NEW YEAR JEREMIAH 29:1-19: “For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.” (v11)

Happy New Year! This is the only moment in the year when the world exclusively focuses on time and expectations. Today media beams firework displays from various capitals around the globe, chasing the dawning of a New Year. The partying of New Year’s Eve may give rise to questions as to what this year ahead might hold for us. Who had heard of Covid-19 this time last year? Speculations here and there with no element of certainty anywhere even in the midst of those who profess to be Christians are not even sure of themselves and their surroundings! But the true sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty; the called, know of one thing that is assured, they have the true word of God in all circumstances as He said: ‘I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you,... for your welfare and for your peace...’ if the Lord said that He has a plan and thought for you, then why are you not rest assured, why do you still plan for yourself, why do you still worry? Today can prove downbeat following midnight celebrations. If you are feeling downbeat, you are feeling depressed and without hope. A public holiday for some, in other places like in Britain and even in our current Nigeria it marks the end of what, for the majority and those in leadership, is a long drawn out festival. Yet, a festival that has largely lost any significant purpose beyond extravagant self indulgence based on wastages of divinely given resources. Lord Jesus once again excluded from His own birthday celebration –with little or no room in our hearts. In reality do we have the aims and objective of the true meaning which God has in mind when He God took flesh in other to teach us how to live life on earth, have we learnt? It’s often said that to aim at nothing is a sure guarantee of success. God wants us to know from the verse above that without a true divine plan, life drifts away from us. I look back and wonder where on earth has the year 2020 gone? New Year offers a useful landmark in the panorama of our life. Panorama hears means an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding our life. Standing on the threshold of a New Year, many of us pause and reflect upon the purpose and significance of our life to date. Evaluation of our life so far is a very essential thing to do so that you will know if you are drifting away from reality or not. Good news! God has a plan for each one of us. The challenge for all of us is always in discerning or divinely finding out what that plan and thought of God is. Our first step in finding out God’s divine plan and thought is always to acknowledge the plan. Even if confused, such a simple acknowledgement declares that we are looking to or for God. No matter where we find ourselves, God never gives up on us. So when we are in a situation that threatens our life if we call out on the Lord God, God’s promise is that there’s a hope and a future for each one of us. With a fresh year ahead of us, hope alone can stir our hearts and minds and renew our pursuit of God. Join me in my pursuit of God this year, and let’s spur each other on as companions learning to live every day with Jesus Christ. Safety does not just mean being shielded from Covid-19: a friend has had Covid-19 and is struggling to recover. It means that regardless of the risk beneath us are God’s everlasting arms. We remain safe and secure in compromised circumstances. It’s only believing in Lord Jesus Christ that will save us and keep us really secured and safe.

  “Displaced Persons” SERMON ON JEREMIAH 29:1-19:

The chapter of Jeremiah 29 contains the following contents; 1. - Two letters to the captives in Babylon; In the first, they are recommended to be patient and composed as seen in verses 1-19. In like manner all sons and daughters of God are asked to be patient and composed in all situation and circumstance. 2. -In the second, judgments are denounced against the false prophets who deceived them as seen in verses 20-32. So today everywhere all the false prophets, general overseers, men and women of God so claimed who have deceived the people of God will be judged in a way that will surprise all of us! Jeremiah 29:1-7: The written word of God is as truly given by inspiration of God as His spoken word. The zealous servant of the Lord will use every means to profit those who are far off, as well as those who are near him. The art of writing is very profitable for this end; and by the art of printing it is rendered most beneficial for circulating the knowledge of the word of God. God's sending to the captives by this letter would show that He had not forsaken them, though He was displeased, and corrected them. If they live in the fear of God, they may live comfortably in Babylon. In all conditions of life, it is our wisdom and duty not to throw away the comfort of what we may have, because we have not all we would have. They are directed to seek the good of the country where they were captives. While the king of Babylon protected them, they must live quiet and peaceable lives under him, in all godliness and honesty; patiently leaving it to God to work deliverance for them in due time. Jeremiah 29:8-19: Let men beware how they call those prophets whom they choose after their own fancies, and how they consider their fancies and dreams to be revelations from God. False prophets flatter people in their sins, because they love to be flattered; and they speak smoothly to their prophets, that their prophets may speak smoothly to them. God promises that they should return after seventy years were accomplished. By this it appears, that the seventy years of the captivity are not to be reckoned from the last captivity, but the first. It will be the bringing to pass of God's good word to them. This shall form God's purposes. We often do not