Home: A Plan
What is your plan to know God’s plan? I got a kick out of revisiting this Jeremiah lesson. Some of you will recognize it as the prophecy in which we rooted our Capital Campaign here almost two years ago. We had mapped out this whole worship series about Home back in May, including texts, themes, and music. Planning worship so far ahead can be dicey business at times. So today, as I read of God’s promise to God’s people through the prophet Jeremiah, I can’t help but see myself in this promise to return home; and if that’s the case, then I guess that means that Chicago was my land of exile, my Babylon.
For the ancient Israelites, though, this promise could not have come at a more bitter time for them. They had lost it all, everything God had promised them, because they had lost both their gratitude and their memory of who had been the source of all their bounty. They had been dragged away into exile, in that faraway land of the Babylonian Empire. And there, as they grieved and mourned, the prophet Jeremiah came to them with this promise directly from God, that they would be restored, that their exile would come to an end, and that they would go home again.
That said, this promise of God can tempt us to leap right over what might be the most important part of the whole lesson: God tells the people to make a home right where they are. Build houses! Have children! Marry them off! Even more than that, though, seek the welfare of your place of exile! Don’t just wall yourselves off and make the best of it. Even though you are a conquered people, make the society you find yourself in the best it can be. It’s in your own best interest, after all.
Think about that from the perspective of those who first heard this prophecy. What God is telling a people living with the consequences of military defeat is that they are to do right by their captors! If you were in their shoes, could you handle following through such a demand?
The point for us in all of this, I think, is that home is what you make of it.
I grew up in a construction family. My father and grandfather, my namesakes, were both general contractors. I spent summers working in the field and office for their company, marveling at the way line drawings on a sheet of paper would be turned into actually, physical structures.
When I was a teenager, we moved into the house my dad grew up in. To put it mildly, it needed some work. And over the course of several months, I got to watch that work take place. It was downright miraculous. Areas that had once felt cramped and closed off were suddenly open and inviting. Rooms that had once been dark and cold were suddenly bathed in light. In short, what had once been my grandparents’ home had become ours. And what it took to get there was the vision of someone who could see a bigger picture than I could, who could imagine the potential within a space and craft the plan to forge it into reality.
Home requires a plan.
So what’s your plan?
I don’t know about you, but that’s where I get hung up. I tend to think that I’ve got to map out some grand course from here to there. And as soon as I do that, I am immediately tempted to pay more attention to what is wrong with “here”.
I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone, that many of you look at what you have and where you are and cast your eyes off toward the future. You don’t love your job, but you can gut it through until the right one comes along. Your teacher really grates on you, but you know there’s a long-term purpose to all of this. We are really good at putting caveats on our current situation, because it’s only temporary, deluding ourselves into thinking that perfection lies just beyond the horizon.
The hard truth is that, while perfection is real, none of us will ever see it fully in our lifetimes.
You didn’t know Chicago was going to turn me into such an optimist, did you?
I think there’s actually a gift in recognizing that we live imperfectly in an imperfect reality. It’s not that we lower our expectations. It’s that we realize what a gift grace can be. When we are honest about our own imperfections, we are more likely to be gracious to the imperfections of others, giving them the blessing we so desperately desire. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that we lose sight of accountability; instead, we temper it with healthy doses of mercy.
Even more, I think, it’s the message of Jeremiah that should cut through: make your home here. Yes: whatever situation we are in is a temporary one. But it is the one we are in! Seek its welfare! Live your life now! For the time being, whether it’s a matter of days, or weeks, or months, or years, this is home, and God is here. In fact, God is the one who embodied that for us in Jesus Christ, not just putting up with us, but physically making home in the midst of humanity.
And here’s the best part of it all, right there in what Jeremiah tells us: the plan belongs to God! Like that gifted architect that can look at an existing structure and imagine it transformed, God looks into our lives and imagine what we could be. If you’re tracking the comparison, that makes us the house. Have you ever seen a house plan its own renovation?
So here’s my question for us today: how can we tap into God’s plan for our lives? Or, to put it another way, what is your plan to know God’s plan?
First and foremost, it takes intention. We spent much of the Spring talking about how important it is that we build practices of intention into our own lives. And that’s a point worth returning to again and again and again. Is it a discipline of daily prayer? Is it one of weekly worship? Is it regular service to others? Is the physical activity of biking, or walking, or running?
This isn’t the kind of thing that can happen by accident, though it may take an accident for us to wake up to the need for it.
When we do this, when we forge our own plan to know God’s plan as individuals beloved of God, then we as a community can better forge our plan to know God’s plan for all us, so that this church can become more and more the home that God intends!
It is so easy to dwell on the ways that we’re not there yet. But as Jeremiah reminds us, God invites us to make our home in the here and now. Even though it might be temporary, it’s still home.