Sermon, November 26, 2017 “God of Hope” Jeremiah 29 vs. 1 & 4-14
We are blessed in Canada to have the CBC. It provides us with good music, outstanding coverage of local, Canadian and international radio and television news, and some of the best entertainment television to be found anywhere. Many of the CBC television series are viewed in as many as 70 countries throughout the world. Perhaps the funniest CBC comedy series at the moment is a programme named Kim’s Convenience. As you might well guess, it is the story of a Mr. and Mrs. Kim who are immigrants to Canada and are working hard to establish themselves in Canada by owning and operating a corner convenience store. They have two children, a son and a daughter, entering adulthood. Mr. Kim is entrepreneurial while at the same time anxious not to lose their Korean culture, identity and values. Mrs. Kim is anxious that they also appear to ‘fit into’ their new country as well. There are countless funny moments as the two parents relate to each other and their customers but also as they relate to their increasingly Canadian Korean children. The 24 year old son, Jung, has a six-pack physique and buys wine by the box. The daughter, Janet, is very much part of the young Canadian scene as well and has a boyfriend who she met at church. While addressing the inevitable conflicts and comedies of their life together CBC presents us with an insight into the challenges of living in a new land with a new language, new culture and community customs, and in doing so sometimes allows us to understand our own dominant culture a little better as well. Many of you were new to this land in your generation and will not have any trouble relating to the Kim family as they integrate into the Canadian culture. For those of us who are not so new, yet ultimately still immigrants to Canada, we have seen the drive and determination of those new to our country as they do well in terms of creating employment, educating their children, integrating into Canadian society, and often becoming significant philanthropists to various arts, cultural and academic institutions as well.
The experience of being new in a new land is exactly the situation described in our reading from Jeremiah this morning too. The Hebrew people went into exile as prisoners, but whether one goes as a prisoner, a refugee, or an immigrant the situation always demands that one leave home, and sometimes family and friends, behind. It means that the familiar is lost and the foreign is new. I am sure that many who find that they must give up all that they had and journey to a new land must often have also had in the back of their minds the thought that this relocation is only temporary until conditions change back home or my personal situation improves until that wonderful day when I return to the familiar. That seldom happens quickly and may not happen ever. Jeremiah’s advice to the Hebrew people was that their absence from the familiar would be a lengthy one, 70 years, and that God wanted them to simply make the best of where they found themselves. God did not want them to just “make do”, however, God’s intention was that they would fully integrate into the new society, even marrying into it which is one of the most difficult things for new arrivals to even contemplate. God called upon them to work for the good of their new city and to pray for the success of that new city as well. Although they had the promise of return that promise would not be fulfilled for 3.5 generations and in the meantime they were to get on with their lives, live them to the full, and to work hard in the firm belief that they were not alone, that they lived in God’s world. They were to become what we so often witness in the experience of new arrivals to Canada as well—hardworking people contributing to the benefit of the many.
Whatever the situation, whether the relocation is for a brief period of time or forever, God promises to remain with them. They will continue to worship God and God will be part of the journey with them. They would be expected to find or build places to worship God. Worship would remain a central part of their life together as a community. The two tenant congregations who share our worship space largely fit this pattern, with Smyrna, the Seventh Day Adventist congregation, which worshipped here yesterday, being of predominantly Jamaican origin, and the Presbyterian congregation which will meet in this space in a few hours being of Korean descent. They are both younger congregations and it is fascinating to see that slowly, but surely, their young people are joined by others who do not necessarily share their national and cultural heritage but do share the same devotion to God and Christian values. God is the constant in their life together and in ours as well. We share a common faith in the power and presence of Christ which we acknowledge on this day as we conclude the annual pilgrimage of faith from Advent to Advent. On the one hand today we acknowledge that we are indeed all members of the body of Christ. On the other hand we begin the short but important journey next week of four Sunday mornings in which we acknowledge how far we have fallen from that reality and just how badly we need Christ to be re-born in us at yet one more Christmas. We must not hasten these Advent days even though we anticipate the joy of Christmas. Before we reach the manger each year there is a time when we acknowledge ourselves to also be exiles in the kingdom of Christ and foreign to the reign of God, through our own actions and inactions. Yet as Jeremiah would remind the Hebrew people, we do not write the future of our world alone, our future is written with the promise of God to be with us.
Jeremiah’s words from verse 11-14 of our reading are perhaps the best known of all his writings: “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. Then when you call upon me and come to me and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and the places I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” You do not have literally go to a foreign land to feel as if you are in exile, that your life has become dislocated from the familiar. Such feelings happen all the time as we face a change in employment, the death of a spouse, the move to a new congregation, or even having a sense that you once were certain about the future of your life but now you have disconcerting questions about what might happen. It can be hard sometimes to remember Jeremiah’s words: “…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.”
Jeremiah spoke those words to a community of people. They are comforting to us as individuals, yes, but we need to remember that in our Scripture God speaks primarily to people in community. The importance of being in community, being in a community of faith, cannot be overstated: “…when you call upon me and come to me and pray to me, I will hear you.” is meant to reflect the voice of the people of God.” You are that people of God gathered as you are this morning in this beautiful space in a privileged city and country. Whether you have been part of this congregation for 57 days or 57 years you are part of a community of faith where people come seeking God and seeking community with others who understand that life is a journey in which there are times when you feel out of step with the world around you and where you need to assess your lives in the context of faith in a God who promises you a future with hope. The future can be a risky business. Sometimes it results in incredible success. At other times it results in abysmal failure. Whether that is as an individual or as a community we need to find that time and space where we can gather to re-new our lives. Parkwoods has had a good and faith-filled 57 years some of which have known incredible pain, yes, but most of the years have been good overall. Those years have not been static, however. Each year, each decade, has seen change. For some the change is a loss while for others it is a welcome relief. The glue which holds those two opposing feelings together is that they happen within a community where people are prepared to hear one another, challenge one another, support one another, and ultimately come before God who has said: “…When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me,…”
Those who founded our Parkwoods faith community, those who founded the St. John’s faith community some of whose members are now part of Parkwoods, did so, I believe, with a sense that if they searched for God in the context of where they live with all their heart then God would let them find God and they would build not a building but a community of faith in which God is made known, where God is found. That is what we celebrate today as we mark Christ the King Sunday. We acknowledge that we live in a world where Christ is ruler of all and that we are members of Christ’s body. It is our privilege to live out that body as a people known as Parkwoods United Church. We have done that for these many, many years and will continue to do so for as we continue to hear God’s word to us as spoken by Jeremiah which promises us as a community of faith: “…a future with hope.”