This morning, as I sipped my coffee, I opened my Bible to the book of the prophet Jeremiah.
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. … 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.
-Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, 11
In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best scripture to choose for my personal devotion and inspiration this morning. The book of Jeremiah? Really, Pastor Candy? Jeremiah can be… well, a little bleak. (To be sure, there are plenty of beautiful and uplifting passages in Jeremiah… but also a great deal of troubling ones, too.) It’s written in the midst of a trying — even traumatic — period of the history of God’s people Israel. In the context in which Jeremiah is writing here, the armies of neighboring empires have invaded their tiny nation, overwhelming their military, overthrowing their king, destroying God’s temple, and carrying God’s people off into exile in a foreign land. The people are scared. Their future is uncertain.
Why, in this unsettling and uncertain season of coronavirus, did I choose to read Jeremiah of all things? Why didn’t I choose something a bit more pleasant? A nice psalm, perhaps?
Why did I choose to read Jeremiah? Because it was the passage that came to mind as I walked through our (nearly empty) atrium on Sunday morning. As I headed toward the sanctuary to start our live-stream, I walked by a table in the center of the atrium, a table placed there by the volunteers of our Wesley Community Garden ministry. At last week’s garden ministry meeting, our volunteers began planting seeds — tomatoes, peppers, and more. We placed them in trays under the glass ceilings of our church atrium. At the moment, we’re using our atrium as a greenhouse.
When I walked through on Sunday morning (just four or five days after we planted those seeds), a tiny flash of green caught my eye. A few of the seeds had begun to sprout, tiny shoots pushing through the dirt and reaching up to the sun. “Build houses and live in them,” Jeremiah said to the exiles, “plant gardens and eat what they produce” (vs. 5). Plant gardens and eat what they produce.
In this unsettling and uncertain season, Jeremiah is telling the exiles: continue to live. Keep on planting. Behold the new life that God will bring in your midst. Enjoy its fruits. For the exiles, I imagine those first green shoots were a source of hope: God will continue to bring new life!
In any other year, our Wesley Community Garden ministry is an opportunity for each of the gardeners to unplug, get our hands in the dirt, to experience the incredible power of creation, and to meet the needs of our neighbors through regular donations to our local food pantries. This year, it’s all of that… but it’s something more, too. It’s a powerful sign of hope… no matter how long this coronavirus crisis lasts, life will continue. God will continue to bring forth new life. It’s just what God does. And it’s what God’s people can do, too.
Continue to live, friends. Keep on planting. Behold the new life that God will bring in your midst. Our garden ministry will continue to live and plant and behold new life, too. That’s who we are, people of Wesley Church: people who plant in hope, knowing that God will continue to bring forth life.
Remember, my friends:
- Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
- Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
- We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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