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The More Successful That Nation Is

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7;Psalm 66:1-12; 2 Timothy 2:8-15;Luke 17:11-19

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

October 13, 2019 –Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

In the American West in the days of the cowboy the watchword was ‘we ride for the brand.’ The cowboys came from here and there and everywhere.

Something drew them away from everywhere else. When they ended up in the free grasslands on Great Plains they took a job wherever they could and they did their best to keep their job.

They rode for the brand. Their goal was to make the boss successful. The more successful he was, the better it would be for them.

But something happened when they did that. The whole valley…and the whole country…became better, safer to live in, easier to trust. And when people could see a future there as far as the eyecould see, civilization became more possible.

Schools, churches, families, children and finally governments, became possible. Then a future became possible to imagine. Then the human relationships that could make that vision more than a pipe dream formed around it. The long view came into play. Everyone prospered.

So what does that have to do with our Hebrew Bible reading today? What is so special about Jeremiah’s counsel to the people of Jerusalem who are being taken away?

Their family had lived in one place for hundreds of years. Now they had been cast out into the world because there was no room for them in their land. They became sojourners, and forever they would remind their children that they were sojourners, too.

Now, like the cowboys of the American West, they found themselves on a new frontier, learning to do a new thing in a new place. Like our cowboy ancestors, they had to know what was true and what was not true in order to survive.

Like our cowboys, they brought all of their history…and their family’s history…with them. Unlike the cowboy, though, it was not a choice they finally made.

They were captured. And the conquerors chose to take the finest of people first. The king and his officials, metal workers and others in Jerusalem skilled in making things.

Who did that leave? The people who had not had any authority, any skill, any experience in doing anything but doing what they had been told. We read of a very wise and subversive form of genocide and imperialism today.

It was a grinding policy that would take generations to have its full effect. But in the 6th Century BC, time was not a problem, the long view was the only view…except to those being assimilated.

So you would think that their prophet would tell them to resist, refuse to submit, saddle up their horses and ride off into the sunset. Instead, Jeremiah tells them to ride for the brand.

Bend your labors to making your new country a prosperous and happy place. The more successful that nation is, the better off you will be.

The people of Israel find themselves in a situation that King David would never have foreseen. His nation’s sovereignty lasted almost 300 years in the Northern Kingdom and a little over 400 years in the South.

But now a new day has dawned. Against God’s wishes and Samuel’s counsel they had anointed kings, absolute rulers in military matters at first…but then over all matters. Kings gave them structure during their days settling the land, but it played itself out once the land was settled.

Our American forebears faced a wild and possibly hostile frontier when they landed on the shores of the New World, but they chose instead to abide by a covenant to live in community.

They elected leaders, but their leaders were not chosen for life, or by divine succession…as the heir of a fiefdom…but because the people thought they would do a good job. And it was the people who ruled.

People in such a desperate situation could not afford to make any choices that were not the best. But they were just entering the land then, and Israel in Jeremiah’s day was leaving it.

It is perhaps one of the great ironies of history that Nebuchadnezzar tried to extinguish Judaism by exiling the leaders of that great religion…one of history’s most fearless and greatest searches for the truth…by dispersing them throughout the civilized world.

All they would do is carry their story with them. All they would do is write down their history so it wouldn’t be lost, thereby sending it through time…to the present day.

In stamping it out, the conqueror broadcast their faith throughout their empire and into the world. By suppressing a truth, they testified to it.

So the best thing they could do was to carry their traditions, the faith of their fathers and mothers…into the world. Make your new land prosper and be well.

Paul is in a similar predicament this morning. He is in jail, but God’s good news is not locked in jail. He is showing Timothy that the smallest truth will prevail over the greatest worldly power.

So seize power! Speak the Truth! Proclaim the Word! Live a life full of meaning…the life abundant…a life that will live into eternity.

We tend to want to say of ourselves today that the problem is ‘them.’ But the problem is only us. We need to humble ourselves as completely as Paul…and as completely as an exiled Israel…in order to see where we are…and who we are…and what we have been called to do.

We belong to the family of God and the more successful that nation is, the better off we will be. Where Christ is lifted up, people are better, life is better, and the world is better.So we turn to our Gospel lesson.

