The Journey: There's No Place Like Home
November 26, 2017
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
It was one of those beautiful summer nights…the kind where you could sit outside and enjoy the company of good friends.
We were seated around the table of our favorite pizza place near where we used to live in Sawyer, MI. And somehow the talk around the table turned to home…
It was my husband Kyle who posed the question…and it turned into a conversation I still remember several years out… He simply asked, “Where is your land?” Where is the place that you call home?” That place that calls out to you. That place that you think of as the ultimate happy place.
Over the next hour, those of us around the table recalled the place we call ‘home’…the place where the land is near and dear to us.
Its a simple but profound question. Because so often your land…the place you think of as home…speaks to who you are. It has shaped you and taken up residence in your DNA.
Since that conversation, it is the question that I ask our interns to share as they begin their ministry season with us. It’s such a better mixer question than asking about a favorite color or ice cream flavor. By the time the discussion has ended, we have a clearer understanding of each other. And often, we have a clearer understanding of ourselves.
It is a question that all of us should consider.
Where is your land? Where is home for you?
It will most likely be diﬀerent for each and every one of us. And for many, your land is not here. It is not in Holland, Michigan. It is the campground you went to every summer. It is the childhood home you grew up in. It is the National Park or lakeshore you visited even just one time, but it made your heart leap out of your chest.
In today’s passage, the people are longing for their land. Longing to go back to a place they felt was home.
Because they were not home. They were far, far from home. And they were longing to go back.
Because after all, there’s no place like home.
The scene from today’s passage opens in a barren wasteland…a land once flowing with milk and honey that has just experienced a cyclone of exile and rebellion.
A series of bad kings and mismanagement has led to large portions of the Judean community swept away…only to find themselves in Babyloz…(work with me here…)
I’ve got a feeling they’re not in Jerusalem anymore.
With home on their minds…they are seeking any path…yellow brick or otherwise…to find their way home.
Along the way, many they meet are quick to tell them how to get home…
Several false prophets have provoked them…filling their minds with stories of the imminent destruction of Babyloz…and the promise that they would soon return home.
But it turns out, these prophets have no heart, no brain…and no courage. Empty words to fill them with empty hope.
Enter Jeremiah, the good prophet of the South…who writes the Exiles a letter of true hope. True courage. True heart.
And yet, his words are not exactly what they were hoping to hear…
“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.”
No, no, no…The Good Prophet Jeremiah was supposed to tell us how to get home…how to get back to Kansas, I mean, the Promised Land (its easy to get them mixed up).
Jeremiah has the wrong script…he’s reading the wrong part. Somebody throw a bucket of water on this guy…
Every thought they’ve had since arriving in Babyloz has been about HOME… their land…their promised land.
And this…this was not it.
And so now, now you’re telling us to build houses? Plant gardens? Have children? These are things of years…not the days we were hoping for…
The Judeans wanted to jump on the Yellow Brick Road…run to the Emerald City…click their heels together…and be back home.
We can hardly blame them.
They were strangers in a strange land.
With strange cultures, traditions, even gods.
Their perception of land flowed into their faith as well.
They were not in God’s land. God lived in the promised land…not in Babylon. They were living in another gods land…
For the Israelites…God’s location was in the Temple….and so to be anywhere else meant they were separated from God.
And so they were not only missing the connection they had to the land they had known and loved…but also the God they had known and loved.
In their minds God had borders…limits…He did not travel to Babyloz. They had left him behind.
Like the Wizard behind the curtain, they thought their God had limited power, limited resources, and a limited location.
Once they left their land, they thought they had to leave their God.
And so perhaps…exile had a reason. Perhaps they were sent into exile to see that God had actually gone along with them…
After all, Jeremiah starts his letter with God as the unlikely subject. “All those I carried into exile.”
All this time they had believed it was Nebuchadnezzar’s henchmen who had carried them oﬀ…and true enough they had…but God had allowed it to happen.
