At 9:30 on Wednesday night I was at my desk, making the next day's phone message. I had been here over fourteen hours and was long past ready to go home. As I packed up my things my cell phone rang. My son called to tell me that my evening plans had been obliterated by reality. The baby was sick and we were taking him in. It would be deep in the middle of the night before we finally returned home. Baby did not sleep, so we did not sleep. I called in to cancel my day; I had new plans and duties.
I came in today more keenly aware of the fluidity of life. I am a planner and will remain one until the end. I know the value of planning. I also know that plans get changed. That is why we need clarity of mission. We must be able to readjust and refocus when circumstances dictate.
Today I plan to lead a reflection on today's lectionary readings. The first comes from Jeremiah which carried me back to a time almost three years ago. Jeremiah 29 is a letter written by Jeremiah to the exiled Jews in Babylon. He had pleaded with the people to repent so God would relent. They decided "he must die." Chapter 29 comes much later, the collapse is over and the people have been taken from their homes. Everything has been changed. They are Adam and Eve--the Garden is lost, except for the memories.
Jeremiah's words are comforting in their mundaneness: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters... Increase in number, do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city in which I have carried you into exile..." Powerful words indeed, and not wholly expected.
Jeremiah also tells them that the exile will last 70 years. He warns against those self designated prophets who come telling lies. "I did not send them!" declares the Lord. That verse echoed from a time when I lived in Whitehaven in 1980, my seminary days. I was assigned to St. Joseph's with Fr. Kirk that summer, preparing to head off to Belgium. Fr. Kirk preached a message of justice and often would repeat that verse in reference to the false preachers. "I did Not send them!" he would say, a wry smile on his face. [If only it was always clear whom He did send!]
There is another verse, "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." This is one of those "favorite" verses which show up frequently amongst Christians of a certain bent. I have heard it quoted many times by many a sincere believer. It resonates with hope and does calm the spirit! It is a source of comfort and hope in this present time of darkness and exile.
I was surprised to see so many verses which bring up memories, but I was still laser focused on the command to build and multiply. As long as my brain works, those verses will always jump out at me. I remember preaching on them, about two and a half years ago....
As my regular readers know, I am a traditional minded Christian in a decidedly progressive denomination. Torn apart by strife, the Episcopal church has hemorrhaged membership, most of it of an overtly traditionally orthodox nature. The Episcopal church is more progressive and, I think, also less tolerant of us. Living among hostile people is never far from my mind. And as a catholic I do not fit in with those who have left. With no where to turn, I turn to God and try to be faithful in my parish. [I have heard all the "prophetic declarations" about my future in teh Episcopal church. I fully expect it will not end well.] It helps to recall God has a plan as well, a plan to prosper, not harm.
Any how, preaching to a parish which is marginalized and can feel alienated, I reminded them how one lives in exile. Jeremiah spells it out: have babies, build up and work hard for prosperity. Pray for your overlords. We are all in it together. [One is reminded of Jesus' parable about wheat and weeds; the judging is in God's hands.] Now our parish is generally past the child bearing years. I said, as I laughed, while we old timers would not have literal babies, we still needed to be productive. Two days later I found out that we were going to have a baby (the little tyke who is sick now). I laughed for a couple days about it (then cried for months!).
Those words of Jeremiah and my homily are forever melded in my head. "Be fruitful and multiply. Even in a land of exile, make babies." As I expected his arrival has meant a total loss of control. I am doing many things which I had not "planned." [interestingly, the last two years there have been more babies born in our parish than any year since I arrived in 2001.]
So what is the point?
We have lost control, time and again, and we will continue to find ourselves pulling on reigns, only to find the horses unresponsive (sometimes because the reigns are attacked to nothing!). What to do? Stay focused on the plan. God made us to be fruitful and multiply. That is our task. Whatever the situation, confortably at home or exiled in a strange land, we are to pray and work. The situation matters little, seek prosperity and the blessings of God. God is much less "pious" than we are prone to think. He is concerned with things like having families and making a life for yourself. We think He is only about "spiritual things" and find Him offputting. In reality, the prophets He sends (men like Jeremiah) remind us that wherever we are, the first task remains the first task. We are not always "at home," but the mission is the same. And having had the babies, we are to raise them to love and serve the Lord. Which is why, every day, since the day I heard we were going to have a baby, I have asked God to make Levi holy. Every day. And I plan to continue to do that until my brain does not work any more. He will need to be holy, as he grows in a world where he is frequently in a state of total loss of control.