None of what has happened over the last two weeks has been according to my plan. I wasn’t planning to have the church close its doors. I wasn’t planning to cancel my haircut because salons are closed. I wasn’t planning to have my kids home for what they are happily treating as an extended Spring Break.
Thinking of plans brought this Bible verse to mind:
I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. – Jeremiah 29:11
Ever heard that verse? I often see it on graduation cards, and every time it makes me cringe a little. Why? Well, when it’s pulled out all by itself, without the rest of the context, it sounds like God might be speaking to a specific person, promising a grand future. But when it’s all read in one with the rest of the paragraph?
The Lord proclaims: When Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will come and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord. -Jeremiah 29:10-14
God is speaking through the prophet Jeremiah to all the people of Judah, to Jerusalem and its surroundings, not to an individual. God is assuring them that although Babylon will win this battle, destroying Jerusalem and the Temple itself, God plans to restore the scattered and exiled people to the Promised Land. More than that, God promises to be present for the people even in Babylon.
Now, that was a huge deal. For centuries, the people of Israel thought of God as being present in the Temple in Jerusalem. Period. Now, with the Temple destroyed, God was coming through in a new promise: to be with the people even in their exile, scattered and far from Jerusalem.
I don’t know about you, but I can really relate to that these days. Being unable to gather at church, at the library, at the park: well, maybe it’s melodramatic, but I feel a little exiled. It is reassuring to know that God has a habit of being present even to God’s scattered people. Even when we are scattered, away from our usual place of worship, God is present with us. At home, in the car, on your back deck: God is with you.
I have to believe that God’s plan for us is also a plan for a hope-filled future, and a plan that we will once again be gathered together from all the places we are separated. Meanwhile, God listens when we pray. God is with us when we scatter. God is present when we seek.
Lord God, I trust that you are present with me even when I feel alone. I trust that you listen when I pray. When I have been scattered away from familiar places and people, comfort me and gather me close to you. Help me trust your plan. Amen.