Readings Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15
Jerusalem is under siege and Jeremiah is imprisoned. And this is the moment he chooses to buy a plot of land. And not haphazardly either, the reading is deliberate in documenting the deliberateness of Jeremiah's purchase
Judah is in exile, and Israel is not long behind. And this is the moment Jeremiah chooses to send word telling them to build homes, plant gardens, and raise families.
The latter signals to the people that they will be in exile for 70 years, so invest in where you are. The former signals that God will bring them back, so hold on to the hope of home.
Jeremiah’s purchase is a prophetic act of hope in God, his letter a prophetic act of realism (and a pastoral encouragement to life).
Millenia on from these words being penned… the question I was struck by is, does the realism sound more like hope, and does the hope look like delusion?
Every day you can find a half dozen articles about the lack of affordable housing and the awful treatment renters are often subjected. The dramatic increases in rent, the inability to secure long-term leases, sub-standard heating and cooling of rental properties… in the face of such realism, the idea of building homes and planting gardens is not so simple.
When Shoshanna was baptised, the church gave us a plant, as had been their custom for decades. It is a beautiful practice; to plant a tree and watch it grow along with your child, a reminder of the day and the promise of God… of course, such a practice reflects a time when most people coming in to baptise their children already owned homes… we did/do not (we are now very fortunate to be provided with housing as part of my stipend). But where would we, who moved about 5 times in 7 years, plant the tree? We were fortunate enough to have parents nearby who do have a garden, so it lives there, but many would not find it so easy to plant a tree.
On a larger scale, we have, over the past decade, seen the emergence of climate refugees as a category – one which is predicted to grown exponentially in the coming decades. Sadly it is those who have contributed least in terms of emission who are being most adversely and immediately impacted. In the Pacific, burial grounds, homes, and soon, perhaps, whole island homelands will be lost… what does it mean to read Jeremiah’s prophetic property purchase in a situation where in 70 years time that plot will be under water?
And what about Jeremiah’s charge to pray and seek the welfare of their exiled imperial city? His promise that in its welfare you will find your welfare, might read as somewhat naïve, given the history of sectarian violence and bigotry often directed at minority and immigrant communities who found welfare in their new city. Those who are scapegoated by majority populations who believe their welfare declining as a result of these newly settled arrivals?
And finally, we might wonder how to stop this teaching – to build homes and raise families – from fostering a kind of insular quietism, at odds with the radical vision of Christ’s kingdom which upturns such prioritising of home and family? How do we read this teaching and apply it to our lives without sanctifying middle class comfort, without reifying owning a home in the face of the world’s need?
How do we read these two prophetic teachings in our own time, without either ignoring the questions of our day or dismissing as entirely irrelevant the teaching?
I think we need to start by remembering a rather important fact: we are not in exile.
We (or at least we for the most part) live in a land that we have chosen to live (or at least haven’t been forced to live). We live in a land where our faith is not only allowed to be practiced but still holds a great deal of cultural cache, influence, and respect. Our city is not besieged, we vote for our leaders, and our voice is represented.
If anything, we more closely resemble the citizens of Babylon. Those who have experienced many generations of comfort and continuity.
There are, however, still exiles in our world.
And so the call to us, in passages such as these, is to position ourselves as neighbours to those who these passages have immediate relevance. To be neighbours and accomplices to those who are besieged and exiled, those awaiting deliverance, return, and hope.
What can we do, change, or say to try and preserve homelands in the Pacific?
What can we do to influence the current reality of unaffordable housing, rental crisis, and the broad stresses on cost of living?
How can we position ourselves to offer hospitality, support, care, and advocacy for those living exiled lives around us (the refugee, the unhoused)?
Might we be a people who can see the welfare of our city in the welfare of its newest arrivals, the strangers in our street, so easily vilified?
In attending to these questions – positioning them as essential to our decisions on what it means to be disciples, to be the church at the Kirk – we take seriously both the reality of our current situation and the reality of God’s promise still vital in these readings.
Some here today, or tomorrow, or perhaps some year long past, receive directly the words of comfort, hope, and promise offered by God to the exiled and besieged Israelites. And if you do, or did, rejoice! For that God is our God always and forever – God desires our life, preserves our life, and promises a return to life in its full abundance and flourishing.
For others of us, the word of God we hear in this passage is actually more like one we overhear. It is a word offered to our neighbours, to strangers in these lands, to those in islands neighbouring our lands, to those in desert and tropics in the north parts of our lands, to those applying for hundreds of rental properties now homeless in our lands. And the question for us – having overheard this word – is what can we do to help? What can we do or change to move with rather than against the will and promise of God? How will we be a neighbour, to search for and stand with those seeking their welfare in a new city? Those trying to raise families in lands they would rather not have to live in, those seeking to build homes and plant gardens until the day they can return to the plots of land purchased and prepared for them by their ancestors? How can we show our faithfulness to God and God’s promises by striving to realise them with those around us?
In this movement to our neighbours, to those exiled, besieged, and addressed in this passage, we like those who feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and visit those in prison encounter Christ himself - and in that moment, in that relationship, in that standing with and service to, the word of God addresses us directly once more.
Image: Claude Monet, The Artist's Garden in Argenteuil (A Corner of the Garden with Dahlias), 1873
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