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Archive for the ‘Jeremiah’ Category

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

 

Life and death

It’s a cycle we all go through

Like the cycle of seasons we talked about in Children’s sermon

But there are some ways in which we must mark a death before we can live.

 

Reading a while back in Fast Company magazine, I saved an article that I was sure would be of interest one day. And that’s the one that came to mind for today’s Jeremiah text.

Kenny Moore worked for the Brooklyn Union Gas Company during the time of deregulation in the gas business. Kenny worked in human resources and the president of Brooklyn Gas assigned him as corporate ombudsman. Kenny was to serve as intermediary between the president of the company and the workers.

At a time when the company was going through some major changes in the way they did business and serviced their accounts. The president had the foresight to be interested in how his employees were doing with all that.

Kenny Moore had an idea to help them make the move from a gas monopoly to an energy company that had to compete in the marketplace for their business. Kenny called on some skills he learned in his previous job to help with this. I read an article about this project in a business magazine called Fast Company. Some of his prior training taught him about connecting what was happening with the change in his company with the spiritual connectedness of the work force and management of Brooklyn Gas.

In his previous job, before coming to work for the gas company, Kenny Moore was known as Father Kenny. He served in a monastic order in New Jersey ministering to the sick and poor. After 15 years as a monk, Father Kenny left the order, and moved back to Queens where he lived for a time with his mother. That was when he met somebody at Brooklyn Union Gas who recognized that the skills Kenny refined while he was a monk would be useful in the business world. That, and an appreciation for life he gained through a lymphoma diagnosis followed by radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Kenny said his lymphoma was incurable, at the same time, he said it saved him.

The former Father Kenny said he knew very little about business when he started with the gas company, but he knew he could help people. The changes in the way the gas company did business meant having difficult conversations. People were concerned about losing their job, and they were concerned about new ways of doing things.

Kenny figured out that the changes from Brooklyn Union Gas to KeySpan Corp. were really starting with an ending rather than a beginning. So Kenny decided to have a funeral. He invited about 70 people from the company to a hall he rented where he conducted the service in his priestly vestments. He played a tape of Gregorian chants to put them in the mood.

“Dearly beloved,” He began, “We are gathered here to day to bid a fond farewell to the Brooklyn Union Gas of old.” He asked people to write on index cards what was over for them – what was dead. People wrote things like “lifetime employment” and “monopoly” and put them in an urn Kenny had placed up front by a tombstone. Then he blessed the urn, and acknowledged the passing of these things, that these were the things that had to die before the new company could live.

Then he directed them to another corner where he had placed a steamer trunk for the things they needed to keep as their journey continued. On a second card, he asked people to write down the things they needed to carry into this new life. People wrote things like “great people” and “dedication to the community.” They put these cards in the trunk.

Then he directed their attention to his third prop, a stork from a Valentine’s display he found somewhere. This was a symbol for them of new birth, the arrival of the new company – KeySpan. He asked the people to draw a picture of what the new company might look like with crayons on poster paper.

Like he said, Kenny may not have known much about business, but he knew about helping people. The ones who participated in the service were overwhelmed afterwards. It was as if their eyes had been opened and the way made clear for a whole new way of being. Kenny knew that:

  • People are dying to be connected, invited, involved.
  • They don’t like having things shoved down their throat, but they have energy and commitment when they can be players and influence the outcome of the game.

 

So this is offered as a contemporary interpretation of the radical change the people of Israel were going through in Babylon. They had made a captive journey from the familiar to the strange, from traditions to change.

Their old life was dead. And while we must never totally lose the memory of the dead, we must, if we are to live, get past the point where deep grief and sorrow keep us from living ourselves.

For some Israelites, the sorrowful refrains from Psalm 137 – “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” just would not stop. They just could not release the old ways, and the old days.

Jeremiah called them to remember what God had promised, and to “Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat what they produce, take wives for your sons, 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.”

God is saying that their old life is dead; their new life is to be found in Babylon. So you might as well get used to it. Get ready to live, stop preparing to die.

This is our challenge, too. Our communities are changing. Our towns and cities are changing. Our country is changing, the world is changing. And I believe that God is calling us to realize that there are some things about the way we used to live that have just passed away. Our challenge is to find peace in a time of anxiety, and to build homes and raise families in what may now seem like a strange and foreign land.

God did not tell Israel to pray for Jerusalem, their old home. It had been destroyed by the Babylonians. The temple was gone, destroyed like their farms and homes, like their king. These were monumental losses; certainly there must be a time to mourn their passing. But God calls Israel not to be so consumed with that loss as to lose themselves…to let themselves be destroyed despite their survival.

Let these things die, and carry with you the things you need to live. Even in captivity in Babylon, there were the other survivors, the remnant, and there was the promise of fertility, of family and food, of well-being…and there was the promise that God was still among them. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons learned was that God traveled with them even from the holy city of Jerusalem, that God was not locked up in the temple there. See how they had already fortgotten that it was God who led them out of Egypt in the beginning.

All of these blessings will be possible, even in a new land, a foreign land, even an enemy land. Pray for this land, God says, because your well-being is connected with its well-being.

