Northminster’s leaders have been praying, planning, and dreaming about what the church will be like in 2020. (You can see video explaining some of those plans here.) Last Sunday I spoke to our senior adults (a group that includes me, according to the good folks at McDonald’s and Bow Tie Cinemas) about Northminster’s future. Here is a condensed version of my message.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” Jeremiah 18:1-6
Jeremiah lived 600 years before Jesus was born. He experienced the utter destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, and witnessed the children of Israel forced into slavery by their Babylonian neighbors. When Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated Babylon in 537, Ezra the priest received permission to return to Jerusalem with a group of people to rebuild the city, its wall and its temple.
I want to tell you about two couples who lived during during the Babylonian Exile. They were about 25 with young children when the Babylonians marched them off into slavery. They raised their children in a foreign land and watched their grandchildren come into the world and grow to be adults while in exile.
The children and grandchildren of both couples were chosen to return to Jerusalem with Ezra’s initial group. Neither couple, now in their 70s, was able to go, and this saddened them greatly. But as you will see, the couples responded to their disappointment in opposite ways.
Eli and Elizabeth
The best word to describe Eli and Elizabeth as they watched their family prepare for the journey to Jerusalem would be resentful. And you can’t blame them, can you? Three children, nine grandchildren, all of their immediate family would soon be leaving. Ever since the decision was made, Eli and Elizabeth had been preoccupied with one question:What will become of us?
“Who will care for us in our old age?” they wondered. “Who is going to visit us? Every holiday for the rest of our lives, we will be alone. We took care of our children and their children, and it is somehow unfair that they will not be here to take care of us. And how will they ever afford to travel to Jerusalem? It will take everything they have to make this dangerous journey, which has such slim possibility of success. They should all just stay here with us and make the most of the life we have together.” This is how conversations went between Eli and Elizabeth, and with their family. Eli and Elizabeth’s bitterness grew as they became more and more preoccupied with their personal situation. While their family packed and prepared, Eli and Elizabeth sat in their home complaining, “When are they coming over? We never see them anymore.” Their grandchildren could have used their help purchasing supplies for the journey, but Eli and Elizabeth offered nothing because they were consumed with worries about their own survival. They were full of resentment that Ezra’s plan to rebuild the temple was forcing them to wonder, “Will we have enough? What will become of us?”
Joshua and Miriam
Eli and Elizabeth had been friends with Joshua and Miriam since long before the Exile. They had grown up together near Jerusalem, and for decades they had lived near each other in Babylon. Joshua and Miriam’s family would be leaving them behind to travel with Ezra back to Jerusalem, but the best word to describe them would be hopeful. Their focus was how can we help our children and grandchildren prepare for their journey? They would go everyday to the homes where their family was getting ready to move. If the work was too strenuous, and it often was, they would sit and watch. One afternoon a granddaughter wandered over with a request, “Tell me again about your grandparents.” Their children and grandchildren were adamant that they didn’t want to take Joshua and Miriam’s money. But Joshua bought goats and sheep, Miriam found grape vines and olive shoots for planting. “We want to see a fine orchard and vineyard when we come to visit!” she told them. Of course, deep down everyone knew she would never make the trip. Joshua and Miriam were not concerned about their future. After all, God had always taken care of them, why would they expect anything different now? And their family, these children and grandchildren, this was their hope. They would do great things with Ezra. They would resettle Jerusalem. They would rebuild the temple. They would reestablish the nation. They would become God’s best and brightest hope. “We are hopeful,” said Joshua and Miriam, “because we are helping them.”
Which brings us to today. This church is moving forward into God’s bright future. Your children and grandchildren in this faith community are thrilled about Northminster becoming a neighborhood church again. They are excited about worshiping in a renovated sanctuary and these facilities serving the neighborhood with ministries around the clock, 7 days a week. Your children and grandchildren in faith are moving forward into Northminster’s future.
Every grandparent here gets to choose how we will respond. Will we be like Eli and Elizabeth—resentful and focused on What about me? Or will we be like Joshua and Miriam—hopeful about God’s future, doing everything we can to help our grandchildren in the faith move into that future.
The bird is in your hands.