January 17, 2024
• Rev. Mindie Moore
Jeremiah 29:4-7: Coping With Change
It is so good to be back with you here at St. Luke’s Midtown this week! My family and I were out the last couple of Sundays because we were on an amazing road trip to Disney and back (SLIDE). And on our drive, we did what was a very normal thing for our road trips, something we had done many times before and were totally familiar with...we stopped at McDonalds.
Now, again, going to McDonalds is not a new experience for my family. But apparently it had been awhile since we had been inside of one! Because when we walked into this McDonalds, we started to move toward the counter to order...and there was no one there. There was no line. There were, instead, a bunch of people gathered around person-sized screens, putting their orders in.
And like...I am a millennial (an elder millennial, but still). I preach from an iPad. I do the technology things. BUT THIS ORDERING SYSTEM WAS A STRUGGLE! Like it was embarrassing. We’re just standing there, hitting things, like, “how do I add fries?!”
So it was humbling. And frustrating. And at the end of the day...it was change.
And change, whether it is at a fast food restaurant or in some really important part of our lives, change can really throw us. Now, some of us love it. Some of us would like nothing to change in our lives ever. Probably a lot of us fall somewhere in the middle and change just kind of wears us out. But no matter
where you fall on that spectrum, the bottom line is that (SLIDE) Change is inevitable.
And so this is one of those things that we can probably use a little help with. And we have this text, out of the book of Jeremiah, where this prophet is talking to people who aren’t just kind of tired of change, but they are really struggling. They don’t want to have gone through the change that they’ve experienced. They don’t want their lives to look the way they do now. They would be perfectly happy for everything to go back to exactly like it was before. If you were here during Advent, we were in the book of Isaiah, another Old Testament prophet, and we talked a lot about this event called the exile and how horribly difficult that was for people to go through. Well, this is who Jeremiah is talking to—they’ve been through it and now they have to figure out what their lives are going to look like on the other side of that change.
And I think what’s so interesting about this text...is that it feels really specific. I mean, you might have heard it read and thought...ok...how does this relate to me? Because look- you might not be getting married. You might not be having kids. You might not even have a yard, you have an apartment window! So it can be easy to hear this list of stuff to do and think that it’s not FOR us.
But underneath all that specificity...this is about change. And change is a thing which we’re all going to face at some point. And beyond these very specific instructions that Jeremiah is
giving the people who are now living in a new country, in a place they don’t want to be, with people they don’t really want to know...there’s some very real truth about what it looks like to cope with change and trust God in the process.
So I think the first we have to do when we encounter a change is just (SLIDE) be honest. Be honest about what’s going on. Be honest about the loss, be honest about what is scary, be honest about what we’re excited about or what we’re trying to figure out. What Jeremiah is saying here is, friends, I know you’re not that happy about it, but you've got to accept your fate. You’ve got to be honest about what’s happening. You’ve got to be brave enough to say this is where I am and this is what life looks like now.
And that CAN be really hard. One of my favorite sayings (SLIDE) is that “people don’t fear change, they fear loss.” I love it because it really gets at the heart of what most of us encounter when change comes our way. When we resist change, it’s not that we aren’t open to new things or aren’t curious. It’s that there’s a very real chance when we face a big change that something that means a lot to us is going to go away. And there can be a lot of layers to that. There can be grief and uncertainty, even when the change is GREAT...we can still feel that loss.
So when Jeremiah says, “build a house! Plant a garden! Get married, have kids, live your life!” that all sounds great...but it's complicated. Because these people want to do those things,
they just don’t want to do any of that in this new place. They just want to go home. They want to go back to a reality that doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s hard for them to feel grateful and hopeful when they’ve lost so much.
It feels like there can be this tension when we’re going through change in what it looks like to hold gratitude and honesty together. I think that’s been true for almost every change I’ve been though. I mean, you get a promotion, and you’re grateful for the extra income and exciting work, but maybe you miss your team. Or you have a baby and you love it so much...and you really miss sleep! Or you move into a bigger house and more space is amazing, but you couldn’t take your neighbors with you. Or your adult child finds their person, and you’re so happy for them...but now the family dynamic is just different and that takes some figuring out.
Sometimes it feels like gratitude and loss are a package deal when it comes to change. And that’s complicated, but when we can hold those two things together honestly, it’s a really faithful thing to do. And it puts us in a spiritual place where we can be looking for what God might be doing in the middle of that change, and it lets us (SLIDE) Stay open to what is possible.
You know, this is probably the part of change that I struggle with the most and it was the hardest for me when our son Rhys was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes back in 2020. Honestly, when we were in the middle of it, it felt like NOTHING was possible. I was CONVINCED that every single thing was just
falling apart. We were in the hospital with our little 3 year old, Covid was JUST starting, it was literally March 13 of 2020, a collectively bad day for all of us! And while we’re trying to process this major lifelong health change for our son, the world outside the hospital is falling apart, as all of that is happening, we had to meet with a diabetes educator who came in to teach us all the ways to care for him, which included a SHOCKING amount of math.
And all I could think was—dear diabetes educator, you are so lovely. And you care so much. But I can’t math on a good day! I absolutely cannot math on THIS day! I will never be able to math again! (That part might be independently true of those circumstances)
But that was the temptation! To just think that the whole thing was impossible. To believe that we couldn’t learn these new skills and formulas, that we were going to get it all wrong and that we couldn't take care of our son. That’s really where my mind went. And at one point I said to Zack that it felt like normal just wasn’t possible for us anymore, and that made me so angry.
Maybe you’ve had a reaction to change like that. Where you’ve just had the hardest time staying open to what might be possible. If that’s true, I don’t think you’re alone, and my guess is you probably had a good reason for it. Because change is just a complicated beast. There are some truly life-altering things that we have to go through sometimes and sometimes we
choose those and sometimes they’re chosen for us. And sometimes all we can do is just believe it’s possible to keep going, even if we’re not sure how and even if we can’t really see what God could do to in the middle of all the unknown.
That’s part of the challenge and the invitation here in Jeremiah. When he tells them to settle down, when he tells them to pray for this place and these people, when he tells them to basically integrate themselves into a culture that for a lifetime they had been told was the enemy and should be avoided at all costs? He’s asking them to go against all of their instincts and to look for a possibility that none of them have considered. And even though on the surface it doesn’t make a lot of sense, Jeremiah knows that if there is any chance of them finding hope in the middle of this hopeless moment, they have to be open to the possibility of a new beginning.
They had to believe what Jeremiah knew...that (SLIDE) Every change, chosen or unchosen, brings some kind of possibility with it.
Now, I know that these possibilities aren’t always easy to find. And this is not me trying to sugarcoat things that are just hard. It’s just that if we trust God, if we follow Jesus, if we believe in this thing called faith...then possibility has to be on our radar. Because even though our stories can get a little choppy, a little bit derailed from the changes that life throws at us, we have a truth to hold on to that our God will always be with us and that our story always ends with hope.
Maybe sometimes that hope and possibility simply comes in the form of people. And I think the final important truth to take with us as we go through change is to (SLIDE) Connect with your people. You know, what Jeremiah is talking about here is an absolutely communal effort. He doesn’t say, “build a house, put up a no trespassing sign and a privacy fence, and isolate yourself from all these bad people.” He says, “get in there! Be in the community. Care enough about the people around you that you are praying for them because your well-being depends on theirs. Don’t you dare let this change isolate you...let it be something that creates a new kind of connection.”
Sometimes when we go through changes, the people we end up connecting with can surprise us. It might be the tried and true ones, the people you can call at 3am, the people who have been with you for years. But it might be totally unexpected people that God brings in your life for a time just like the one you’re going through. People that you never would have gotten the chance to share life with if it hadn’t been for that change.
Since it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, I’ve been doing some reading on him, and I was surprised to find out that he had a friendship that was like this—one that was unexpected and solely came about because of a lot of change and challenge that was happening during the Civil Rights Movement.
He met Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (SLIDE) at a religion conference. You obviously know who MLK is, but you might not know as much about Rabbi Heschel. He was a rabbi who was
born 20 years before MLK who fled to America during the 1940s from Europe and lost family members in the holocaust. He was a Jewish scholar and professor and activist. So these were people with very different backgrounds, but at this conference, it turned out that in their different presentations, they both quoted the same passage from the prophet Amos. And so they connected because of this and eventually became deeply personal friends.
Telling this story in 2024, we don’t necessarily realize how radical their friendship would have been, but a Polish Jewish Rabbi and a Black Southern Preacher were not exactly the most common pairing for friendships in the 1960s. There was a lot of tension between these two groups during the Civil Rights Movement, and I'm not sure that either one of them would have necessarily sought out this other kind of person to walk through this season of change with them, but it turned out that this kind of person was exactly who the other one needed. They marched at Selma together, they referred to one another publicly as modern day prophets, and when King was killed, Heschel spoke at his funeral.
We can’t always anticipate who God is going to bring into our lives during a season of change. We might not even know that we NEED those people or they’re the ones that we should be looking for. But sometimes it’s those surprising people that have the biggest impact on our lives. And I really believe at the end of the day—we weren’t made to navigate change alone. I
think that’s the whole reason Jeremiah makes this point that your welfare depends on each other. We NEED each other. That’s not weakness, that how God wanted it to be. We get to show up for each other and make those seasons of change a little less lonely.
Because Change is going to happen. You might be in the midst of some kind of change right now. It might feel full of massive uncertainty. And if that’s you, I just want you to remember that you’re not alone. Look around this room—I promise you, there is someone in here who will walk through this season with you. At the end of this service, there will be people up here who want to hear about it and want to pray for you. Who will stand by you as you try and face what’s happening with honesty, as you try and see what’s possible, and you try to keep connected to the people God is putting in your path.
Change is going to happen. And even when it’s hard, God is with you, working on something, never leaving you, bringing people into your life to say you’re gonna make it through this. To remind you that you’re not alone. To remind you that you just how loved you are. Let’s pray.