Sermon

Jeremiah 29:4-14

Minority Report

Dr. Mickey Anders

The summer blockbuster movie of 2002 was “Minority Report” directed by Stephen Spielburg with Tom Cruise as the star. The futuristic movie is set in the year 2054. The complex plot revolves around the idea of “pre-crime.” The government has a way of knowing who is going to commit murder, and the police are able to intercept the murderer before the incident takes place.

Three “precognitive humans” drifting in a floatation tank are the ones who can see the future. But sometimes they don’t agree. In that case, one files a “minority report.”

The plot centers around this glitch in the system, because Tom Cruise’s character is selected as the next to commit murder. Cruise spends much of the movie trying to determine if there is a minority report on him, because he knows he is not a murderer. It is a far-fetched plot, but the movie is so well done that it got wonderful reviews and is very enjoyable to watch.

As I studied our text for today and thought about Jeremiah, the words “minority report” came to my mind. If anybody ever had to give a minority report, Jeremiah did. God called Jeremiah as a young man to deliver a message to the people of Israel that they did not want to hear. It would be a message about judgment and hope.

Jeremiah started his ministry in 627 BCE when Israel was besieged by Babylon. When most of the prophets were telling the king that the Babylonians would never conquer them because God was on their side, Jeremiah was telling the king to surrender. Finally, in 587 the Babylonians crushed an uprising by utterly destroying Jerusalem. They tore down the walls and leveled the Temple.

It was some time after that event that Jeremiah gave the prophecy in our text for today. The first line tells us that the people of Israel are exiles in Babylon. Another term the Bible often uses for this situation is “resident aliens,” and it seems that most of the Bible was written about “resident aliens.”

A SERMONWRITER SUBSCRIBER SAYS:

“Thank you again . . . and again . . . and again, Richard Niell Donovan.”

First we find Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden of Eden. Abraham was called to leave his home and travel to a land that God would give him. Then the Joseph story explains why the people of Israel spent 400 years in slavery in Egypt. The Passover leads to 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Then it took a long time for Israel to finally conquer the land that was called “Promised.”

There was a relatively short period of time under David, Solomon, and the following kings, when Israel dwelt in their own land. But then the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom and the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom. And in New Testament times, we find Israel bristling under the domination of Rome.

So we see that most of the Bible was written for people who were in exile or were resident aliens.

Paul changed the meaning just a bit in Philippians when he says “our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). He pictures all Christians as resident aliens because we do not belong to this world.

This theme was picked up in a popular gospel song. In 1946, the Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company published J.R. Baxter, Jr.’s, “This World Is Not My Home.”

This world is not my home I’m just-a-passing through
My pleasure and my hopes are placed beyond the blue
Many friends and kindred have gone on before
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home oh Lord what will I do
Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

I think there is a lot of truth about the message of this song. Our passage says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts… to all the exiles…” The Bible says we are all exiles; we are resident aliens; we are missionaries in a strange and foreign culture.

I have long felt that we needed to have a minority mentality. Such a mentality has shaped me all of my life. While my friends were going to a denominational college, I wound up at a secular university, the University of Arkansas. There I knew I was in a minority because there were so few of us who went to church and attempted to strengthen our Christian lives. Then I served for 20 years as a moderate pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention. I knew I was a minority when my votes at the conventions were never on the winning side. And now I am pastoring a church that seems to be in the minority in our community. I have decided that we are a New Revised Standard Version church in a King James Version community. I have always been in the minority!

The people of Israel were in the minority too. They did not expect the Babylonians to share their values or to worship their God. They knew they had to give a minority report. In Psalm 137, they asked, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

I believe that is exactly what we are all called to do. God wants to teach us how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. And in these verses he gives specific instructions about how to do that.

Verse seven says, “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.”

I think this is a very important message for all of us exiles. God’s message to the people of Israel was that they should settle down in Babylon and make the best of their situation. Psalm 137 shows us that they were understandably not happy to be in Babylon. They yearned for their homeland. They hated their oppressors. They said, “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I don’t remember you; if I don’t prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalm 137:5-6).

I have known people who felt just that way about their exile. I talked with a woman who had lived with her husband for 56 years, but now he has passed away. Nothing seems right. She is terribly lonely. She yearns for the days of her companionship. She is in exile, a resident alien in a strange and foreign land.

What is the message of God for her? Is she supposed to pine away the rest of her life in misery? No! God told the people of Israel to “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” They were supposed to settle down and go on living. God told them to marry, to have babies, and to look to the future.

But I think verse seven has a deeper meaning for Christians today. It says, “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to Yahweh for it; for in its peace you shall have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).

