By Audrey Warren
Branches UMC, Homestead, FL
First, Read Jeremiah 24:7
I wonder if any of you reading this out there have ever been kicked out of something or someplace before: possibly kicked out of school, a bar, a house, a family, or even possibly a country. The kicking-out was possibly caused by an attitude, natural disaster, eviction notice, or even political agenda.
Whatever it was and for whichever reason it was I would guess to say that many of the feelings are the same: isolation, abandonment, maybe righteous anger, loneliness, and loss. These were the feelings of those to whom Jeremiah was prophesying.
If you have time to read the full ten verses of Jeremiah 24 you will see that the chapter contains a weird vision of figs. Although figs have become quite the foodie fad these days (stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in bacon is how I like them). Back then figs were common place food. Figs were so common that there were actually different grades of flavors of figs, the very best being the ones which were first-ripe. In Jeremiah the first-ripe figs - the good figs, with the best flavor - were those who were kicked out of Israel and living as exiles in Babylon (and probably singing reggae songs and weeping by the river).
Whether they were singing Bob Marley tunes or not they were feeling the sadness the song conveys and asking the question, “how can we sing to God in this strange land?” This is a question I am sure many of us have asked as we have confronted a move, the loss of a loved one, or the experience of being “kicked out."
We ask questions such as: Is God still here? Can I worship God without this person? Can I connect with God in a new space? Through my experience we ask these questions not because we are not creative enough to make an altar in the wilderness but because we don’t want to worship God. The loss and isolation leaves us without any desire to reach out to God. The question really is, “Will I be able to worship God again?”
To this question Jeremiah prophesies a loud, "YES!" Knowing this and understanding this God will reach out to you and “give you a new heart to know that I am God.” The “yes” does not end there, but in-fact those of us living as “exiles” are even better positioned to be close to the heart of God.
The bad figs in the story were those who stayed behind and were not taken. Although they could continue to go to the temple and stay in their homeland, complacency captured their imagination and stunted their relationship with God. The bad figs focused on their buildings, policies and procedures rather than their God.
At Branches United Methodist Mission we were forced into exile when, on Pentecost Sunday, our very church building burned completely to the ground. That Sunday with the smell of ashes in the air we worshiped under umbrellas and pop-up tents. The following eight months we worshiped outside under a large tent. There were many times we wondered and others asked how we could worship – really worship under a tent.
Yet, it was in the tent, “with all stripped away,” that our church grew in numbers and faith. In many ways the tent “returned” us to God and God’s heart. In the tent with God we cast our vision for the future, we grew to trust God more, and we grew closer together.
Today, maybe you can’t muster up what is needed to connect with God or worship God, know that God is at work connecting to you and restoring your heart.
Today, maybe you are in a strange place and can’t see God. Know that God is there.
Today, maybe you are in a familiar place and maybe have even given into the delusion that you are God. Know that you are not and God is reaching out to you too.
Prayer: God of all figs, good and bad, you know our hearts and our locations. God of the wilderness and the temple, you know our loneliness and our pride. Today may we too be aware of these positions so that we might call out to you, our God and we might return to you and be your people. Amen.
- Where in your life have you felt like you were kicked out, exiled, or expressed a great loss that left you lost?
- In that time did you find yourself without desire to connect with God or worship God? Or possibly holding resentment towards God?
- In what ways during that time did you experience God coming to you and giving you a new heart?