Jesus meets a group of people who have been exiled from their society. They can live with each other but not with anyone who does not suffer from leprosy.

Then someone comes who has been proclaimed a healer. They go near him, but they do not approach him. They are locked in jail, like Paul, but the truth of their spirit…the Good News…is not locked in jail. They call to Jesus for a better life…for hope.

I think we are in a period of spiritual revival. I know that is not the way it looks to most people, but that is the way it looks to me.

The Rowdy Bunch just read a book on mindfulness, Right Here Right Now, and next it plunged into The Power of Now, Eckhardt Tolle’s laborious attempt to get us to bring our presence of mind to our present place. It is heavy lifting, especially when we live lives of ease.

Yoga studios have appeared many places. Xi Gong is hot in our culture now…and also in our basement once a week. I know it seems like we are a willful society of nonbelievers, but it also looks to me like there are a lot of us… unsummoned by civil or ecclesiastic authority…who are looking for The Truth and The Way and The Life.

I am sorry if I am the first person you have heard anyone tell you that the truth is unavoidable…inevitable …and inescapable…but the truth of the Spirit cannot be contained…controlled…or denied…and it is bursting forth around us.

We are mortal. The truth is not. So when the oppression of Babylon falls upon Israel, that nation is not confined… but liberated…by exile. It might feel like we are in jail…but we are not.

I want to share with you something that happened this week…just yesterday…at the Flathead Camp Board Meeting. We have had a good camping season. Thanks to our manager, Rev. Steve Hermes and his wife, Chris.

But we have the best location on the lake and there must be more that we can do with it to provide a place for people to step away from the world and look at the long view… like Jeremiah did…or Paul did…and Jesus did.

So we have a proposal from an architect in Billings to do a confab of camp leaders, camp friends, and camp users. We also have an opportunity to have a board building session with Eric Strader who was also here in June and will be back in November, to talk about who we are and where we want to go…where we hear God calling us and who God is calling us to be. Out readings today became very contemporary to us yesterday.

This charrette is an expensive process, a little more than $20,000, but whether we will continue at that priceless place for another 90 years…or whether we will be able to offer a meaningful spiritual experience to all who come whenever they might come …is something we had to think about.

And the architect who might provide as the facilitator of this important conversation is a pioneer in Montana in renovating and building structures that are LEEDS Platinum certified.

That is the highest rating a building can get for being zero impact on the environment…but what better place to put it than on the shores of one of the cleanest lakes in the world.

Grant money might be available for this kind of evolution of structures in a place like this. We can gather all of our stakeholders, including youth and churches, to have a sincere time of visioning for one of the premier sites for spiritual renewal in the world.

After much discussion back and forth, one of the board members said, “We have to do this.” Like Jeremiah, they saw that the only way to go is forward…to dare to give God a place to touch our hearts and to express our faith that there is more than enough goodness to share in this dream.

At the same time, the board members understood the work they would each have to do to make it all happen. It was daunting, but it appeared to be worth it.

And the decision was unanimous, with former staff members, camp volunteers, and…praise the Lord …young campers who understand social media and what young people thrive on spiritually.

It was a daring, audacious, undaunted thing to do, and they did it…humbly and hopefully… fearlessly and faithfully.

We move into the future at our little church, too. Change is in the air, but the truth of the ages is all around us. We are called into an old task in a new way.

There are many things that our capital campaign, Into the Word, Into the World, has called us to see. There are over 30 distinct ministries this church is engaged in now.

That is not because we are busybodies. That is because we see needs in our community and in our world and we are engaged in engaging our faith with our world and our world with our faith.So we dare to go into the Word…and into the world.

Like those exiles long, long ago, it seems like the church…our little church…and The United Methodist Church…is called into a new way of understanding the truth…in a new land…a new world.

The old, old counsel to a new, new church, in a world that no one could have seen coming, is timelessly true.

Settle there and build houses. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them.

I want your numbers to grow, not to get smaller.

Go and share yourselves to the priests.

Join in the work of the new land. Bring with you the wisdom of the past.

Pray for peace and work hard to make your community…our community…prosperous. The more successful that community is, the better off you…and your children…will be.

O Lord, what is it that you want to do through us…through me…this day? Amen.