The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
- Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
- Psalm 137
Early Thoughts: They were in exile. Forced from their homes, driven across the wilderness, how could they possibly sing the songs of faith?
And yet that is exactly what they are asked to do. In fact they are told to do more than that. Jeremiah says that in this strange land the people are to:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.As advice to exiles, to a people whose national identity was tied up with the land and the temple that is now occupied and destroyed it seems to go against all logic. It would seem more sensible to tell them to keep the faith, to hang on, to wait until they are able to go home and be the people they once were. But instead God tells them to live. Not wait until they can be what/who they once were, but live. Embrace the new place as if it were home and live there. Can they do that?????
Well do they have much choice??????????
The image of exile and return, in addition to being one of what Marcus Borg calls the meta-narratives of Scripture, is one that has often been used to describe the church of the 21st Century. And I have used it myself. IT works n some ways. The church finds itself in a whole new place, in a whole new world. The rules, the landscape, the culture is different, strange, sometimes it seems unfriendly or hostile or threatening. Aren't we in exile? Who could blame us for wanting to return "home", to go back to that comfortable familiar place?
The problem I have with the exile image is that it suggests we can go back home some day (which is what Scripture says happened to the people of Israel -- at which point there is a struggle about those wives and children that Jeremiah encourages in this week's reading). But the thought that we can go back leads us to spend too much time remembering what was, too much energy trying to recreate those "golden days" of yore. Back in August Terry Leer wrote in the Daily Herald Tribune:
...hungering for the past is like feasting on cotton candy: Tasty while it lasts, but only tooth-rotting, empty calories in the end.
Nostalgia tricks us into thinking we’re doing what God wants. We cannot move forward if we are living in the past. The past cannot be recreated for our current circumstances have changed – almost beyond recognition. Our Sunday Schools are not full. Budgets are a problem. And most non-Christians regard the church with disdain and distrust.
Hungering for the past, for the time when Christians prayed in school, when the church was the centre of social life and when clergy were respected authorities in the community, will leave the church abandoned in the past. Nostalgia will not save the church – it will be the death of it.
So, what is the opposite of this religious nostalgia? Mission, God’s mission.
Maybe we too are called to live in the "exile" land. Maybe we are called to sing the songs of faith (both old and new) in a strange land. Maybe we should not yearn for what was and embrace what is. Can we do that????
Do we have much choice??????????