Just this morning, the president of our Baltimore city neighborhood association posted in our local gardeners’ group on Facebook. She encouraged us to take advantage of the early spring to start planting our container gardens with vegetables.
In the midst of the constant barrage of news about COVID-19 (coronavirus), I doubt she was aware of how much her words resonated with those of another prophet, thousands of years ago.
God’s people were in exile, in a world they no longer recognized, and they had been crying out to God to send them home. God responded that rescue would come—eventually. But, in the meantime, God’s people were to settle in … because it was gonna be a while.
Build homes, the prophet Jeremiah encouraged them, foster relationships, plant gardens. Pray and work for the well-being of the cities where you live.
This cheerleading feels timely this week, as we face a growing awareness that the coronavirus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In my association president’s words and in Jeremiah’s plea, I hear God’s invitation to settle in. It’s gonna be a while.
The thing about working in the garden (or going for a walk around the block), is that we can encounter our neighbors in safe space and at a leisurely pace. It’s amazing how many meaningful conversations can happen across fences or between the sidewalk and the stoop.
Those of us on the east coast have been experiencing an early spring—a gift from God for such a time as this. The unusually warm weather allows us to get out of our houses and be the Church in our neighborhoods: checking in on neighbors and handing out our phone numbers to those who don’t already have them; extending and accepting help with yard work, trash cleanup, or grocery pickup; visiting with new and old friends as we commiserate together.
And if you haven’t already joined neighborhood groups on social media, now is a perfect time to do so. Many of these groups—formed around shared geography, hobbies, the “gift economy,” and local advocacy—are increasing their connection to community right about now. They are creating spreadsheets of vulnerable neighbors who need help, offering to pick up food on trips to the grocery store, sharing information about school lunches, medical care, and the latest in neighborhood closings. This is community at its best.
Jeremiah reminds us that our well-being is tied up with the well-being of our neighborhoods. We can pray and work and advocate for our government leaders to make wise and just decisions. We can pray and work and advocate for neighbors who are at risk. We are called to pray diligently, even as we build, plant, and make new friends.
[Join a Conference-wide online prayer meeting this Wednesday at 12pm EST/9am PST. RSVP by emailing Noel Santiago.]
Tomorrow morning, you are invited to login to your virtual church service, interact with your congregation on Facebook, read your email devotional (whatever ways of participating in corporate worship that your hardworking pastor has been creating for you!) … and then join your neighbors in the streets and on the sidewalks of your community. Together we will pray for an end to this pandemic. And, together, we will settle in for the long haul.