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By The Rivers Of Babylon

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For October 13, 2019:


Dean FeldmeyerBy The Rivers Of Babylon
by Dean Feldmeyer
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Luke 17:11-19

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1)

The year is 585 BCE. Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the Temple have been sacked, looted and razed to the ground by the army of Nebuchadnezzar. The leaders of the country, the politicians, the aristocracy, the intelligentsia, have been taken to Babylon in a forced march to live as captives in a ghetto near the confluence of the Tigress and Euphrates rivers.

We can only imagine the despair that must have weighed upon their hearts. Their homes destroyed and left behind, their king blinded and imprisoned, his entire family executed, the “Chosen People” forced to live among pagans who take delight in taunting them and mocking their religion and culture.

“How long?” they must have prayed. How long, O God, must we endure this awful existence?

And then comes a letter from the prophet, Jeremiah. Perhaps YHWH has given him an answer for us? And, of course, that is so. But it’s not the answer they want to hear.

“You’re going to be there a long time,” Jeremiah says. “So, stop weeping. Get up and start living. Build houses, plant gardens, get married, have children and grandchildren. Your religious faith is not tied to a geographical location. You can be people of God in Babylon as surely as you can in Jerusalem. So, work and pray for the welfare of Babylon because your welfare is intimately linked to Babylon’s welfare.”

As Red Redding says to Andy Dufresne about their life as convicts in The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

The only question left for us is, how does that apply to my life, my situation, my Shawshank, my Babylon?

In the Scriptures
Jeremiah tells the exiles in Babylon that Yahweh is not going to ride into town on a white steed with swords flashing in the sun to rescue them from their captivity. After all, didn’t Yahweh speak to them hundreds of times through the prophet, Jeremiah? And didn’t they ignore him? Indeed, didn’t they even beat up God’s prophet and put him in jail and do all kinds of humiliating things to him?

It might be said that they are suffering the fruits of their own labors.They brought this suffering upon themselves and it isn’t going to end any time soon.

So, here’s what they should do. Stop whining! Get off their rear ends! Start living their lives. Unlike what they had believed for most of their lives, their religious faith is, in fact, not tied to a specific piece of geography or to a building built by human hands. They can be faithful people of God right there in Babylon if they so choose.

So, says Jeremiah, get to it. Build houses. Plant gardens. Get jobs. Get married, have children and grandchildren. Work for the welfare of the city where you find yourselves. Oh, and one other thing: pray for the welfare of that city and all, I said ALL the people who live in it. That would include the Babylonians and the Chaldeans. You mean the ones we hate for what they did to our homeland? Yeah, them, too.

Why?

Well, you have two choices. You can lie around whining and crying and just die. But, as tempting as that may sound, you’re not the only ones to consider, here. You have families. You want what’s good for your kids, right? Okay, then. Get to work. Because the work you do is not just for you, it’s for them as well. You will be working on behalf of your kids and your grandkids and all those who will, one day, return to the Promised Land. And you want them to be strong and smart when they make that journey.

When you do this work and say these prayers for Babylon, you do so on behalf of your children and grandchildren, some of whom aren’t even born, yet.

This is not unlike the one ex-leper in Luke’s story, this morning. (Luke 17:11-19)

Ten lepers asked Jesus to heal them of their disease and he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests at the temple. They obey and as they go, they are healed. Nine of the ten presumably run home to show their families or their friends their good fortune. But one, a Samaritan, of course, returns to Jesus and thanks him.

Jesus praises the man for his faith which, Jesus says, is what made him well.

Most of us grew up reading this story or hearing it read and then shaking our heads and making tsk, tsk, sounds about the naughty nine who did not demonstrate their gratitude to Jesus. Often, we were taught that this is a cautionary tale about being appropriately thankful for the blessings that come our way, especially as the holidays approach.

Some scholars, however, have pointed out that we may be selling this story short if we turn it into nothing more than a children’s morality play about gratitude.

It’s not just that the Samaritan is the only man who returns to give thanks. That’s true enough but it may also be about the Samaritan who acts not just for himself but on behalf of the others. Is it not possible that this story calls us to be like the Samaritan not only because he was thankful but because he was generous as well. He acted not just for himself but for others, too. 

And is it not also possible that Jeremiah is calling the exiles in Babylon to take their tragedy and maybe turn it into a blessing for others?

In the News
Early in the morning, on Dec. 14, 2012, Mark Barden spent a few minutes before school snuggled up on the couch with his 7-year-old son, Daniel, marveling at the reflection of the Christmas tree lights in the window as the sun rose in their sleepy town of Newtown, Connecticut.

After a while they made their way to the bus stop at the end of the driveway where Daniel asked if they could just hold hands as they waited for the bus which, of course, they did. What father could deny a request like that?

