It continues to surprise me as to how well this Unraveled series fits with what is going on in the world today. I also know that the spelling of “Unraveled” is annoying a few people – sorry it is American and a registered title, so we need to use it as it is.
Today we are in Babylon in the time of the prophet Jeremiah. You may remember Jeremiah, he was just a boy when God gave him the mantle of prophet and during his time the Babylonians conquered the Israelites, destroyed the temple and sent those who were alive into exile in Babylon. In our reading today Jeremiah has sent a letter to those in exile. This letter contained words from God about how the people should live in this time of exile. It’s not quite what they, or even us at times, would expect.
The message was to settle in, to build homes, to marry and mix with the Babylonians and to plant and tend gardens, all in a foreign land. For the Israelites Jerusalem was home because they believed God lived in Jerusalem in the Temple. So, when the Babylonians took them into exile they were robbed of not just their home, but of their identity, their welfare and their perceived proximity to God.
So much had changed, but God commands them to make the best use of the situation they are in and become part of a new community. A community that will prosper and allow the Israelites to prosper as well.
Our dreams and hopes for this year have completely unravelled. Bruce and I were due to spend time with Steph in Ireland, many of you had holidays planned, or activities scheduled, new initiatives hoped for – all now not to be. Imagine what it would mean to us if we got this letter from God now. What would we need to be doing, where would we be gardening and building? One thing we can make sure we are doing is seeking the welfare of the community we are in.
Roots (Encouraging the Israelites in exile to plant gardens and build houses)
by Lauren Wright Pittman inspired by Jeremiah 29:1-7 | graphic image
I moved to a new state. As I write, I’m living out of boxes, the trunk of my car, and a storage unit. It’s a jarring experience to move, even when it’s a conscious choice. I’ve found myself in a place that resembles almost nothing like what I’d envisioned for my life. I left a city burgeoning with opportunities and culture; now I’m in a small town where I’d be thrilled to find one decent, local coffee shop. I’m beginning to realize visions about the future I wasn’t even aware of. These unrealized dreams took root in my being in a way that feels defining to who I am.
Something happens deep in our core when we feel out of place. The day I moved my immune system failed and I became sick and disoriented. The Israelites were forced into exile, ripped from their homes, places of worship, and way of life. They find themselves in Babylon where they dream of the day they’d return to where they belong. Jeremiah’s words are comforting, yet painful. They are told to stay, plant gardens, and allow their families to flourish in this strange land. I’m sure this was disappointing, but when you hold onto the past, you miss the richness of the present. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you” (Jer. 29:7). Maybe when our lives unravel in transition, the loose ends of our dreams, the friends we leave behind, and the paths untraveled can become the roots that stabilize us in the new place where we find ourselves. These threads can create grounding that nourishes and transforms us into something new. This new place can be a gift—a place of flourishing and a conduit for deep, authentic connection with self and community.
Lauren Wright Pittman