13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “friend, who set me to be a judge or arbiter over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
22He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
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. 2This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whose King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said:
4Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take 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. 7But 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. 8For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the LORD.
10For thus says the LORD: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For 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. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
I’m a chess player. My Dad started teaching me when I was young, and we would play long into the evening. He taught me to plan ahead, to anticipate what my opponent would do. I’m used to thinking five or six moves ahead, planning for what’s coming down the road, setting things in motion long before they’ll come to pass.
I’m also used to looking for the plans of others, trying to figure what their moves are doing, seeing what they’re setting up. And after hours of studying the board and moving pieces, of planning and counter-planning, I would feel the urgent anticipation as my plans finally came together, setting the stage for my victory, when my Dad would calmly move a piece.
Checkmate. The old man had ruined my perfect plans by planning slightly more perfectly.
It’s a just game, but our plans often fall apart, and we all know the disappointment of watching our dearest held plans dissolve just as they were become a reality.
And when plans fall apart, there’s one verse of scripture that people tend to reach for more often than any other. A passage that reorients them away from their own plans to following the plan of God. Jeremiah 29:11. You’ve probably seen it on bookmarks and billboards aplenty.
“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.”
To paraphrase that great theologian Carly Simon, You're so vain, you probably think this verse is about you...
Jeremiah 29:11 is taken out of context more than almost any verse in scripture. Taken on its own, "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," we can read that God has plans and we can expect them to come through any day now. What a great comfort when we are disappoint. Just sit back and wait for God's plans to come to fruition. Everybody loves Jeremiah 29:11.
You're so vain, I bet you think this verse is about you don't you.
Because while everybody loves verse eleven, we tend to overlook verse ten. "For thus says the LORD: 'Only when Babylon's seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place."
A prophet offers the word of God with both hands. One hand gives comfort, the other issues a challenge. The comfort in this passage is in God's plan to be with his people, and to bring them home again. The challenge is that those plans include seventy years in exile.
Some people will not live to see those plans take shape. Seventy years is a long time to live in exile. Remember that seventy years ago, this community was still two different congregations. First Presbyterian Church of Lowell and Covenant Presbyterian Church worshipped a few hundred yards apart, and wouldn't come together to form this congregation until the next summer.
This congregation would have been born in Babylon and would not yet have seen the promised land. Seventy years is a long time.
Jeremiah sends this letter to those who are living in exile in Babylon. He’s just had a major showdown with a rival prophet, someone who kept telling the people that the captivity and conquest thing was all a big misunderstanding, and that God would never let his people suffer like that. The rival prophet was telling people that this was a short term thing, making them feel like it was a momentary bump in the road. He was telling the people what they wanted to hear. Jeremiah writes this letter to give them the word of the LORD, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the files whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. These are words they may not have wanted, but words that would give them the mix of comfort and challenge to endure the long captivity.
Jeremiah’s letter reminded them, and still tells us, that God has plans for us, but in the meantime, he's also got work for us.
Jeremiah urges his people, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Make a home for the people of faith. Don’t just sit and wait, do what you’re supposed to do. “Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage,” Don’t run out the clock, act now, not in an urgent panic, but with faithful and hopeful steadiness. “Multiply there, and do not decrease.”
But God also doesn’t let them just stay isolated in their own little box. After all the, church should not just be a “bigger barn” built to contain our faith. God tells the exiled Judeans to “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.” The community of faith is commanded to go outside itself and build up the larger community as well.
That’s an instruction that hits pretty close to home these days. Images of civil unrest are not new to our television screens, the sounds of protests and riots have played through our radios before. We have scrolled past untold social media posts taking this side or that. But it has always been a far-off city, a place where we were barely connected, and could keep the conflicts at arms length.
But this week, those images, those sounds, those posts, were Charlotte. Suddenly those images stuck with us after we turned off the tv. Those sounds rang in our ears after we tuned out. Suddenly it was our backyard that moved back and forth from tragedy to protest to riots.
Now it's the city in our backyard that everyone is pointing at.
Perhaps that’s because the people of God have not done a good enough job of seeking the welfare of the city where the LORD has sent us. Perhaps we’ve spent too much time hiding from the challenge of the prophet, reaching only for the comfort and pretend it’s intended only for the individual. This verse isn’t about you, it’s about y’all.
The plans God has for you are not a pointed finger directing a single believer. The plans God has for y’all are a sweeping gesture that wraps up all God’s people in comfort, and also pushes them out to do the work of faith.
The civil unrest in the city in our backyard is shaking us out of a vain routine. It’s close to home now, and we cannot ignore it. Just because a person seems to have their life in order doesn’t mean that our communities have reached social righteousness. One man has to build bigger barns to store his abundance. Meanwhile others hunger and thirst in the streets.
Our congregation holds both Black lives and Blue lives. One group feels threatened just for doing their job, the other feels victimized just for being who they are. And if we hide behind “the plans God has for me,” then we willfully ignore our calling as children of God. As we watch what is happening in the city in our backyard, God’s plans are not just for you, God has plans for y’all, plans of comfort and challenge.
When we make this verse about us, when we read it as individualistic, it makes it so much easier to build barns to store our blessings, instead of sharing them. We miss that God’s plan is for all the people of God. We lose sight of our place in the community of faith, and it becomes easy to exile ourselves from the work God has set out for us.