Just a few minutes after 9:30 that morning, Daniel was sitting in his first-grade class when a gunman burst into the room with a semi-automatic rifle and began shooting. Daniel, along with 19 other of his classmates, and six adult educators were killed. It was the deadliest mass shooting of children in modern American history.

The name of the school where this happened, the Sandy Hook Elementary School, has become synonymous with the horror of senseless, mass murder, especially of innocent children.

Nicole Hockley lost her six-year-old son, Dylan, that same day, in that same school shooting. Since then, Nicole and Mark Barden have become advocates for gun violence prevention and started Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that works to train students and adults on the signs of potential gun violence.

After the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, they participated in multiple listening sessions at the White House to discuss potential solutions for schools and communities. The Parkland survivors, they say, have inspired them to continue fighting even while politicians evade, stall and prevaricate.

Based in Newtown, Connecticut, the intent of Sandy Hook Promise, according to their web site, is “to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation by providing programs and practices that protect children from gun violence.”

Their goal is to accomplish this by “uniting people of all beliefs and backgrounds who value the protection of children to take meaningful actions in their homes and communities, [in order to] prevent gun violence and stop the tragic loss of life.”

Their mission statement reads: “SHP’s mission is to create a culture engaged in preventing shootings, violence, and other harmful acts in schools.  SHP is a moderate, above-the-politics organization that supports sensible program and policy solutions that address the “human side” of gun violence by preventing individuals from ever getting to the point of picking up a firearm to hurt themselves or others. Our words, actions, and impact nationwide are intended to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation.”

By turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation.

On a smaller and more local level, there’s Dre and Brandi Gill’s story.

Brandi Gill is a teacher. Her daughter, Drew, is a kindergartener and she was born without a left wrist and hand.  

Brandi and her husband, Andrew, say that Drew has adapted just fine to her one limitation, which she doesn’t see as a limitation at all. She does pretty much anything and everything she wants to do. She’s an active little girl just like every other little girl her age.

But Brandi and Andrew were concerned because, this year, Drew would enter kindergarten in the rural, public school system where they live near Obetz, Ohio. Would the kids stare at her? Would they point at her and single her out because of her shortened appendage? Would they taunt or make fun of her?

What they wanted to do was encourage the children, and the teachers and staff, too, for that matter, to just ask the questions that were on their minds. They thought it would be much healthier for everyone, including Drew, if everyone just treated her as they would any other child.

So to encourage this behavior, Dew and her mother wrote a book.

It’s about Drew and it’s called, “Drew is Just Like You.” It pictures Drew doing all the stuff that other kids do, like tying her shoes, and all the stuff she loves to do including riding her bike with her dad and playing soccer. The book is designed, says Brandi, to introduce other children to physical differences and deter kids from bullying.

On the first day of school they distributed copies of the book to everyone in kindergarten and all of the teachers. It became so popular that they were asked to make copies for everyone in the school. And it’s not just the kids and teachers who have embraced her and her book. A couple of weeks ago Drew was invited to throw out the first pitch at Cincinnati Reds baseball game, which she did, like a pro.

In the Sermon
Having been a pastor for over 40 years, I can say with confidence that the worst pain a person can suffer is the loss of a child. And the worst kind of loss is that of a child lost to violence.

Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley suffered the worst pain that a human being can suffer. And, no doubt, they grieved deeply and copiously over the loss of their children. No doubt, they wanted to sit down by the rivers of their own personal Babylon and never get up again. No doubt, they wanted to simply sit and remember the love and laughter, the sweetness and the marvelous joy that was theirs when their children were alive, and feel the deep, dark despair that invaded their lives when those children were murdered and taken from them.

But, eventually, they got up and left the bank of that river and began to walk again. And they decided to take their tragedy and turn it into a moment of transformation for others.

Like the one healed leper who came back to Jesus, they have turned around and come back to fight against gun violence and, even when, six years later, our governments have chosen to do nothing, they have not quit. They have continued to fight their fight.

And they have chosen to do this not for their own children; it’s too late for them. Rather, like that one leper, they have acted on behalf of others, of children who cannot protect themselves, of children not yet born, of children who are still in danger and whom politicians have decided come second only after they have first protected the unfettered rights of Americans to own weapons of mass murder.

They have gotten busy living and they have built houses and planted gardens in their own private Babylon.

On a smaller scale, Brandi and Andrew Gill might have chosen to keep Drew out of school. They might have chosen to homeschool her or send her to a small, private school to protect her from the possible bullying and taunting that she might have faced in her public school.

But that wouldn’t have been fair to Drew or to the children and staff at Drew’s public school. So Drew’s parents decided to do not what made their lives easier and simpler. They decided to act on behalf of all those school children, the ones without special conditions and the ones with. They wrote a book and got it published and distributed it to those who needed to learn. And the outcome was more than they had imagined.

