The Word: Seek the peace and prosperity of the city
Published 10:55 am Saturday, July 2, 2022
It can be easy to feel like an exile in our world today. Cable news, social media, even family dinners and break room conversations can leave us feeling isolated and angry. We can feel like those around us are not just different from us, but opposed – sometimes violently – to us. And we can seem different or opposed to others, as well, because it is easy to fall into the trap of division, polarization and demonizing ‘the other,’ whoever ‘the other’ is.
We can avoid that trap by following a different example. The prophet Jeremiah articulates it well in his letter to the exiles living in Babylon. He says, “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)
Jeremiah knew the exiles of Judah were not comfortable in Babylon or thrilled with how life was changing around them. They felt out of step with what was going on, convinced that many important things were gone, never to return. Undoubtedly, they were angry and scared. What was Jeremiah’s wisdom for them? Build houses. Settle down. Plant gardens. Let your kids get married. And, vitally, seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Invest in the place you are. Try to make life better, not just for you, but for everyone. When you do, Jeremiah tells them, life will be better for them, too.
I wonder, what would happen if people of faith, any stripe of faith, tried to put the wisdom of Jeremiah into practice? What would it look like in Farmville or Dillwyn? What would it look like in Prince Edward or Cumberland or Buckingham? Would the communities in these places find more peace, more prosperity? Would there be less anger and more joy? Would there be fewer strangers and more friends? Would we find more common purpose and less division and isolation? Perhaps, were we to lead the way in seeking, not just our own good, but the good of the community, our communities would actually get better: better schools, better businesses, better services, better neighborhoods.
It can be as simple as what Jeremiah suggested first: plant gardens. Get together with some folks in your neighborhood and plant a community garden. Work with one another to keep it watered. Share together the produce that emerges, and give the excess to your local food bank. You may find that, as you dig in the dirt together, the walls between you come down, and your community might just become more peaceful and prosperous.
Rev. Dr. J. Adam Tyler is the Senior Pastor for Farmville Baptist Church and he can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.