On Living as Exiles

Sunday, I was privileged to preach at Sugar Creek Baptist Church. I used the time to talk about what it looks like for Christians to live as cultural exiles in the midst of a time of tremendous change.

As we’ve seen since the beginning of summer, there have a been a sweeping series of changes that are continuing to push Christianity to the edges of society…if not to cultural exile where our voices are not part of the larger conversation.

You can view the sermon right here: On Living as Exiles

My primary text for the day was Jeremiah 29:4-14. Here we find the remnant of the Israelites who have been taken into captivity through the Babylonian exile. They are given a prophetic letter from Jeremiah that stands as a set of guidelines on how to live in this exile. Having been taken out of their native, and ancestral, land to a foreign place is certainly more extreme than a social, or cultural marginalization which Christians are continuing to experience. That said, I do think there are some correlations.

At the heart of the conversation are three sections of the text:

In considering the plight of the remnant of Israel while in their initial stages of exile in Babylon, which is modern day Bagdad, my point was essentially this:

Being faithful amid cultural exile means we become ambassadors of peace who await God’s restoration.

One of the key words in the entire passage is found in verses 4 and 11. It is the Hebrew word shalom. As it is used in this context we see that the exiles are commanded to pray for the welfare, the health, and the benefit of the society in which they live. This is a deeply counter-cultural act for what group of captives actively prays for the blessing of the people who have taken them captive, or pushed them to exile? Yet that is the command for believers of that day and our current place.

The second reference to shalom in 4:11 points out that as we pray for this shalom we shall also receive it from God. As we are peacemakers we receive peace. It is easy for us to criticize and wage rhetorical war against our culture, yet in doing so we find ourselves increasingly uneasy in Babylon (so to speak.) Yet as we work to bring the Gospel and the true peace of Jesus to our society we receive an unsurpassing peace ourselves.

Ultimately, the passage leaves us with a hope. A hope of the coming restoration. Perhaps for us it isn’t a cultural one where Christianity regains the dominant cultural position. In fact, I believe the better position of Christianity is to be marginalized in a culture because that is where we can more authentically live out our calling as ambassadors of salt and light.

As Walter Brueggeman has stated in his commentary on Jeremiah: exile is God’s most devastating judgment, but restoration is His greatest gift. May we seek the final restoration of Jesus who will return to redeem and restore all which is lost for His glory and Kingdom.