They worked for the welfare of the school in which they found themselves and found that in its welfare was their own welfare, and Drew’s.

Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’

If you’re imprisoned in the brutal, horrible Shawshank prison, those are your only two choices. Such is the wisdom of lifer, Red Redding to the new inmate, the innocent, Andy Dufresne.

And if we listen carefully, we can hear it echoed in the advice that Jeremiah sends to the exiles who are being forced to live in Babylon.

What they want to do, those exiles, is sit down by the river and feel sorry for themselves. They want to grieve, and remember the good days, and cry, and be sad. And there’s an appropriate time and place for that. But now, says Jeremiah, that time is over. It’s time to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’ The choice is yours.

If you are interested in living, here’s what you do: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take 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. But 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 last sentence tells us that this is not just philosophical mumbo jumbo that Jeremiah is offering. It’s good, solid, practical advice and, if you follow it, there will be a concrete payoff at the other end.

As practical as it may be, however, if we decide to accept it, it’s going to require several radical shifts in our thinking, in our theology and our personal philosophy.

FIRST, we must accept the fact that we are here. We are in Babylon and, while it’s not where we want to be, it’s the biggest, greatest, most diverse city that has ever been known in western civilization and it has much to offer.

Question for us: Where or what is my Babylon? What is the situation in which I find myself that seems bad but may, admittedly, offer me some possibilities?

SECONDLY, we must abandon the fantasy that God is going to come charging in and save us.

Question for us: What is the fantasy or wish dream that is blocking us from living our lives authentically?

THIRDLY, we must admit that at least some of this may be our own fault.

Question for us: Do we bear some of the responsibility for our situation? Is blaming other people, or God, or Satan, or karma, or life in general, keeping us from moving forward?

FOURTHLY, we must realize that being a faithful person of God is not tied to where we live or the building in which we worship.

Question for us: Are we so tied to our location, our traditions, our rituals, our memories, our myths, or our fantasies the we are stuck and can’t move ahead?

For an imaginative preacher, these four pieces of advice from Jeremiah and the questions that accompany them are, no doubt, filled with stories and illustrations that will more than fill the preaching time. In fact there may well be a preaching series, here.

May God bless you and your work as you seek to discover, with your congregation, how you all might come to live profitably in your own private Babylons.



Mary AustinSECOND THOUGHTS
Seek the Welfare of Those People?
by Mary Austin
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

When the word from Jeremiah finally comes to the exiles in Babylon, coming all the way from Jerusalem, we can imagine their excitement when the scroll is opened. What word of deliverance will he send? What will God have to say about their plight, living far from home, surrounded by their enemies? We might wonder if the whole community gathers to hear this message. But there’s no word of hope — or nothing that be useful any time soon. We can picture their reaction to this, and the pain they feel when there’s nothing about returning home, and no reminder of God’s power at work for them.

Perhaps they had to hear it more than once to really take it in. “Did he say what I think he said?” they may have asked each other.  

We preachers who read this to the congregation in even, measured, churchy tones miss the punch to the gut in the message. Jeremiah is telling them to settle in for the long haul among their enemies, and to mix working for their own futures along with the futures of the people they hate. In essence, Jeremiah is telling these battered and beaten people to make friends with the people whom they despise most.

This stomach-churning instruction is prophetic for us, too. We live surrounded by people with alien political beliefs, or lifestyles that make us scratch our heads. If we believe the political experts, then if these people receive something, then we lose something. There’s not enough to go around. Not enough good jobs, not enough clean air, not enough safe and affordable housing, not enough healthcare, not enough tax cuts for everyone. We end up feeling like if “they” (whoever they are…) get ahead, then we lose something.

In this mindset, we are willing to make enemies over small things. We are ready to fight about anything.   

Wanna Thompson, big fan, music lover and freelance journalist learned this when she tweeted a comment about Nicki Minaj’s music in 2018. Thousands of fans responded with angry, expletive tweets, including one from the singer’s official account. Stunned, “Thompson set her Twitter account to private, but, at around 10 p.m., her phone began lighting up with angry text messages; someone had circumvented the lax security measures on her website and leaked her number. She changed all her passwords and frantically scrubbed her old tweets of any mention of her day job, in human resources, or her middle name, which she used at work.” She ended up being fired from her internship the next day, and the next day, “one harasser lifted an Instagram photo of Thompson’s daughter, who was four years old, and photoshopped her face onto a gorilla’s body.”

