Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The topic for today is “Adaptation, Future and Hope”. I would like to meditate on the well-known Bible story and to apply it to the pandemic situation we are facing. Just in the beginning of March I was on a business trip in a foreign country and could not even think that it would have been my last business trip before the long period of staying home, the period of life without any trips and flights, without visiting churches. I was used to travel and visited churches a lot. In summertime when the situation seemed to get better, I drove to Saint-Petersburg and Voronezh where I met people from our churches. I started planning other trips for October, but the situation changed back to worse. It is not easy to deal with it. I communicate a lot with pastors, DSs and church members in Zoom and many people share how difficult this state of uncertainty is. Sometimes church members press pastors and insist on having worships in their church buildings instead of worshipping online and they are blaming ministers for not having enough faith. It is extremely hard for pastors. Yes, on the one hand we all want to see each other face to face but on the other hand we all understand that church gathering is a high-risk area. So, we encourage all our churches to be wise, to analyze risks and to limit socialization during this time. I am grateful to you who are wise and take care of your own health and the health of others.
The situation of the Israelites during Jeremiah’s time was different, but I would like to underline the certain parallels with the current situation that are evident to me. It is hard to feel optimistic reading the book of Jeremiah. Most of his prophecy was about tensed future, exile, and hardships for the following seventy years and only at the end of the book he spoke about future and hope.
In chapter 29 he expressed negativism toward many of the false prophets of that time who claimed that the situation would have changed within two years. One of them was prophet Hananiah. (Jer. 28:3). Babylonians captured Israelites, plundered the temple, carried away all the holy vessels and captivated the people. The vessels from the temple were an extremely important symbol for Jewish people that time and these holy symbols were in the hands of the enemies. The country and the temple were attacked. Imagine how people could feel. They were downcast. How would you feel if your church were attacked and robbed? Hananiah claimed that he had had a word from God and had been told that everything would have been returned in two years. When Hananiah spoke about two years it seemed quite a foreseeable time. It is about the same as if young people in love dreaming about their future are told to wait for their wedding for two years. It does not seem so much difficult for them. And not so many would agree to wait for the next twenty years. Jeremiah came and said not to believe Hananiah and claimed that the captivity would have lasted for seventy years. You can imagine how people treated Jeremiah. I am fifty now. So, seventy years of captivity would mean that I would never return to my motherland and even my children would probably not be able to come back. How would I feel being a slave in an alien country?
Nowadays we can often hear how some politicians claim that everything is great, and the pandemic is under control in this or that country, but the reality is totally different. Nobody wants to hear that Coronavirus will continue to spread for another half year or longer. We know by now that all the international events of the UMC are either cancelled or postponed for unidentified time. We all understand that this situation will continue much longer than we expected or wanted.
Further in the book Jeremiah gives an absolutely shocking idea…
ADAPTATION, FUTURE, AND HOPE.
Jeremiah called these downcast and bewildered people exiled to Babylon to live their full life, to build houses, to plant gardens, to marry and give birth to children, raise their grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. So, he spoke about at least three generations, about seventy years of living in that land. And he said even more – “to take care of a wellbeing of Babylon”. If everything had been good in Babylon the Israelites would have also felt good there. It was a revolutionary idea. How was it for those living in a strange and hostile country to work for the good of their captors?
And yes, many people did not believe Jeramiah and were aggressive toward him. But he still let people know that this situation would have lasted long.
I remember the time when I came to the US for studying in the seminary. I only had the most necessary things. I knew that I would stay there for three years of study and then go back home. So, it was important not to buy anything big, bulky or valuable or something that I would not need and would not be able to take with me. The heaviest thing I had were my books. But imagine how I would have lived if I had come there to live for seventy years, for all my life? Of course, I would have needed other things to settle down myself for a long time.
That is exactly what the prophet told to the people: not to postpone their life.
It often happens now. Many people think that they would start doing sport after the lockdown is finished or that they would start something new when the life is back to normal. So, it is important to remember that this is our life, here and now and we should live it to the fullest. We may need to change something, to be adapted to the situation but to continue to live abundantly.
