By Michael Smith
A Reading from Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 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. 7 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. 8 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, 9 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.
It is difficult to know about judgment, whether it is God’s punishment for infidelity or a natural consequence for behavior that is contrary to God’s ways. Either way, God’s people find themselves in such a situation after having been carried away into exile in a foreign land.
We also experience times of exile in our lives when God seems far away and the environment around us does not feel like home. We become disoriented about the direction of our call and wander about in a haze of grief and regret.
Listen carefully to the words of God during these times. God’s advice to our spiritual ancestors is good for us as well, when God bids them to take care of the ordinary tasks of life such as building houses, planting gardens, and raising families. In other words, do not be overwhelmed by circumstances, but take care of the day-to-day chores.
God also offers words of hope if we can hear them: “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.” Give us ears to hear, Most Holy One.
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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Saint James School, Hagerstown, Md.
Church in the Province of the West Indies