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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, October 15, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 29:1, 4–7          

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. 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. (NRSV)

Reflection
The recipients of the letter from the prophet Jeremiah must have been startled! Here they were, having just been forced to move to the land of their archenemy Babylon, hoping and praying for an early return to their home city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah, still living back there with other conquered Israelites, instead sends these instructions from their God: Sit tight. Live life as if you were back home. Grow your families. Get gardens planted. Be God’s people right where you are.

Even more unsettling is Jeremiah’s confirmation that it was God who caused the total disruption of their lives. Now God’s exiled people are to pray for their captors and the life they share together. “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.”

In my prior congregation, we went through an exile experience. We had founded Lincoln Park Community Shelter with three other churches and were now seeking to renovate the lower level of our church building to house, feed, support, and transform the lives of neighbors experiencing homelessness. Numbers of our residential neighbors were deeply opposed to this ministry. There were hostile signs in the windows of some nearby homes. We were opposed in zoning hearings and even sued by several individuals.

Yet we persisted and, finally, succeeded. Reconciliation with opponents took place. The words of Jeremiah upheld us then and sustain me now. Seek the welfare of the city where we find ourselves (along with all its peoples). Further the common good. In Chicago’s welfare, we will find our welfare.

Prayer
Mighty and mysterious God, who is with us in each and every moment, I am grateful for the prophetic self-criticism that you grant us. Help us discern your will apart from our habitual patterns. May we glimpse your purposes at work over the long haul and respond, trusting in you and your ways, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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