That Time When Jesus Kicked Us Out of the House

When Jesus begins his ministry, one of the realities that he stepped into was one of “exile.”

To make a very long story very short, between 580-595 BC, the nation of Israel experiences two devastating events. First, the Temple—the very center of God’s activity in the world—is destroyed. Second, the core population is sent into exile in Babylon. It’s virtually impossible to understand how dis-concerting this was to God’s people.

They were without the sense of God’s presence in the world…

They were without a home…

Psalm 137 records just a little of what this felt like to the community:

“Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down,
crying because we remembered Zion.
We hung our lyres up in the trees there
because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;
our tormentors requested songs of joy:
‘Sing us a song about Zion!’ they said.
But how could we possibly sing the LORD’s song on foreign soil?”

 

Eventually, the Jews returned to the Land, but significantly the presence of the Lord never returned to the Temple. It was rebuilt, but God had not returned. In a sense, they were still in exile.

Furthermore, over time more nations and empires showed up. In particular, Rome came knocking, and easily occupied the land and subjugated God’s people. Now, they were still “in the land,” but they were no longer in control; the Romans were. 

They might as well have been still in Babylon, and again, it’s as if they were still in exile.

God hadn’t come back to the Temple, and they were not in control of the “Promised Land.”

When Jesus shows, up, much of his activity centers around demonstrating that exile is over: God has returned to the Land (through his ministry), and will now “do battle” with Israel’s enemies (who are not the Babylonians, or the Romans for that matter).

At the cross, Jesus defeats the “true enemy” of Israel (evil) by dying. Three days later he rises from the dead and ushers in a new way of living.

But he’s not done yet.

In Matthew 28, he commissions his disciples, telling them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (CEB)

In short, he sends them out, away from their homes, away from what they know and find comforting.

Kinda sounds like exile…

As one of my professors says, “Jesus announces (through is life, death and resurrection, ‘Exile is over; now go be exiles!’” 

However this time not only has God returned to the Land (in/through Jesus), but now Jesus promises to be “be with” his disciples.

So the bad news is that when we “sign on” to this Jesus movement, we don’t get to come into the house and kick our feet up. Rather, Jesus kicks us out of the house to go be exiles in our world: go out where you aren’t comfortable, where you don’t know all the rules, where things may seem strange and alien to you.

But the good news is that exile no longer has to feel empty, or pointless, or like punishment. God’s presence is with his people, even where things are strange and “different.”

We may be in exile, but we are not alone.

 

 

 

 

Exile on Faith Street: Rain

monsoon_rain_clouds

I’ve been talking so much about exile lately; it seems like it’s a constant theme with me and my friends. Not only was it a theme for folks in the 1st century, it’s an applicable concept today.

Exile is what happens when all the questions no longer apply; it’s the place where nothing makes sense.”

So we find ourselves in places where everything we thought we knew about the world is no longer important, and we have to simply put one foot in front of the other and trust that somehow we’ll get through it and somehow God has not deserted us in the midst of it.

But surprising things happen in exile.

Life, for instance, goes on (this may or may not be good news to you).

Though it seems like eternity, in most cases “exile” doesn’t go on forever. There is a time when God says, “Come home,” and we enter into rest.

It’s in those times that we realize that exile can prepare us for rest.

I was reading this the other day, and I thought about life in exile:

“When the LORD changed Zion’s circumstances for the better, it was like we had been dreaming.
Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter; our toungues were filled with joyful shouts.
IT was even said, at that time, among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them!”
Yes, the LORD has done great thigns for us, and we are overjoyed.
LORD change our circumstances for the better, like dry streams in the desert waste!
Let those who plant with tears reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
Let those who go out, crying and carrying their seed, come home with joyful shouts, carrying bales of grain!” (Psalm 126)

 

Here’s the deal about exile: rain keeps falling, the sun keeps shining, and that means even when you can’t see it or feel it, things may still be growing.

Exile may feel like a kind of death to you; a kind of barrenness, and it may be tempted to give up hope and embrace nihilism and cynicism. It may be tempting to surrender to the darkness and begin to burn and destroy, since everything seems empty and worthless.

But it also may be a time of planting, so that when you “return home” you find that things have grown up that you can now enjoy.

So what can it look like?

  • Maybe it starts with being able to say at some place in your soul, “The LORD has done great things for us.” Somewhere, sometime in the past God has spoken good things for you. He will again.
  • Ask yourself, “What can I plant right now? Assuming that someday I will come out of this with a harvest, what do I want that to look like?

Maybe the seed is a friendship that you build into or rely on.

Maybe it’s the effort to pray—maybe the Lord’s prayer or something—once a day.

Maybe it’s to read the Bible in some kind of systematic fashion.

Maybe it’s to invest in serving some folks who have really immediate, physical needs.

All of these things are seeds.

And the thing about seeds is that most of the time, you don’t really see any fruit or anything worth harvesting for a long time.

But even while you are in exile, the sun shines and the rain falls.

And someday, someday when you come home again, you’ll find that there’s a harvest to pick up and carry home.

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