“Memories and More”
Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
August 2, 2020
This morning I bid you farewell as you prepare to welcome your new pastor, Dr. Monty Stallins. I wish him well as he begins his ministry with you. I am confident he and his family will fall in love with you as quickly as Jackie and I did when I was called to be your Interim Preacher last year.
I am grateful to the Transition Team for their leadership and support during my time with you. They have represented you well in their conversations with me.
I am indebted to your dedicated staff for their guidance and support. They have done a marvelous job keeping you connected during the interim and attending to your needs.
I also deeply appreciate your warmth and hospitality. You have gone out of your way to make me feel comfortable and welcome. I share Paul’s sentiment when he wrote to his dear friends in Philippi, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” (Philippians 1:3)
It is time for you to begin writing the next chapter to Calvary’s long and illustrious history. I sense your excitement and know you are ready to move into the future.
I believe God is eager to join you on this journey of faith, hope and love. Jeremiah’s words to the exiles in Babylon are meant for you as well.
“This is what the Lord says, ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Now, your current situation is far different from those who first read these words. They were living in exile in Babylon, separated from their beloved homeland and all things sacred and familiar.
They lay awake at night wondering if they would ever return to Jerusalem and resume life as they had once known it. For many of them, all hope was gone and the future looked bleak.
They felt abandoned, alone and helpless. They believed God had forsaken them or given up on them due to their sinful ways.
And then, they received a letter from Jeremiah containing these inspiring and informative words. It was just what they needed, at least for those who opened their hearts and minds to receive it.
Jeremiah told his people to settle down in Babylon and to get on with their lives. He instructed them to build houses, to plant gardens, to let their children marry and have babies. He encouraged them to live peacefully with all their neighbors so everyone’s needs would be met.
They would not be in Babylon forever, but they would be there for several generations. The time would come, however, when they would return to Jerusalem and rebuild their homeland.
How could Jeremiah have been so confident about their eventual return to Jerusalem? He knew of God’s love for his people and God’s faithfulness.
God loved the Israelites unconditionally. Sure, God was disappointed they had misplaced their values and priorities and made decisions not in their best interest.
God still loved them, though, and God always would. He had never forsaken them and they were not alone.
God was not finished with them and was already dreaming fresh dreams and making new plans for them. He still wanted the best for them and was eager to make his dreams and theirs come true.
How does our text speak to us today? I believe it does so in two ways.
This may be an “out of place” time in your life, and you can relate to how the Israelites felt in Babylon. You are not where you want to be or ever thought you would be. You may be wondering if God is aware of where you are, what you are going through and if you can look to God for help.
Based on Jeremiah’s words to the exiles, I assure you God wants to draw close to you and accompany you on your journey. God is eager to supply the wisdom, guidance, direction, strength, courage, confidence and stamina you need.
God is not finished with you just as he was not through with the Israelites in captivity. God also has plans for you, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.
Will you draw close to God and lean upon him as you chart a new course for your life? I certainly hope so.
Our text also speaks to us collectively, as members of this church. Allow me to show you how.
It is obvious Calvary’s context is radically different from Jeremiah’s first readers. It is an exciting and hopeful period in your history.
The transition you entered into eighteen months ago is coming to an end. You are beginning a partnership with a new pastor and his family, one that will lead to changes for all of you.
Hope abounds. Excitement is in the air.
Even in a positive time as this, you need God’s help. Just like the ancient Israelites, you need God to lead, guide and bless you.
You need God to dream along with you and to help you make wise decisions. You need God to inspire, motivate and encourage you. You need God to give you a clear vision of how and where Calvary is needed in Lexington and beyond, and you need God to empower you to move in those directions.
So you see, these words from Jeremiah are as necessary for you today as they were the Israelites in exile. This message is one you need to hear, too.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
What do you think God’s plans are for Calvary Baptist Church? What dreams does God have for you as you begin working with a new pastor?
I do not know. This is for you and your dedicated staff to discern under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I am confident Dr. Stallins will lead you through that visioning process so you can discover God’s hopes and dreams for you as you continue to be the presence of Christ in this community.
While I may not know the specific plans God has for you, there is something I am certain of and can mention today. God’s plans for any church are always connected to the welfare of people.
God’s hopes and dreams for every church focus on ways the members can meet the needs of those who are longing for a better life. Like a loving parent, God is always looking for those who are struggling to survive and listening for those who are crying out for help.
No dream that originates in the heart of God neglects to address human needs. No plans he has for a church ignore the plight of those who are oppressed and victims of injustice.
This is why I am confident God’s plans for Calvary will be closely connected to those who are lonely, hungry, homeless, hopeless, sick, grieving, confused, fearful, upset, angry, despondent, feeling guilty or living in shame.
God wants to use Calvary Baptist Church to find these people and to show them a better way to live. God wants you to be salt and light in Lexington and beyond. God wants you to be the presence of Christ in the broken places of our community.
Will you accept this challenge? I have been with you long enough to believe you will. I sense this is your heart’s desire. Because of this, I want to leave you with three challenges as you pursue God’s dreams for you.
- Make circles of friends wherever you go. Open your heart and home to those you meet along your way.
Treat all people with dignity and respect. Listen to their stories. Share your own experiences with them.
Find common ground on which you can build a lasting friendship. Be there when they need you and lean on them when you are struggling.
Never grow weary in building bridges of goodwill, understanding, hope and reconciliation. Jeremiah and Jesus certainly didn’t, and neither should we.
- Make hope visible to all you meet. Words are important but without action, they ring hollow.
At all times, choose love over hate, kindness over cruelty, compassion over indifference, truth over deception, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, generosity over greed, humility over arrogance, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting, sacrifice over self-indulgence and peace over violence.
At all times and in all places, we are to reflect the heart and nature of Jesus. Under no circumstances are we to abandon or even suspend our divine mission to make the world better through word and deed.
- Be the church that says yes when others say no. Find a way to make God’s dreams come true. Refuse to say the price is too high or the risk too great.
When God reveals his plans and dreams for you, don’t just ask what they will require of you to carry them out, but also ask what will occur in your church and community if you don’t pursue them.
Identify what will be missing if you walk away from God’s hopes and dreams for you. Put names and faces with that decision, too. I assure you God will, and his heart will be broken as he cries for those who will be left behind.
One of the most courageous characters in the Bible was the mother of Jesus, Mary. She was a humble and obscure young lady living in Nazareth when the angel of the Lord appeared to her.
That angel, Gabriel, told Mary of God’s plans for her. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, she was to give birth to a son and give him the name, Jesus.
Fear and confusion gripped her. None of this made sense to her. She wondered out loud how this was to be since she was engaged but not yet married.
Gabriel told her all of this was part of a divine plan for her life. She must trust him because nothing was impossible with God.
Mary’s simple yet heartfelt response has always inspired me.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
I can hardly wait to hear what God has planned for the talented, gifted, good-hearted members of Calvary Baptist Church I have grown to love and to appreciate. I am confident you, like Mary, will inspire me by all the ways you make God’s dreams come true.