know our own minds, but the Lord is never at an uncertainty. We are sometimes ready to fear that God's designs are all against us; but as to His own people, even that which seems evil, is for good. He will give them, not the expectations of their fears, or the expectations of their fancies, but the expectations of their faith; the end He has promised, which will be the best for them. When the Lord responds in pouring out His Spirit as a especial spirit of prayer, it is a good sign that He is coming toward us in mercy. Promises are given to quicken and encourage prayer. He never said, Seek ye me in vain. Those who remained at Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed, notwithstanding what the false prophets said to the contrary. The reason has often been given, and it justifies the eternal ruin of impenitent sinners; Because they have not hearkened to My words; I called, but they refused. With all these in mind, it is very essential to stick only to the word of God in other to be safe! Jeremiah 29:20-32: Jeremiah foretells judgments upon the false prophets, who deceived the Jews in Babylon. Lying was bad; lying to the people of the Lord, to delude them into a false hope, was worse; but pretending to rest their own lies upon the God of truth, was worst of all. They flattered others in their sins, because they could not reprove them without condemning themselves. The most secret sins are known to God; and there is a day coming when He will bring to light all the hidden works of darkness. Shemaiah who was a prophet in the reign of Rehoboam urges the priests to persecute Jeremiah because Jeremiah was warning them of God’s judgement coming on them because they are deceiving the people of God. Rehoboam was the first king of the Kingdom of Judah. He was a son of and the successor to Solomon and a grandson of David. Solomon was succeeded by his son Rehoboam whose harsh policies towards the northern tribes lead them to secede and formed their own kingdom of Israel. Their hearts are wretchedly hardened who justify doing mischief by having power to do it. They were in a miserable thraldom or bondage or enslavement for mocking the messengers of the Lord God Almighty, and misusing His prophets; yet in their distress they trespass still more against the Lord. Afflictions will not of themselves cure men of their sins, unless the grace of God works with them. Those who slight the blessings, deserve to lose the benefit of God's word, like Shemaiah. The accusations against many active Christians in all ages, amount to no more than this, that they earnestly counsel men to attend to their true interest and duties, and to wait for the performance of God's promises in His appointed way. There is no need to flatter men with false expectations because doing so has consequences! Today just imagine what people who call themselves men and women of God, even our leaders are doing and saying that when you try to divinely evaluate these utterances you find it very difficult to understand them because there is no truth in their words. The word of God says we have to be extremely careful to be focused on God’s word. Let us now read Jeremiah 29:1-19 Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders in exile and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jeconiah [also called Coniah and Jehoiachin] and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3 [The letter was sent] by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the captives whom I have caused to be carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build yourselves houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat the fruit of them. 6 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 be diminished. 7 And seek (inquire for, require, and request) the peace and welfare of the city to which I have caused you to be carried away captive; and pray to the Lord for it, for in the welfare of [the city in which you live] you will have welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Let not your [false] prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you; pay no attention and attach no significance to your dreams which you dream or to theirs, 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name. I have not sent them, says the Lord. 10 For thus says the Lord, When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you and keep My good promise to you, causing you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. 12 Then you will call upon Me, and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear and heed you. 13 Then you will seek Me, inquire for, and require Me [as a vital necessity] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will release you from captivity and gather you from all the nations and all the places to which I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I caused you to be carried away captive. 15 [But as for those still in Jerusalem] because you have said, The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon, 16 Thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits upon the throne of David and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your brethren who did not go forth with you into captivity— 17 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I am sending on them the sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs which are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 And I will pursue them with the sword, famine, and pestilence and will give them up to be tossed to and fro and to be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, an astonishment, and a terror, a hissing and a reproach among all the nations to which I have driven them, 19 Because they have not listened to and heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them persistently by My servants the prophets; but you [exiles] would not listen [either], says the Lord.

