“These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “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 their 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 thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,a for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.” [ESV]
Let us pray: Gracious God, through the story of your prophet Jeremiah, teach us patience, grant us the courage to accept your will, and enlighten our lives to the community of your holy son Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak! Why would you pick me?”
“Jeremiah, I have put my words into your mouth. See today, I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Thus began the paradoxical prophetic career of Jeremiah; Destruction and new life, submission and growth, despair and hope. He had to tell the people, exactly what they DID NOT want to hear.
For 23 years, and 28 chapters, Jeremiah took heed of his commission and prophesied the imminent destruction and overthrowing of his native Jerusalem. For 23 years and 28 chapters Jeremiah prophesied oracles of judgment against Israel for its arrogance. Jeremiah preached about the sinfulness of God’s people, he spoke out against the false emphasis on temple worship, he even wore a wooden yoke around his neck as a symbol of Israel’s inevitable servitude. Indeed, Israel fell under the yoke of Babylon; it was pulled down and placed into submission and Jerusalem was eventually destroyed.
Like a true prophet, Jeremiah had to spread a message that no one wanted to hear.
Our scripture reading today is the first part of a letter written by Jeremiah to the exiles in 594 BC. Interestingly, this message lies in stark contrast to the previous 28 chapters. Jeremiah commands the exiles to “build houses, plant gardens, multiply there and do not decrease […] if you pray for the welfare of Babylon, you too will find your welfare.” Where is the gloom and doom in this message?
Jeremiah’s emphasis to the exiles is simple: Accept your fate and make the best of it. Do not resist God’s will for you.
During this time, many false prophets in Babylon created a sense of false hope and told the Israelites that there time in exile would be short, that they would soon return home. Jeremiah quickly responds with a stern dismissal: “Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream.”
These false prophets were telling the exiled Israelites exactly what they wanted to hear.
False prophets often tell US exactly what WE want to hear…
If you take this weight loss pill, you can have the body of your dreams
If you buy this car, you neighbors will respect and admire you
If you come to church and pray, God will give you everything you need
Just because it might be what we WANT to hear, doesn’t mean that its what we NEED to hear.
Our culture has adopted an unhealthy appetite for instant gratification. We desire the products that will provide the quickest result in the most efficient way. Emails have replaced letters, phone calls have replaced visits, and Facebook has replaced real relationships. We have become so obsessed with this idea of efficiency that we have even brought it into our churches:
“I come to church for an hour every Sunday, I don’t have time to read the bible, or pray during the week.”
Before the exile, Israel believed that the Temple in Jerusalem held special power; they WANTED to believe that by making pilgrimages to the temple, they could procure the security they needed. The temple itself was no guaranteed security at all. Jeremiah called the people away from this false belief and advocated for the people to practice justice, and to care for one another.
Truly I tell you, we have reinstituted this false temple worship from the time of Jeremiah with our own modern understanding of church. We believe that by attending church on Sundays we deserve to be called Christians, and that God should reward us for our “pious” behavior.
I am now going to tell you what you do not want to hear:
God does not work that way.
In today’s world the church has become an exiled community within our own Babylon. We exist as a separate entity within the larger dynamic of Western Culture. We have become a pleasant place to bring your family on Sunday mornings, with little expectation once you leave the building.
I believe that this letter from Jeremiah to the exiles has much to say to us:
“Do not listen to the dreams they dream” Church and Christian livelihood is not easy! Being called to live as a Christian is a radical change in one’s lifestyle where you live for your brother and your sister instead of yourself. Being a Christian isn’t about taking the easy road to receive God’s mercy. It’s about reflecting God’s love on those around you. By practicing justice, and living for your neighbors!
“Build houses, plant gardens, multiply there and do not decrease.” Being a Christian is about fostering and promoting community! The only way that we can continue to exist within our exile is to believe in living with a vital collective identity. We need to practice our faith as a community. We need to move beyond the walls of our church and live into a new understanding of the body of Christ. We need to break bread together and praise God for the goodness of our lives. And we need to admit that we cannot do this alone.
Do not be mistaken; we are not called to do this because we are waiting for God. God is ACTIVELY in control. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” Even in the midst of the Babylonian exile God was in control; in fact it was God who sent them into Israel, yet God was also the source of their hope. The most famous lines from the book of Jeremiah comes in the next few verses of this letter specifically addressing God’s sovereignty: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Just as God had plans for the exiles, God has plans for us.
“When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me.”
What are we afraid of? Why have we become so complacent with limiting our experience of God’s reality to one hour on a Sunday morning? Why are we so willing and eager to hear the false messages from false prophets?
God is ready for us to call on God. By living into God’s reality, by seeking God with our whole hearts, by practicing justice and loving kindness, we will find God. We are called to live into a community where the well being of those around us becomes more important to us than ourselves. We are called to put on the new self in Jesus Christ. We are called to have hope in the future that God has for us.
God has not abandoned us and we must NOT abandon God.
I was looking for some new insights on Jeremiah 29 and discovered this post and blog. I think your take on and understanding of this chapter is “right on!” I heard a somewhat similar perspective from Jonathan Brooks (aka “Pasta J”) at this year’s Inhabit Conference in Seattle. Jonathan is the pastor of Canaan Community Church in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. If I find a video or podcast of his message, I will gladly pass it along if you’re interested.