The first reading this weekend was from Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7. If you copy and paste above it will open up a link to read it. Jeremiah is addressing the exiles in a letter he wrote to them. These are people, real live human beings, whose nation had been over-run and conquered by a foreign power. These same people had seen many of their leaders massacred. Their sacred places ransacked. Their homes looted. The terrors and pain are echoed in the book of Lamentations. Every generation has its own stories of displaced people... Anyone paying attention knows that things can change quickly. We may be them some day.
What is stunning about the letter is Jeremiah's advice. To paraphrase, he says, live in that foreign land the same way you lived in your own. Do the normal things of life: get married, engage in commerce, raise your kids. There are multiple references to having kids, ending with multiply there, and do not increase. The Hebrew word, rabah, means to multiply. It occurs twenty three times in Genesis, beginning with 1:22 where God gives the first (chronologically) command to people: be fruitful and multiply. It is repeated to Noah in the "second creation" after the flood (Gen 9:7). It is also tied to God's promise to Abraham (16:10; 17:2; 22:17) then Isaac (26:4; 26:24) and, finally, Jacob (35:11). That God will multiply His people is at the core of the promise. The covenant continues even in a foreign land. Exile may be awful but it is not God-less.
The task of making families is not often understood as the most sacred trust. It is easy to be unimpressed by mere biological survival. It seems "unspiritual" (which it is, in the sense that it is anti-Gnostic). It is an insight into God that such things as making babies and living life are pleasing to Him. It is a sanctification of the ordinary.
I am reminded that the central Christian sacraments are basically bathing and eating. God is present to us, saving and renewing, through those mundane, yet wonderful activities. The letter of Jeremiah reminds us that wherever we are, and to some extent all human existence is exile (we were meant for the Garden after all, and living east of Eden is not a Garden existence...). And being at home in some ways may give way to being in exile in others. I do not easily fit into the Episcopal church. At times that is painful. I always feel a little bit 'foreign.' Yet, in that exile I am reminded to go about daily life, faithfully. And faith-filled-ly, too.
Jeremiah concludes that we are to pray for the leadership in exile. Sage advice in a time when political conflict is so vicious. I wonder how many Christian conservatives truly pray with love in their heart for Obama and Democrats. I wonder if Progressive Christians are any more likely to pray for Republicans who run state houses. My guess is most of us are keenly aware of the "bite" of living in exile. My guess is we are less aware of our connections. It is something I ponder this night as I read someone else's mail which was written a long time ago.