By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

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

We are a community who helps our neighbors.  There are always neighbors to find who can use various levels of help, from a phone call, to a simple smile, to help reconstructing their homes and their lives.  This week, we will be having mission trip information meetings about our upcoming trip to Kentucky.  If you know of anyone who is interested in joining us, they can stop by our meetings at Fireside on Tuesday at 3:00 or Thursday at 5:30.  Whenever I have sought welfare in another city through a mission trip, the response has been moving.  Those we are helping are so thankful to be receiving our time and efforts; I expect that we will experience more of the same on our trip to Kentucky to help those who were affected by the December 10th 2021 tornadoes.

Jeremiah spoke to the Israelites about the situation they found themselves in, living in a foreign land, in Babylonia.  It was not a good situation for any of them.  All of them wished to be able to return home.  But Jeremiah seems to imply that they will be staying awhile: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters, … 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” (Jeremiah 29:5-7).  In just a few verses more, we would find one of the well-known verses of the Bible: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).  The Lord has sent them into exile, yes, but there is hope.  The Lord does have a plan to prosper them.  But they also need to listen to the Lord in order to prosper.  They have to settle into the place that is foreign to them, because they are not returning home any time soon.  They should not say, “I am not bringing any children into this dreadful situation,” because the Lord still wants them to prosper and have hope.  “Jeremiah told the Jews that rather than resisting, resenting, or rejecting their circumstances, they should put down roots and become productive” (Bruce G. Boak, FOTW C.4.150).  Even in the difficult circumstance of being ruled by a foreign enemy, they are to find hope.  We may find the same theme centuries later in Nazareth: Even though the people were under Roman rule, and they barely had money to pay the taxes, there is always hope.

Jeremiah’s vision is a reminder for us today also.  When we fear the circumstances that we find ourselves in, instead of finding faith and hope, we are not living faithfully into the future.  Lance Pape, an ordained minister in the Christian Church and an Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth, Texas, noted, “Jeremiah’s sober vision of the future invites us to pause and consider the deeper causes of our new situation, and to ask what we need to do to live faithfully into the future that is actually before us, not the one we once imagined for ourselves (NP C.201).  This is the question that we must ask ourselves: How can we faithfully live in our current circumstance?  We can find faith in any circumstance.  We can lead by hope whatever we may face.  We may do God’s work in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.

We faithfully live in our current circumstance by being faithful to growing deeper with God, and listening to God’s call to action in the world.  We are helping the places where God has sent us, seeking the welfare of and caring for the places where we find ourselves, even when that place is imperfect and is not exactly where we want to be.  The whole world where we live is imperfect – we are almost in exile from the Promised Land right now – but we can make a difference where we are here and now.  This is what the Israelites were being called to do through the prophet Jeremiah.  They were to have families, grow their livelihood, and create a home in the foreign place.  We create our home on this earth.  We pray for the welfare of cities.  We pray for the welfare of others.  We pray for the welfare of nations.  Jeremiah said, “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).  We pray for our nation’s welfare, for in its success, we find our own welfare.  When the nation suffers, we also suffer.  The Russians may have found that out when the value of the Rubel plummeted with the start of the Russia-Ukraine War.  When we pray for the welfare of other places, we in turn find our welfare.  This is not just for economic reasons; it is because we are valuing God’s kingdom over anything else, and by praying for someone, in secret, God will reward us in secret (Matthew 6:6).

We seek welfare in another city whenever we pray for them.  When we go on mission trips, we are seeking welfare for others.  When we pray for victims, such as those in Florida, and wherever disaster strikes, we are seeking their welfare.  When we check in on cities where an acquaintance lives, we are seeking their welfare.  We have Christians in nearly every city of the world and, in the grand scheme, they are all our family.  It is a good thing to pray for another’s welfare.  It is a good thing to help our neighbor.  We can find faith in any circumstance.

