Rodney’s Reflection: Living in Exile

I love movies, I love books, and I enjoy the beauty in storytelling. One thing is for sure, I like the stories that make me feel good and reconcile the conflict quickly. But real life isn’t that way. Things are messy and they definitely don’t get resolved in the 22 minutes of an episode. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, and even years.

I talked about this in my sermon last Sunday, how it can take a long time for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Remember when the messenger of the Lord said to Hagar, “Go back to the mess, go back to Sarai.” How difficult are those words to hear? At times when we want more than anything to escape the mess is best for us to stay.

On Monday I was in a zoom meeting when another pastor started talking about the prophet Jeremiah. He quoted from chapter 29, reminding us of another message of Hope and promise to the Israelites. They too are in the midst of difficult times being in Babylonian exile.  

You might remember these words of promise to the Israelites:  

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:11-14 CEB)

This is such good news to us. Right? 

I need to be reminded of these words of God. I need to be reminded again and again of God’s promise to be with us and care for us in times like we are in right now. Do you?

And, the story doesn’t end in verse 14, Jeremiah goes on to say this:

You are going to be there a long time, so build houses and settle down, plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (Jeremiah 29:28 CEB)

At this point, I am wishing I had stopped reading. Because in the rest of the story, Jeremiah is dashing the hopes of an early release from captivity. He is telling them they need to settle into the messto unpack their bags, plant gardens, establish families, and God will increase their numbers. 

Jeremiah’s message still conveys hope but in the midst of a disturbing notion of long-term residence and the creation of new community in a foreign land.

Previously in chapter 28 reveals the problem of some false prophets leading the people to believe the Babylonian exile would be short – maybe a few years, instead of the 70 years which God has promised. 

And it appears these false prophets were encouraging the people to be restless and agitated – maybe even violent. And all of this, in order to bring those promised future blessings to themselves sooner than God intended. So, God – knowing their hearts – sends them a message through Jeremiah intended to guide them in how to think of these promised blessings and what to do until they come.

I don’t know about you, but this story hit really close to home for me. It hit with a relevancy too similar to what is happening right now, in my life and our world. Sure, I might not be exiled or living in a foreign land. None of us have been physically exiled, but so many are experiencing life in ways we never expected. As your pastor, I assure you that I feel like I am in living in a whole new world. I am living with social/physical distancing, virtual worship, zoom discipleship, and trying to figure out how to continue to build real, authentic, meaningful community. 

What do you hear from the words of the prophet? Verse 28 stood out to me. Jeremiah speaks to me. Not taking away my hope or the promise of God presence with us, but instead recognizing, the deliverance I might want ASAP isn’t a reality. I find encouragement as a leader to be creative, innovative, and put down my bags, to build new systems and processes so that we can be the hands and feet of Christ. My hope is not in quick deliverance, but My hope is for the presence of God no matter what I am going through.  

So here we are in exile in the wilderness. What now? Where is your hope?

Rodney Whitfield,
Senior Pastor