Unraveled: Greenhouses

Psalm 111 Unraveled: Greenhouses 7/11/2021

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-11 Rev. Mark Allio 150th Celebration

Psalm 111

1 Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of honor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-11

29 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 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. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

This is the Word of Lord!

Thanks be to God.

Dick Jewell, retired President of Grove City College recounting the changes on Broad Street wrote about the loss of Murphy’s Five and Dime and JC Penny, the hardware store, and other mom and pop shops and the growth of the Outlet mall and other businesses moving to the outskirts of town. He wrote, “The effect on the downtown…was the same in Grove City as in other small towns - catastrophic decline. In Grove City, storefronts became empty and the town began to look quite tired and downtrodden.”

Small towns, even some big towns and cities have experienced this same catastrophic decline for several reasons: natural disasters, economic shifts, dying manufacturing, or fear of crime. I know that in my hometown of Clarion after the Owen Illinois glass plant shutdown, the town has slowly become a shell of its former self. Because of the plant shut down, a lot of people left the area in search of work, others had to settle for lower paying jobs. Family-owned businesses were no longer able to stay open and had to shut down all while the Dollar General stores popped up like dandelions all over the area.

 

I’m sure that many of you can share similar stories.

 

When the world changes around us, home can stop feeling like home. The place we grew up or raised a family in, seems so foreign to us. We yearn for the glory days of old as we hold on to resentment for those we blame.

 

In our second reading, we read about Jeremiah and his letter to the exiles in Babylon. The Israelites have been taken captive and spread throughout the Babylonian empire. The Israelites have been taken away from everything the know: their home, their town, their family business that’s been handed down from generation to generation, they lost friends and family, their holy temple of the Most High God. They lost their hope.

 

In Psalm 137:1-4, we can hear their lament:

 

1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

 

Can you feel their pain? Their confusion. Their Hopelessness.

 

Personally, I love the books of the Old Testament prophets especially the prophets speaking words to those in exile, because that feels closest to what we go through. We are strangers in a strange land. This is not our home. Our home is found in God’s coming Kingdom that is here, but not quite yet. So, there are many times where our goals don’t align with the world around us. We, like those in exile, can feel as though we are captive in a foreign land.

 

What do we do when the world is unfamiliar and strange? What do we do when we find ourselves hopeless?

 

We build homes and plant gardens. We work towards the welfare of the city that we find ourselves in. We have weddings and grow families. God tells the exiles, “Your old life is gone, this is your new life.”

 

When Rev. Carl Linn and others started Jefferson Center, at first called Linnville, they created a German speaking church for the German speaking people in the area. They needed a place to worship, to learn, to grow in a language that they understood. It was seeking the welfare of the city, well, not a “city” but you know what I mean.

 

Eventually, less and less people spoke German. The younger generations were speaking English and German was now only known when their parents or grandparents got angry. I know that my great-grandparents were German speaking but one of the only German phrases that stuck with my grandmother was when she was in trouble her mom would yell, “Ich hole einen Stock!” which translates, “I’m going to get a stick!” And my grandma new it was time to run!

 

So, Jefferson Center became an English-speaking church after over 20 years of German. I’m sure that many missed hearing the hymns or the Lord’s Prayer or the scriptures read in their own tongue. But the world had changed. The city had a new need.

 

“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.” In this passage, the word “welfare” is the Hebrew word shalom. The most common translation for shalom is peace. But, the word peace, though close in a lot of ways, does not begin to even touch on the deep meaning of shalom. Shalom points to well-being, health, fullness of life, prosperity; its linked to an idea of perfection or completion, a wholeness.

 

“But seek the shalom of the city [seek the shalom of the stranger, seek the shalom of the enemy] where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on their behalf, for in their shalom, you will find your shalom.” But for many of us to seek the shalom of the stranger or enemy, requires letting go of the past.

 

God is calling the exiles and us to stop living in the past and move ourselves to the here and now. To accept this new home and settle in it. To work towards the shalom and prosperity of our enemies and neighbors. It can be hard. It can be painful. But the right thing often is.

 

“Let go of the past!” Now, this all might seem odd to include in a sermon celebrating 150 years. But we aren’t called to forget the past, instead we are called to remember and to celebrate. The Bible is full of descriptions of feast days and celebrations, most of those celebrations were meant to help people remember the past and the good things God has done!

 

The past is important. The past is the foundation we build our houses on. The past is the soil we plant our gardens in. The past is why we are here now.

 

And so, we celebrate Rev. Carl Linn and that first German-speaking congregation. We remember the generations that went through hardship to ensure the doors of this church would remain open. We rejoice when we recall the church picnics, peach festivals, game nights, and retreats. We give God thanks for the memories of 30-hour famines, youth scavenger hunts, and live nativities. We commemorate God’s calling of Rev. Jean Henderson, Rev. Bob Langston, Rev. Jeff Moore, Rev. Tom McMeekin and the many others who served God’s people here. And the list goes on and on.

 

And this church has a history of seeking out the welfare of the city. Through all the expansions and additions to this building, this house was built. And through the Resource Food Bank, members literally planted gardens, well planted crops at least. And that continues through our support of the Summit Food Bank. And this has been a place of shalom for so many people.

 

The end of our reading has the famous verse, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” This verse is often seen scrolled on the bottom of graduation cards, or in an uplifting meme with some beautiful picture of nature behind it. But, we often forget or miss the context of this verse. This was a verse first directed at the exiles. They were definitely experiencing harm.

The truth is there is no quick fix or easy way out. There are no magic ruby slippers to click together. Real hope for the people, according to Jeremiah, is not in some immediate relief from social and communal death, but in living through that experience as faithful people, awaiting the Lord’s “future with hope”.

It meant calling upon God, praying to God, searching for God, seeking God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. In that, they would know that the Lord is faithful.

It also meant, ‘building houses, planting gardens, having children, and marrying them off. That is, continuing to live as faithful people in a time of difficulty in the world in which they found themselves. They were not to forget their calling as God’s people, or the mission they were called; working, and praying for the shalom of the city in which they lived in exile.

And it means the same thing for us, here and now.

And in 2021, the world has changed. Our neighborhoods have changed. Home seems like a distant memory, and yet we will continue to build houses, plant gardens, and seek the shalom of this community and those that surround it. And through it all will we find our hope for the future.

 

150 years. Wow. 150 years seems like such a long time. But you know, Noah was around 500 years old when God told him to build the ark. So, 150 years? We’re just getting started.

 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 
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