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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

Plant Yourself Where You Are

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Scripture: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

A quick biblical geography lesson: We all know that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt through the parting of the Red Sea. We know those Israelites eventually established a home in the area of what is now Israel. It became a monarchy under kings David and Solomon. But later that land split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, which contained Jerusalem.

The northern kingdom, Israel, was wiped off the map by the Assyrian empire in the 8th century BCE. But the southern kingdom of Judah persisted through the 6th century BCE.

So when you hear about the people of Judah, we’re talking about some of the descendants of the Israelites who came out of Egypt, and we’re talking about the forebears of the Jewish people that came after. Including Jesus.

The prophet Jeremiah lived and ministered during the last days of the kingdom of Judah.

If we’re being really honest, people didn’t really like Jeremiah. He was a downer. The first 25 chapters of his book is God telling Jeremiah to tell the people of Judah to live more faithfully or they will face God’s judgment, and then the people getting mad at Jeremiah for calling them to account, and then Jeremiah going back to God saying, “they’re not listening, they hate me, why do you keep making me do this?”

By the time we get to our reading today, though, God’s judgment has arrived. Jeremiah’s prophecies have come true. The people of Judah have been conquered by the Babylonians. Their temple, the center of their faith and common life in Jerusalem, has been destroyed. The whole city has been destroyed. And a huge portion of Judah’s people have been carried off to Babylon, exiled from their home.

It’s a dark, dark time, and the exiles are trying to make sense of their situation.They’ve just arrived in this foreign land, the land of their enemies, where they have no friends, no familiarity, no roots. They’re not sure what will happen. They’re not sure what they should do, how they should proceed with their lives now that those lives have been turned upside-down.

One of their prophets, Hananiah, is telling the people what they want to hear. God’s coming, don’t worry, he says. You’re only going to be here two years so don’t get too comfortable. Your enemies will be destroyed, and you’ll get to go home.

The people are into this. Of course they are. It means their uncertainty and suffering will come to an end relatively soon. They can get back to their comfortable regularly scheduled programming.

You can almost hear Jeremiah sigh when he taps the brakes and says,

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Have children and grandchildren.”

They’re going to be here for a generation or two, he’s telling them. Maybe he takes a breath as the people take this news in. And then, but wait! There’s more.

“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.”

“Wait,” you can almost hear the exiles saying. “First you tell us we’re stuck in this terrible city where our enemies dragged us probably for our entire lives, and then you tell us we’re supposed to pray for its welfare?”

Yes, Jeremiah says, that is what God is calling you to do.

Plant yourself where you are. Invest yourself where you are. Even if you’re stuck in a place you don’t want to be. God has a plan. We don’t know the timeline of that plan, and it may not be the timeline you’re expecting, so plant yourself now. Do the good thing now. Find joy now. Pray for the home you have now. Work for the thriving of the community you have now. For in its welfare you will find your welfare.

I don’t know what’s in store for St. Luke’s just as Jeremiah didn’t know what was in store for the exiles. But what I do know is that we have found ourselves in this place, and our church will grow and thrive only if we commit ourselves to this place.

The truth is, this community will thrive and grow according to the resources we give it now, according to the time and energy and joy we bring to it now. Yes, God has a plan for this place, but that plan is manifested through our choices and our actions, through the seeds we plant now.

This is the second week of our stewardship campaign. Your stewardship packets are in the narthex if you haven’t already grabbed yours. In that packet you will read about Planting Seeds and Watering Seeds. Stewardship chair, Jim Stumpf, and I encourage you to plant your seed at the depth most beneficial for your thriving and for the thriving of this community.

A seed planted at the wrong depth can’t thrive. If you plant your seed too shallowly, it can’t develop the root system needed to anchor and nourish it. The sprout won’t have to push hard enough to build the strength it needs to survive the rains and heat of the sun at the surface. But if you plant your seed too deeply, its sprout won’t be able to reach the surface and will fade before it even reaches the daylight.

I know some of us—including me—grew up in churches that asked us to give more than we actually had, and we were scolded and shamed if we didn’t give it.

Others of us grew up in churches where no one really talked about giving, back when going to church was simply a thing everyone did on Sunday. The country club model. People showed up to be seen, gave money to make sure their church looked nice, but their faith life started at 10 a.m. on Sunday and ended at noon that same day. These are extremes on a spectrum, of course, but the extremes are real. I know a lot of you recognize them.

This stewardship season here in our church family, we ask you to rethink those paradigms. We ask you to give with care and intention. With prayer. If you give too shallowly, if it’s not a bit of a hard push, you won’t cultivate your root system to anchor your sprout in this community, our part of the Body of Christ. But if you give too deeply, too much, you’ll find yourself buried, unable to flourish.

We ask you to give in ways that will strengthen your own sprout and help our St. Luke’s garden thrive. This goes for your financial gifts and your gifts of time and skills and energy.

You’ll have the opportunity to discover where your gifts might fit at the ministry fair after service—where you can learn about the different ways to participate in the life of this community. I hope you make your way downstairs and talk to the folks who are already giving their time and energy and joy in their unique ways.

And in two weeks on October 23, on Pledge Sunday, you’ll have the opportunity to make a formal commitment to this church family, this garden of faith, for 2023, when you submit your pledge card. We’re also a technologically advanced congregation, so you can also fill out your pledge card online.

Thank you for the ways you have planted yourself in this garden. Thank you for the ways you have watered the other seeds, the other sprouts here—the ways you’ve encouraged and cared for one another. Thank you for your trust in God’s plan for this place.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us.

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