  Introduction:

Do you see that the true children of God do not even know how to use the working of the principles in God’s word to work out what they want to achieve in life. When you read verses four to six, especially verse six, you see the working of the principle that plays out when a people aim to spread their offspring in the midst of another people and see if it is not what the Fulani people are using to spread themselves everywhere in other people’s land aiming to take it over from the rightful owners. This is using the principles of God’s word in the negative called counterfeit, and when you compare it with what God aims at in verses seven to eight you see it is different because deceit is in the negative use of it. But are we very mindful of the false prophets and the false diviners in our midst called the ‘Efulefus’? Do you see from verses ten to eleven that God always have affixed time to whatever He does and whenever God finishes to carry out His plans at His fixed time just as He is about to do in our nation, according to our song: Ala anyi nile ga eme nkpotu...; people will be amazed at what God will do; then people will begin to seek for God in reality and there will be big and huge conversion into Christianity from other religion especially from Islamism! “Home Sweet Home.” “Home is where the heart is.” “There’s no place like home.” But what if you must leave your home? What if you find yourself far from home? I want to explore the theme of “home and exile.” We will look at an important letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. It is a letter of hope and comfort to people who have lost their homes, whose lives have been turned upside down. They are dislocated, displaced persons. I think the letter has things to say to us in this our time. To understand the significance of this letter we need some background. First of all, Jeremiah was a prophet, so what is a prophet? We tend to think of prophets as predictors of the future, which is not entirely wrong, but they are more like “canaries in the coal mine” who warn of impending danger. The prophets of ancient Israel were chosen by God and sent to warn the people that they were not walking in the ways of God. So Jeremiah was a prophet of God, who prophesied during the reign of the last kings of Judah, in the first half of the sixth century BC. Israel had split into two kingdoms, Ephraim in the North and Judah in the South. Jeremiah was from Ephraim, but God sent him to Judah to prophesy there in Jerusalem, which was the capitol, the seat of the monarchy, and the location of the temple. Jerusalem carried great symbolic meaning as the centre of Israel’s cultic life, so an assignment from God to prophesy there was a big deal. Another important feature about Jeremiah is that he was an outsider. He was from Ephraim. He was also, at the outset of his call from God, a very young man, and told God he was too young to do the job. God said, “Don’t worry. I’m God, I’ll have your back.” We know that God’s ways are not our ways, but it seems odd that He would send this up-country boy to the capitol to be His spokesman. It would be like sending a teenager from Millinocket, Maine or Barre, Vermont to Boston or from Udi to Aso Rock to speak truth to the power at the state house. Our reading is the letter Jeremiah sent to Hebrew exiles up in Babylon. By the time of this letter Jeremiah was no longer a young man, but had been doing his prophet’s job for some time, speaking God’s warnings and judgments against the kings and the people. On God’s behalf he accused them of not following God’s law: they were neglecting the widows and orphans, and they were exploiting the poor. These were all symptoms of the spiritual un-healthiness of the kingdom, and if it continued bad things would happen. By the time he wrote this letter bad things had already happened, which is why the exiles are up in Babylon. In doing research for this sermon I got the eerie feeling that “the more things change the more they stay the same” because much of the background for today’s lesson is about generations of war in the Middle East. Ancient Israel was a tiny kingdom, about the size of New Hampshire or Vermont or even the size of Biafra land in Nigeria, and it was wedged precariously between large kingdoms. To the South was Egypt, and to the North was Assyria, later Babylonia, and Persia todays Iraq and Iran. During the years of monarchy in Israel the small kingdom had survived by a series of submissive treaties with its bigger neighbours. In Jeremiah’s lifetime the big threat first came from the Assyrians, whose capital was Nineveh, which was located in what today is the city of Mosul, in Northern Iraq. For many years the Kingdom of Judah was a puppet state of Assyria that sent annual tribute to Nineveh. Tribute is a polite term for ‘protection money”, that is the money the people pay for receiving protection. Assyria was like the feared mob boss