Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
Hope and I, or really Hope, is in the midst of trying to figure out what to do for the kids’ birthday party. The kids want presents and cake, and don’t really care what the party looks like, but, for some reason, there is tremendous pressure on parents to make the party just right. I think I understand a little what one mom from the UK was thinking.
Julie was throwing her kid a 5 year old birthday party. This must have been some party. It was held at a ski and snowboard center. What a party for a five-year-old. I’m sure that the cake was amazing. You know that little kid got tons of presents. People everyone involved had a great time. The party of the year, thought the mom.
On the day of the party, Julie notices that things weren’t going as planned. While her precious angel was having a great time, Julie noticed that there were some kids that were conspicuously absent from the party. After she checked the invite list, Julie noticed that some of the kids that didn’t show had not sent their regrets. These were people she included in the count for the venue. These were people she made treat bags for. These were people that skipped out on all of this fun, and it cost her money.
Julie was furious, had had enough, and decided that she wasn’t going to have her plans ruined, so she sent out invoices to the families of the children that didn’t show up at the party. On these invoices, Julie, included a “no show fee” and filed a complaint in small claims court.
You can’t make stuff like this up. A lady sent bills to the parents of children that didn’t show up to her child’s birthday party. Because her plans didn’t work out the way she wanted, she decided to interrupt the lives of other people in a way that just seems ridiculous.
I hope you have never sent an invoice to someone who missed your party, but we have all had dreams that didn’t out; we have all experienced things that didn’t go we planned.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I know you are planning that turkey. We all know, how wonderful the perfectly cooked turkey is. The skin has that perfect crisp, and the meat is so tender and juicy that it doesn’t even need gravy. But I know that for every perfect turkey that you have cooked, you’ve had plenty that didn’t go as planned.
Show video clip of Christmas vacation.
Speaking of thanksgiving, we all have various plans for the holidays—of enjoying friends and family, but too often things there don’t go as planned either. Someone says the wrong thing and aunt so and so gets offended or someone gets sick and everyone has to go home early.
You think about the young girl who is planning to go to college and has her future mapped out for her, but then she gets pregnant, and all her plans change.
Or the young couple who just got married. They are excited to start life together. To build a home together, to start a family. Then, we they start trying to have kids, things don’t go as planned. They watch others have kids, but they can’t seem to have one of their own.
Or maybe you had your heart set on something for the church. You felt passionate about a cause or about something else, and then things changed. People didn’t get behind your idea. Things didn’t go the way you planned, so your feelings are hurt and struggle with getting along.
You know, we aren’t the first ones to have struggled with things not going according to plan. Throughout history we read of how society changed or events happened that messed up someone’s plan. In the Bible we see several stories of where things didn’t go as planned.
Many years ago the Israelites were living in Israel. They believed that they were God’s chosen people. That God had blessed and chosen them. They loved their homes and loved their families. But then something happened around the year 598 BCE when the Babylonian’s came town. The Babylonian Empire was centered in present day Iraq, and conquered Israel. Not only did they conquer Israel, they destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and forced many of the Israelites into exile in Babylon.
The plans of the Israelites to live in their homes and to worship in God’ temple in Jerusalem were completely destroyed by the Babylonians. They were forced to abandon their plans, as they were forced to move to a foreign land, held in captivity. During this time in Babylon, the Israelites longed for home. They cried about how their plans had been destroyed. They longed for a different time; they wanted to go home; they hated what had happened to them.
This would be like if Russia came and attacked the United States. And in doing so, they destroyed Washington DC, all our state capitols, the things that we cherish as Americans. Then, they forced everyone on planes and sent us to Moscow. Such tragedy; all you would want to do is fight and get home. So you can imagine what going on in the lives of these people.
But as they were sitting in Babylon, there was this Israelite that left back in Israel by the name of Jeremiah. Today Jeremiah is considered a Prophet, one who speaks for God. And Jeremiah, sent these Israelites that were forcibly relocated to Babylon a letter. Jeremiah didn’t just address this letter to the leaders that were taken away, he addressed this letter to all the people that had their plans destroyed.
