Plant Gardens and Eat the Produce - A Reflection (Jeremiah 29)

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 thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the 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, says the Lord. 
10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

The Exodus and the Exile figure prominently in scripture. The former, the Exodus, provides an important foundation for our Table Fellowship. The Last Supper remembers Passover, and the theme of manna is also prominent in our Eucharistic theology. The Exile might not figure as prominently in our understanding of Table Fellowship, but it was a defining event in the life of Israel, and our story, as followers of Jesus, is rooted in that story as well. We live in the world as exiles and nomads. As Jesus told prospective disciples, he didn’t have a place to lay his head, and he told Pilate that his was a kingdom not of this world. We live in the world, but not of the world. Despite this sense of impermanence, we find a sense of hope and purpose as we gather together at the Table.  

I find this word from Jeremiah intriguing. He writes to the exiles who live in the hope that a time will come so they can return to their ancestral homes. You get the feeling that they would rather not unpack their suitcases, hoping that the time of their departure for home is close at hand. We can feel this way ourselves. We may feel spiritually restless and unable to embrace the present moment. We either pine for what was or what we hope will be.

The reading from Jeremiah isn’t Eucharistic in nature, but it does speak of eating, more specifically it speaks of eating the produce of the garden that the people are directed to plant. Jeremiah speaks on behalf of God and tells the people to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” In other words, your time in the land might be temporary, put you need to put down some roots so you can make a difference in the world where God has placed you.

There is a missional dimension to this word from Jeremiah. Even as they gather at the Table as exiles, sharing the produce from their gardens, the word of the Lord is “to 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.” There is a future for the people. They will return home. But, in the meantime, they need to make the most of their situation, so keep on with life. Build houses, plant gardens, get married, have children, knowing that God is with you for the long haul, even in exile.

As we gather at the Table of the Lord, we experience God’s empowering presence, which enables us to catch a vision of what God is doing in the land. There is a missional connection to this Table, that suggests the opportunities we have to seek the welfare of the city. We can seek that welfare in the communities in which we live. This church is planted in Troy, and it has opportunities to touch the lives of the people of Troy. Because we began life in another place, which gives rise to a sense of exile in the hearts of some, we have opportunity to seek the welfare of the city of Detroit. There is no better expression of this than our partnership with Rippling Hope in the Gospel in Action Detroit project.

As we gather at the Table, and pray for the city (in all its forms and locales), what is God saying to us about our responsibilities for the welfare of the inhabitants?  May we hear Jeremiah’s word and pray with Walter Brueggemann:

This City . . . of God
You are the God who has set us
                In families and clans and tribes,
                In communities and finally in cities.
We give you thanks this day that you are
                Lord of this city and all cities. 

We pray for this city today,
                and for Jerusalem and
                                Baghdad and
                                Belfast and
                                a thousand other cities.

In all our cities this day
                there will be crime and sharp moneymaking
                and compassion and forgiveness, and generosity,
                and regulations about justice and injustice.

Be our God this day and prosper our city.
                We pray in the name of the one who wept over the city.
                                (Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a PrivilegedPeople, Abingdon Press, p. 157)

Pastor Bob Cornwall

Originally written for the Central Woodward Christian Church Lenten Devotional Guide, which was produced in 2017 to coincide with the theme of  Open Table and Mission -- an emphasis being funded by a Vital Worship Grant from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Lilly Endowment.


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