Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this letter to the Hebrews who are in exile in Babylon, Jeremiah speaks the hard truth. The exile will be long. They will have to adapt and adjust to the situation in Babylon. However, he promises, God will always be there with them. Read following passage at least twice and then chew on the comments and soul-training exercises below.*
THE GOD WHO IS ALWAYS THERE – Jeremiah 29: 1-14
“This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. . . . . T his is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 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.'”
♥ From the time he was called, (“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you I appointed you a prophet to the nations”) Jeremiah spoke a dual message of judgment and of hope. In this passage he tells the exiled people that they will be in exile for 70 years, but that God’s will is for them to make the best of it – including praying for the welfare of Babylon. Jeremiah never minced the truth whether it is bad news or good.
♥ Life today is frighteningly reminiscent of the period when Jeremiah spoke. Our culture is enmeshed with false goods, misplaced hopes, and evil practices. We are in exile in enemy-occupied territory. We, too are called to live in the land and “seek its welfare.” And, like Jeremiah we are also called to be a “peculiar” people; we are to look different from the culture that surrounds us. We are to live in the hope and trust that God will not forsake us even when we are angry or in despair or feel forsaken. God promises that when we search for God and call upon God, God will hear us. God’s ultimate plan is for our good – “to give us a future and a hope.”
♥ This passage speaks of exile. Our world is full of people who are displaced within their own countries or refugees seeking a new homeland. We also live in a culture when we can easily feel uprooted or dislocated or wrenched from the familiar. Grief and loss can also create those feelings. Endings and beginnings and transitions make us question who we are and who God is. If you feel this way, take God’s promise to heart and listen for his plan to give you a future with hope. Memorize Jeremiah 29: 10-14 and repeat it every morning before you get out of bed.
♥ Look for a moment this week to speak a difficult truth into some situation, trusting that God will be there for you in those moments just as God promised to be there for Jeremiah. Others may not like your point of view. They may even reject you along with the truth you tell. You will be in good company; most people who heard Jesus rejected him and “rewarded” him with the death penalty
♥ My Father in Heaven, help me to become more like Jesus so that I will look different from others in my world who do not follow him. Help me to speak the truth in love. Help me to believe that you are a loving and nurturing God and that your dreams for me are my hope for the future.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“God only comes through doors that are purposely opened” (Rufus Jones in The Double Search).
image of refugees by unhcr.org