Thursday, July 7
Deacon Gary Gannon
Have you ever come across a scrap of paper with a reference or short note that you cannot remember making at some point in the recent or distant past? Last week, in reaching for my faithful Penguin Pocket Writer’s Handbook to answer a word usage question, a slip of paper fell from the tabletop to the floor. It had two brief items written by my hand, one was a book I wanted to borrow from the library and the other was a passage from the Old Testament. I can remember making a note on the former item in the early months of the pandemic, but I cannot for the life of me remember writing Jeremiah 29:11.
Being a curious deacon, I Googled the Old Testament passage and found these reassuring words, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” My guess is that both short notations on my scrap of paper were made sometime in 2020. I had completed my seminary courses and graduated from Wycliffe College, but had yet to be ordained. Yes, I was convinced I was being called to serve God, my bishop and the congregation of All Saints’ Whitby as a vocational deacon. Although the pandemic seemed to have thrown several curves of uncertainty at me in getting started with my intended work, I was nevertheless comforted by Jeremiah’s words. God had plans for me. And whatever such plans were, they were crafted with my welfare in mind and not to do irreparable personal harm. God’s plan also included hope – that being a desire to ably fulfil my calling to serve others as a deacon at my parish church.
Well, as some of you know, Jeremiah’s words were directed at a much larger audience, God’s Chosen people, forced into exile and captivity in Babylon. This same Old Testament prophet challenged the false prophet Hananiah who claimed such hardship for the Jewish people would last only two years. Earlier in Chapter 29, Jeremiah cautioned that this period of displacement would last several decades and that while captive, God’s people should “build houses, plant gardens, take wives and multiply” and to “not let other prophets and diviners deceive you.”
Jeremiah’s prophecy was eventually fulfilled, in part, when God graciously started to bring back His people to their land and re-establish them in the holy city of Jerusalem. Those that obeyed God’s word returned to their homeland with Ezra and Nehemiah. And, God in His grace even used exiles, like Esther and Mordecai who chose not to return to their homeland at the end of the 70-year long exile, as instruments to save many Jewish lives.
As I grow in my understanding of the Old Testament, I can look at this verse from Jeremiah as an assurance to the exiled Jewish people so many centuries ago. Yet, I also find comfort in knowing that this same single line of Scripture provides what I, and no doubt many of you, seek at certain times in this busy, sometime fractious, period in the early 21st century. God created each of us with a plan for our being in this world and for our welfare. And while there will be periods of both personal and societal uncertainty in our lifetimes, just as experienced by those exiled from Jerusalem and placed in bondage in Babylon in Jeremiah’s time, there remains today God’s promise of a future with hope.
Here, I am drawn to Nelson Mandela’s words, which seem suited for both personal and societal reflection in 2022. “Our human compassion binds us – the one to the other – not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Leading in Our Lives
God, we are your beloved.
Even in our unfinished state,
you take delight in what we are
and what we will become.
Help us to claim for our own your gentle leading in our lives,
help us to know you are always hoping for more for us and from us.
Give us the strength and peace of heart
to be filled with your power. Amen.
– Author Unknown
– from Prayers for Hope, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio