The Message: "Planting Our Garden," Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, October 9, 2022

The Message: "Planting Our Garden," Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, October 9, 2022

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
October 11, 2022


“Planting Our Garden”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

            Let me ask you … show of hands … how many of you are living in the same house in which you were born?
            How many of you still live in the house in which you were raised?
            How many of you live in the town in which you were raised?

            In my last pastorate, there was a woman in the church family that had been born in the church parsonage … but she did not live there with Renee and me. That might have been a little odd.

            But the reality of our society is that people are much more mobile than we used to be. We rarely remain in the same town in which we were born, never mind in the same household. Of course, there are always exceptions, but for the most part, we grow up and we move away.

            I lived in several houses from the time that I was born until the time when I went away to college. When I was in college, I lived in three different apartments with a variety of different roommates. And since graduating and getting married, Renee and I have lived in seven different houses.

            The ancient Israelites and Judahites would never have imagined anything like the world in which we live today. Their household was their home for generations. It was their heritage and their inheritance. Their home and their property were their family fortune. The sons followed in their fathers’ footsteps and remained in the family business. (Except for a few in a few memorable examples.)

            Beyond that, their households were part of the fabric of the community, part of their communal life. Their household, their community, was essentially their entire life and livelihood. They lived there, worked there, raised their children there, worshipped there, died and were buried there.

            In our passage this morning, the prophet Jeremiah wrote to a people that had lost all of that. Jerusalem had been defeated by the Babylonians. Many of the families had been removed from their land and homes and taken away into exile in Babylon. A vassal king, Zedekiah, had been installed to rule over the remnant that had remained.

            The Judahites that had been taken away into exile had lost everything … their land, their heritage, their way of life, and their way of faith. They were hundreds of miles away from the Temple and everything else that they loved and gave their lives meaning. It was a traumatic and devastating experience for the people.

            And it was in the midst of that pain that Jeremiah wrote to the people that were living in exile. Jeremiah had remained with the remnant in Jerusalem and continued to speak Yahweh’s word to the people.

            Jeremiah is often considered to be the prophet of doom and gloom. He was often the harbinger of warning for the people. He would chastise and castigate the people of Judah for their unfaithfulness, and because of that he was often disliked by the people. He was definitely disliked by the vassal king installed by the Babylonians and was imprisoned on several occasions. Jeremiah had even complained to Yahweh about the burden of being a prophet and the hardships that he had experienced because of it. However, he remained faithful, and continued to bring Yahweh’s word to the people. He knew that his role … his calling … was too important to give up.

            Knowing this little bit about Jeremiah, we might find the content of this letter to exiles surprising. He told the people to “settle down.”

            Again, a little context is helpful here. There were other prophets in Judah that were stirring up the people. They were telling them that the exile was going to be over soon, and their country and their people would be restored. Those prophecies were causing unrest among the remnant in Jerusalem. The Judahites were rebelling against the vassal king. Clearly, the text of the letter would indicate that there was unrest brewing among the exiles in Babylon as well.

            Jeremiah offered the word of God to the people. “Settle down.”

            It was more than God saying, “Calm down. Cool your jets.” Yahweh was literally saying: “Settle down. Raise your children. Arrange marriages for them. Plant your gardens. Support your community.”

            God, through Jeremiah, was telling the people to move beyond seeing their situation as a tragedy. They were asked to consider how this difficult time might be seen as a part of God’s larger plan. We have talked about God’s larger view for humanity and God’s long view for the world. The human condition and mindset is one that often does not see beyond the tip of our nose or the reach of our hands. We prefer to see how God fits into OUR plans, rather than how we fit into God’s plans.

            God was telling the people, “You did not leave me behind in Jerusalem. Yes, you left the Temple behind, but I am not confined to that place. You did not lose me when you lost your households and your homeland. You can sing God’s song in a foreign land. You can find me in exile. I am there with you.”

            Jeremiah told the exiles that those other prophets were misleading them. He did give them the bad news that their exile was likely to endure for seventy years. And then he went on to say, ‘Stop thinking of yourselves as prisoners of war. Be God’s faithful where you are.’

            This was the introduction of a whole new spirituality. God is not confined within the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem. In fact, God can be found in surprising and unexpected places. Find God in the midst of your current circumstances.

            And then take your faith one step further … pray for Babylon. Pray for Babylon’s shalom … Babylon’s welfare … Babylon’s peace. Pray for Babylon’s shalom because ultimately it is also your shalom … your welfare … your peace.

            We see this new spirituality echoed by Jesus when he told his followers, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

            This was not a call to acquiesce. It was not the ancient version of, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” It was about being stronger in their faith. It was about being faithful to God even in the worst circumstances.

            Do not decrease. Increase. Multiply.

            Do not be defeated by your circumstances. Do not give up.

            Increase. Worship and praise God. Be faithful. Follow the commandments. Contribute to the community in which you live. Even though you are in forced exile, make your community a better community. Make your lives better in the midst of your circumstances.

            Some of you may be wondering how God’s words through Jeremiah apply to our circumstances in the world today. Some of you may see it quite clearly.

            We are not living in exile in a foreign land. But … we may feel as though we are.

            Some of you may recall the days when the church was the center of the community. You may recall when the church was the center of your spiritual lives and your social lives. You may recall being at the church several times a week … Sunday worship, Wednesday worship, youth group, couples club, church dinners, etc. You may have met the love of your life at the church and met your dearest friends there as well. And you may mourn the loss of those days gone by because the loss is real.

            Our world is very different now. The church is no longer the center of our community or the center of our lives. Most people in the community today are indifferent to the church, uninterested. Some are openly hostile. Youth are busy, young adults grow up and move away. There are more and more activities that compete for our time and demand our attention.

            Of course, we also know that COVID has changed our world and changed our lives forever. COVID has also changed the church. We did go into a form of exile during the peak of COVID. We went into isolation. We were separated from our community, our friends and even our families. We are gradually beginning to return “home” just as the exiles eventually returned home, but things are different. Everything feels different because everything IS different.

            And what is God’s message for us in this strange and different world? “Settle down. Plant your gardens. Be faithful. Do not give up.”

            We are not to be defeated by what we see in the world around us. Rather, we are called to be invigorated in our faith. We are called to be invigorated in our ministries. Pray for the shalom of our community. BE the shalom for our community. Even though the world may not realize it, the world needs us now more than ever. The world needs God’s faithful children engaged and actively involved.

            We are a gathered community of God’s faithful. We are the church with love and hope to share. So, let us plant our garden. The world needs the fruit that we have to offer. Amen.


Congregational Church