To me, this is a call for Christians to look beyond themselves and for churches to look beyond themselves. We are planted in this particular city, and God wants us to seek its welfare. I think Christians should be the best citizens in town.

Christians need to be the ones involved in making the community a better place. I like the mission statement of the local chamber of commerce, “Our mission is to make Pike County a better place to live and work.” That should be the mission of every church in Pike County as well. God calls us to do that.

And I think that means that Christians should be the ones behind Habitat for Humanity, Helping Hand, local government, and the chamber of commerce. The Rotarians have a motto that says, “Service above self.” Christians should be the ones setting the example of that kind of service in the community.

It seems that there is always a temptation to wrap ourselves in the cocoon of our own home and our own family. But the Bible calls us to seek the welfare of our city, our state, and our nation.

And as we approach a national election, we should say a word about voting. I think Christians have an obligation to be involved in the electoral process. They should be informed voters.

I also believe it is wrong for churches or church leaders to overtly or even subtly tell the members which candidate to vote for. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, nor any other political party, have a corner on God. I liked the way one Southern preacher put it, “I am not for the right wing; and I am not for the left wing. I’m for the whole bird.” But Christians do have an obligation to be informed, involved, and especially to vote.

The next section of our text deals with false prophets. Verses 8 & 9 say, “Don’t let your prophets who are in the midst of you, and your diviners, deceive you; neither listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 29:9 For they prophesy falsely to you in my name: I have not sent them, says Yahweh.”

Jeremiah lived in a difficult time. The people of Judah had already seen the Northern Kingdom take over by the Assyrians and the people deported. Now they were battling the rising power of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. As this new superpower threatened Judah, false prophets told the kings what they wanted to hear – that they would be able to resist the forces of Babylon. They said, “God is on our side. God will never let his favorite people be taken over by those heathens who do not even believe in our God. And you can rest assured that God will never, never let his Temple be taken!”

Lamentations 4:12 says this specifically, “The kings of the earth didn’t believe, neither all the inhabitants of the world, that the adversary and the enemy would enter into the gates of Jerusalem.”

Such a message sounded good, but it wasn’t true. And more importantly that message did not come from God. God was speaking through Jeremiah telling them not to resist Babylon and to surrender to them. Jeremiah had to deliver a minority report to the king.

On one occasion, Jeremiah wrote out this message from God on a long scroll and had someone else read it to the king, knowing that the king would likely kill him for bringing such a negative report. The king listened to the scroll being read, and as he listened he cut off sections of the scroll and threw them into the fire.

Jeremiah was arrested, imprisoned, and thrown in a cistern to die. He was the most unpopular prophet in Jerusalem. But he was proven to be right.

I think this is a vivid reminder to us that the ones who declare “Peace, peace,” may not be from God at all. Those who say what you want to hear may not be from God. God’s messenger may be the one that upsets you the most and challenges your presuppositions and assumptions.

That was not a good time for preachers to bring a minority report, and neither is this. Today there is an arrogance about majority positions that stifles minority reports. Just remember, Jeremiah was the only one telling a different point of view on the circumstances facing Judah, but he was the only one who was right. We would do well to remember that the majority is not always right. The people of Judah needed to listen to Jeremiah, not the false prophets who gave the message that the majority wanted to hear.

The last thing I find in this passage is a message of hope. Jeremiah is a book filled with a message of judgment, but also one of hope.

Verse 11 is one that can change our lives. I talked with a lady who was facing a terrible time in her life. Her minister pointed her to this verse and it really did change her life. Listen to it:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says Yahweh, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.”

Isn’t that what we are looking for? We want to know that God still has plans for us. We want to know that God is at work for our benefit and not for our harm. We want a “future with hope.”

The text goes on to say, “You shall call on me, and you shall go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says Yahweh, and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places where I have driven you, says Yahweh; and I will bring you again to the place from where I caused you to be carried away captive” (vv. 12-14).

This hope calls to mind Jeremiah’s acted-out sermon. While he was in prison, his uncle had a piece of property right in the path of the approaching Babylonian army and wanted to unload the property. He gave his nephew the legal right of first refusal.

Nobody but a fool would buy the uncle’s land. But Jeremiah did and paid full market value. He had the deed placed in an earthenware jar so the deed would keep as long as necessary. He bought it as an acted-out prophecy, ” For thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land” (32:15). He is saying, “It may not happen soon, but God will return us to this land.”

These verses remind me that in the Bible, the worst word is never the last word. There may be a message of judgment, but that is not the last word. The last word is always hope.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2004, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.