Today's Lectionary Text
Jeremiah 29:4-7Thus 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.
This passage in Jeremiah is a letter that prophet wrote to the Israelites who are in exile in Babylon. The Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem, tore down the temple, ransacked the countryside, and took the ruling family members, religious leaders and skilled laborers back to Babylon as prisoners. Jeremiah is one of those left behind and he has written to encourage the Israelites to not lose hope, to not lose faith.
The Israelites were mourning the loss of the Temple and wondered, “where is God now?” Has God abandoned us? They were in a place they didn’t want to go and were having difficulty seeing the hope when all they knew had been taken from them.
Have you ever felt like you were in a state of exile? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines exile as: the state or a period of forced absence from one’s country or home; and, as the state or a period of voluntary absence from one’s country or home. This definition indicates exile can be voluntary or involuntary. Either way, it means leaving behind the familiar and going someplace new, maybe even someplace we don’t want to go.
Many of our clergy have left their home country to come to the United States, and have ended up in the Great Plains Conference. I have been blessed by hearing their stories over the past number of years. Leaving their home country might have been a choice, but often it is predicated on economic distress resulting in high rates of poverty, violence, a corrupt government, and/or personal safety. My exile times seem quite mild when compared to this.
Shortly after we moved to Topeka in the spring of 2018, I attended a leadership workshop in Kansas City. We were in small groups and had to introduce ourselves to one another by saying something about ourselves. I introduced myself by saying I was a Nebraskan in exile in Topeka. I don’t think everyone in the room found that to be humorous – after all, they were all from Kansas. Since the workshop was not organized by a religious group, I didn’t explain further. However, what was on my mind was this passage from Jeremiah.
The people Jeremiah wrote to were in a place they didn’t want to be. I felt the same way moving to Topeka – across the state line, a move I hadn’t planned on, a community many Kansas clergy I knew spoke about with disdain. Yet, as an itinerant clergy, moving was part of my call (and my appointment). Jeremiah’s words have helped me to frame every move my family has made into a reminder that every place is full of good people and great experiences.
For clergy in new appointments, for families that have moved, for children in new schools this fall, for persons who have started new jobs, for those who have retired: may you approach these places as the place where you are to put roots for this season – plant gardens, create the home you live as a reflection of you, build a strong “family” of support and love (whether related to you or not). But most of all, pray for the good of the village, town or city where you live for in doing so you will discover your well-being. May that place be better because you have lived there.
-Rev. Nancy Lambert, Retired
Prayer for Reflection
God of goodness and abundance, help me remember this day that where I live is a place where you are. I pray for the leaders of this community, for the school and all who work and learn there, for the places where people are at work, for every person who is struggling with life, and for every place of worship that your vision of the beloved community will thrive and become a reality.
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