Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 31: 27 – 34

“The days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I will plant the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of people and of animals … I will watch over them to build and to plant.”

To speak of the offspring of people and animals is a sign of growth and prosperity.  To speak of building and planting indicates confidence in the future. This is a word of hope – in the face of impending disaster.

In its context within the book of Jeremiah, this passage sits immediately before chapter 32 which describes Jerusalem being besieged by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. This is prior to the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile. Doom awaits – but the prophet speaks words of hope. To paint a picture of peace and prosperity at such a time was a stark contrast to the lived reality.

Jeremiah is a complex prophet. He is sometimes described as a prophet of doom because he did prophesy disaster. But equally he described eloquent visions of hope, such as this one.

In times of crisis and despair, we need voices of hope. We need people who will say, “This crisis you are in, this difficult time will not last. Let’s look to the future with hope. Let’s not give in to despair but believe that better days will come.

This can apply when we are going through a personal crisis or struggle. We need a hand on our shoulder, an understanding friend who can journey alongside us, who believes in us and is an encouragement in our darker days.

And it can also apply on a broader scale. The people of Ukraine, Palestine and Myanmar; of climate-threatened nations in the Pacific – need to hear voices of support and encouragement from other nations, saying “We believe you have a future. We will stand with you and speak up for you in your struggle for justice.” Words of support reduce the fear that comes with isolation and give encouragement to keep hope alive.

We may not consider ourselves to be anointed prophets like Jeremiah who was commissioned to be a prophet to the nations, to build and to plant (Chapter 1:5,10). But we can all be active encouragers for family, friends and colleagues in times of trouble; and we can be advocates for justice supporting the causes of people and nations caught up in strife. Will you build hope and plant seeds of encouragement?

Gracious God, we give thanks for the people in our lives who have encouraged us in our times of need. Help us to use both our words and actions so that seeds of hope may take root and flourish in the hearts of those whose hope is fading. 

Rev. Phil King

Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ)