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National Holiday Sermon — Jeremiah 29:4-14 (LBW National Holiday Propers)

July 4, 2010

July 4, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA


“When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”


The Lord’s people dwell in many nations of the earth. They have been placed there by Him. At times that placing was very deliberate: exiling the people of Israel into Babylon is one such incident. They are forced away from Jerusalem to dwell in a foreign land. That exile is a punishment inflicted upon them for their disobedience, their forsaking of the covenant. Even the royalty of Israel had abandoned the Law of God. So the people are removed from their oversight and sent away.


But even in exile, the Lord’s people have promises made to them. He continues to speak to His covenant people. They hear His message through the prophets. This morning, you heard a portion of Jeremiah’s speaking the Lord’s message to exiles in Babylon. The prophet is instructed to write to them, for they need to hear what the Lord says. They must understand what is taking place and what they are to do. They must also hear how the Lord is being faithful to them, even if they had not been faithful to Him.


The divine instructions given to the exiles address multiple topics. Included in the message are commands regarding daily life. The exiles are told: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” Though driven away from Jerusalem, the Israelite exiles are not to simply give up, to lie down and die in Babylon. To the contrary, they are to live and prosper: the Lord may have caused them to leave their homeland, but His providence still extended to them. This is made abundantly clear in the next instruction: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you in exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”


That instruction is good for you to hear on this day, when the nation celebrates its independence. Every time Independence Day rolls around, there is a reassessment of what it means to be an American, to be a citizen of this nation. There can be proper reflection on just how it is that we live here in this land, as opposed to any other country on the globe. But even more so, there should be the consideration of what the Lord provides for our earthly lives, including the place in which you live.


Why are you here in this country? Because the Lord has placed you here. Living in this land, you are provided for by the Lord. The directive given to the Israelites is the same directive you are given: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” That is what you are to do, for these are the ways in which the Lord has determined to provide for you. By participating in the occupations and vocations of earthly life, you live in the system that He has devised for your benefit.


This is why the other instruction given to the Israelites is meant for you: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you in exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Pray for the city, the state, the nation, for in the welfare of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, the United States you will find your welfare. In this place, the Lord provides. His order is present, order meant to prevent the disaster that chaos brings to earthly life. That order is behind the establishment of governing authorities, as you also heard this morning: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”


Because this order is created by God, you should pray for its continuance. Such sentiment is also taught in the New Testament, as is often read on our National Day of Thanksgiving: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Such a sentiment is especially appropriate for today. Despite all the struggles and difficulties that our nation faces—and has faced in the last 234 years of existence—there has been a government in authority, servants through whom the Lord has brought His providential order to you and your forefathers. That we have not been abandoned is truly worth thanksgiving. Those who are in authority are due our respect and do need the prayers that we offer, even this day.


But what is provided to you goes beyond the earthly. There is a greater existence and greater blessing. This is seen in the promises made to the Israelites in exile: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. . . . When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” The Lord speaks about restoration, a return to the place of His dwelling and the place promised to His people. The Israelites’ welfare found in the city of Babylon was not the end of His care for them. Though the Israelites would prosper during their exile in Babylon, financial and worldly success was not their end goals. Instead, the exiles looked forward to the day when they would return from their being scattered to Babylon and other regions.


The same is true for you. Much prosperity has been found in this nation. You have been recipients of it. All of you are much better off than the vast majority of people around the globe. For this, all should rightly give thanks to God. But this is not the limit of His giving. No, His will is that you would have more, blessing that goes beyond physical welfare. His promise is an eternal blessing. A restoration is promised to you, just as it was for the Israelites: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” And what is that hope? Not endless decades of your descendents living in America. Not the success of an earthly ruler or political party. No, your hope is that everything that plagues you, everything that you suffer while in exile from Paradise will be overcome.


That hope is what the Lord Jesus has achieved for you. The One who pointed out Caesar’s “likeness and inscription” on the denarius held “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” in Himself. And what was the goal of that Divine Image-bearer? “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” Carrying that “likeness and inscription” to the cross, Jesus was bringing forth the foundation of your future hope. For in Christ’s suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, you have restoration. This was the Lord’s plan that He has for you, “plans for wholeness and not for evil.” It is the destiny of eternal dwelling with God Himself.


So His promises come to you, just as they did for the Israelites: “When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” You have Him here to seek. Not because you are in America, but because the Lord has made Himself present in His word found among you. You and all humanity have been driven away from the Paradise of Eden, but the call is going out to draw you all to the Eternal Paradise. Sin exiled you from God’s presence, but Christ’s work has overcome sin.


Because this is true, you have more than the benefits that Divine Order brings to you. You have blessings far beyond the rights and of citizenship or even the food, drink, clothing, and shoes that the economy allows you to obtain. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness may be guaranteed to you on earth, but they pale in comparison to the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation that Christ provides.


So on this National Holiday, we pray for our leaders, we recognize how we have received temporal blessings in this nation, and we can even treasure our political freedoms. But we do not place our trust in them: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” We pray to Almighty God: “Give us what outward prosperity may be Your will, but above all things give us faith in You.” Holding on to the promises, we trustingly look forward to the fulfillment of “the plans for wholeness” that our Founder, the Lord Jesus Christ, has instituted for us.


T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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