Psychologist Molly Crockett says that moral outrage is a useful social tool, deterring transgressions against the group. But in the digital age, our outrage is amplified, without much risk in expressing ourselves. “Additionally, the nature of social media may be changing the brain's reward system. Because social media interactions can take place at any time and with anyone from around the world, the positive reinforcement that comes from expressing moral outrage can occur at unpredictable times…the most effective pattern for promoting habit formation. The rewards are also amplified by another powerful player: social media companies. In an effort to engage users for as long as possible on their platforms, many companies employ algorithms that prioritize content in feeds that is emotional in nature and likely to contain examples of moral outrage. By emphasizing emotional content, social media companies contribute to a content ecosystem that finds outrageous content, shares it, and elicits more outrageous content in response. Crockett said such an echo chamber may increase the frequency and intensity of the outrage we feel. She said she worries that by dialing up the sense of moral outrage on social media, we may be endangering our ability to effect change in response to outrage in the real world.”

Responding with vitriol is one answer to the people who disagree with us. Another choice is to cut them off entirely, excluding them from the conversation.

Dr. Imani Perry, professor and author, says we have this exclusion thing all wrong. We are quick to cut off people who say something offensive, or disagree with us, especially online. “Pointing to a frequent Twitter phenomenon, Perry questioned the effectiveness of excommunicating or expelling individuals from online communities geared toward progress. “Every time I see people being canceled I think, ‘What happened to transformation?’” She continued, “What you want to do is seduce people into a vision of liberation they can share with you. It seems there’s something counterintuitive about the process of expulsion when what we’re trying to do is make revolution irresistible.” So, while identifying online offenses can be useful, it can also halt any kind of transformation geared toward showing the offending individual the error of their ways.”

Jeremiah tells us, instead, to hold onto people. He says to get busy getting to know the people we think we hate. We’re not just supposed to be polite, but to get close enough that our kids can fall in love and get married. Trump supporters are to reach out to Green New Deal folks. The LGBTQ community is to reach out to evangelical Christians, and the Christians had better accept the invitation, and be polite. Sandy Hook parents and NRA supporters will find their welfare mixed together.

To build the kind of relationships Jeremiah calls for, we need to see each other with more complexity. No one is as simple as a single political view, or one tweet, or one angry Facebook post. He takes a very long view, while we respond in a moment and hold a grudge for a long time.

For me, the discomfort in Jeremiah’s instruction is that one party in the relationship has hurt the other deeply. Is he telling the people to cozy up to their captors? Is the gay couple supposed to invite over the baker who refused to make their wedding cake? Do people of color have to hang out with white nationalists? Are women to befriend the predatory and dangerous men around them?

As a privileged white woman, I’m uncomfortable telling people who might be in danger to get close to people who still have the power to injure them. I understand that Jeremiah is saying to separate the person from the position, and see their humanity…and yet, this kind of faith should also be lived with a measure of caution.

But, we can see each other with Jeremiah’s long view. We can believe that our lives are tied together, even with the people who see the world so differently. We can take up the slow work of building and planting and trying to see the person behind the politics, or the insult, or the anger. It doesn’t happen overnight, but in the building and planting and sharing grandchildren, as Jeremiah suggests, maybe we can dial back the hate and dial up the hope of peace. 



ILLUSTRATIONS
Ron Love
From team member Ron Love:

Jeremiah 29:7
But seek the welfare of the city where I sent you

Dr. James Duke, Jr. was sitting in the break room at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Duke had been a surgeon at the hospital for four years, but on November 22, 1963, he heard an announcement like none before. President John F. Kennedy was shot and was in the emergency room. Duke immediately responded, but when he saw the President, he instantly knew that nothing could be done to save his life. A nurse told him there was another shooting victim in the next room. Entering that room Duke did not recognize the patient but did recognize a familiar gunshot wound to the chest. There was a big chest wound with the lung flopping in and out. Duke treated the wound like he had so many others before residing in a metropolitan hospital. It was only later that he learned that his patient was Texas Governor John Connally. After this ordeal the two became lifelong friends and hunting partners. But what brought James Duke to Parkland Hospital? Duke attended the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with the intention on being a minister. But after graduating in 1955 he read a book by Albert Schweitzer and changed his career to medicine.

* * *

2 Timothy 2:12
If we endure, we will also reign with him
Wes Craven, a master of horror cinema, popularized the slasher genre of movies. He is best known for his series Nightmare on Elm Street movies. The first movie in the series was released in 1984. In this film Craven’s most famous creation was serial killer Freddy Krueger, played by Robert Englund. Krueger, and with his razor-blade glove, haunted the dreams of high school students. The first movie cost $1.8 million to produce and grossed over $25 million. Craven shared his theory on horror movies: that they got to get under moviegoers’ skin in unexpected ways. He said, “Horror movies have to show us something that hasn’t been shown before so that the audience is completely taken aback. You see, it’s not just that people want to be scared; people are scared.”

