2017-11-26 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
My prophetic word for y’all is that you’ll be hearing these phrases in the next 2 weeks…
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely EXILE here, until the Son of God appear…”
What is this exile that we sing of? What does it feel like, look like?
Did you even know you were in exile?
The advent hymn gives a few more hints…
“…disperse the gloomy clouds of night…death’s dark shadows put to flight…”
“…bid envy, strife and quarrels cease…”
As we look back at the year that was, we sing and say, “great is thy faithfulness”…on this “Reign of God” Sunday, we sing and say, “Our God reigns!”…
But we are not unscathed…our faith in God doesn’t place us in a magical bubble that has protects us from the chaos and calamity of the world…
We mourn…we are lonely…gloomy clouds gather ‘round us in our hearts, minds and souls…
Envy, strife and quarrels complicate our lives, break our hearts and leave us feeling alienated and isolated…
Exile is not just a place that Israel ended up…rock bottom with no place to go in 590 BCE.
It’s us…in 2017…at odds with one another, at odds with creation…
Dislocated . . . dis-oriented . . . disappointed
Oppressed by the ways of the world…inundated with stories of loss, abuse, separation and lament.
In this place of exile…
perhaps we can join the refrain of the Psalmist, who in Psalm 137 penned this prayer:
“By the rivers of Babylon…there we sat down and there we wept…”
The place of exile is the place where our heart is broken…and we feel helpless to fix it.
Perhaps the only prayer we can pray is… “help!”
The beauty of the Christian year is that it provides a way for us to live, cope and hope in Exile…
(a way in, a way through, a way up, a way out…)
On “reign of God” Sunday, the last Sunday of the year, we pause and Lord willing, we look ahead to a time of re-birth.
We (all of us?) say… “God reigns”… but we also know that just by saying it, doesn’t make it true… we need instruction, we need encouragement… and so we tell and re-tell these ancient stories of ours…stories that frame the advent season for us…stories of HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE.
Today, our living word is from the story of Jeremiah. Jeremiah, the gruff & seasoned prophet…
he’s got 30+ years of prophesying under his belt by the time this story comes ‘round…and he ain’t getting any less bold, though there’s a bit of a twist in his message to the people of Israel this time…
For years and years (and chapters & chapters) he’s been telling Israel to straighten up and come back to God, but they wouldn’t listen…and they finally get what has been coming for 100’s of years…they get overcome and overruled by the Babylonians…and in 2 waves they get deported from their land and their temple… a 500 km displacement from home.
They are slaves in a foreign land. Surrounded by oppressive taskmasters and foreign gods.
And though some false prophets are teasing them with lies and assuring them that this is just a short-term captivity, Jeremiah, speaks a true prophetic word to them and gives them the bad news that they’ll be in Babylon for generations…upwards of 70 years!
But surprisingly…Jeremiah’s prophecy to God’s chosen people is not a wagging finger and a shaming “I told ya so”… instead, it’s a “bloom where you’re exiled” message.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel,
to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
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.
Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them…
Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,
I will let you find me, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
It’s an intriguing, provocative prophecy…Jeremiah who is always beating the drum and telling Israel to set themselves apart…in the midst of exile and alienation in Babylon…he says…
“Quit yer whining & pining!”
And…instead…he offers “new life hacks” for finding a way in Babylon…
SEEK the shalom (peace and well-being) of the city where I have sent you into exile (note that YHWH sent them there!?)…
DON’T be deceived…don’t get conned by the quick-fix prophets who say there’s an easy way out…
PRAY TO THE LORD…for the city…
For in its shalom (peace and well-being), you will find your shalom (peace & well-being).
* * * * *
So…on the edge(?) of a new Christian year, we look at the context and content of our marching orders…dear FBC’er…we’ve got a job to do…a holy vocation…dare we say it’s our calling?
What do exiled…alienated people do?
When it comes to being the people of God, exiled people live, build, plant & eat.
EG >> BUILD [hear the voice of the prophet Isaiah]
EG >> LIVE [see Ps. 37… “dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness”]
EG >> PLANT [ see Ps. 1 ]
EG >> EAT [ see Ps. 23 “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies” ]
–and if you’d like to put this “way of living in exile” under a 1-word banner, might I suggest: reconciliation.
In a world that finds so many ways to tear us apart…our God-lovin’ duty and vocation is to reconcile.
To be peace-makers…to be cultivators of well-being…for neighbour, friend…and even our enemies.
FREDERICK BUECHNER puts it this way:
NO MATTER how much the world shatters us to pieces…
We carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home that beckons us…
Woe to us if we forget the homeless ones who have no vote, no power, nobody to lobby for them, and who might as well have no faces…
…woe to us if we forget our own homelessness.
To be homeless the way people like you and me are apt to be homeless
is to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them.
To be really at home is to be really at peace,
and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be
no real peace for any of us
until there is peace for all of us.
Where will this journey of reconciliation take us in the days ahead…as we move into a new Christian year, another season of advent?
From our places of exile, how will we BUILD, LIVE, PLANT, EAT?
–imagine a place of dislocation, isolation, alienation, disappointment, loneliness, longing
–imagine how this story might encourage you, enliven you to
Build Live Plant Eat
Note: Don’t do this alone!
Bring others with you if you can…lean on others…pray for others, be shored up by others prayers…believe that God is able to make a way in the desert…and streams in the wasteland.
“O come Desire of nations,
bind all peoples in one heart and mind;
bid envy, strife and quarrel cease;
fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Come to us.