11/26/17 – J.Vespers – Coming Home


November 26, 2017
Jazz Vespers Homily
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


In today’s reading from Jeremiah, we continue the saga of the Jewish people from slavery to freedom, from power and prosperity to submission and exile. In this passage, Jeremiah is writing to exiles in Babylon. They had lost their homes, their holy city Jerusalem and its temple, their language, culture, and the familiar public expressions of their faith. Like the millions of refugees today, the exiled Jews wondered how they could go on. Jeremiah sent them good news – they would return to their homeland and be reconciled with God. He also sent them bad news – it would be more than two generations, seventy years before they could return.

Jeremiah instructed them to do the things that make for a full and meaningful life: marry and have children, build homes, find a vocation which will provide you with the things you need in life, contribute to the well-being of the community in which you live, and continue to worship and live your faith in exile. Jeremiah assures them that even though God’s presence will not be made manifest to them until the time they will be brought home, God will still be with them.

Jeremiah tells the Jewish people in exile not to listen to the false prophets who tell them not to get settled because they will be returning home any day now. These are like our politicians who tell us we can have all we think we should have with minimal taxes. Who tells us we can have affordable health care with a flawed system that does not provide health care for all. Who tells us we can send volunteer troops all over the world and have huge tax cuts, at least for some, without taking money from other budget items or go more deeply into debt. These guys, Jeremiah warned, are telling you fake prophecies.

On an individual level, most of us have encountered situations that we do not want to face, but cannot be changed. Jeremiah’s message speaks to individuals who feel stuck in a place they don’t want to be, whether that is geographic, economic, social, vocational, state of health, etc. The question then is how find joy in less-than-ideal circumstances? How do we find joy amidst difficult circumstances? How do we feel the peace of being at home when we aren’t in the place we want to be our home?

If you read before and after this passage in Jeremiah you know that he, in no way, suggested they become Babylonians by accommodating to Babylonian values and pagan religion. Jeremiah exhorted them to remain faithful to God and to the Torah.

This is the situation we find ourselves as Christians in a secular society. We are called to remain faithful Christian disciples, living, figuratively, in exile in a culture that does not operate on the values of allegiance to God first. That does not value mercy, justice, and the careful and equitable stewardship of our God-given resources over individual or corporate profit. Sadly, some Christians in our society today proudly proclaim ideas and beliefs that are totally antithetical to Christ’s gospel. Non-Christians look at these and condemn all Christians as being racists, bigots, and hypocrites. Thus, we become not just exiles, but for some, enemies in our society.

Jeremiah’s words also speak to churches who long for a return to the way things were in ‘the good old days’. As church-going Christians, we feel like exiles in a secular society for whom Sunday is not a day of Sabbath, but merely another day to play or work. Here at Westminster, we may feel like exiles among other Mainline Protestant churches that are situated in affluent suburbs. We may feel like exiles among people that are afraid to come this close to Peoria’s Southside or even the downtown area because people live here that are not like them. We do not have the luxury and convenience of being in a community that is near our homes. It isn’t easy to convince our friends and neighbors in the suburbs to give Westminster a try – to come and see what God is leading us to do here.

Over 30 years ago when the old church building burned down, the congregation felt God was leading them to stay and minister to this community. Not just this neighborhood but also the neighborhood down the bluff that is one of the poorest in the country. With the Food Pantry and the Westminster Infant Care Center, we continue to minister to and witness for Christ to a population that differs from us. One of the reasons we chose to start this Jazz Vespers service is because jazz crosses racial, ethnic and generational boundaries.

God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,” For the Church that means to be the body of Christ in the community in which you have been planted. Bring in the people in the neighborhood regardless of any boundaries of difference you may perceive. God will remain faithful and give you the strength to be faithful — even in exile.


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois