Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
We continue following the drama through which Jeremiah and the people of Israel lived. Indeed they were taken into exile by Babylon. They were taken from the only home they’d known, a place where they governed themselves and bought and sold land…to a place they’d never known. None of the former comforts or routines were present. They were dropped in a sea of different, with no more than the despised prophet’s words to hold onto – that they would again buy and sell in their own land…
But how would that help them now? What did that mean for them in their present situation? Do they just hunker down and hold out until that moment? What were they to do?
And God speaks to Jeremiah who again speaks to his people saying, “Build houses and live in them. Plant vineyards and eat of them. Find wives for your sons. Increase and do not decrease.”
God knows that when we are traumatized and discouraged, when we’ve lost everything and been stripped of the familiar, we each respond somewhat differently. But very commonly, we shut down. We want revenge. We want to make our oppressors pay. We stop living, and we start ruminating on how we’ve been wronged.
So many of us have fallen into these patterns, with far less trauma. When a wrong is done to us, it is natural to feel ourselves the victim…because we are! It is natural to focus on the wrongdoing, if for no other reason than to make sense of the wrongful act. It is natural to want revenge – because we are craving justice. We too yearn, with all creation, for justice to roll down like the mighty waters.
How many times have we gotten stuck – unable to move forward in our lives?
The people of Israel are very much at risk of this very same thing. And God is concerned that they do NOT stop living. God wants them to keep living.
Now this is hard because HOW LONG will they be exiled away from their homes? Will it be for 6 months or a year? Will it be several years or decades or a century?
They cannot see what lies ahead in order to make an informed decision about how they go about their day to day lives. The answers to these very significant questions would lead them to live very different sorts of lives. And without that clarity and foresight, they are even more apt to simply stop living, and remain stuck in a kind of holding pattern.
God does not want this for them. God knows the time will be long. So God sends Jeremiah to speak to them yet again – to instruct them to go on living. They are to invest in the place where they find themselves. They are to make the absolute best of it – building up homes for themselves and gardens. They are to keep living – keep giving their sons & daughters in marriage – keep having children and grandchildren. God wants them to prosper. And they cannot prosper if they stop living.
Are they in the place God promised to them?
Are they in positions of honor and power and self-governance?
Is there more for them?
Is it for now?
God explains through Jeremiah that the welfare of their exiled land will be their welfare, it’s prosperity will be their prosperity.
For now, their well-being is tied up with that of Babylon. And they are not only to keep living, doing their thing, but to also invest in their community, making a contribution to society and praying for the land of their captivity.
Praying for Babylon.
Over and over and over again, when we have been wronged, God instructs us to pray. Time and time and time again, when injustice occurs, God instructs us to pray. And not just for some, but for all. And not just for our friends, but for our enemies.
God instructs us to pray.
Could it be that this is how we get unstuck?
Could it be that this is how we heal?
Cold it be that this is how we continue to hear God’s voice and follow God’s lead,
Even in captivity?
Even in a foreign land?
Even when our lives know no comfort?
Even when we cannot see a brighter day ahead?
The people of Israel – just marched from their home to a foreign land, perhaps never to see their own houses and vineyards again – are to pray for their oppressors. They are to pray for this foreign land.
It is counter-intuitive.
They are to invest in the land, knowing that the welfare of this foreign land will also be their welfare…
It is counter-intuitive.
And this is where God’s light shines most brightly.
In the darkest night of our circumstances, God’s love permeates and floods all the cracks and crannies of our lives and the lives around us when we pray and obey.
You see, the people of Israel were always called to be a light to the nations. And here God has them squarely inside another nation. And here, they can very much be a light. IF they will continue to live… IF they will bless their captors and not curse them… IF they will trust and obey, even when they are bitter and scared.
Just like the people of Israel, God has called you and I children and friends. God has called us light of the world and bread of God. We are called to be salt, seasoning the earth with God’s light and love.
But we will only do this if each of us keeps living, if we keep praying, if we make the most of our wilderness-land, if we bless and don’t curse, if we invest in the places we are – even while hoping and longing and praying for the places we hope to be.
So will we pray?
Will we seek the welfare of the land in which we find ourselves?
Will we make the most of our days?
Will we keep living – building and planting and marrying?
Our God is with us, and our God is speaking still.
May we not lose hope amid the darkness.
But may we listen all the more,
Letting God’s light shine even more brightly in the darkness.
You are dear.