* * *

Jeremiah 29:7
But seek the welfare of the city where I sent you
Roy Reed was born in Arkansas and was a journalist for The Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock. As he worked with a reporter with The New York Times it was apparent that Reed needed a larger byline. The Times hired him and immediately sent him back south to cover the Civil Rights movement. During those turbulent years his articles were often front-page news as he reported on the violence that whites in authority inflicted upon black protester. Arriving in New York City for his new position, Reed was disoriented and disillusioned. He came from a small city and was now in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. He came from a small city newspaper to an international paper. That first day Reed went into the men’s room and saw that the lower part of the stall was just high enough off the floor for a very thin man to crawl under. He then noticed this inscription at the bottom of the door, “Beware of Limbo Dancers.” That short saying reassured him, as he recounts, “This was a style of wit that I had never before encountered. I suddenly knew that I was a stranger in town — not unwelcome, just a stranger.”

* * *

2 Timothy 2:12
if we deny him, he will also deny us
President Richard Nixon’s troubles did not begin with the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters on June 18, 1972, becoming the national scandal known as Watergate. The story of Nixon’s demise begins a year earlier in September 1971. Nixon was incensed about the release of the Pentagon Papers, exposing our country’s wrongdoings in Vietnam. Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, had leaked the papers to The New York Times. Wanting to find information that would discredit Ellsberg, Nixon had a covert group break into the office of the psychiatrist who was treating Ellsberg in Beverly Hills. The group were professionals, but made the break in look like an amateur, as if someone was looking for drugs. This covert group was called “the White House Plumbers,” by Nixon since they were to plug the leak. These men were the same plumbers who broke into the Watergate complex the following year.

* * *

2 Timothy 2:12
If we endure, we will also reign with him
In the year 258, Emperor Valerian ordered the death of all Christian leaders in Rome. When Lawrence was brought before the throne, the Emperor knew that he was in charge of all the church’s money. Valerian ordered Lawrence to turn over all the money to him. Lawrence agreed, but told the Emperor that the church is very wealthy and that he would need three days to gather the money. Valerian agreed. During those three days Lawrence distributed all of the money to the poor and invalids. On the third day Lawrence appeared before the prefect and said, “Come out and see the wondrous riches of God.” Valerian expected to see wagons of gold, but instead he saw a large gathering of the city’s poor and destitute. Torturers dislocated Lawrence’s arms and then fastened him to a grill where he was slowly roasted to death. During this he suggested to his tormentors that he should be flipped since he was “done” on this side.

* * * * * *

Bethany PeerbolteFrom team member Bethany Peerbolte:

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
If you can make it here…
Jeremiah addresses those in exile. He advises them to build homes, get married, plant and harvest, and generally live as best they can. He says God wants them to seek the wellbeing of the place they find themselves. If their new land thrives so will they. God is telling the people to settle in. There is no use in fighting or trying to get back to a previous place. This is what life has handed them and they need to adjust and make the most of it.

We need oxygen to survive. All living things need it. Some animals and plants that live at high altitudes are better at processing oxygen than those at sea level. Humans, though, can survive in a wide range of oxygen level environments. For a while scientists have known that humans adjust their intake of oxygen depending on their needs. For example, when we exercise, we breathe faster. The winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine have found that there is also a hormone that adjusts to oxygen levels. “When oxygen levels drop, a hormone called erythropoietin, or EPO, rises in the body, sending a signal to ramp up the production of red blood cells — which carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.”

Humans have been created to be adaptable. We can live in a wide range of temperatures, oxygen levels, government structures, and prolonged stress. God reminds Israel of how resilient they are, and that they need to hunker down and wait for their day of liberation.

* * *

2 Timothy 2:8-15
Official Duties

Paul loves to use metaphor to help believers describe what their life with Christ is like. In these verses he compares the duties of a soldier, and athlete, and a farmer to a Christian’s life. Like the soldier, who acts only to please a superior officer, so should Christians live to please God. Like the athlete knows the rules and follows them carefully, so should a Christian follow the commandments Jesus left. Like a farmer who gets first pick of the harvested crops, so too will Christians get the good reward for their faithfulness. Paul wants readers to remember the reward is assured and so the work leading up to that moment is worth the effort.

There are only a few royal families left in our world. Most of them serve as figure heads of their countries with little to no real power over the government. In Sweden, parliament has control and the royal family attend to assigned state duties. This week the King of Sweden decided to remove five of his grandchildren from having to perform these duties. As the royal family grows the taxpayer fund that pays for the royal family was getting tight. There are two other grandchildren who are in direct line to the throne who will stay on the payroll. They will be expected to take on the duties of the royal family when they are old enough.

Paul assures us we are still on the payroll. Reminding us that God has already paid the full price for our lives. With gratitude then, we work the duties of God’s royal family, blessing the world in God’s name.