We can secondly live faithfully in our current circumstance by recognizing that God is right beside each of us.  Tell yourself, “God is right beside me.”  God is right beside you, in your pew.  God is right beside you, at your dinner table.  God is right beside you, as you wake up in your morning routine.  God is right beside me, in order that I might turn to God easily when I need God.  God is right beside me, in order that I might pray easily on behalf of others and other causes.  God is right beside me, in order that I might return easily to praise God and thank God for the things that have gone right.  We can more easily “give to him glorious praise” (Psalm 66:2).  When we convince ourselves that God is right beside us all the time, we convince ourselves that we have consistent and easy access to God.  Many of us Christians put God in a box far way and believe that we need prophets or special mediums to have any connection to God at all.  But this is thankfully not the case.  Each and every one of us has access to God.  God is right beside us.  There is a country song by Justin Moore: “If Heaven wasn’t so far away, I’d pack up the kids and go for the day, introduce them to their grandpa; watch them laugh at the way he talks…”  That would be nice if we could do that.  Well, we may not be able to do that for our family members, but we can do that with God.  God is not so far away.  For that we can be thankful.  We can faithfully live in our current circumstance, first, by seeking the welfare of others, and second, by having confidence in our consistent access to God!  Knowing that we have access to God, can, in turn, help us to turn to God more so that we can seek and serve the welfare of others even more efficiently.

Amy Grant wrote a song about how much Scripture means to us; it is a beautiful song called “Thy Word.”  One of the phrases in the song is “please be near me to the end.”  Especially because we live in an imperfect world, and need encouragement, we need God beside us.  Especially because we seek God’s help in making the imperfect world a little more perfect, we need God beside us.  We can pray regularly, “Please be near me to the end.”  The more that you pray prayers like this, or even write prayers like this down if you are better at writing than speaking off the cuff, the closer connection you should be able to feel with God.  And as you pray for God to be near you, you can also pray for God to be with this person or that person, this city or that city.  God is with us, beside us, as we try to lead others around us and try to set a good example.   The Lord knows we need help in doing that, because we are imperfect beings.  We rely on God’s help so that we can bring welfare to others, through God’s strength, courage, and wisdom.  Additionally, we sing, “I will not forget your love for me.”  We need to be sure that we do not forget God’s love for us.  We need to actively pursue the Lord so that we know God more deeply.  This is our Deeper Toward God series.  We want to grow deeper.  We want to know and experience God more deeply.  We must rely on knowing God more deeply if we are to have much of a chance at actively seeking the welfare of others.  We can do good things for others without God.  Yet we can do even stronger things for others with God’s help.

The leper, who was healed, turned back to Jesus to thank him, while the other nine did not.  Jesus tells the leper that his faith has made him well.  When Jesus gives us good things, are we recognizing that it is from Jesus?  This is part of our faith.  We not only recognized that something good happened; we recognize where that something good came from: God.  When we receive the gift that is Jesus, the ultimate gift that God has given to us, do we recognize the gift that is Jesus?  Nine out of the ten lepers did not.  To faithfully live in our current circumstance, we need to faithfully recognize where the source of our strength comes from.

Writer Anne Lamott says her two favorite prayers are, in the morning, “Help me.  Help me.  Help me,” and at bedtime, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”  Also, our weekly ritual of standing and singing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” is a ritual where we recognize where our blessings flow from.  We are called to seek the welfare of others and pray for others to use what we are given for the good of God’s glory.  And we are made stronger to do that, to have hope and to give hope, in whatever circumstance we are in, because God is our Lord and our God, existing in our space, right beside us, ready to love us.  May all glory and honor be to God!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
29:1 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.
29:4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
29:5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
29:6 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.
29:7 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.

Psalm 66:1-12
66:1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
66:2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
66:3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
66:4 All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah
66:5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
66:6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him,
66:7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations– let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah
66:8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,
66:9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
66:10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
66:11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;
66:12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

Luke 17:11-19
17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,
17:13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.
17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
17:17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?
17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
17:19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

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