God had taken his people away from his land.
But it was to teach them that no matter what land they live in…it was God’s land. That all land is the promised land.
Because God’s promises go with us no matter where we go. He has promised us more than what our minds limit us to.
And so for 70 years, they are to settle…and not a resigning yourself to a miserable existence kind of settle…but settle down. Plant things, grow things, from fruit to family…
Make this your land.
God says, I’ll bring you back. But for now, I want you to find me here.
This entire plot line…scene after scene of exile, hardship, and loss of home and land…leads up to the most famous line of the script…
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.
12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.
13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.
Yes, even here in Babyloz…even here you can find me.
I know the plans I have for you…plans to watch over you and care for you. But these plans will not be lived out where you thought they would…
Once again, God reminds us of the futility of trying to write our own scripts, design our own lives, plot our own plots…
That the more we try to control…the more we feel out of of control. And suddenly we find ourselves in exile.
Most of us have lived at one time or another in exile. Whether geographically far from family and friends…alone for the first time…out from under the protective wing of our parents.
Or perhaps more metaphorically…when exile has been a place of loneliness, isolation, or illness.
Its easy to want to return to the known. To find God in the familiar. To look only for the road that will lead us back to home.
Or perhaps it’s easy to think that our exile is an excuse for tepid faith…for lackluster following. When the letter says…seek me with all your heart. Not just at home…but in exile as well.
It is often when we are in wilderness place when we find God in new and powerful ways. And it is often our time in the exiled wilderness that leads us to new growth and learning.
I’ve talked before about our move to Sawyer, Michigan from the suburbs of Minneapolis in 2009. Despite having grown up in Michigan, this part of the Mitten seemed dramatically remote (I didn’t know about the pizza place at the time). It was an area ripe with antique malls but short on friendships and connection.
I had left behind dear friends in Minnesota…and I wanted so desperately to go home.
But in our second year there, Kyle started teaching more regularly at a seminary in Holland, Michigan. And as his responsibilities grew, so did our family time up in Holland. We were given an extra student apartment for those snow days when Kyle couldn’t make it the 70 miles back…and I remember so clearly driving our toddler age children up to Holland…a land flowing with Meijer and Target.
It was our “exile” in Sawyer that led us to Holland…and eventually, to Fellowship Church. We needed to be there…we bought a house, had one more child…we even planted a garden.
And in the midst of all of that, we discovered that God was there with us.
God is in the lonely places. God is in our exiles.
His desire is to bring us out of those places…to restore us…and to lead us home.
But there are times we have to accept exile…when tragedy or unexpected circumstances have left us with no choice.
Our natural tendency is to escape the pain and difficulty as fast as possible.
The good prophet Jeremiah’s message of perseverance and persistence is less popular…but it lasts a whole lot longer.
Because God is not only in the exile of space, he is in the exile of time.
And he will be with you, no matter what road you are on, no matter how long you’re on it.
What does it mean to move forward, when all we want to do is move back? Especially when we know moving forward means NOT moving back?
It means that no matter where we are…we know that God holds the plans of our future.
And that if we seek him…with all our hearts…we will find him. No matter where we are.
Our land…our home…perhaps they are meant to be more a place of memory than permanence.
A place for us to think back on when we need reminders of God’s presence of grace and mercy and comfort.
But our experience of exile is also needed. To remind us that God goes with us…goes before us…and goes beside us.
Allow me to suggest a lunchtime conversation…ask someone… Where is your land?
And then if you feel very brave, ask… Where is your exile?
And where have you seen God in both?
Whether we’re near or far…or somewhere over the rainbow… God is with us.
Our call as Christ followers is to look for him…with all our hearts. And when we do that, God promises that we will find him.
There’s no place like home.
It’s a space where heaven and earth seem a little closer. But perhaps…there’s no place like exile either.
Because in those places of desolation and loneliness…
…maybe heaven and earth come even closer.