 

Is this all that different from what’s happening in our community, world, even in our church? Do you see this church trying to move from a survival mode into a mission mode? Do you feel a move from striving to survive, to striving to thrive? As new possibilities for growth and mission come, do you notice the survival instinct that yearns for how we used to do it? Does it seem that for the church to count as successful, the ways we used to do it must be preserved?

This is perfectly natural, we cling to what’s familiar when new ways of being and doing scare us. When things “out there” seem to be spinning so out of our control, there’s one thing, “By God,” that we can control. Church has happened inside of these walls for many, many years, and that “By God,” is something we can control even as our community begins to look dramatically different.

We have the choice to wallow in what has died and yearn for what simply will not come back…or rejoice in life, even in a place that seems like exile, for God has followed us here. And we can still live and thrive here.

The church has the choice of wallowing in what has simply passed away, or to choose to live in the present possibilities and dream of a future that may look entirely different, but still carries the permanent promise of the presence of God.

The key to our survival is not to curse the community around us that is changing in ways we cannot control, but to pray to God on behalf of the community…for in its welfare we will find our welfare.

May we open our eyes and hearts to the truth that this is the place God has placed us, and God has placed others here, too.

Our welfare is in the welfare of the community, as you read the scriptures, you will see more and more that God is concerned with building up the community. The good that God seeks is that the community is provided for, when individuals come together in something bigger than themselves; the community that is made is one where people share what they have to build up the greater good.

May we learn to share what we have and to accept the things that others bring to the table. We may just find that when we can accept that, we know God’s greatest gift as community is made, even from a place that seems exilic.

 

Take the card you received with your bulletin

Side 1. What has died?

What is over and done with?

Side 2. What are you going to take with you on the new journey?

What treasures do we take ahead?

 

There are some things that have to die so we can live.

May we continue to treasure the memory of that which has gone before as we embrace the living new possibility of the community of God’s people that is gathered in this place. So let it be with us. Amen.

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Epiphany

 

Read Jeremiah, as listed in bulletin

Read Matthew when I get to it in the sermon (sect. II.)

 

Way In

Introduction

Two readings today

2nd Sunday after Christmas (today)

Jeremiah

Epiphany (1/6/10)

Mark

don’t think I’ll see y’all on Wednesday (Jan. 6)

so, today – spend a little time with both readings

Tell the Story

Epiphany reading – Matthew 2:1-12

ἐπιφάνεια   epiphaneia

appearance/manifestation

visitation of magi to Jesus

arrived after Jesus’ birth

The “Magi” from the east

educated, scientists, wealthy

also called kings, “we three kings of orient are”

well-respected by Gentiles

how many of them?

3 gifts = 3 magi/kings

some traditions say  12 (12 tribes)

Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar

names not from Bible, but tradition

from about 8th century

some traditions give them names that sound more Persian (eastern)

not religious, not Jewish, spiritual

knew prophecy from education

followed the star known by prophecy and knowledge of astronomy

King Herod, reign 37BC-4BC

not a Jew, appointed as king by Rome

known to have killed family

wife, 3 sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle

builder of temples, amphitheaters, monuments, forts

best known for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem

20BC, project began (completed 64AD)

destroyed by Rome 70AD

tyrant, not pleased to hear talk about a “new king”

Magi’s journey brought them through Jerusalem

their arrival would have been noticed by Herod

Herod also head of the king they were seeking

Conflict

Herod: saw the king as a threat

seeking to build up himself. his reign

Magi: seeking truth – meaning of the star

brought gifts – the best

worshipped the new king – bowed down

 before the new king

Magi warned by Spirit about Herod

Herod wanted to get rid of new king

“death of the innocents”

they returned “home by another way”

Jeremiah – Sunday reading

prophet well before the time of Christ (6th century BC)

calling the people back to faithful worship of God (Yahweh)

Egypt and Babylon had overshadowed their worship

this Jeremiah reading

affirmation of God’s action to save Israel

grace and steadfast love

hope to the exiles (Babylon)

in the midst of despair and hopelessness

 

exhorts the people to praise God

listen for God’s promises

images of God as shepherd and father

So What?

We have seen the Lord

Christ the newborn king

born in a barn/manger

true king; shepherd, father

feared by Herod, worshipped by Magi

worshiped

The anointed one – Messiah, “God with us”

born of truth and light

God promise from the start to redeem his people

in the Messiah

We are seeking – like the Magi/Wise Men

truth, meaning in our lives

we know the source is something greater than ourselves

led to truth like the Magi

We are conflicted

Herod kept from true worship of Jesus

pride and greed

unwilling to give up any of himself

we’re not anywhere near as bad as Herod

but what holds us back from fully submitting to God in Christ

any of this there?

any ego?  desire for control?

Conclusion

as we celebrate the birth of Jesus: love, grace, truth

we reflect on the community we are called to by the prophet

spend the rest of this church year

reflecting on being people of God

strengthening relationships: God, each other, neighbors

gathered

called by God to come and see

to worship Christ, the king, the Messiah

to proclaim his rule in our lives

let us follow faithfully, like the Magi

seeking truth

following God

gathered in order to be sent out

as witnesses to and agents of the love of Jesus Christ

in worship of God

in fellowship with each other

in mission – reaching out to a world in need

of God’s healing, wholeness, and community

So may it be with us.  Amen

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