The couple had been trying to have a
child for years. Theyd been to fertility specialists aplenty, and spent an enormous
amount of money, but still there was no child. Yet they refused to give up. Something deep
inside both of them told them that they should be parents. They got angry, often, at God.
How could God do this to them? It was particularly difficult, because as the wife said,
they both had always wanted to have a large family, they both always felt that they would
be good parents. How was it that so many people who didnt seem to care about their
kids at all were allowed to be parents when they were denied the gift of children?
a sermon based on Jeremiah 29:1,4-7
by Rev, Heather McCance
They prayed and they prayed, and waited and waited. One day, an extraordinary
combination of circumstances took place. They were in church, and the preacher was talking
about living out the calling that God has for each one of us. The preacher was quoting an
author named Frederick Buechner, who wrote that Gods calling comes when our deepest
desires and the worlds deepest needs come together. That same Sunday, there was an
announcement in the church bulletin from the local Childrens Aid Society looking for
people willing to become foster parents. And later that day, they saw a piece in the
newspaper about a family who had fostered some 56 children over the years, and how
fulfilling it had been.
The husband and wife looked at one another, said a prayer that they were right, and
made the call. After the screening and the training, they took in a family of two sisters
and a brother whose single mother was an alcoholic and unable to look after the kids. It
was really, really hard sometimes. The kids took a long time adjusting to a new home and a
new school, and had been so used to doing whatever they wanted that discipline was really
difficult. But with time and patience, and a great deal of love, this childless couple and
the three children became a real family in every way that counted.
And the couple was right. They were great parents. And since they couldnt have
their own children, the wife said, it seemed to her that God had found another way.
When were past a tragedy and looking back on it, its amazing how we can so
often see the hand of God at work. But when were in the middle of the hard times,
its nearly impossible. When were sure that path A is the only right way to go
even though theres a huge wall built up that bars the way, its amazing how God
can work around the wall, and create a path B that leads in a completely new direction.
The people of Judah had always believed that being in Israel, being in Jerusalem, was
holy. It was the land God had promised to their ancestors, it was the land their forebears
received from God when theyd been rescued from slavery in Egypt. And so when the
army of Babylon overran them in 587 BCE and carried them off into exile in Babylon, they
despaired. How could they sing the songs of God in a foreign land? How could they be the
people of God if they werent in the land of God? They could no longer worship in the
Temple, they could no longer bring their sacrifice and offerings to the priests there.
Theyd lost their homes, their way of life, their God.
So God told Jeremiah to write a letter to these exiled, homesick people now relocated
somewhere in Babylon, and we heard part of that letter this morning. And God, through
Jeremiah, said to them, "Dont worry. Youre still my people and I Am your
God. Yes, I allowed a great evil to come upon you, because I have given to all my children
the gift of free will and the armies of Babylon chose to use that gift in a horrible way,
ripping you away from all that youve ever known. The path you thought your lives
were taking is blocked off, but I am giving you another way, and this way, too, will
So, Jeremiah wrote, life must go. "Youre going to be here for awhile, so
start living again. Plant crops, build houses, get married and have children, life your
lives in faithfulness to God in a new land. And pray for the welfare of your new home,
even though it is the home of your enemy." The Hebrew word for "welfare"
here is the word "shalom," a word that means peace and justice and prosperity
and well-being and contentment all rolled together. So pray for shalom, even for this city
of your enemies, because when this city has shalom you who now live here will also have
And thats what the people of Israel did. They settled down in their new land, and
developed new ways to worship God. They couldnt get to the Temple anymore, so they
built synagogues. The priests couldnt offer sacrifices anymore, so they became
primarily teachers, rabbis. And the words of God in the Ark of the Covenant had been lost,
and so they wrote down the words of the covenant and the stories of Gods work
amongst their ancestors, and these became the books of the Old Testament.
They must have wondered how God was going to keep the promise that one day they would
return to Judah, that they would worship in Jerusalem again But this is the same God who
rescued a rag-tag bunch of slaves from the wealth and power of Egypt. And God came through
again, some 70 years later, and inspired the new king of Babylon to simply let the Judeans
Path A had been blocked by human action, by human sin. But God created a detour, and
the people in faith followed. And the detour came back around to where God wanted the
people to be.
God is a great storyteller, telling the stories of our lives. And God is a romantic;
likes happy endings and happily-ever-afters. But human sin and the free will weve
all been given sometimes means that the happily-ever-afters are hard to get to. God would
sometimes prefer us to zig when we choose to zag. But God is still the author of the
story, even when we characters are not terribly cooperative. God still tries to shape the
story towards an ending where all the characters will know shalom, will know peace and
prosperity and well-being.
And that includes characters like George W. Bush and it includes characters like Osama
bin Laden, it includes characters like you and me, for whatever the sins we commit, God
loves each and every one of us poor human creatures. God wants us all to live in shalom.
In the midst of crisis, its sometimes hard to see the paths that God wants us to
take. Path A would be best, but theres a wall there. God then provides Path B, but
sometimes we insist on bushwhacking out a Path C, somewhere God never wanted us to go. But
God comes along with us, and keeps trying to push us back on the path. Sometimes we get so
focussed on where we think we ought to be going, trying to bash a hole in the wall
blocking Path A, we are unable to see the detour God is offering in Path B.
That couple who wanted to become parents were completely focused on Path A, unable to
see any other option. The people of Judah had hit the wall on Path A and sat down and
stopped moving at all for discouragement.
Let us pray for our world and for ourselves, that we will keep our eyes and our hearts
wide open. Let us pray that when our way ahead is blocked, God will lead us onto a new
path, and that we will have the courage and faith to follow, that God can bring all our
stories to a happy ending of shalom. Amen.