Absence makes the heart grow fonder!  With some exceptions this is true.   If “Covidtide” has taught us anything, we have experienced this more keenly.  We were not made for social distancing.   Though necessary, we long for what is missing – our people, our places, and our practices.   And if social distancing has made us more loving and grateful then we will be the better for it.

Absence makes our hearts grow fonder, because often we don’t know what we have until it’s gone.   Grief teaches us this.  We so easily take for granted those we see every day, until the day we cannot see them.   Memories of the difficult times fade, leaving remembrance of what was good.   No matter how things were, absence, though painful, makes the heart grow fonder.  Travel teaches this as well.   The excitement of far-away, exotic travel is quickly tempered with a deep soul-ache for the places of home.

How easy it is to take the best things for granted.   The tyranny of the urgent prevents us from treasuring the best life has to offer – more time to listen to the unfolding of a small child’s story or the extra kiss goodbye.  Then we blink and those little windows are closed, gone forever.   Only then do we realize what a gaping hole in our lives has been left vacant, space that can only be filled with our people, places, and practices.   Absence makes the heart ache, but in that aching fondness grows — a fondness we should have had before.

From the moment the Israelites stepped foot into the Promised Land, they began take for granted the blessings of being God’s people– His Word and presence.   A land flowing with milk and honey is a great gift.  But the real treasure was not the gift of land, but the Giver of life.  To know Him was their inheritance, their very great reward.  He had set his love upon them and revealed his gracious ways and promises to them.    The Psalmist captures it well.

He declares his word to Jacob,
    his statutes and rules to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
    they do not know his rules.
Praise the Lord! 

Psalm 147:19-20

But, within a generation of Joshua’s death there “arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”   Like the prodigal, they filled their lives with every empty thing.  They longed for a king, like the nations around them.   And the Lord tells a dejected Samuel, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”  And at that terrible moment when the kingdom is divided after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam sets up Golden Calves to keep the people from returning to the “place where the Lord put his Name.”   So easily they forgot, who and whose they were. Israel had the world’s greatest treasure in Christ.  Yet, they ran after every vanity the world offered.   They lived with their backs to God.

Prophets warned them, starting with Moses. If they lived with their backs turned to God, he would turn from them.  And everything would be taken away.   But they would not listen.   They said, “it is no use, we love foreign Gods.”  They had more gods than towns and more altars than streets.  They were not inclined, nor willing, to hear God’s word calling them back from the brink.   They chose to experience his words of justice and judgement, rather than heed words of grace and mercy.   Yet judgment is not the last word.  To reclaim them, the Lord sent them away.  He took away everything, that they might see what had truly been lost. 

For forty years, Jeremiah wept for Judah.   But it was not until the exile, that the people learned to weep.  Psalm 137 captures it well.

By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy!

Absence makes their hearts tender.   Not just an absence from the land, but from the One who makes the land and its people what they are.  But is it too late?  Will God remember mercy in wrath?  Has God’s steadfast love worn thin?   No doubt, the exiles remembered their northern cousins.   Exiled to Assyria a century before, the ten tribes of the north never returned, lost forever.    God would be perfectly just to treat them the same way.  Is there any kindness left?  Perhaps, you are wondering the same thing.   Have you filled your life with every empty thing?  And left no room for the only One who can fill?   What hope is there for you?  What comfort?  

God instructs Jeremiah to speak words of consolation to fallen Judah.  And not just speak them, but write them down.  Words for them and for us!  Jeremiah spent four decades warning of judgment and exile.   Now, when hope seems lost, he opens a new chapter – the Book of Consolation.  In the midst of the longest, and most sorrowful book in the Bible, we find bright promises of God’s grace.    Jeremiah 30-33 is often called the ‘Book of Consolation.’ 

Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 30 and consider how God calls us and consoles us with grace in the midst of judgement.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.    You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.