I would like to encourage you not to stop your live, continue to grow as a personality, to grow spiritually, to take care of your health, to walk and to move more, to communicate to your family members, to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Do not postpone your life! We do not know when the pandemic ends and that is why I want us to be ready in our hearts and minds to live our lives here and now and to be adapted to any situation.
I recommend you watching a movie titled “The Martian”. It is a great example of how a person can be adapted to the situation and survive.
In my opinion the development of Christianity within two thousand years is a great example of adaptation. For example, a style of worship in UMC. We know how different styles of worships are in different parts of the world: solemn western worships, bright and active African worships, loud Korean prayers. The sense is that church is trying to be adapted to the culture in such a way that the Gospel of Jesus would be more evident to people in this or that area.
Church historians note two major bursts of growth of Christianity – in the first century, and in the twentieth century in China. And there are certain signs of how it happens.
In the first century Christianity became a sect of Judaism and when they were not accepted by Judaism anymore, they happened to be in a situation where they had no place in synagogues any longer and had to gather in their homes. We all know the example of Lydia. And that’s how Christianity grew. It did not depend on a central temple or on buildings. The most important thing was that members of the community could have opened their houses. It resembles the situation now. And it is the same what happened in China when they had no legal right to meet somewhere.
The other similar moment is the following. When people gather in homes or when ministers are prosecuted families become a minor community where fathers or adults take upon themselves the function of priests. We all are called “the royal priesthood” in the Bible. We can grow in Christ as a family church no matter if our pastor is with us or not. We can gather, read the Bible, pray, and grow. We are adapted. Internet gives is such opportunities. It is hard to imagine what it would have been if the pandemic had happened thirty years ago when there was no Internet, no Zoom, and other technical possibilities.
I am thankful to you for using all these opportunities to be a church in such situation. I encourage you to continue to feel all the current changes and to be adapted to them in order to continue being a church.
How are you and your church adapted to the challenges of the pandemic today?
What do you need to do in a new way?
What do you need to leave in the past?
ADAPTATION, FUTURE, HOPE.
Further Jeremiah says in 29:11 (NRSV) “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope”.
God has plans for our welfare. It may seem difficult to believe in it, but I would like for us to remind these words to ourselves more often. Welfare is ahead. It is the welfare that has been prepared for us by the Lord! Again, it may seem hard to believe during the pandemic because we cannot meet in churches, many people lose their jobs or cannot find jobs, there are a lot of limitations and so on. Where is this welfare? People have this disease, people die, some cannot even bury their loved ones because of the pandemic. We all know such stories. It is hard. We all need help, support, and encouragement from each other. God says through Jeremiah that he has plans for us. The prophet preaches future and hope amid the long-drawn captivity.
It is curios but I often hear controversial things in some discussions. One people say that they want to go back to normal time like it was before the pandemic. Others say that they do not want it to be like before. They want it to be the new future that God has prepared and want to live in an absolutely different way. True! We did not like many things in the past and wanted to change them. So, God has given us something new to be adapted to and to go into the future that is prepared for us.
Jeremiah preaches hope. Hope is a distinguished characteristic of people of faith. I was amazed by the stories of a famous European psychiatrist Viktor Frankle who was imprisoned during the Second World War. He said that only those who had hope could survive and lived longer in concentration camps. It was almost impossible to hope for anything when you saw how people by your side were sentenced and you knew that you had been the next one to be killed. He witnessed that the only thing that had helped him was the dream and thinking about the time when the war would have been finished and how he would have given lectures to his students. It is unbelievable. You need to have only hope to dream.
One surgeon was asked what was the first medicine that he had to give to his patients. And his answer was that the first thing he always gave to his patients was hope otherwise it would have been much more difficult to cure them.
Paul in his epistle to Romans 15:4-6 wrote, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God gave us his word to have hope. Jeremiah preached about future and hope amidst the hardest circumstances. The current time is also difficult, but God gave us hope. Let us be filled with this hope and live to the fullest here and now looking forward to welfare. Let God bless you and fill you with hope!