who commanded submission. Imagine Tony Soprano saying, “You got a nice little kingdom here. It would be a shame if anything happened to it!” But the Assyrian Empire was eventually eclipsed and overturned by an even bigger and bladder Empire, the Babylonians. Judah now became a submissive vassal state of Babylon. Vassal means a holder of land by feudal tenure on conditions of homage and allegiance. Now the protection money flowed to Babylon just as our own is flowing to Britain and many others too numerous to mention. It was in this world of foreign domination over Israel just like ours, first to Assyria and then to Babylon, in which Jeremiah grew up. As we have seen his prophecies were often judgments against Judah for their unfaithfulness to God, and he saw the Babylonian control over Judah as God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness. He clashed with the kings of Judah over what we might call foreign policy. They saw their future with a better alliance, pitting strong Egypt against Babylon, and they foolishly stopped paying tribute to Babylon. Bad idea! The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar was having none of it. He took an army to Jerusalem, conquered the city, and took away about ten thousand of the city’s leading citizens to Babylon. Before they left, the Judean King died, and his 18 year-old son took over. The Babylonians took him, too, and his mother up to Babylon. This is the context of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles, displaced persons now living in a foreign land, trying to adjust to new ways of living and being. And what an adjustment it must have been. Babylon was not just any foreign city. It was a really big city, probably the biggest city on earth at the time, and the first ancient city to have over 200,000 occupants. It is never easy being an exile, but it was especially hard for a people who believed their God was very much attached to a particular place. For Jews at that time their faith was very focused on the land and especially on its capitol, Jerusalem, with its temple. The question for these exiles was the one posed in Psalm 137, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange (foreign) land?” Some of you might recognize that text from the song “On the Willows” from the musical Godspell. The common wisdom among these exiles was that the solution to their plight or problem was to return to Jerusalem, to the land, the temple, and the monarchy that were the centre of religious life for them. This exile seemed temporary and they could wait it out. And that seems to be what their prophets and diviners were telling them. If God was indeed punishing them by their captivity and exile, it would only be for a generation, about 20 years. They could do that. Jeremiah has a different message. As God’s spokesman he tells them not to believe their false prophets and diviners who is telling them that the exile will be a short one. “Don’t believe their lies, for I did not send them, says the Lord.” No, God says, this exile will last a lifetime, 70 years, so you had better hunker down or squat in Babylon, “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.” The challenge for all exiles, all immigrants and aliens, is how to live in a foreign land, adapting enough to survive without losing your identity, in this case their identity as Israelites, who worshipped the God of Israel must not be lost. Do you now see the real reason why God wants them to allow the principle of multiplication to run, different from the way the Fulani people is applying it negatively. And there is some evidence that this was a struggle for them during the 70 years they were there. The Book of Esther comes from this period, and Esther was not a Jewish name, but is a variant of Ishtar, a Babylonian deity. Likewise Mordicai is a variant of Marduk, another Babylonia deity. It is hard to hold on to your faith far from home. Because in the ancient Middle East gods were local gods, very much identified and attached to their specific locales. There is a very radical theological idea that Jeremiah is putting forth in his letter. He is telling them that their God doesn’t only dwell in Jerusalem, but also in Babylon, telling them that you can call upon Him from wherever you are. In fact, elsewhere in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet challenges the three pillars on which Jewish life rested: the monarchy, the land, and the temple. Our God, he tells them, is a big God, who inhabits all the corners of the earth. You can worship God even in Babylon. One of the reasons Jeremiah is such an important figure and book is that in just a few years those three pillars of Jewish life and identity would be gone. In 587 BC Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army came back, conquered the land, abolished the monarchy, and destroyed the temple. Jeremiah’s vision of a God not bound by place became an important word for