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.
For the past few weeks,
Our old testament reading has been from Jeremiah.
They have been some pretty
difficult readings full of anger and pain.
Today, we continue with this prophet
but he takes on a new tone.
Jeremiah himself is a
fascinating character from the bible.
Jeremiah was living in a time
when Jerusalem was booming.
A temple had been built that was
said to be where God literally resided.
Jerusalem was the dwelling place of the lord.
It was a city full of beauty and life…
but Jeremiah began to talk about
the darker underbelly of this city.
He saw the corruption that was occurring
with some of the priests and people in power.
He saw that people were not following
the word of God but were looking for
what made them the most comfortable.
What gave them the most power.
So Jeremiah started speaking out
against his fellow Jews.
This wasn’t easy.
He states in his writing that
he knew saying what the lord was telling him
was creating enemies and
pushing him away from his friends and supporters.
To not speak what the lord was telling him,
though, was like fire in his bones
that consumed him until he could not stand it any longer.
So Jeremiah spoke his words of warning and foreboding
to the people of Jerusalem…
that if they did not change their ways and
turn back to God
Jerusalem would not continue to be a place
Of beauty and life…
and then Jeremiah saw the Babylonians come and take over Jerusalem.
The temple, the literal dwelling place of God, was destroyed.
Innocent people were killed and
those who survived were marched
miles and miles to Babylon where they
lived in exile from their land.
This is where we find Jeremiah today.
He is speaking to those who have been
forced out of their land,
the land God had promised their ancestors.
This was their promised land and
now it had been stripped away.
They had seen people die,
their homes razed to the ground,
and now were trying to see how to live
in a place they would not have chosen to go to.
They are a people defeated
and wondering where their God is.
He is writing to the survivors of a massacre
who are now living away from everything they have ever known.
In the psalm from last week we hear the exiles say
“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *when we remembered you, O Zion.”
The exiles are crying a lament for their home
and also a cry of anger at their oppressors.
They gone on saying by saying
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, *
happy the one who pays you back
for what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, *
and dashes them against the rock!
These are words that are hard for us to read.
It is anger in its purest form against the Babylonians.
The harsh words of Jeremiah might have been
welcomed by the Jews now living with such pain.
And now Jeremiah,
who’s previous writings of condemnation
could have gone along way with the with the exiles at this time
He says for the Jews to till gardens,
and build a life where they are.
Jeremiah does not speak of retribution
or for the Jews to stay set apart
from the people of Babylon.
He does not say for the people to stay cloistered together
Only thinking of the day they can return to Jerusalem.
He does not say for the people to put their lives on hold
And to live in the memory of what was.
No, the Lord tells Jeremiah to say
that the exiled people of Jerusalem
should live their lives as best they can
even when they are not where they would choose to be.
They are to keep going
even after the death and destruction
they have witnessed and the grief they have felt.
They are to live their lives.
Jeremiah’s words to the exiles must have felt
as uncomfortable as it did when he
was speaking words of condemnation to them.
You want to us live like nothing happened?
How do you go on when you feel like God isn’t there?
How do you keep on living
when you have seen and experienced so much pain?
Why would you set down roots somewhere
when you always have hope to go back to where you really want to be?
I think the balance of knowing your reality
and keeping hope for the future
is something that many of us
have to navigate regularly.
When should we see the reality of our lives and say
“for good or for bad, this is where I am
and I am going to keep on moving”
and when is it right to say
“I hope for a different future” or
“I hope to get back to when I was safe
and comfortable with who I was”.
It can never be one or another.
I believe that God calls us to see reality and hope
as two sides of the same coin.
What Jeremiah says is that we must live
our lives fully in the Lord no matter where we are located.
We are continuously to work for the coming of God’s Kingdom
Even in the lowest parts of our lives
Even if that means just putting one foot in front of the other
And taking the next breath.
This could be physically
or it could be emotionally.
The Jews in exile were physically not where they wanted to be
but they were also emotionally beaten down and hurting.
Where are the places that you are in your lives
That you feel you are in exile?
We all have them at one time or another.
It could be a job that you don’t feel needed at.
It could be a state of anxiety or depression that has been on and off in your life.
It could be a grief that feels like it will never go away.
It is from this broken place
that God calls us to live our lives
but to also hope for the day of the restoration of God’s kingdom.
We bring forth all the scars and tears
Every grief and sadness that have marked our lives
And we bring them to God
Who says “live. Live and know that I am never apart from you.
Live and know that I will hold while you weep and then
I shall wipe away every tear”
Every Sunday when we say the Lord’s Prayer
We hold hope and reality together
We ask for God’s Kingdom to come down to the Earth
And we ask God to give us the bread that we need
In order to move through the hardships of the realities we face
We live in the now and the not yet
So we tend our gardens and grow our families
We try to better the places that we live in
And the lives of the people that we meet.
We cry, we wail, we love, and we shout for joy
We live in this broken world and pray for Zion.
Thy Kingdom come.
Preached by Kate McKey-Dunar