29:5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
29:6 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.
29:7 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.
This is one of my favorite passages in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is instruction to the Israelites in a season of exile. It does not encourage lament or mourning or wringing of hands. It does not encourage rebellion or discontent.
No. Quite the opposite. It encourages living a full life (which in the context of the day, was potentially a peaceful rebellion I suppose). It encourages building communities, growing families, tending crops. And perhaps most importantly, it encourages seeking the welfare of the very place into which you have been exiled.
Recently, I have felt winds of exile. It touches me in a couple of different realms. With our government in deadlock, with our political system log-jammed, with strident critique from differing perspectives that seems to be focused on creating greater distance rather than finding common ground, I feel like my call to shed light in dark places is fruitless. What difference can I really make? There doesn't seem to be much room for listening or speaking truth.
Similarly, the church feels more and more at odds with the world. It feels at times like institutional preservation has overtaken the mission to make disciples by sharing the love of Christ in tangible ways. And I see it both in the church as a whole and in my local congregation. Cannibalizing our faithful because we can't agree on common ground seems to be the way of the world. As a person who has spent the past eight years preparing to serve the church, I suddenly feel shut out by a rigid, distracted, quarrelsome environment.
And so the words of Jeremiah give me hope and direction and purpose. How can I encourage others, stay in dialogue with those with whom I disagree,that I hear them as multi-dimensional people who are similarly called to serve? What does it mean to build community in this time? To invite people to break bread, to listen to one another, to really seek understanding, to pray individually and communally for wisdom and vision and grace?
We are at a tipping point, both in the church and in American society. Change can feel uncomfortable, exclusive, exiling. I feel shut out sometimes. But here's the deal. I am here and was created and called for a purpose. And so were you. So in the midst of change, there is no hunkering down and hiding. It is time to gather community, to be fruitful, to love generously, and to seek the welfare of the time and place in which we find ourselves.