At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel. Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”… Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is his name: If this fixed order were ever to cease from my presence, says the Lord, then also the offspring of Israel would cease to be a nation before me forever.-Jeremiah 31:1-6, 35-36
There are some places we are not invited. We are not invited to dinner with our married friends on their anniversary. There is probably a party or sleepover that we weren’t invited to years ago that still kind of bothers us. We are not invited to know everyone’s business or attend every gathering.
In his book, Love Does, Bob Goff tells a story about going somewhere that he was not invited. He was with a friend in Washington D.C. when they stumbled upon the set for the film, “National Treasure 2,” outside of the Library of Congress. So Goff and friend decided to explore and walked boldly into the large government building. They told the guard at the metal detectors that they forgot their set badges and he rolled his eyes and waved them through. Apparently, the set was not held to the highest standard of security. When they turned the corner, they saw Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger dressed in formal attire. Goff stared at the pair, awe-struck, as they shot a scene for the movie.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Jews during and after the exile in Babylon. In Jeremiah 31, he writes at the time that Babylon had been defeated and the Israelites had regained independence. Despite their newfound freedom, the people had no idea what to do next. Many of them had lived in exile for their whole life. When Jeremiah begins the passage saying that the Lord declared, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel and they will be my people,” he is reminding the distressed Israelites of their relationship with a nurturing and powerful God.
The Israelites were not blameless in the exile. Many of them turned away from God during, or even before, the exile began. They treated each other poorly, they worshipped other gods, and they made many bad choices. Despite it all, God is telling them that he is the God of each and every one of them.
The Israelites, however, had been through a trauma. They were ripped from their home and separated from their families. They were enslaved and mistreated. It can be hard to have trust in God after going through something this difficult. It can be hard to trust that anyone is on your side, much less God. But God never promised the Israelites ease. In fact, in the text, God acknowledges that the people have been through exile and trauma. But then he says, “Now…you will find favor in the wilderness. I will give you rest. I have loved you with an unfailing love. I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
God may not have promised ease, but has made other promises. First, he promised love. He says that his love is unfailing. He promises that even in the wilderness, the people will find moments of favor and rest. This promise is timelessly true about God. People have never been promised ease, but God has never ceased loving and offering moments of rest for his children.
Then God days, “I will build you up again…You will return to Zion.” God promises the Israelites that they will return home, where a place is being made for them. They are being invited back to Jerusalem to live in harmony. Every single person is being invited to belong–child, widow, mother, the lame, the blind, and the wounded.
Finally, in verses 35-36, God makes his last promise to the people. He says, “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” God, the one who created us and the one who holds the stars in the sky, promises that he is not going anywhere. God promises to never leave and to always stand alongside of his people.
In these promises, God communicates to his people that they belong in love, the belong with each other, and they belong with God.
At the end of his chapter, Bob Goff jokes that he is still waiting for his invitation to the set of National Treasure 3. Unfortunately, he knows it will never come. Sometimes we simply are not invited but that is not true with God. Every single day that we wake up, God is inviting us to live in this world and to belong. We just have to accept the invitation.
Bob Goff says, “A couple of things happen when we accept Jesus’ invitation. Obstacles that seem insurmountable aren’t. Impediments that we believe disqualify us don’t…The one who has invited you is way more powerful than any of the impediments we think we’re facing and He has just one message for us. He leans forward and whispers quietly to each of us, ‘There’s more room.'”
There is always more room. We belong here because God invited us. God wants to be known by us. We belong wrapped in God’s loving embrace. There is always room.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgivingPsalm 100
And his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.