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New Beginnings

This is what the Lord says: "Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, 'Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.' See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel's father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. Hear the word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: 'He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.' For the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord--the grain, the new wine and olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty," declares the Lord. -Jeremiah 31:7-14

So can you believe it's been almost two years ago that we were hearing about this virus that was emerging and had been of concern in China and then quickly began to spread around the globe, and if I remember right, we're about 22 months out from when we first had those indications that we were going to have to experience some shutdowns and isolation and quarantining and all of those things that took place, and in some ways are still taking place, three months, they told us initially rights, but as we see from the news, it still has not hit its full peak, and we just keep thinking How long, Lord... How much longer can this go on like this... We're tired of it. Were frustrated.

As if seeing 2020 come to an end, wasn't enough, and looking forward to 2021, 2021 kind of smacked us in the face and said, Oh, you think it's gonna be better, don't you... And I've seen some memes on Facebook that say things like, let's just be real careful, easing our way into 2022, nobody claim this to be your best year yet. Don't touch anything, be quiet. And maybe we'll go unnoticed. Well, I think people are feeling that way. But it's not just the pandemic, we'll look at the state of the world, record numbers of natural disasters, forest fires raging on the news this morning near Boulder, Colorado, nearly a thousand homes destroyed by the wild fires there, and we look at all of the conflict and turmoil and Russia poised to invade, and the dissension and the contentious-ness between our own politicians, and we just wanna say... Where's that reset button? Can we start over again? Somehow, for the golfers out there, we're wanting to take a mulligan and try again, but unfortunately we know that trying again doesn't mean that we can go back to some other place and start over and hope we get a different outcome.

But this idea of a new beginning, there's one that many of us long for and cling to, New Years is often that time where everybody looks at the calendar and says, Okay, this year, this year, I'm gonna do this different, I'm gonna spend less, I'm gonna eat better I'm gonna exercise more, I'm gonna take that vacation I've been talking about, not done, whatever it is, we pick that date on the calendar and say, Because of this moment on the calendar, I'm going to do things differently from here on out and... Well, most people, those good intentions and best efforts might last a few days, a couple of weeks, but we're not real good at making those new beginnings for ourselves, sometimes it seems like the deck is stacked against us that in spite of or despite any of our best efforts, we don't see the results. And there's just no traction... To make that head way.

We're not alone. People throughout history have dealt with the same challenges and struggles that we face, ours may be different and unique to us, but their struggles nonetheless. For the people of Israel, being conquered and carried off into captivity was not a good day. It was not a good year. It was not a good number of years, the best and the brightest were packed up and carted off to Babylon and held in captivity. The prophet Jeremiah was the one who came and spoke God's word to them. Now, the thing about prophets that we cannot lose sight of is that prophets don't necessarily predict the future, they're not fortune tellers, there are people who know the heart of God, and they know the heart of God so well that they are able to speak God's truth into situations and circumstances, sometimes the prophets word is a word of caution and warning, you'd better not do that, because if you do, you probably won't go very well for you.

Or if you do this, if you repent and turn your hearts and return to God, then maybe some good things will start to happen for you, but the thing about the prophets word is that it is always a word rooted in their understanding of the nature of God and what is possible if a people truly turn their hearts to God and focus upon Him.

For the people that Jeremiah was speaking to, it was those people in exile, and he begins to speak to them about a new beginning about a return from exile, and for the people that are in exile, part of that is a new beginning that begins with the praise of God, in the text that we heard this morning, beginning of verse 7 through 9, it's a command from God, thus says the Lord, sing a while with gladness for Jacob and raised shouts for the chief of the nations proclaim, give praise and say, Save O, Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel. The new beginning for the people that Jeremiah was speaking to began with this call to praise, to acknowledge God for who God is, and to praise God in the scene of his glory, and to call upon God for the salvation that they were looking for. He continues and says, I see I'm going to bring them from the land in the north and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind, the lame, those with children and those in labor together, a great company, and they shall return. In this company of people that Jeremiah is saying that God will be calling together, it's not a message that is being spoken to the best and the brightest and the most capable and the affluent, those who have the resources to help themselves.

He's saying, I'm gonna gather from the farthest reaches of the earth, the blind and the lame. When we hear the words blind and lame, we need to assume the weak, the helpless, those that cannot fend for themselves. Those with child and those in labor, again, pregnant women, they're pretty much all consumed by what's going on in that moment, and not exactly self-sufficient, but rather dependent upon those around them, Jeremiah says God is calling, calling to you and exile, but not just those who were capable, but to everyone, and declaring that there is hope and there is opportunity, and this new beginning isn't just for a select few, but it's for everyone.

And he says, With weeping they shall come, with consolation, I will lead them back and I will let them walk by brooks of water in a straight path in which they shall not stumble. He's doing so in a way that is uplifting, not only gives them some dignity in this, but also blessing, walking in a straight path instead of a long meandering way along brooks of water. They're not gonna be thirsty. God's plan for bringing this people back is one that will bless them, and so if new beginnings begin with praise, they're firmly rooted in the grace of God, because God is the one who is doing this... Nothing in this rebellious people who were carted off in exile deemed them worthy, it wasn't because of their own merit, it wasn't even because of their faithfulness. That God was calling them back. He was by the grace of God, and God's grace alone that he said that he would do this. And so the prophet continues that says, Hear the word of the Lord on nations to declare it to the coast lands far away. He who scattered Israel will gather him back and will keep Him as a shepherd, a flock.

The Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem him. In this new beginning, this ransom and this redeeming of Jacob or the people of Israel, is something that God is doing, but bringing these people back, of restoring them, eventually leading them back to Jerusalem where they can rebuild, but it's based in that grace of God that only through God, will this be made possible? But when it's realized, when it arrives, once they fully understand and live into what God is doing, then they're gonna be filled with joy. New Beginnings do that. They give us hope, they give us joy. They give us the opportunity to see that something good is coming down the way for this time that we've been living in, it's easy to be focused on all of the bad things. I gave you that laundry list of them when I began, it's easy to get caught up in all of those things that the news constantly puts in front of us.

In fact, it seems that the pull and the tension is there for us to choose sides and be a part of the division and conflict that is going on, of which experts are we going to choose to listen to and whose advice are we going to take to heart, which stories are we going to believe more true than others, because someone told us it is, but we're called to live into this new beginning, not to feel worse about it.

But that's what's going to happen if we continue to listen to the pundits on the news, and the politicians with their own agendas. God is calling us to a new day, much like he called the people of Israel to trust him, to listen to him. And they have a little bit of skin in the game. And to do that... Well, we have to repent. We have to turn from all of those things that we've been focused on and consumed by, we have to turn from all of those things that make us feel like we're in control and begin listening to and seeking what God would have us to do in these moments.

I believe I've used this term before, of being in liminal space, liminal means threshold or doorway, and it's when you're on the cusp of something new, it's at that moment of, we're not where we were before, but we're not yet fully where we're headed to. Liminal spaces involve a lot of uncertainty, because we don't quite know what that next step will bring. Now, sometimes in life, we have a pretty good idea, an example of a liminal space or a liminal stage in life are those early middle school years of fifth, sixth grade. We've got a new term or a fairly new term called tweens, people that are not necessarily children anymore, but aren't fully teenagers either, they've grown a little bit, but they're not there, and so they're almost but not quite teenagers, but they're no longer what they were now being a teenager, there's some idea of what will come with that and what to expect, but I think one of the reasons that the new beginning that we're in, particularly coming out of the pandemic as a society, as individuals and as the church, is that it's even harder to see what's going to be next.

It's harder to look ahead and have some idea what life in the world are going to look like. This word liminal has a root for another word called sublimation, and for those of you that have studied science, Sublimation is a phase change that matter or material goes through. Now, if we think of water, it can exist as three phases, it exists as a solid when it's frozen as ice, like we've experienced this morning, it's a liquid when it's just as water, and if we heat it up enough, it becomes steam or a gas, so it's got those three phases solid, liquid and gas. Now, some substances don't act the way that we would expect. Carbon dioxide is one of them. Carbon dioxide, if you get it cold enough, can exist as a solid, but when you begin heating frozen carbon dioxide up, there's no such thing as liquid carbon dioxide, it goes straight from being a solid to be in a gas, and there's no in-between, and so that process of skipping over is called sublimation. I think in some ways, the world that we're looking at right now is going to experience some type of sublimation where we're gonna skip over into something new that none of us expected, that none of us predicted, that none of us imagined is possible.

But I have to believe that if we continue to seek God first, to trust in wherever it is that God is going, while it may be awkward and difficult and frustrating for us to not see each step of the path ahead of us, that God is leading us somewhere good. We wanna have some of that control in this new beginning, we wanna see it mapped out from beginning to end, just like when we're planning that trip to Florida of, we're gonna drive from here and we're gonna stop here and spend the night here, and then we're gonna end up in our destination, we wanna know each step of the journey along the way, but God is calling us to a new beginning, in which God says, trust me, follow me, listen to my word, and know that my heart is for you. For the people of Israel, God on many occasions through the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Jeremiah, reminds the people... The first verse of chapter 31, at this time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people. Those words are spoken again in that same chapter, in verse 33, but this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days since the Lord, I'll put my law within them. I'll write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Friends, even in uncertain times, even when we're not sure what this new beginning is going to look like or entail, we have a God who has loved us, we have a God who has spoken His Word of truth and love into this world through his son Jesus. And He is declared that we are His people. So in spite of all of the chaos and confusion in the world around us, keep your eyes fixed upon the one who spoke all things into being, the one who declared His love to us, and let's not forget what this season of Christmas that were coming out has meant... Because the Christmas lights are gonna get taken down in the decoration, they're gonna get put away, and I don't know about you, but I always kind of lament that like I was just so all in boring without all of it.

It was so bright to have those lights and stuff, but the thing is. The things that bring true light to life into this world aren't wrapped around a tree and plugged into the wall, in fact, it's the message that we heard this Christmas season, and it's the message that we all proclaim that in spite of all of the things going on in the world, we could still gather and clear our throats and joyfully saying Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. We're the ones who could gather on Christmas Eve, take our small candles and light that light, and defiantly hold our candles into the darkness and proclaim that God's love has come.

Friends, I don't know what the future holds for each of you or us together, but I do know that this new beginning that we have, if we keep our eyes on the light of Christ that is before us, it will lead to joy, it will lead to blessings it will lead to that abundant life that Jesus says proclaimed.


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