God’s words to Jeremiah remind us that we are called to witness to the love of God wherever we go. But what are we to make of this list of acts that God has called Jeremiah to do?
At first, the list sounds rather grim: pluck up, break down, destroy, overthrow, build, and plant. At least we get a bit of relief in the last two. In fact, I think seeing those last two verbs in context is key to understanding the rest.
One of the strange places that my journey with God has taken me is the Arava Desert in southeast Israel. I worked on a cooperative farm, growing tomatoes, mangos, and herbs in the desert sand. We used ultra-efficient drip agriculture and about twenty cubic centimeters of organic fertilizer to grow each tomato plant each season under massive tents that contained moisture and blocked out the worst effects of sandstorms and blazing desert sun.
During those desert adventure years, I learned that all the tasks of Jeremiah’s ministry are those of a farmer looking to produce a harvest. We built a growing tent and planted the seedlings. But we also plucked up the plants after harvesting their fruits. We destroyed the tomato plants by grinding them up to use as fertilizer for the next crop. Some of the most fun of the whole growing season was tearing down and “overthrowing” the tents, so that we could set up someplace else and let the desert return to its natural state.
I believe the tasks for which God called Jeremiah and for which God calls us as well are the work of a master gardener who is deeply in love with creation and expects humans to produce good fruit (see Matthew 7:17-20). Planting, overthrowing, and destroying all work together for good.
God, as we journey with you, show us how to build, plant, tear down, and overthrow so that your kingdom will grow. Amen.
The readings in Jeremiah and Psalm 71 are repeated in a pair from earlier in the year (January 24–30). They describe the authors’ confidence that God has had plans for their lives since even before they were born. God similarly knows each one of us and has a calling on our lives. The reading in Hebrews gives us confidence in the permanence of the kingdom of God, to which we have access through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are not to take this lightly; we should worship God with due respect. In a synagogue on the sabbath, Jesus teaches a lesson about mercy. When he encounters a woman in need, he places her need above religious regulations. If religious traditions trump mercy, then our priorities are out of alignment.
Read Jeremiah 1:4-10. How can you trust God to empower you to follow God’s call? How can you encourage others to live into their calling?
Read Psalm 71:1-6. How can you continually praise God as your refuge?
Read Hebrews 12:18-29. How do you discern what is required of you in praising God in the new covenant?
Read Luke 13:10-17. How do you observe the sabbath now? What sabbath practice might you start that puts God’s reign into action?
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