In this letter he gives them some specific advice. You see at time there were many people who were speaking about how they were going to get back to Jerusalem, about how they were going home soon. Many, so called, prophets arose to give hope to these exiles that their time away from home and away from their plans was going to be short. One might expect Jeremiah to join suit—to give them a measure of hope that they are coming home soon. But this isn’t really what Jeremiah says. Instead of writing this, Jeremiah addresses them:
4” The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon:” – In these opening words, Jeremiah is telling them that God had a hand in removing them of Jerusalem; that God had a hand in ruining their plans. This isn’t really the way you want to open a letter if you are trying to give the people some measure of hope.
Then he continues in verse 5:
“5 Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away.”
He tells them to settle down—to get used to life in Babylon. If they were going be able to go soon, why Jeremiah tell them to build houses. It’s a lot of work of to build home. Then get married, and have kids, and help you kids get married and then have grandchildren. Jeremiah is telling these folks to get used to where they are, that they aren’t coming back to Israel anytime soon. He’s telling them that they better just make new plans, because their original plans no longer even exist.
Then he something else, that I don’t want you to miss. In verse 7, he says:
“Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.”
Work for the good in your new community. Make this a nice place to live; help the community prosper. Volunteer with the PTA, plant a garden, read to kids at the elementary school, help change oil in people’s cars, make a difference in this place. And then, most importantly, pray … pray … pray for this place. Because future depends on the success and the wellbeing of this new community.
Jeremiah is telling these Israelites that their old plans are gone; that they need to get over it, and move on. That they need to make news plans in this new place, because their happiness is bound together in the wellbeing of their neighbors. Remember, they were taken as prisoners to Babylon, but Jeremiah is telling them to make the best of it. Seek the welfare of where you are because your welfare is wrapped up in it.
If you were sitting in exile. If you had been taken from your home and your homeland, had yours plans and dreams cut short, how would this make you feel? I can’t imagine, feeling very good. After all, if you were forced to leave to home, there is a great amount of grief that goes along with it. And the people in exile are denying what’s going on; they are angry; they don’t want to hear anything.
But if they step back for a moment, and they realize that they can’t change the situation, their perspective might begin to change. After all, you can’t change the situation, but you can change your reaction.
What’s gotten in your way? What’s ruined your plans?
While this letter was meant for the Israelites many years ago, I think that we can get some good practical advice to living our lives. One of the things Jeremiah is teaching, is that you need to let go of the plans of your past.
I think about my friend who is a pastor in the Savannah area. He was leading a church that at one point had been a thriving congregation bustling with life and with children. When got there, though, people were weary and things were quite as thriving. The congregation was faithful and loving, but they had hard time seeing a bright future. Instead of holding on to plans they had made a generation ago, they got together with two other churches and merged to form a new church—and out of this new church came new life and new possibilities. Had clung to their old visions, they could have never seen what God had in store for them next.
Maybe at one point you have had an amazing dream of something you wanted to do, but because of circumstance, this plan hasn’t been realized. Maybe, just maybe, you holding on to this and this plan is holding you back. Maybe it’s keeping you from seeming something new in life that will be a blessing to you and to others.
I want to share a thought about the election. Hope challenged me to not talk about politics, but I guess I’m going to fail at that challenge. But I think from Jeremiah, we can learn something powerful about how to deal with our upcoming presidential election.
In just a few short weeks we are going to have an election, and some of us will be disappointed – heck, maybe all of us will be disappointed. But when we learn the outcome of the election late on November 8th, there is nothing we can do to change the outcome. If the outcome gets in the way of our plan, the only positive thing we can do is to follow the advice that Jeremiah gave the Israelites – seek the welfare of your community and nation and pray for it. Our welfare is wrapped up in the welfare of our nation.
Sometimes things just don’t work out like we think they will or like we want. Sometimes the Thanksgiving turkey just isn’t any good. Sometimes the birthday party just doesn’t work out like we think it should. Sometimes your job, just isn’t as fulfilling as you though it would be. Sometimes you don’t make the kind of money you planned to be making. Sometimes you can’t travel the places you wanted to travel.
But, you know, there can still be good. Sometimes our plans to don’t work out like we think they should, but there can still be good. And I want to challenge you to look for the good.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.