by Lilly Lewin
The Lectionary Old Testament reading for this weekend is from Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7. It is what I call the forgotten part of Jeremiah 29.
Many of us love Jeremiah 29:11-14
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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
It’s one of my favorite passages and it gives me great hope. But sadly, I learned these verses out of context. For the longest time, I didn’t really look at the verses that come before Jeremiah 29:11-14. I really hadn’t thought about the pain and suffering of being in exile.
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
When I finally did discover the entire chapter of Jeremiah 11, I realized just how much I don’t like feeling exiled. I realized that I too often hear what I want to hear, rather than taking time to listen to what God is really saying.
Where and How are you feeling exiled? in your faith, in your family, in your career, in your life in general? Talk to Jesus about this.
We don’t always like what prophets say to us. It’s much more hopeful to think we are going back home to Jerusalem than to be stuck in Babylon and be told to plant crops and start families…basically to settle in to the new place. Have you been listening to false prophets or true prophets lately? Talk to Jesus about this! Be real.
Are there places you’ve been avoiding making a commitment to because you keep longing to go back to the place you were before? Are you hesitating in getting involved because you’d rather be back in Jerusalem than planting new things in Babylon?
I felt that way for a long time in Cincinnati. When someone asked me where I was from, I would say, ” I’m from Cincinnati, but I used to live in Seattle.” I said this for almost ten years! I thought Seattle was so much cooler than Cincinnati and I just didn’t feel like I fit. I missed the mountains and the water and my computer screen saver was a montage of beautiful shots of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle was the Jerusalem I longed for and Cincinnati felt like Babylon. Thankfully, God got my attention and told me to “PLANT” where I was! and get over this longing I had to be somewhere else! This set me free to be present to the place God had me! I started to see things differently and see all the gifts God had for me in Ohio.
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.Go find a view of your city or town. You might not feel exiled where you live, but you can still pray for God’s peace to be there and be seen more in your neighborhood. Ask Jesus to show you how to be a peacemaker in your town.
Go where you have a good view of the place. It might be from a park or from a roof top or it might just be a photograph you’ve printed off from the internet. As you look at the view, take time to pray for your town. Pray for the Mayor and city council leaders. Pray for business leaders to practice fairness and be driven by compassion not greed. Pray for reform in the justice system in your area and for hope for people in prison and poverty. Ask Jesus to give you new eyes to see your town. Ask Jesus to show you how to bring God’s love to your neighborhood.
If you’ve been discouraged by the news or the problems you are facing right now, read Jeremiah 29:11-14 again and receive the promise! The Lord does have plans for you and me! Plans to prosper us, and give us a future and a hope. Copy down the verses or draw them out with crayons or markers.
You will seek me and you will find me, when you search for me with all your heart! And I will be found by you! How can you search for the Lord more in the days ahead? What things help you seek the Lord? Make some time to do those things…journal, take a walk, turn off the phone, be still, look at art, create something, take a nap!
What things feel like they are blocking you from seeking? Talk to God about this and give him those things.
Thankfully, we are not alone and forgotten in Babylon! We are seen. We are heard. And we are Loved!
We end our thinplaceNASHVILLE gatherings with this closing prayer. It’s a prayer I am praying more and more in my daily life to keep me grounded when I am feeling exiled.
Lord! Give us grace today to love as you love. Help us to love with extravagance. Give us hope today for ourselves and others. Heal our hurts and our hearts today, So we can serve and help those around us. Help us to know that you are enough. And help us live today and everyday in thankfulness.
For all you’ve done, and for all you bless us with. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN
©lillylewin and freerangeworship.com