Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. | Jeremiah 29:5-7, NIV
The people of Israel found themselves in an extremely challenging situation. Jeremiah states that God had carried them into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, and that they should seek the peace and prosperity of this new place that definitely wasn’t home. I have never lived in exile, but I’ve witnessed it while living in southern Sudan and observed how devastating and disorienting it is to individuals, families and cultures. I can only imagine how hard it was for the people of Israel to hear these words from the prophet.
Growing up, I remember hearing quite a bit about heaven in sermons and laced throughout many songs we would sing at church. It was described as a perfect place where all creation was at peace and where all things would be made new. It is where we would go to experience God’s shalom and where we would be delivered from this imperfect place in which we currently live. This is a comforting thought, certainly for people experiencing deep pain and suffering, but it also misses something important. As God’s people, we can begin living into shalom, peace with God, with others and with all of creation, right now!
I think this is part of what Jeremiah was encouraging the people of Israel to seek out in their new city. It is easy to think that in this place of exile, it would have been time to hole up and just pray to make it through until everyone could return home. However, Jeremiah encouraged the people to do something different. He called them to actively seek peace and prosperity in Babylon. The work started by building houses and planting gardens, which is a tangible way to put down roots. A stable home helps to create an environment where you can build strong relationships and families.
When Jesus taught his followers how they should pray, he modeled this call to build God’s kingdom right where they were. Rather than viewing shalom as something far off that can only one day be experienced, what if we began to live into it today right where we are? During this Lenten season, what if we asked ourselves and discussed as communities what we could do to realize God’s peace and love in the neighborhoods and cities where we live?
We might not walk on streets of gold, but we see glimpses of the kingdom of heaven in our communities through public food pantries on street corners where hungry neighbors can get fed or tiny home villages where people without homes can find shelter. We believe that God will one day make all things new, and in the meantime, we can join alongside and work toward this beautiful vision right where we are.
Creator and sustainer of life, during this season of Lent, fill our hearts with hope that You are making all things new. When we are tired, give us new energy. Where we are apathetic, give us fresh vision and enthusiasm. When we feel alone, be close and bring people alongside us for encouragement. When we need rest, quiet our souls. As we journey with Christ through this season of trial, steady our feet, strengthen our resolve, and provide us with what we need for nourishment. Amen.
1. Where have you seen glimpses of God’s shalom in your neighborhood or city?
2. What specifically can you pray for to realize the peace and prosperity of the neighborhood or city in which you live?
3. How might we incorporate the call of Jeremiah to seek peace and prosperity into the work we are doing here at Habitat?
David Heddy is the manager of neighborhood revitalization at Habitat for Humanity International, working out of Portland, Oregon.