SCRIPTURE READING- Jeremiah 29: 1, 10-14
This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Sermon for VBS Sunday, “Hope for the Future”
It was such a wonderful week of Vacation Bible School! The kids had so much fun. They learned a lot. And one thing I learned this week: our kids are really good dancers! During Vacation Bible School this week, as Elisa shared a moment ago, our kids learned that they have a purpose. They learned, as you probably noticed from the Call to Worship which were the themes of each day of VBS that God made us; God is for us, God is always with us, God will always love us, and God made us for a reason. After every lesson was spoken out loud, the kids would yell out, “Wow, God!” It sounds simple, but these are things we probably need to be reminded of every single day. The key here is that we, as a community of faith, as a people, need to be reminded of this every time we gather.
When I graduated from high school and college and again from seminary, I can remember some of the gifts I received; a coffee cup, a journal, and a bookmark, among other gifts, with some Scripture verses on it. One quick google search or a walk through a Christian bookstore, you’ll begin to notice those words on nearly everything, posters, watches, Frisbees, paper plates, tee shirts, key chains, and even temporary tattoos. The verse from Jeremiah is one we’ve heard before, “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, too, have come to love and appreciate those words. God has given us hope and a future, what could be better than that?
While this is an important verse that has given me a lot of hope throughout my life, I also recognize that there’s a bigger picture here than words of hope just to me. This verse has been shared with many people who have found themselves in times of transition or seeking the next step in life, yet when you look at this verse in context, it was written for a group of people, an entire nation. Jeremiah is writing to people in exile. It was the time of the Babylonian exile, when the Israelites had lost their land, their property, their faith, and their hope.
Jeremiah is often referred to as the prophet of doom, because for 40 years he called the people, the nation to repentance, but when exile came he turns to a word of hope for the people, as prophets often did. The challenge here is in verse 10, where the Lord says through the prophet, that God’s promise will be fulfilled “after 70 years are completed for Babylon.” Can you imagine? Our whole nation, our community is exiled from everything we know, our way of life, our hope, everything is taken, then we’re told “Hang in there, in 70 years, everything will be fine!” We would probably be a little upset, as it’s hard to imagine what tomorrow or next year will bring, let alone 70 years from now. Yet, the point is that God had not forgotten God’s people.
This verse might remind us of our desire for wholeness, meaning, or even purpose in life. Jeremiah was speaking to a people who were lost, seeking, and looking for hope. They were looking for hope in the present and a hope for the future. The plural nature of this verse, “God has a plan for you,” all of you, all of us, that we will live into the future that God desires, that we will bring forth God’s kingdom and God’s desires for our lives individually and collectively. It is a reminder that we shape our future together. We are all in this together. If you would have been here this week, I think you would have found hope for the present and the future in our kids, in their singing and participation and joy.
Author Thomas Turner wrote that “This verse does not apply to isolated individuals or to a broad community. It applies to both, together, functioning as one.” It’s important for the church community to turn our gaze toward the future individually and collectively. One way we do this is by celebrating our children, youth, and families and being intentional in giving them a place in the church community. This week was one example of our community of faith celebrating our kids and giving them a place in the church to learn, grow, and have some fun together. As I was preparing the message this week, I could hear kids singing the songs they learned in VBS that morning. They were singing out, “I’m going to shout it out, without a doubt, I was born for this, I was built for a purpose.” That’s a message that I pray will stick with them throughout their lives.
When we think about our role as Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to keep in mind that our children look up to us. We have to help them live into the future that God desires for them, helping them understand that God made us, is for us, loves us, is with us, and made every single one of us for a reason. We have to embody these lessons in our lives and in our church, so our children will see the example of a life filled with purpose, meaning, and hope in Christ.
