Sermon Script: Hebrews 29:10-14
Sermon Purpose: Quit running away from God!
Sermon Title: The Road Home.
I remember when I was a kid my Mom used to get so mad at my brother and me. It usually happened around the holidays. That’s when Mom would get stuck taking my brother and I both to the department stores to shop for birthday or Christmas gifts. It happened often. One of us would discover the wonderful hiding place in the middle of the clothing wrack. The middle of the clothing wrack was a neat fort, and a very defensible place from whichever bad guy our over active imaginations would invent. The trouble is we usually didn’t tell Mom we were playing our game, so of course the game never lasted very long. Pretty soon Mom was frantically searching for us and calling out our names. Why you ask. Probably because now we were officially “lost.” When Mom would find us she would be furious. Which for boys was in some ways even more motivation to play the game. Or, one of us would get the point it wasn’t a good idea to play that game. Then a new game would start. One of us would try to keep the other one from playing the game which usually lead to a fight in the store, and poor old Mom being both furious and mortified that her children would embarrass her this way. Having told this story I’m sure no one here has ever played that game before. Some of you have been the parent, and in my mother’s shoes when the game is being played. Some of you will be that parent this holiday season. Let us pray for one another.
The reason I bring this up is because of what my brother and I were doing. In a sense we were putting ourselves into exile. We were stepping out of the realm of our Mother’s protection, and entering our own fantasy world. Mom’s frantic searching and calling were very similar to the way God calls out to us when we are lost. At the moment this morning’s passage takes place in Biblical history the Children of Israel have been put into Exile by God as punishment for over a thousand years of entering into their own fantasy world and hiding from God. We might say the Exile was God’s way of putting the Children of Israel into timeout. The Children of Israel had deceived themselves by thinking it was okay to offer sacrifices to other (little g) gods, and to the God of Israel at the same time. It didn’t take long before many of the people stopped worshiping God all together. The problem was the Children of Israel had cut a binding legal contract with God called a covenant. When the Children of Israel started worshiping other (little g) gods, they broke the covenant. God spent a 1000 years trying to bring Israel back into their covenant relationship with God. Finally, God allowed the Assyrians to come and take the ten lost tribes of Israel away. Then God allowed the Babylonians to take away the rest. The Babylonians didn’t take the remaining Children of Israel away all at once. They tried to first take away some, and then force the others to pay tribute. When that didn’t work the Babylonians came and took the rest away. It was during the period between the first and second attacks from the Babylonians the prophet Jeremiah wrote this morning’s passage. The passage is part of a letter to those who have already been sent away into exile.
Now, when I was little, and my parents sent me into time out, there was usually the command to, “Sit there and think about what you’ve done.” Did any of y’all ever hear that? In a way that’s what the prophet Jeremiah is doing. Jeremiah is delivering a message from God saying I know you hate being exiled, but make the most of it. Telling the exiles, “Do not make trouble for your captors,” is like saying don’t act out while you are supposed to be sitting in time out. In this case the prophet is telling the Children of Israel they will be in exile, or “time out” for 70 years. Scholars are unsure of where the number 70 comes from, but the basic message is, “most of you who are taken away into exile will not live to see the Promised Land again.” Seventy years is a bitter pill to swallow. As children, sitting in time out for five minutes seems like torture. In our go go go culture we don’t even like to wait for dinner – which is why there are so many fast food chains. Can you imagine being told you are not allowed to return to the one place on earth promised to you by God to be yours? Do you have any idea how much that must have hurt? Those must have been awful words to hear. Thankfully, the story does not end with Jeremiah’s message of 70 years spent in exile. Jeremiah is writing to the exiles to give them hope. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. (CEB)” God is not going to leave the exiles in time out forever. God has a plan, and it sounds like a plan for restoration. Having to wait for God to work is often hard, but those in exile have been given a task to pass the time. Those in exile are to spend their time searching for God with all of their hearts, and when they seek God they will find God. Jeremiah is not talking about looking for God in a place. Jeremiah is talking about looking for God in everything they do, in everything they say, and in everything they think. Gee. Does that sound familiar to anyone? Church: Does that sound familiar? The greatest commandment is written in Deuteronomy 6:5, and repeated by Jesus in Luke 10:27. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. (CEB)” The message is if you will do what you were supposed to be doing in the first place you will find God, and when you find God, God will return you to the place God promised. To be clear we will not find God because we looked for God. We will be found by God because God is looking for us the same way my Mom looked for my brother and I in the department store.
On occasion; to teach my brother and I a lesson, my Mom would move over a couple of aisles while my brother and I were playing the game. Then, it was our turn to be scared and “lost.” I wonder if God wasn’t doing the same thing with the Children of Israel. I think God allows us to run away. When we choose to sin, that’s exactly what we are doing. We are putting distance between ourselves and the giver of life. The funny thing is we can never hide from God. God always sees us; however, we can cover our eyes like a child so we don’t see God. The trouble is the more we try to hide from God; the more we deliberately put distance between ourselves and God, the further into exile we find ourselves. So what does exile look like for us today? It looks like being miserable. I’ve mentioned before there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a chocolate bar. We see it in the check out line. We buy one on impulse. Most of us don’t make it out of the store before we start to eat it; and before we get home, it’s gone. The candy bar tastes pretty good while we’re eating it, but then – it’s gone; and we want another one. Sisters and Brothers there are a lot of different kinds of candy bars out there. The more obvious ones are alcohol, drugs, sexual immorality, and greed. However, there are certainly candy bars with more subtle wrappers. How about when a prayer concern turns into an excuse to gossip? How about when fear leads us to putting down others, and our anger leads to rage at someone who has no idea why we are angry with them? How about when it is easier to gripe and complain to a friend instead of dealing with the person who wronged us in the first place? What about when we’d rather buy a candy bar, or eat out instead of tithing? There are all manner of candy bars out there, but none of them give happiness for very long. Then we are left feeling scared and lost; scrambling to find happiness again.
Sisters and brothers, let’s stop eating junk food. Let’s stop playing the game of hiding from God. We don’t have to be on the hunt for happiness all the time. We can have peace and rest, and quality of life. But, these things do not come from chasing after candy bars. Real and lasting joy that does not fade, and does not leave us crashing and searching for more is available. Real and lasting joy that is free from the hurtful sinning which thrusts us into exile can only be found with God. Hear the good news. The way has been prepared. The great bridge builder has spanned the gap between the agony of our clutching and grasping for the candy of sin to the joy which passes all understanding. Let’s stop running from God, and let’s start down the road home. If it has been too long, and you don’t remember the way let me offer this bit of guidance. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. Search for God in your every thought; in your every word, and in all the work you do. Let us lead our children in the paths that lead to joy, and not lives filled with sinful cavities of pain. Let’s teach our children God’s Word. Let’s live our lives by example – saying our prayers and reading our Bibles when we rise and when we lie down. Let’s test those words against one another to better understand their meaning. Allow the truth of Scripture to change the way we see the world. If we seek God in this way, God will find us? How do I know? This is the best news of all. I know God will find us because God is already looking for us, and that is good news indeed.
In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.