These are troubling and confusing times. The pandemic seems to be winding down in some places, while in other places it seems to be spreading exponentially. Medical advice keeps changing. First, nobody needed masks. Then, due to a shortage masks were to be reserved for medical folks. Then everybody needed masks all the time. Then masks were only needed in confined areas. What stores should remain open? When should restaurants open, under what conditions?

It seems like everyone is angry with someone. Everyone agrees that the police must stop abusive tactics, but beyond that nobody agrees with much of anybody about much of anything. This is an election year, which is controversial enough in a normal year. Add in voting while socially distancing, and matters grow infinitely more complicated.

Our lives and our society seem very different from what they were five months ago. It may even feel like we have been exiled into a strange and alarming place.

Although these times seem unprecedented to us, ancient Israel faced far worse. In the 6th century BC Babylon destroyed Israel, trashed Jerusalem, and carried off most of the people to exile in Babylon. It was truly a catastrophe.

In the midst of that heartbreak and agony, God gave the prophet Jeremiah a message of hope for the exiles.

“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 husbands for your daughters, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the well-being of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its well-being you will find your well-being.” Jeremiah 29.5-7

That was then; this is now. Yet Jeremiah’s words offer two lessons for us today. First, we are advised to make the most of our lives even if the circumstances are not what we would have chosen. Is everything perfect? Far from it. But unlike the exiles, we can influence our society. We can vote, we can speak up, we can make a difference. Second, we can pray for the well-being of the land in which we live. Our society faces problems that would seem to be beyond our ability to solve. However, we are lot left to face these problems on our own. God is eternal and everlasting; God is tender and powerful.

We need God’s help more than ever. Faith teaches that when we need God the most, God is most willing to help. Keep the faith.