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Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Remembering who they were and whose they were, the Hebrew exiles lived with faith that God was still with them. Living, being, and growing as God’s people, they found the strength they needed to survive the exile, to walk and not faint, to struggle and find meaning. Ultimately, faith plants new life.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4–7
In an incredible testament to the resiliency of the spirit – and the profound impact it would have on the history of the world – the people of Judah survived the Babylonian exile (587 to 538 BCE). At the beginning of this exile, the prophet Jeremiah spoke through letters to help the exiles understand their tragedy theologically and to give hope that they could rise above it.

In the focus scripture, we read how Jeremiah encouraged the exiles in Babylon through a letter from Jerusalem. This letter was sent to the first deportees of 597 BCE. In chapter 27, we read how Jeremiah addressed those who had survived the first deportation – those who remained in Jerusalem. The message to both groups is similar. To those who survived the first deportation the message is to not resist Babylonian domination, but to accept it. To those who had been deported, the message is to not resist, to accept servitude in Babylon, and to grow. Jeremiah also countered false prophets who were promising the time in exile would be short; these prophets encouraged rebellion against the Babylonians.

Jeremiah encouraged his fellow Judeans to instead “build” and “plant.” These were the verbs used by Yahweh to instruct Jeremiah when he was commissioned as a prophet (1:10). In this letter, Jeremiah advised the exiles to build houses and live, plant gardens and eat, get married, and have children.

Jeremiah’s prophetic letter announced that even while living in exile, there was the hope of marrying and having children. This would ensure the survival of the people, who in the future would receive freedom and God’s blessings. The exiles were able to live in faith and grow because the Babylonians did not sell them into slavery; families and communities were allowed to remain together. Public gatherings were permitted, and so was worship.

During the exile, people’s emotions were raw with anger and sorrow, as Psalm 137 attests. Despite this, Jeremiah encouraged the people to pray for their enemies and “seek the welfare of the city” (v. 7). In praying for the security and prosperity of the land, the people of Judah would also benefit and be allowed to grow and blossom. Ultimately, the time of exile proved an important time for meaning, purification, and clarifying their identity in Yahweh. It also became a source of rich theological regeneration and exploration. Jeremiah believed that God led the people into Babylon and God would lead them out.

When life brings struggles, God calls us to trust. In trust, people gain confidence to “bloom where you are planted.” Psalm 66 acknowledges that God has “tested us” (v.10), but the people also see God’s faithfulness, which allows for praise and thanksgiving. In 2 Timothy 2:8–15, Paul speaks to enduring everything for the sake of the good news of God’s saving love. There is meaning to suffering, because God’s word liberates and makes one whole. When Jesus heals ten lepers in Luke 17:11–19, the Samaritan’s act of gratitude truly makes him whole.

Sometimes, God calls us to actions that go against our natural inclinations. God’s vision of our lives is far greater than what we perceive, especially in difficult times. In trusting God, we may be led to plant new life in unexpected places. What message of hope is God uttering to you in the silence of your heart? How is God equipping you to plant and nurture new life where you are?


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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