I am struck in the Jeremiah text for Proper 23 that the "practices" Jeremiah announces as God's word for the reframing of the Exile experience are what might be considered traditional (in the sense of historic) family values: building houses, planting gardens, wedding spouses, having children, celebrating the generations, praying for the city in which one resides. The depression and anger attending deportation might cause the exiles to react differently--might prompt the atomizing of life and culture. But if the bad news is that Exile has separated the remaining Jerusalemites from their foundations, it has not cut them off from their essential roots of being a holy people, multiplying and fruitful, recipients of blessing in the hope of once again being the channels of blessing.
This word is vital to me right now in my place of service. Many of our new believers (though some of them are "believers again") are struggling with the energy church requires, the (oft-times self-imposed) challenges of small group meetings, work areas, services, etc. They want to be a part of it all, but it is dividing husbands and wives, parents and children, if only in terms of time and place (though the stress seems to go deeper among some). This text reminds me that "family" can be an essentially spiritual reality, the locus of spiritual development and transformation. As Luther said, famously, the family is but the smallest of congregations.
Many preachers, while eager to preach on the corporate nature and communal dimensions of the gospel, can for various reasons overlook the family as one aspect of those realities. Perhaps Jesus' own ambivalence toward his mother and siblings is the theological excuse for our inattention. Or perhaps the recent political manipulations of "traditional family values" has been (rightly) pegged as a form of judgemental nostalgia and summarily dismissed as one of the apt candidates of the gospel's formational and political ambitions.
But Jeremiah seems to say that the family is a place where God will work to maintain the identity and survival of the elect in the midst of a pagan culture. Indeed, this is where God has put them--another reframing of the Exile, not as godforsakenness but, emergently, as the place where God and God's people may enjoy new intimacy and the reforming of covenant.
And so the historic tasks of families become themselves spiritual practices; this word of the Lord becomes a summons, answering in obedience a spiritual vocation as sacred as any other.