4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29
This is the original version of Bloom Where You Are Planted, and a perfect text for any celebration of Earth Day―maybe especially Earth Day 2015, since this is the second year of the #GreenCities initiative. Many people love to seize and claim verse 11, "I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord... to give you a future with hope." But holding onto that verse without the full context omits the condition of God's promise: obedience. As Walter Brueggemann points out in Out of Babylon, "this text urges coming to terms with the empire as the unavoidable matrix for Jewish well-being. [page 8] and "...it is Babylon that becomes (for now) a venue for shalom." [page 9] We know Jeremiah lived deeply informed by and responsive to the tradition of Deuteronomy with its demands of hospitality and care for all, of covenantal obedience—its emphasis on forgiveness, grace, and newness.
Our contemporary situation in the USA closely parallels the exiles in Babylon (faithful in Rome, Spain, Great Britain...) as accretions, outrages, attractions, and demands of empire surround and often seem to overwhelm us. Truly we cannot escape to some ideal oblivion, an unknown nowhere – remember erewhon? – and in the power of the Spirit we need to create local, covenantal life where we are—in spite of empire. And then...there's another condition: God's overwhelming response of grace when humans don't quite measure up to the standards of the commands.