Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.
- Jeremiah 29:5
Today I'm thinking about the challenge of holding the promises of God's ultimate redemption with the clear imperfection of each day's realities.
As God formed a people, they began a journey toward the "promised land." That promise was that they would become rooted in a place with peace and freedom and enough for everyone. They would be able to truly settle down and live as God intended. Of course, we know that even when they entered this promised land, human realities got in the way of this goal fully coming about. Selfishness, violence, greed and power led to a lot of brokenness.
Then Jesus came to help people understand that God's ultimate promise was more than arriving at a time and place. It was about learning to experience life in him. Life is not simply a waiting game to reach a certain point before it really starts. Each moment is a chance to live fully with God, even while keeping our eyes on the ultimate hope of God's kingdom coming.
Interestingly, this thread has always been there. So let's go back to the story of Israel.
About 800 years after they entered this promised land, everything fell apart. The Babylonian's invaded and captured them, destroying the temple and much of the Jerusalem. This happened around 600 BCE and the prophet Jeremiah was there for the whole thing. He'd been warning them that they were losing their way and heading for destruction.
Most were taken into exile far away from the promised land. Many of them were forced to walk 500 miles (they did NOT want to walk 500 more) into their captor's region. It was a struggle and a disappointment when the promise of stability and flourishing didn't pan out.
Yet there was always hope. Jeremiah comes to them and reminds them that God had not abandoned them. In a hopeful (but let's be honest, disappointing?) statement, he says that God is continuing to unfold hope and redemption... but it'll be about 70 years before it all comes to pass and they get to go home. Are we supposed to be HAPPY about this, Yahweh? Ima be dead!
Interestingly, that well known verse about future hopes and plans is Jeremiah 29:11. And it's hopeful for sure, as they looked to ultimate restoration. But just a few verses earlier, Jeremiah really gives them (and us) some instruction worth chewing on.
...the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”
They have a long way to go. Their situation is not perfect. And God says to them, don't wait around for perfection to come! Create little Edens right here in the brokenness. And stop thinking you aren't connected to each other. When you help your neighbors thrive, you will too.
We have a temptation to think that we can't do the work of God's kingdom unless everything is perfect. But everything will never be perfect on this side of eternity. We are always going to be in exile in one way or another.
Author Eugene Peters writes,
These experiences of exile, minor and major, continue through changes in society, changes in government, changes in values, changes in our bodies, our emotions, our families and marriages. We barely get used to one set of circumstances and faces when we are forced to deal with another.
Jeremiah does not tell them to just act like everyone else. He challenges them to participate in God's life where ever they find themselves, even in a "normal" that is not what they envisioned.
Real life faithfulness is doing the best with what's in front of you, knowing that God's presence is there, even when situations aren't perfect. Don't wait to plant gardens until you've "arrived." You'll never start loving like Jesus did. It's ok when you feel like you're far from home. God is still inviting you deeper into connection, and broader into creating a culture of his goodness.
What might it look like to plant a garden in whatever circumstance you're in today?
Jesus, thank you for never leaving me, even when the journey is winding.