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A Future with Hope:  “The Residing”

Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7, 11

October 11, 2020   Thanksgiving Sunday
Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church

Last month the Television Academy hosted its’ annual awards ceremony known as the Emmy’s.  Like almost everything this year, it was held in a different format. Host Jimmy Kimmel was present in the almost completely empty Staples Center in Los Angeles, while nominees gathered in homes and other venues with friends, family and cast mates watching the show and receiving their Emmy’s virtually.  Over the course of the evening we were shown images of the nominees in their various locations.  There was one watch party gathering in particular that caught my attention.  Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, who were both nominated for the mini-series, Little Fires Everywhere, decided not just to have a party to celebrate the Emmy’s.  They and their cast mates were all decked out, sitting at safely distanced tables festooned with the makings of a New Year’s Eve party.  Everyone in their bubble was sporting bedazzled party hats and blowing noise makers and wearing glasses that said 2021.  When Jimmy Kimmel asked them about the party they were having they said “We’re done with 2020.  We’ve decided to move on to 2021 in hope of brighter days.”

How many of you, in the last almost seven months now have said, I’m done with 2020?  How many of us are so done waiting this virus out that we’ve decided to just give some things a miss for now?  Perhaps some of you have decided to simply forgo your thanksgiving celebrations this year because you’ve thought “Why even bother?”

We might be longing for a new year to arrive sooner rather than later, so we can wake up from this nightmare we are in and have something to truly celebrate but the reality is that it is Thanksgiving weekend and it is still 2020 and we still have a couple more months to go until we get to 2021 and an even longer distance to go until we arrive on the other side of Covid 19.

Today, we return to a scripture reading we first visited a month ago.  The context for this reading is that time in the history of Israel when all the leaders and the elite citizens of Jerusalem were moved from the city after it was conquered and they were taken into exile in Babylonia.  We know from this side of history that the exile lasted a long time, around 70 years in total.  It lasted for a couple of generations.

So the prophet Jeremiah speaks a word of hope to the people in exile, the people who are longing to return to their former lives.  He tells them, that instead of pining for former days and far away places, they should build houses and plant gardens and take partners in marriage and bring children into the world right where they are. He tells them to seek the welfare of the city in which they find themselves.

To quote a popular saying, he tells them to bloom where they are planted.

I can’t tell you how many times in my own life I have wanted to be done with something.  There were stages in the life of my children when they were little I could not wait to get out of.  There have been countless times in my professional life when I have told myself if I can just get through this next month or this next week, then I can take a break.  How often have you felt like you were just willing something to be over?

Last week I extolled the virtues of having a vision of the future big enough to sustain us in the present.    We do need to have a forward looking vision to guide and direct us in the present.  But what is also true is that living too much in the future or for the future can cloud our vision from seeing what is right in front of us, what we are being given, in the present.  It can cut us off from blooming where we are planted.

You will recall that our Easter celebrations this year took place at the height of our national lockdown due to Covid-19.  When we sat down to our Easter meal in my home, our little family of four began by taking turns naming the people we were missing at our table.  It was a beautiful way, I thought, of bringing those folks into our midst even though they were absent.  In retrospect, I’m wondering now if there wasn’t something about naming what was missing that robbed us of noticing and celebrating what was there.

So as we gather at tables this weekend with or without our loved ones, I’m curious what we will give thanks for that is present.  I’m curious about what is blooming in our covid gardens and how we ourselves are blooming in this place in which we find ourselves.

This morning I spoke with two friends of mine who live in different parts of the United States.  There is a lot going on around them that brings them despair.  They have good reason to want to fast forward to January 2021.  The last time I had spoken with them a couple months ago, they were both really struggling with their reality.  Today when I spoke with them, I was amazed at what is blooming in their gardens, despite the fact that the circumstances in which they find themselves haven’t changed at all.

Lisa, who lives alone and started a new job just days before she was told to go home and work remotely had a very hard time adjusting to her new reality.  Now, after setting up and outdoor office on her porch she says she is loving her new routine and the way this time has pushed her to let go of some things in her life that were no longer serving her.  Susan, who is a minister in a United Methodist Church has started a whole new ministry with folks who have come together to support street entrenched people in their community, none of whom had a previous connection to the church.  It’s something she didn’t dare believe was possible before Covid-19 arrived.

I know that there are many stories that we have as individuals and as a community of faith about the things that are springing up in our lives that might not ever have started to grow in our midst if not for the circumstances in which we find ourselves right now, if we had not been forced to reside in the place in which we are, to bloom where we have been planted.

I also know that for some of us, there is not much to celebrate this Thanksgiving.  The losses we have sustained and continue to sustain have been too great, our sadness too deep.  I wonder, if that is the case for you, if what you might be able to celebrate and give thanks for this year, is the hope and the promise that is ours to claim no matter where we find ourselves: the hope that the plans that God has for us are for our welfare and the promise that life can emerge, even in the gardens we might never have chosen to grow for ourselves.

There is a wonderful verse of scripture that talks Jesus and his hometown.  It asks the question “can anything good come out of Nazareth? in the same way we might find ourselves asking “can anything good come out of Covid 19?”  The answer, of course is, yes it can, and it already is.

Our ancestors in the faith, who lived long before vaccines, and high powered microscopes and sophisticated drug trials, made a choice when they found themselves in a state of exile, far from the familiar land and traditions in which they had been firmly rooted.  They made a choice to work together for the welfare of the city in which they found themselves.  They made a choice to trust in the words of the prophet Jeremiah who encouraged them to trust in a God who had their wellbeing at heart to give them a future with hope.  They made a choice to reside where they were, to bloom where they were planted and to give thanks.

May these be the choices we make, this thanksgiving and always. Amen.