1 The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter from Jerusalem to the few surviving elders among the exiles, to the priests and the prophets, and to all the people Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon from Jerusalem. 2 The letter was sent after King Jeconiah, the queen mother, the court officials, the government leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, and the craftsmen and smiths had left Jerusalem. 3 It was delivered to Babylon by Elasah, Shaphan’s son, and Gemariah, Hilkiah’s son—two men dispatched to Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar by King Zedekiah.
4 The LORD of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. 7 Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because your future depends on its welfare.
8 The LORD of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims: Don’t let the prophets and diviners in your midst mislead you. Don’t pay attention to your dreams. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I didn’t send them, declares the LORD.
10 The LORD proclaims: When Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will come and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. 12 When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. 14 I will be present for you, declares the LORD, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the LORD.
This section of Jeremiah backed up a bit. Babylon first took Hebrew exiles away in 597 B.C. while leaving the puppet King Zedekiah in Jerusalem. Jeremiah sent a letter to those exiles urging them to settle down for a lengthy stay in Babylon. That message was not popular. Self-proclaimed prophets like Hananiah and Shemaiah thought the exile would end quickly. Shemaiah wrote from Babylon asking the high priest in Jerusalem to imprison Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 28:1-3, 29:24-32).
Loving God, with all my heart I want to be a part of your hope-filled future. It’s often hard for me to wait, so keep teaching me to trust your timing more than my restless demands. Amen.
* “seventy years, i.e., a long time or a lifetime; see Jeremiah 25:11.” Louis Stulman, study note on Jeremiah 29:4-14 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 1255OT.
** John Goldingay, Jeremiah for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, p. 146.
In his sermon this past weekend, Pastor Adam mentioned that Jeremiah 29:11 often gets twisted out of context to make it seem like God is making promises that aren’t actually there in the text. One of the ways I think we tend to do this is by making the “you” in the verse about us as individuals. When Jeremiah tells the people that God knows “the plans I have in mind for you,” he’s saying “you” in the sense of “y'all” – God knows the plans God has for the exiled Israelites as a community, plans for peace and hope within their community. Jeremiah wasn’t saying that each of them would individually experience that peace and hope.
Jeremiah had already said that the exile would continue for seventy years; and, as Darrell footnoted in today’s GPS reading, seventy years was the length of a long lifetime for an Israelite. The people hearing Jeremiah’s message were unlikely to live to see the peace he prophesied – it was their children, or maybe their children’s children, who would see it come to pass.
This is a hard reality for me to write about today. As I sit here writing this today, every piece of my being longs for a return to the “normal” I knew before COVID-19. I want to be able to eat an actual dinner with my friends. I want to sit in a coffee shop and take in the smell of coffee and sounds of connection. I want space in my schedule to write and create. And I want God to promise me that my life will return to the “normal” I so desperately desire.
But that’s not the promise we have. Instead, we have the promise that God has claimed us and loves us. We have the promise that God hears our groans and frustrations, and that God is here with us in our discomfort and pain. We have the promise that, in the midst of it all, we don’t exist as individuals – we are a community who experience our highs and lows together, who feel the joys and sorrows of our collective lives together, and who hold one another up in times of suffering.
God’s promise does not just happen on its own, though. Just like the exiled Israelites were called to marry, have children, and be involved in the city of Babylon with their captors, we are called to be participants in the promise. As followers of Christ, we have the incredible gift of a loving Christian community that we can share – this is the light of God’s love in a darkening, lonely world. We can be sparks of hope in the night, and we may just find that when our focus is on joy in the community, the pain we feel becomes more bearable.
One of my friends is a pastor at another church in the area, and she wrote a song called “Where is the Joy?” The beautiful lyrics have helped me process the value of togetherness while we’re all so distanced, so I wanted to share part of it with you:
Dust-covered dining rooms, longing for Sunday
Empty Cathedrals and schools, so lonely
There's a lack of hugs
Am I essential? Is my pain?
God, where is the joy?
Where is the joy?
We are joy.
— by Rev. Laurel Cluthe (read the rest of the lyrics here)
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