Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
I wonder if I can take a quick poll – don’t worry, it’s not a political one! How many of you were born here in the Mayo/Edgewater area? Now, how many of you relocated to this area at some point in your lives? OK – quite a few of you are transplants to the Mayo Edgewater area. Here are some other questions: What brought you here? Why did you stay? Do you plan to stay here indefinitely?
It is no secret Mark and I are transplants, arriving here just over three years ago. Prior to that, we had lived in the north and western regions above Baltimore. We were within driving distance of some substantial mountains. Rolling hills are also common in that region. In other words, we were land-lubbers!
We took these pictures not long after we arrived here. I know you all with think these are ordinary sights, but to traditional land-lubbers, these are fascinating! We have discovered a whole other way of life when one lives near the shore. First, when the sun drops down below the horizon, IT’S DARK! In the northwestern region, the sun would drop below the mountains or hills but you still had a bit of light for about 30-60 minutes. Second, one cannot gage the busyness of a local restaurant by the parking lot. A lot of folks arrive by boat – in one case we saw a couple row up on kayaks. Third, boat talk is the norm and it is its own language – certain terms are most definitely foreign to land-lubbers. And finally, an osprey sighting is a wondrous and sacred event. I wasn’t even sure exactly what an osprey looked like.
So when you are a transplant, you need to adjust to your surroundings. One interesting adjustment for me has been in the area of gardening. My prior experience with growing tomatoes, for example, has been different than what we experienced here in the church garden. I would usually expect to see tomatoes blooming and ripening in late July and then harvest all through August and September. We had beautifully grow plants out back, but no blooms – no tomatoes; until now. I just picked these from the church garden this week. It’s October. Just prior to the last Saturday night contemporary service I went out to rip up the bean plants only to find them covered with beans. Kathy, you are not in Kansas anymore!
When we see the scripture from the prophet Jeremiah, we hear words of encouragement and instruction to the Hebrews who had been exiled into Babylon. The Hebrews went through periods of prosperity and defeat and from our birds-eye perspective, it is easy to see why. As God’s chosen people, God blessed them as they served and worshipped God. When they abandoned God and worshipped other gods, failing to follow the law as their end of the covenant with God, they did not prosper. At some point in their history their sacred city of Jerusalem was destroyed by their enemies, including the holy temple. The Hebrews were taken prisoner and exiled into a foreign land.
This is not a pretty story. The happy ending doesn’t come for years and generations down the road. The prophet Jeremiah who is speaking is known as ‘The Weeping Prophet.’ Yet interestingly enough, Jeremiah, Mr. Gloom and Doom himself, gives a message of direction and hope to a people who have felt the sting of rejection and defeat. Bloom where you are planted. Jeremiah was giving the Hebrews instructions on how to function in their time of waiting – their time when God was silent.
There are times we too need to bloom where we are planted in our spiritual lives. What does that mean? Maybe we are looking to God for answers, praying for a loved one or a situation, yet we see no change. Our prayers appear to go unanswered. We pray for good things – for our children who are not Christians, for our church family members who are sick, for our neighbors who are struggling with a job loss or divorce. These are good, selfless prayers we utter, yet at times it seems like we get nowhere. We are criticized for our continued belief in a loving God because there are times when God appears to be silent. Those are the times when we are instructed to bloom where we are planted.
Our faith in God can be challenged during our times of waiting. We long for the good ole days or decide God isn’t going to respond so we take matters into our own hands. Waiting for anything can be a hard pill to swallow. Where can we find any good with wasting time waiting for God to act? Then we read stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elizabeth, and Hannah. Each person was put through a time of waiting on God. Abraham needed to wait many years before he became a father to all nations which didn’t occur until long after his wife Sarah was of child-bearing age. Joseph spent years in prison waiting for God to intervene. Moses wandered in the dessert and never crossed into the promised-land. David was named king by Samuel, only to spend years running for his life from King Saul. Elizabeth and Hannah both prayed for many years before being blessed with children.
What happens to us during times of waiting on God? We have heard the saying, ‘not in my time but in God’s time.’ How can we grow our faith when we see the needs around us, pray for action and answers, but it appears the answer is ‘not yet?’ We bloom where we are planted.
We at Mayo UMC are planted here. Can we be like a tree that is planted by the water? Consider this. A tree planted by the water will extend its roots down to the water source. It will be continuously in bloom because it is directly connected to the source of life. It grows stronger and more secure. It can withstand fierce storms and still be standing. The pictures I saw of trees planted by the water show that when the tree is challenged by the elements, it leans toward the water. Interestingly enough, the scripture that talks about a tree planted by the water is also from the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 17 verses 7-8: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord; whose trust is in the Lord. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
There is no doubt we will experience storms in our lives. Storms of doubt and fear, storms of heartache and pain, storms of addiction and greed, storms of complacency and indifference. Yet if we are truly like a tree planted by the water, our roots are strong enough to withstand these storms because we are connected to the source of life – Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. If we are truly planted by the water, drinking in the joy, peace and love of Jesus who gave his all for us, how much easier is it for us to bloom where we are planted. It’s almost an automatic thing because trees planted by the water prosper and thrive.
Where are we planted? What is our connection to the source of life? How can we strengthen our commitment to love God not just in name or on the surface or on Sundays only, but in all we say, all we do and all we are? Through prayer; fasting, reading God’s word; tithing of our talent, treasure, and time; engaging in fellowship with one another; attending worship.
Our attendance to our root connection is only part of the story. A tree reveals this vital connection by blooming – blooming where it is planted. Our District Superintendent Evan Young will be meeting with us for our charge conference being held next Saturday. Part of this meeting is to update him on the happenings here at Mayo. But more importantly, Rev. Young wants to hear about the persons whose lives are being positively impacted by our dedication to putting our faith in action. Whom have we influenced for the Kingdom of God? Whom have we blessed with our generosity? Whom have we shared our faith in a way that is changing lives for Jesus Christ?
I’ve shared with you the surprise of those who do not automatically look to the church for help. I mentioned Rachel at Central Middle School and her gratitude for some meager offerings to the health room. Those of you who were here on 9/11 met Crazy Frog, and Wizard, and Glo – all of whom are so extremely grateful for our assistance in a rather unorthodox, out-of-the-box ministry. Who ever thought that we would be supporting Bikers in a child-focused ministry? Julie Campbell has shared the impact we are helping to make in the lives of the poorest of the poor in Kenya. There is a large banner from Mayo Elementary School – a thank you note from children who receive support from the Back Pack Buddies program.
These are wonderful acts of kindness. But how are we sharing the message of Jesus’ love and caring for all? How are we promoting a life of serving God and serving others? Why are we here? Maybe we first need to take time to listen. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with some of the nursery school parents and friends during the first session of the Hobby Retreat. I am a full 20 years older than these women so it was beneficial to experience their norms of life – constant communication, sharing real-time events, seeing the pressures they face in raising children in an action-packed society. I was able to share about ministries and events here at Mayo. We surprised them with our hospitality. But I was also doing a lot of listening – something that tends to be lacking in our talk-driven world.
We are turning a corner together here. We are looking outbound. We are embracing our final benediction – “Our worship is over, but our service has just begun.” Jesus Christ gave his all for us. Let us give back by serving God and serving others. Amen.