15 October 2007

now what

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce."

I remember when my son had his first cold.

He was so pitiful; I guess there is nothing quite like a three month old with a cold . . . we wiped and wiped his nose. When went to the doctor who gave us some medicine and that helped. We even gave him vapor baths; there is this stuff out there that you put a capful into warm bathwater and it is like bathing in Vick’s Vaporub . . . well, not quite that intense, but he sure seemed to like it.

But then there were those times when his nose was especially stuffed up.

And then . . . when he got particularly stuffed up, . . . we had to use the aspirator.

Some of you know what this is, it is a little hollow rubber thing with one large end that you squeeze and a tiny end that goes into their nose. You squeeze that large end, stick the small end into their little nose and then allow the bulb to expand and suck out whatever is in that stuffed up little nose.

It is not a particularly fun thing to do.

I have to say that it doesn’t seem to be very fun for either of our children either because they both tend to wail and cry and flail around when we do this. It seems such a terrible thing, but when a child cannot blow their nose yet, it is the only way to get all of that stuff out. Not fun. Not for any of us.

Well, my son did get better. But then the inevitable happened. My daughter got stuffy . . . and then she got fussy . . . and then there was that one night where she just couldn’t sleep at all, at least not for more than an hour at a time. So it was off to the doctor for her the next morning . . . to get a different medicine . . . something to help her to be able to breathe and at the very least be comfortable while the cold ran its course.

It is one of those situation where if we had a magic wand and could tap her and change that cold, we certainly would have. But we didn’t have that magic wand, so we had to figure out what we do now . . .

I believe that if Jeremiah had a magic wand and could have prevented or stopped the exile, I think he would’ve done so too. But he did not have that magic wand. And even despite him warning the people, telling them that this terrible time was coming, in the end all he could do was sit and watch . . . all he could do was cry with them through it as we read about earlier in Jeremiah.

All Jeremiah could do was walk with them down the difficult road, and sometimes this is the best thing another person can do for us.

Maybe the hurt can’t be stopped, maybe the problem won’t go away, but you can have someone to walk along with you.

And Jeremiah walked with them, being the presence of God for them, sometimes bringing the very message of God to them, while they made that journey to Babylonia, to a foreign land, to a place that was not home, where the people probably looked different, acted different, talked different, where you felt like a stranger, not at home at all.

And it is not easy to feel so alone, so in a foreign place, a place you have never been before. I remember some of the guys that I talked to down at Union Mission in Savannah, these folks who were homeless for all kinds of different reasons, but a lot of them were there because of a problem with drugs or alcohol. And they talked about how foreign they felt in the world once they were sober, once they had stopped abusing the drugs or alchohol, about how different everything else seemed to be than what they had known for so long, years for many of them.

These were folks who knew how to get a drink if they wanted it. They knew how to manipulate and hustle family or friends. Many of them knew how to sell, how to deal, how to get what they though they needed, what their body wanted. These were folks for whom love meant a prostitute . . . and then what do you do when you leave that life.

What do you do when you have to live a life different from what you have known before. Then this question becomes very important: “so what do we do now?”

Because the changes that happen in our lives are sometimes very difficult, but sometimes they are good changes, and certainly giving up something that has had such control over you is a good thing, but there are other good things / good changes that we look forward to like retirements, or marriages, or new children entering our lives, or new jobs, but even then, I will assure you, when you get there, sometimes you have to ask the question there too of “So what do we do now?”

“So, what do we do now?” . . . and maybe this is the question that God is answering through Jeremiah. I just have to think that after the people have come so far, left their homes, been taken to this foreign place, eventually you stop fighting, you look around . . . and you are in that new place and you ask, “so what do we do now?”

And this is the message that Jeremiah brings to the people to answer their question. God tells the people, “Build houses. Plant gardens. Plant those gardens expecting that you will be around long enough to eat of their fruit . . . even more than that let your sons and daughters marry the people of this land, that they may continue to have children, so that they will grow stronger, so that the people will grow in numbers and strength.”

These are the kinds of things you do when the road looks like it may be long, maybe longer than you thought, when the way looks tough or difficult or just a lot of hard work, sometimes you just have to settle in for a little while, knowing that it is not forever, but that it is for right now.
You see, God tells them through Jeremiah to be where they are.

And it is not an easy thing to be where you are. Have you ever known someone who was just looking toward the next place, wasn’t really present any more at their job or position or place? And God is urging the people, even though what is now will not be forever, to be present in the here and now, where they are right now. Jeremiah tells them to seek the good of the place where they are, because to seek that particular place’s welfare is to seek their own welfare. In the good of the people there, they will find their own good.

And there is real wisdom in what God says . . . because sometimes you do have to be where you are. Even if it is a place where you are dissatisfied, not content, think that there is something else. Sometimes you have to look around and know where you are, when you are there . . . and certainly look forward to what’s next, but make sure that you are doing what you should be doing in the present.

This is part of what God is saying to the people . . . and what God is saying to us. Even as we may read the serenity prayer.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” It is the answer to the “So, what do we do now” question.

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