* * *

Luke 17: 11-19
Cleansing Praise

I love sassy Jesus. In this story, one leper out of ten comes back to give praise for his miraculous healing. Jesus responds “hmmm…funny… I thought I had counted ten of you before. Wonder what could have happened to them. I remember healing ten sick people, yet now I see only one. Well you should head along too, you good.” Sassy Jesus does not say the others will be sick again. He sticks to his word to heal them, but by noticing out loud that only one came back Jesus points out a flaw in the response of the other nine. Jesus seems to imply that this one will be set for a long time because he made praise part of the healing process. That routine will serve him well in the future.

Tourists to Japan have been amazed by the cleanliness of the city. They become even more shocked when they notice the lack of trash bins around. Where Disney embraces the rule of a trashcan every 15 feet to keep the park clean, Japan has somehow done it without the plethora of bins. Citizenship is Japan’s answer. In schools, students must help clean the school every day. Rotating chores of mopping, window cleaning, and even bathroom scrubbing. Cleaning has become routine for everyone living in Japan and the city is benefiting.

The Bible references cleaning many times. It is on the Torah Law, it is referenced in Baptism, Jesus washes feet before going to the cross. Japan could teach us about cleanliness. It needs to be a part of our routine, and not just ours but our whole communities. When the leper is cleaned the final action of cleaning is to give praise. As Sunday church attendance dips in the states, maybe it is because we have forgotten to include praise in our cleaning routine.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Building Houses
Bandaged and bruised, 95-year old former President Jimmy Carter still flashed his trademark grin on Sunday during a Habitat for Humanity event in Nashville, Tennessee. Carter fell at home as he was getting ready for church on October 6, leaving him with a black eye and 14-stitches. But nothing would deter the former president from attending the annual Habitat for Humanity’s annual Jimmy and Roslyn Carter Home build event.

“I had a No. 1 priority,” Carter told a crowd at Nashville’s Ryman auditorium, “and that was to come to Nashville to build houses.” This was President Carter’s 36th annual home building project. Despite his injury, president and Mrs. Carter were on the job Monday, helping to construct 21 new homes in Nashville. “All 21 houses will have something we built,” he promised.

On Monday, Carter led volunteers in morning devotions before construction began. His message could be compared to Jeremiah’s call to seek the welfare of the city. Carter said that God’s gift of freedom means that every day, each person can choose how they want to improve the world. “With our freedom,” Carter said, “every one of us can make a basic decision. ... 'What kind of person do I, myself, choose to be?'”

* * *

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Seek the welfare of the city
For the second time in as many years, the number of homeless persons living in American cities has increased. More than half a million persons lacked permanent shelter as counted during a single evening in 2018. About 4,000 of those individuals were staying in shelters as a result of presidentially-declared emergencies such as Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Nate. USA Today included details of 48 major American cities with growing populations of homeless persons.

* * *

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Struggling to resettle
While Jeremiah urges exiles to begin building houses and plant gardens, thousands of Houston residents are still trying to rebuild following Hurricane Harvey’s destructive flooding two years ago. According to one commentator, in the wake of Harvey, Houston “did the least possible it could get away with, and then casually moved on with business as usual.”

Anis Shivani shared her perceptions in Common Dreams, a nonprofit progressive-leaning news website.

As floodwaters from September’s Tropical Storm Imelda still drain from the streets of my hometown, I observe a discourse on Harvey’s two-year anniversary constrained by a presumed opposition between the needs of humanity and the forces of nature, as though the two were in mortal combat. In a city well-known for its antipathy to responsible planning, discussions of urban resilience and “making space” for water, as well as the benefits of green versus gray infrastructure, are just now bubbling to the surface, but remain well outside the scope of broad public awareness.

* * *

2 Timothy 2:8-15
Word-wrangling
As Paul admonishes the church to avoid “wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening,” one wonders what the apostle might say to church leaders today. How is it that we maintain civility while speaking truth, and how do we avoid “word wrangling” with the political hemispheres so deeply divided and contested?

Former United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who has just published a memoir, shares her own struggles over “word wrangling” within her own family. Rice served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, and is a prominent Democrat. Her son, Jake, however, has vastly different political views than his mother. Rice talked about their family commitments in an interview with Essence:

ESSENCE: [Speaking of all this,] your son Jake is a pretty conservative guy, which you talk about in the book. He’s very different than you, your husband, and your daughter [when it comes to politics.] Are there any parallels that you can make between how you and within your family, you’ve had to broker understandings, work on communication, and still love each other with what this country is going through today.

RICE: It’s not easy. I love my son like nothing else, as much as a parent can love a child. We agree on some things, but we disagree on many things that are of importance to both of us. I’m not gonna pretend that it’s easy every day. It’s not. But the reality is we have a choice to make. We have to figure out how to stay a family. None of us want to lose each other. So we have to work harder to forge through those differences and to understand that there’s so much more that binds us than tears us apart. I would walk on coals for my son and I know he’d do the same for me.

Jake and I also try to find structured time to have rational, unemotional conversations. Sometimes, it turns into a shouting match. But at the end of the day, he’s my baby and I love him. I’m his mama and he loves me. We’re not going to let that change. And my daughter — who doesn’t raise my blood pressure! — is an enormous source of pride and joy to me. Being a mom is the thing I’m most proud of, the most important job I’ve had.

* * *

Luke 17:11-19
Gratitude is simple
Liz Murray, author of the bestselling book, “Homeless to Harvard,” understands the power of gratitude. Despite facing multiple challenges as a child and teenager, Murray found ways to be grateful. She remained grateful for neighbors who provided her dinner when her drug-addicted parents were unable to care for her; grateful for teachers who showed her extra attention; and grateful for news organizations who printed her story of perseverance and struggle.

“Gratitude is simple,” Murray says. “Everything you have, you could just as easily not have it.”

It took her years to come to that realization. In the face of untold obstacles, Murray clung to desire to overcome her adversity.

* * *

Luke 17:11-19
Discovering how gratitude replaces fear

When singer Selena Gomez looks back on the sacrifices made by her immigrant relatives, her heart fills with gratitude. In an essay for Time, Gomez details the tough choices made by her aunt, grandparents and father that enabled her to be born as a United States citizen. Her experiences have led her to speak out for families facing deportation.

Acknowledging that immigration is a divisive issue, Gomez says:
In 1992, I was born a US citizen thanks to their bravery and sacrifice. Over the past four decades, members of my family have worked hard to gain United States citizenship. Undocumented immigration is an issue I think about every day, and I never forget how blessed I am to have been born in this country thanks to my family and the grace of circumstance. But when I read the news headlines or see debates about immigration rage on social media, I feel afraid for those in similar situations. I feel afraid for my country.

She concludes:
When I signed on to executive produce a show about undocumented immigrants, I couldn’t help but anticipate the criticisms I might face. But the truth is, the worst criticism I can imagine is still nothing compared to what undocumented immigrants face every day. Fear shouldn’t stop us from getting involved and educating ourselves on an issue that affects millions of people in our country. Fear didn’t stop my aunt from getting into the back of that truck. And for that, I will always be grateful.

In some ways, the same is true of our country. We can decide that we just can’t live together and we’re gonna blow up the family, blow up the country, or we have to deal with the fact that we have more in common as Americans than what divides us.


* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.
People: We will sing the glory of God’s name.
Leader: Come and see what God has done.
People: How awesome are your deeds, O God!
Leader: Bless our God, O peoples.
People: We will let the sound of God’s praise be heard.

OR

Leader: God calls us to gather this day as God’s people.
People: We come together to worship our God.
Leader: God calls us not only to worship but to serve others.
People: We praise our God and serve God’s people.
Leader: All people are God’s people even our enemies.
People: We will work for the good of all God’s people.

Hymns and Songs:
From All That Dwell Below the Skies
UMH: 101
H82: 380
PH: 229
NCH: 27
CH: 49
LBW: 550
AMEC: 69
STLT: 381

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
UMH: 121
H82: 469/470
PH: 298
NCH: 23
CH: 73
LBW: 290
ELW: 587/588
W&P: 61
AMEC: 78
STLT: 213

All Creatures of Our God and King
UMH: 62
H82: 400
PH: 455
AAHH: 147
NNBH: 33
NCH: 17
CH: 22
LBW: 527
ELW: 835
W&P: 23
AMEC: 50
STLT: 203
Renew: 47

Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
UMH: 160/161
H82: 556/557
PH: 145/146
AAHH: 537
NNBH: 7
NCH: 55/71
CH: 15
LBW: 553
ELW: 873/874
W&P: 113
AMEC: 8

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
UMH: 427
H82: 609
PH: 408
NCH: 543
CH: 665
LBW: 429
ELW: 719
W&P: 591
AMEC: 561

Let There Be Peace on Earth
UMH: 431
CH: 677
W&P: 614

O God of Every Nation
UMH: 435
H82: 607
PH: 289
CH: 680
LBW: 416
ELW: 713
W&P: 626

Help Us Accept Each Other
UMH: 560
PH: 358
NCH: 388
CH: 487
W&P: 596
AMEC: 558

God, You Are My God
CCB: 60

People Need the Lord
CCB: 52

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who created us from the same earth and breath;
Grant us the wisdom to see how interconnected we are
so that we may honor your creation as we serve one another;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, because you created us all from one earth and one breath. Open our hearts to understand how united we are in you so that we can honor your creation by serving one another. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to work for the good of all your creatures and creation.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. Our thoughts are more centered on our own welfare rather than the welfare of our community, nation, or world. We forget that the welfare of others is our own welfare. We forget that we are all your children, part of the same family. Renew our minds with the presence of your Spirit that we may sense the unity that exists among all your people. Give us a heart of compassion for others, even those we think of as enemies. Amen. 

