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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 29:4-14

Mark 4:35-41

This morning we gather to celebrate our church life; to put a marker on what it means for us to be gathered in community, faith, and fellowship with one another.  Homecoming Sunday is a pivotal day as we begin to move forward into a new season – stewardship, programming, gala & auction – all reminders that our church is alive and vibrant in this community and beyond.

It’s about being called home to that sacred space not limited by physical proximity but where we recognize that old things are worth celebrating – but they are passing and all things are becoming new.  Home to be who we inherently are in community: loved and forgiven; nurtured and graced.

Today, we pause for a moment to ask ourselves are we truly at home here at Park Avenue United Methodist Church?  And what does that mean for us today and in the future?

Is our faith fit for this occasion as we ponder our future together – a future unknown?  A future that will surely require something of us; new perspectives, new dreams and visions, and new work.  A future in which all of the pieces are rarely spelled out; in which people will come and go but the remnant that remains will carry somehow – or not.

Faith is about the future.  It is about the thing hoped for that is on its way though unseen.

Faith is progressive; never static nor passive.  It builds on what has gone before – it doesn’t sit down and rest on old laurels – locked up into yesteryear.  Every round builds becoming more active in our quest for God and the things of God; God’s presence in the world.

Frederick Buechner gives us this fundamental truth.  He writes:

“by faith we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth…Faith is the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things.  By faith we struggle against all odds to be able to see – that the world is God’s creation even so.  It is he who made us and not we ourselves, made us out of his peace to live in peace, out of his light to dwell in light, out of his love to be above all things – loved and loving.  That is the last truth about the world.”[1]

One of my favorite passages of scripture is the Old Testament one that Samaya just read.  It has been a mainstay in my personal life over the years.  It has seen me through more hills and valleys than I care to name; a companion in the midnight hours amid the storms of life:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, Cathy (says our Lord through the prophet Jeremiah); plans for your welfare (for your well-being) and not for harm to give you a future and a hope.  Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with your whole heart, I will let you find me and I will restore…and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you…. [2]

Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible puts it this way:

I know what I’m doing.  I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.  I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.[3]

That’s something isn’t it?  Now, imagine how these words spoken directly to you.  Insert your name throughout.  Hear the Lord saying to Park Avenue Church:

I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  Call on me; serve me; come together and seek my way and let me lead you.  When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.  I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.[4]

When the prophet Jeremiah spoke these words, the children of Israel were in captivity, undergoing hardship of every sort.  Though their future looked bleak by any reasonable measure, God gives them hope to press on anyhow.  It must have looked to them like their captivity meant that God did not care; that God had abandoned, forsaken.  But maybe God wanted them to get to the place where they were not so self-sufficient; where they were not so divided about their loyalties.  Where they recognized that on their own they could not do very much.

Perhaps God wanted them to be unified in their mission and purpose; in the things they could accomplish together.  Perhaps, they had become so satisfied, so settled and so complacent that they thought that everything was about them and what they wanted and not about the will of God.  Their religion had become shallow and self-serving; more about personal gain, power, and control.

And so, perhaps God wanted to shake them up a bit.  Remind them of who they really were; what they could become. They were in despair but perhaps, their captivity was really an invitation to come home and be the people God had always intended.   And so, God offers assurance:

Go ahead and build houses.   New houses.  And live in them.  Plant gardens and eat fruit.  Have weddings and bear children and have grandbabies.  Multiply.  Do not stop.   Pray for the city that has you bound for in its welfare you will find your own welfare.  Do not be fooled by false-speakers and naysayers who are among you to deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream.  I will fulfill my promise.  And I will bring you back home.[5]

“I have plans for your future” says our God.  A future to bless you so that you might be a blessing.  A future that you cannot even envision with the people you cannot imagine.  Believe it and believe in it.  Work toward that end though some of us will never see – as those who have gone before could never imagine what we are doing here now.  And yet, they worked; they served and sacrificed so we could be here.

Beloved, grant that our journeying together might be marked by courage and faith.  That we might take risks relevant to the things God has in store and may our faith would be fit for celebrating.

 

 

[1] Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, Harper Collins, 2006.

[2] Jeremiah 29:11-14  NRSV

[3] Jeremiah 29:11-14a The Message

[4] Jeremiah 29:11-14a The Message Paraphrase

[5] Jeremiah 29:5-8 Paraphrase