Good Morning. In the light of recent events it's been a long week and a long weekend so for my Daily Cup I'm sharing the sermon I preached at St. Alban's Church yesterday.
The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2016
The Rev. Jim Quigley
Jeremiah 29.1, 4-7
The Collect of the Day
Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
“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.” Jeremiah 29.7
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen
Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me.
A stranger appears and says to me: “My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.”
The stranger is a theologian.
As a person of faith I’ve always been comforted by the notion that often we must be lost before we are found. That darkness and chaos are new beginnings, not endings. The earliest theologians of Israel believed this. So did the ones who would come along much later, theologians like St. Peter and St. Paul. And the theologians that came after them, the authors of the Gospels according to Matthew, and Mark... and Luke and to John.
The movement from chaos to wholeness, from barrenness to fertility and indeed the movement from death to life is the abiding narrative from the very beginning of the Holy Scriptures until their end. Think of the creation stories in Genesis. Think of the narratives of Abraham, of Jacob and Joseph. Remember Job and the sign of Jonah. Think of the epic story of the Exodus and Israel’s long journey to the Promised Land. Then remember what happened next… the rise and fall of the Davidic dynasty and the preaching of the prophets to the exiles – those words of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Then remember the story of our salvation – the life, the death and finally the resurrection of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ and a few of the words that he gave us: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever looses his life for my sake will find it,” sayeth the Lord.
I am the first preacher to address this congregation after the announcements our Rector and Vestry made to our parish on Tuesday. That’s a challenge, I must say. So know this: I stand here by faith, not by sight. I stand before you without a hope for easy answers or quick fixes. And know this: if you have heard or felt any declarations of victory, if they have been or will be spoken, know they are unacceptable – unacceptable because none of us has won, certainly not God and certainly not his will for us as the church. Not yet.
But I also stand before you abiding in and robed by the great story of our faith. Abiding in and robed by that great story I stand before you armed with this good news: We are going to be alright. Deborah, you are going to be alright. Each of us (all of us?) may have to walk through some darkness or blow out one last candle in order to see the path before us more clearly but if we seek God in our darkness we can find new light. That’s God’s promise, not mine. As your preacher this morning I’m also called to remind you that there is always a “maybe” in the great story of our faith, an “if and a when,” if you will.
In the midst of this faithful but realistic and Godly hope we have an uncanny blessing this morning. The uncanny blessing comes from the words of the prophet Jeremiah, words addressed “to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets and all the people who Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have 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.’”
Given our current condition can our church have been given a more precise, a more prophetic, a clearer or more commanding text to hear this day? In a proverbial Babylon can we hear, or more important can we heed, the word of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel speaking to the elders and to the priests and to all the people of St. Alban’s? Can we hear the word of God showing us the only way forward? Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters… multiply and do not decrease. Above all, people of St. Alban’s, seek the welfare of the church where I have sent you and pray to the Lord on its behalf, and do so for one reason. Do so because in its welfare you will find yours!
Can we all hear this? Do we all hear this? Can we heed this divine advice? “Seek the welfare of the church where I have sent you and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will find yours?” Can we also hear the inscrutability embedded in the text? Or can we hear what Jeremiah doesn’t say to us today? Explanations as to the reasons for exile are not offered and the responsibilities for the exile are not named and will go unclaimed. The prophet doesn’t blame the elders, blind as they might have been. He doesn’t blame the priests, broken as they were. Nor does he blame the people, bewildered as they had become. For whatever the reasons – over and over again the texts of the bible patently refuse to tell us – the broken, the bewildered, the faithful and the recalcitrant alike must experience loss in order to be found by God – in order to find their way home. But they must and can only do so together, not apart. Not by blame can we ever ignite a divine flame.
Jeremiah was a prophet to the people of the exile. He wrote and he preached to people whose dominant reality was ambiguity about the future and mixed emotions about the past. Right? Regardless of the difference between the severities of the experience of the exiles in Babylon to whom Jeremiah preached and the people of St. Alban’s Church just now, like them we need a sustaining word, a word of hope, a word of strength. Thanks be to God we’ve been given that word today. We can’t hear it too many times. In fact I don’t think it’s possible to hear it enough: Dear people of St. Alban’s here is your call – Build houses and plant gardens and eat of their fruit. Build ministry. Build kindness. Build forgiveness. Build unity. Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Above all seek the welfare of the church to which I have sent you because in its welfare you will find yours. Thus sayeth the Lord.
 Denis Diderot (1713-1784)