Embracing Exile is a new sermon series we launched this past Sunday morning as a local church. If you were with us for the first week you heard the following quote from T. Scott Daniels book entitled Embracing Exile: Living Faithfully as God’s Unique People in the World.
I once heard a student ask Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann how he could write about so many different places in the Bible. His answer went something like this: Years ago I discovered that there was only one story in the Bible; that story just gets repeated over and over again. The primary story in Scripture is that God has called a people to be his reflection— his image— in the world. The problem is that those people always live in an empire that keeps trying to shape them in ways contrary to the ways of God. So every place in the Bible is trying to answer this question: How can we live as God’s unique people in the midst of this place that lives so contrary to his purposes?” – Walter Brueggemann
While exile is not a perfect metaphor to understand where we are presently as God’s church in modern day America it is very helpful. When we think of exile in the scriptures the primary image is of God’s people, the Israelites, being plucked out of their beloved Jerusalem and taken captive to Babylon in 587 B.C. . The people of Israel found themselves as strangers living in a strange time. Of course, we in America have not been taken out of our country into physical exile. Nor have we completely lost our roles of influence in modern American society as no doubt the Israelites had experienced. And, as T. Scott Daniels says, “If the language of exile is just one more way for privileged people to whine about their aversion to change, then the metaphor of exile not only breaks down but also becomes unhelpful.” In addition, we must remember that there are many in our day who have experienced very real physical forms of exile and have become refugees. We have not experienced this type of dislocation as Americans. However, understanding these cautions, we can gain a great deal from this metaphor. As a local church, Fenton Church of the Nazarene is entering it’s 25th year in existence. Our world has changed exponentially in the past 25 years. Church and culture have both changed in a multitude of ways. Christian culture has lost much influence in the public square . Scott Daniels points to the 2015 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage as the moment the culture informed the church that it was no longer in charge. As American Christ -followers we are definitely strangers living in a strange time. We may not have been dislocated physically, but the culture around us has changed drastically.
We are often tempted to respond to the experience of exile in unhelpful ways. We become anxiety ridden that the church is no longer in control of the culture. We often enter into mis-directed activity to recover what we think we have lost. Or, we become angry lashing out at the culture that has changed around us. Worst of all we may even become apathetic believing there is nothing we can do. Our apathy betrays our lack of trust in a God who is actively at work in our world despite the conditions. The remedy that we need at a time like this is to re-immerse ourselves in our story. We need to examine the lives of individuals who lived during the exile like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego (Read Daniel 3, and 6). Their story is not one of anxiety, mis-directed activity, anger, or apathy. No! They respond with greater reliance and dependency. Assurance that God is with them enables them to become an influence in a pagan culture not through anger, but rather through active service. Their example helps us grasp what it means to become a unique people who are blessed by God to become a blessing. And, these stories remind us that God calls out the best in His people while in exile. God reveals his faithfulness in strange places, in strange times to strange people.
So, as a local church as we enter our 25th year we have sensed God calling us to re-evaluate our response as we find ourselves as strangers in a strange time. One way we are responding is to enter into a strategic partnership with David Hayes and New Church Specialties to Re-Vision our local church for the next 25 years. Our great hope and desire is to recognize the strange new world we live in, and to grasp together what it looks like to live faithfully as God’s unique people in the world. How can we avoid becoming an anxiety ridden, misdirected, angry at the world, or apathetic people? Instead, how can we become a God-reliant, God-blessed to become a blessing people, in a world that is desperate for blessing instead of cursing? How do we live a risky faith in a world of fear? How do we engage our strange time and invest in the strangers we meet in ways like we see in the book of Daniel? These are great questions for us as we journey together to seek God’s leading in the Re-visioning our local for the next 25 years. We invite you into the journey. We invite you to embrace exile with us as we seek to be a unique people who more faithfully reflect the image of God’s love in our world.
Embracing Exile Together,