us!  This is not something we could have done for ourselves.  In regeneration we are completely changed from the inside out; no longer are we shaped by sin but we are shaped by grace and that translates into every movement of our lives.

Israel’s disobedience, their idolatry, their sin deemed them contrary to God, opponents of God, enemies of God, but God’s grace transformed them and their circumstance, showering them with forgiveness and calling them children.  Those who were once blameful in exile are now blameless in restoration through the new covenant.  Sinners became saints, and enemies, children, and ultimately friends.

The same goes for us.  Our disobedience, idolatry, and sin makes us contrary to, opponents and enemies of God, but God’s grace continually transforms us and our circumstances that we may be children of God.

Reflection: Take time today to thank God for this grace.  Share a personal experience of God’s grace with someone.  Pray for our friends that continue resisting the powerful transformation that awaits them in God’s grace.  Pray for strength as you live each day as a witness of the power and movement of God’s grace.

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Exile

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 10:17-25

A central illustration in our Scripture passage for this week is a shepherd and this shepherd has not been…well…very shepherdly…

The Scripture calls the shepherds “stupid” because they do not “inquire of the Lord.”  They do not seek the Lord’s advice, attend to the Lord’s truth, or obey the Lord’s command.  The shepherds of the people – the kings and the governors that the Israelites’ begged for so they could be like the other nations – have squandered their decisions and led God’s people astray.  The shepherds have not been good stewards or caregivers for their flock.

But that’s not all.

While a shepherd is one leader over many, a shepherd can also be one person ordering his or her own life – shepherding our day to day thoughts, feelings, and deeds. Each person is also accountable as his or her own shepherd.  We are each held responsible for our actions for good or for ill.

When we understand shepherds this way, we see then that individuals have also acted egregiously as they have not inquired of the Lord.

All people then face the Lord’s judgment because of their actions.  The result of their judgment is exile in a foreign land, which – in my greatest Southern flair – ain’t pretty.

Once again…that’s not all.

What amazes me in Scripture is the hope that is found even in the midst of exile.  Throughout the prophetic texts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the Scripture will speak of the hardship of exile and then almost immediately speak of the hope for home – home being returning to God and the land God gifted  them.

For example, read Jeremiah 23:1-4:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

In this Scripture passage the Lord holds accountable those “stupid” shepherds that have scattered the people.  And then God moves – because that’s who God is and what God does – to bring salvation to the people.  God, as the Good Shepherd, gathers the stray sheep and brings them home that they may have fruitful lives.  God promises that a Good Shepherd is coming – he will be the Shepherd of all the shepherds – and under his guidance we shall not fear or be led astray.

(10 points to whoever can guess who that is!  And no…Hezekiah is not the answer…but good try!)

Reflection: Think about a time where you have felt exiled from God…a time where you didn’t make the wisest of decisions and that distanced you in your relationship with God.  Did you feel angry, lost, worried, upset?  Did you feel numb?  Did you even notice you were in a state of exile?  How were you restored from your exile experience?  What gave you hope to press on, persevere, or – in the language of Dori – to just keep swimming?  What have you done so that you do not end up exiled again?  How have you submitted yourself to the guidance of our ultimate shepherd?

Prayer: Holy God, forgive me when I stray from you.  Forgive me when the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, and the actions of my body separate me from you.  Comfort me in my times of exile for in you I find hope, and in you I find my way home.  Amen.