Leader: God is always pleased when we come to understand the unity of creation. Receive God’s Spirit of care and compassion and take care of one another as God takes care of us.

Prayers of the People
We praise you, O God, because you have made us all one people, one family with you as our loving parent.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. Our thoughts are more centered on our own welfare rather than the welfare of our community, nation, or world. We forget that the welfare of others is our own welfare. We forget that we are all your children, part of the same family. Renew our minds with the presence of your Spirit that we may sense the unity that exists among all your people. Give us a heart of compassion for others, even those we think of as enemies.

We give you thanks for all those who have worked to make our community and world a better place. We thank you for those who have invented things to make our lives better and those who teach, work in the medical arts, the service industry and other ways to make all our lives better.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for the welfare of all your children those we love, those we barely know and even those who seem to be our enemies. We know that our lives are all bound together.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Talk about being on a team. If you are on a team you want everyone on the team to do well. The better everybody is the better the team does. You want to help everybody else because then everyone does better including yourself. That includes people that we may not know very well or even people we don’t really like all that much. The prophet Jeremiah reminded the people that God wanted them to help even the people who had captured them and brought them into exile.


Tom WilladsenCHILDREN'S SERMON
If You’re Rejoicing and You Know It…
by Tom Willadsen
Psalm 66:1-12

You do not need any props, just willing participants.

This morning’s psalm begins as Psalm 100 begins, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.”

Ask the kids what it feels like to be happy, what makes them happy, have them share experiences/stories of when they have been happy.

Call attention to their smiles. See if they can “put on a happy face” by pretending to be happy. Encourage silly faces at this point. [“Your brain literally responds to the nerves and muscles in your face to determine your emotional state….When you’re stuck in a frustrating or distressing thought, forcing yourself to smile counteracts the negative emotional state.” Emotional Intelligence 2.0 p. 114, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves ] Tell a story from your own life when something made you really happy. Invite the worshipers (eavesdroppers) to imagine their own happy moments. This first part is just about how “happy” looks on people’s faces.

Ask what they do when they feel happy. So if someone is too far away to see their smile, they can still see that they are happy if they’re….dancing? People in the Bible danced when they were happy. Think Exodus 14. And in that case the dancing was led by women.

But you can’t dance when you feel happy without music. What song do they like to sing? What song, when they hear it, makes them feel happy? (There are certain songs that make me happy the moment they come on my car stereo. I put a CD together of these songs and called it “Audio Prozac.”) Perhaps you can share what song makes you happy when you hear it, and another happy when you sing it.

Okay, good, you’re almost there. Point out that the psalm begins, “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.” What is a joyful noise? Besides music, what noises express, or produce, happiness?

Note that the psalm does not say, “Make a beautiful noise to the Lord,” nor, “Practice really, really hard to make the right kind of noise to the Lord.”

Tell them, “A joyful noise is one that expressed joy in your heart. It does not matter what it sounds like. Any noise can be joyful. Let’s make a joyful noise together. What should we do to make that noise? Should we be loud or quiet?”

(I knew a pastor who used to tell his congregation, “If you can’t sing well, sing loudly. If you don’t have a good voice, it’s because didn’t make you with one. It’s God’s fault. Worship is the best time to let God hear your voice!” OK, so technically, that pastor is I; and I stand behind this practice. Blame me if you must.)

After they make the noise, and you praise them for it, tell them that they’re not done. The psalm says the people “rejoiced;” that means they “joiced” again. To be true to the psalm, they need to re-joice, that is, make that joyful sound at least one more time.

If you have a reliable voice, you might want to lead everyone in singing “If you’re happy and you know it.” Come to think of it, if, like me you hit half the notes and are close on the other half, you’re the perfect person to lead the singing of this joicing — and re-joicing song.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, October 13, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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Good morning girls and boys,

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Jeremiah 31:27-34

“Okay guys, good practice.” Coach blew the whistle and waved at the players to gather around him. “You’re starting to really come along. Chapel service is in thirty minutes so you’ve got time to get yourself a drink or a snack after hitting the showers.”

The players cheered and headed off the field to get ready for the next activity.

“Hey Coach?” Johnson asked.

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Anyone who has suffered any sort of trauma in life will know what it is to have bad dreams. Nightmares often start early in life so that quite small children can be deeply disturbed by them. Sometimes they seem to occur for no reason, but at other times they follow a traumatic experience, or are the result of some worry or anxiety.

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This sermon is a retelling in a contemporary setting of the Parable of the Widow and the Judge. The harsh character of the Judge is exaggerated. The imaginary law clerk is made especially wimpish to highlight the arrogance of the Judge.

The Widow, as in the original parable, is the strongest character in the drama, although outwardly she appears to be the weakest.

This sermon emphasizes the biblical theme of the reversal of roles, and the triumph of faithfulness over human power.


Special Occasion