His people, and I think it remains an important word for all displaced persons. So one takeaway for the church today is that in lives many changes, dislocations, and displacements, God is still with us. Let me share one of my own displacements said the narrator. My seminary, Andover Newton Theological School, is selling its beautiful, historic campus on the Hill in Newton to go to Yale. I was on the Hill in September for a last alumni gathering and it was bittersweet, for that place was important to me. And I had to remember that our faith is a faith of hope in the face of discontinuity, and that the church will go on. Yes, I knew God in that place, but have found God in other places in my life’s journey. The Great Story the Bible tells is a story of seeming dead ends in which God finds a way to be faithful to His promises. God promises Abraham he will father a great nation that will bless the whole world. That promise seems absurd since Abraham is old and his wife Sarah is beyond the age of childbearing, but they do have a son, Isaac, who now carries that promise. Again and again the promise seems imperilled, the story seems to come to an end. This is a story we know. On the lonely hill of Golgotha the broken-hearted disciples who had seen in Lord Jesus the fulfilment of the Promise thought that finally there on the cross, the story had come to an end. In the light of Easter we believe that the story didn’t end. And that is the good news the church has to tell to all of us in our several dislocations. No matter what the changes you face, God is not done, and your life with God is not done, and the story goes on and you are part of it. Today, many of our churches must close or change radically the way they have always done things, and it might seem like God has left them in their dislocation. Each time a congregation disbands, or leaves a building behind, there is grief and loss. People mourn the places where significant events in their lives, baptisms, marriages, funerals, took place. God was once here for me, but now that place is gone. It is the challenge for all exiles. And actual exiles are not just in the past. We are witnessing in our own time the dislocation of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing from war and terror. We are seeing heart-breaking pictures of whole families fleeing their homes, leaving everything but the clothes on their backs, taking perilous risks in a search for safety and a new home. These are displaced persons here and there. The world is full of them, and the church is called to help them find a new home. Sadly it is not a new story. The story of America is a story of waves of displaced persons who found a new home there. My grandfather’s people, French Huguenots, fled religious violence in the 17th century said a narrator. My wife’s Greek grandparents escaped “ethnic cleansing” in Turkey said another narrator. Her Jewish grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, and his family came to Turkey after the war. These were displaced persons who found a home there said the narrator. The word displaced persons which we call IDPs in Nigeria is no new language here in our Nation Nigeria we have IDP camps all over the place. But we are not only talking about political dislocation, for many in our time there is economic dislocation. There are many people who have lost good jobs, and have had to move to seek new ones. They have left homes and faced the challenges of exile. So to all who are displaced and dislocated what is the word we can hear from Jeremiah today? This is what Jeremiah tells the exiles. God’s not done with you, so wherever you find yourself: “Bloom where you are planted!” He advises them: “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.” His advice is to make your new location your home, to make its welfare your welfare, to see its fortunes as tied to your fortunes. And I think there is a word here for congregations to be actively and intimately involved and invested in the welfare of their particular communities, as I know you are here in House of Joseph Ministries Inc. Jeremiah’s message is a word of hope and promise that God will never abandon us, that wherever we go God is with us. That is a word of hope for every generation. Because in some sense all of us are displaced persons, no matter where we live, no matter our circumstances. We are all pilgrims on a journey, longing for our true home. In the book of Hebrews it says, “For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” —as seen in Hebrews 13:14 Here’s the final word from Jeremiah, and from the gospel. Wherever you go, whatever happens to you, you are assured of God’s presence with you. At home, away from home, in life, in death, in life beyond death God is with you. Thanks be to God! Amen.

  

  

Father Lord, awaken within me a living hope for my future as I continue to follow You Lord Jesus every day. In Your name Lord Jesus I pray-Amen!