Some of you may recognize the name Frank Beard. He was a District Superintendent here in Indiana and most recently the Sr. Pastor of Castleton United Methodist Church. I remember when he was elected Bishop last year. He spoke to the gathered congregation who had just elected him and shared that in 1968, he was a “snotty-nosed” kid playing around a United Methodist church when its members invited him for cookies and Kool-Aid — and then provided a scholarship so he could attend United Methodist Church camp. “That little Methodist Church took me under their wing,” he said. “In 1968, it wasn’t popular for white churches to invite little black boys to be part of their congregation.” Beard said that church blessed him and God called him to the glorious task of preaching the good news. He was a child of the church. Growing up in a Methodist congregation in Indiana, he knew he was created by God, for God, and was loved by God, because of that little church.
We can continue to be that for our kids not only in our church, but in our neighborhood and city as well. Our kids need to know that they are loved, supported, and embraced by our church community. And really, that’s true for all of us. That was Jeremiah’s message to the Israelites in exile. There is hope and there is a future. For us, even when the exile comes, the church community will be there. Exile came in the form of losing homes, property, and livelihood for the Israelites. While for us, our exile might come as job loss, divorce, illness, or simply facing an unknown future.
Still for others, our exile might come in seeking purpose for our lives. Just as Pastor Steve shared last week, what is our storm shelter? It can be our hope that in this community of faith we can find shelter from the storm and from the exile. We can hear again the words of the Lord to us individually and collectively “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.”
Many of us want to desperately know the plan that God has for each one of us as individuals, but let the prophet Jeremiah remind us that it’s not all about us, and it might not look like what we expect. Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite authors, wrote in her book An Altar in the World, “I am no expert, but it seems to me that what many people are missing is a sense of purpose. Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did, but how I did it that mattered.” As the great reformer, Martin Luther, once said, “Our mutual vocation is to love God and neighbor.” This is a vocation that be lived out in every part of life. Taylor goes on to write, “I think they, being most human beings, want to do something that matters, to be part of something bigger than themselves, to give themselves to something that is meaningful instead of meaningless.”
This is what we need to teach each other and our children. Everyone has a purpose and meaning. Our purpose and meaning comes in God. I love the quote from Irenaeus of Lyons, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” When we’re fully alive in God, others will see and we will have purpose in everything we do. When we’re fully alive in God, our children will see adults living with purpose and hope.
As we reflect on these words from Jeremiah, we can begin to see how these words might reflect a future that is bright – a future where everyone in the community through prayer and worship seeks God as their collective future hope. Whether that hope inspires us moment to moment or knowing that God’s promises are true 70 years from now, God is always with us, guiding us, directing us, and loving us.
Rabbi Daniel Gordis in an article titled, From Belief to Faith wrote, “A child emerges into the world and despite the presence of nurses, physicians, machines, family, and all the attendant elements of modern delivery, we know that we are in the presence of a miracle. We gaze at our child and we recognize that all the biology in the world cannot explain this new being. We cradle in our arms not just another person, but a being of infinite value and vast potential. We cradle a piece of ourselves, and know that if we are fortunate, this piece of ourselves will survive us. Suddenly, we have a small piece of immortality. And we wonder: Who will remember us? How will we be recalled?” How will they live into the promise of the here and now and the future that God has in store?
God never gives up; neither did Jeremiah; neither should we. We can know that we are laying a foundation for the present generation and the future generations to come, those not even named, when we seek God, call on God, pray and worship. Together there is a future here and now, 70 years from now, and forever with God. Together, as a community of faith; men, women, youth, children, everyone, let us seek God’s plans for us individually and collectively, plans that God has to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. Let’s live into this future today and in all the days to come. Let’s pray:
We thank you, O God, that you have given us an enduring hope—one which cannot disappoint us or mislead us. We thank you, that through our faith in you and in your Son Jesus Christ, you enter into every believing heart and make new lives that have been torn asunder by the darkness of this world. Guide and lead us, as a church community, into the future you have for us. Help us to share your glory with our children and all those who will gather after us in this place. We offer this prayer, our lives, our future, and all our hope, in the name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.