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.
10 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. 11 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[b] 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.”
In the lesson, Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon.
While there, they were in depression, ashamed of the state to which they had fallen. They mourned the loss of their freedom, the loss of their land and their king.
They struggled with life under the hardships of exile, while living in the land of Babylon.
We know they expressed their deep and profound sadness, that they could not even summon the strength to sing the songs of home. They cried as they sat by the rivers of Babylon.
But God had not forgotten them. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke a word of hope to the Israelites in exile.
But it was probably not the message that they were waiting for. God did not promise a swift return home, instead, they would be in exile for 70 years.
And while there, God encouraged them to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; and increase in number rather than decrease”
God encouraged the people to be resilient. To get up from their crying and their sadness and to live.
They were not being invited to scrape through – they were instead, being invited to take advantage of the opportunities in their new circumstances and to get back to life, to flourish. When the time of exile was over, they would be ready to return home to Jerusalem having far more than what they left with.
The people listened to Jeremiah. They did not only use the resources that exile gave them to their advantage, they also used the time to forge their identity as a nation, and reflect on and work out the tenets of their faith.
The wilderness experience of exile could have been only a time of mourning when the people only spent their time licking their wounds and plotting their revenge. But God showed that there was opportunity even in the time of strife, and there was hope even in the dryness.
Today, we face our personal exile as we struggle with the levels of isolation that Covid has thrown our way. Many have been separated from their jobs, many are locked away at home, exiled from their church families. Many are struggling with loneliness and the inability for regular social interactions. We look back on the past year and we miss so much of our past lives. Exile has come to so many of us. And we could spend all our time crying and seeking only comfort for our sadness.
But friends, even we too must read Jeremiah’s letter and hear God’s encouragement for us to get up and live.
For even in the midst of the crisis – there have been opportunities:
There were times of growth where we took the opportunity to gather for study and reflection and to deepen our prayer lives
There were times to be joined with family in new and meaningful ways.
There was an opportunity to intentionally look after our physical health
There were opportunities to increase our outreach ministries to the increasing number of needy persons
There were opportunities to reach many with new technologies.
If we are willing to listen to God’s encouragement, then we will begin to prepare ourselves for life after Covid is over. So that we will come out of this crisis, even better than how we entered it.
I pray that through the Holy Spirit we may seek the courage and strength to lift ourselves out of the sadness that has engulfed us, and to begin the process of living once more, as we place our trust in God who tells us:
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.
May we trust God, that all these are possible.
A Moment in Prayer
God of goodness and love, in whom we can trust in every hour of need: Have mercy on all who are faced with fear and distress through this time of great hardship caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. Many have lost their loved ones, their jobs and their hope.
We ask that we may hear your call to join you in the mission so that help may be speedily given to them. That the words of hope and consolation may flow from our lips, that endless prayers and deep reflection will mark the change in our lives, and that this emergency may be turned into an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of love and service which bind all persons and nations together; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Contributed by Rev Natalie Blake