Johnston County NC Senior Games entry 2009

On the Boundary between Jerusalem and Babylon
When “De Lawd” in Marc Connally’s play, Green Pastures, looked on the world during the great flood, He remarked, “Everything nailed down is
coming loose!” Do you ever feel that way? Did you feel that way at the

beginning of this twenty-first century when the Twin Towers fell? Sure you did. We all did. Sure you do. We all do. What happened to the safe and comfortable “good old days” when, seemingly, all we had to worry about was Communism and nuclear annihilation? Our world certainly has changed. The fact is only too obvious. It is thrown at us by all of our means of communication. And what are these radical changes doing to our souls? All of our values and our assumptions are in turmoil. Can a strong faith be maintained when a civilization is being shaken to its foundations? Is there anything meaningful we can do, or is it beyond our control and out of reach of our understanding? Is there any guidance for us who are forced to ask soul-sized questions in our time about things we once took for granted? One thing is clear. Our faith as Christians and Jews is grounded in history. Most of us have come to believe that God has somehow acted in our history. Perhaps God has acted meaningfully and redemptively in all of history, but our two faiths assert that God has indeed acted in the history that began with a man named Abraham and a woman named Sarah. We look back to the stories

and probably also the prophet Ezekiel. Others were left to endure within a ravished land. The Babylonians. It is easy to understand how shock. and we see that. including the young King Jehoiachin. No one could avoid the chastening effects of historical adversity. Some people fled to Egypt and elsewhere. Nebuchadrezzar and his Babylonian forces had conquered the little nation of Judah and plundered the city of Jerusalem for the first of three occasions in a 15-year period. depression and inability to function would 2 .Johnston County NC Senior Games entry 2009 that have been handed down about Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. About two years earlier. no doubt. executed some leaders. The time is probably about 595 BCE. The Book of Lamentations gives us a fairly accurate picture of the thoughts and feelings of those who stayed behind in the land of Judah. in many ways. were deported to Babylon. and to see what answers we get. “What is God doing now?” and “What can we do?” would be to select a particular time in Biblical history as nearly like ours as possible. in 2 Kings 24 indicates that the Temple and the royal treasuries were confiscated. Surely many of Judah’s citizens died in battle. The Biblical depiction of this event. their experiences were not really different from our own. So it may be that one way to answer the questions. and to put our questions in the middle of that situation. and that most of the nation’s leading citizens. in March of 597.

their God was too small. Jeremiah understood that God wanted those Judean exiles to put down roots where they now found themselves planted. no matter the situation in which we live. About that same time. And in Psalm 137 we hear a consensus expression of feeling from the former inhabitants of Judah living in exile in Babylon. In his letter Jeremiah reminded these exiles that. He says: 3 . As long as they had confined God to Mount Zion and to the Temple and the land around it that they used to call home. there are always some things that must be done. He told those exiles to get themselves involved in life where they were. when the future was unpredictable. and not Jerusalem. So. comfortable Jerusalem. Refusal to do those things is a violation of God’s will for His creation. And Jeremiah assured those exiles that God would be there with them. who had remained behind in Jerusalem. The City of God for them must now be Babylon. Jeremiah gave them this down-to-earth counsel. and in the most natural sort of way. wrote a letter (found in chapter 29 of his book) in which he responded to the cries of those exiles who now found themselves uprooted from Judah and re-planted in Babylon. than back in familiar. in a time of grave uncertainty. and there God wanted them to bloom. no less in Babylon.Johnston County NC Senior Games entry 2009 have been the dominant experiences. the prophet Jeremiah.

.” And no “Crusade for Christ” will turn our world or our nation backward to those so-called good old days of black and white TV. Build houses and settle down. my paraphrase) God’s loving and saving Presence is not like some rare orchid that will bloom only in some special place in special soil. and they must be practical and realistic. . . It is like a hollyhock that will bloom anywhere! 4 . as He once spoke through Jeremiah to the Judean exiles. ” (Jeremiah 29:4-7. Our involvements must be in today’s world. my paraphrase) And I am coming to believe that this is the kind of advice that a prophet might give us today as well: There is no going back to the past century. . Plant gardens and eat their produce. “You can’t go home again. you will find Me. give your children in marriage. it will be in terms of this age. “When you search for Me. 13-14a. I believe that God is now speaking to us. confronting the joys and the agonies and the difficult choices of today’s world. If we are to meet the living God. and have children. . even if they ever actually existed. and of black and white morals. I will let you find Me if you will seek Me with all your heart. Seek and pray for the welfare [ shalom] of the country in which you are now living. . . Marry. .Johnston County NC Senior Games entry 2009 “ . or He will not speak to us at all. in terms of its demands. . “I will visit you in Babylon!” . It is in the situation of this new age that God will speak to us. . . . ” (Jeremiah 29:10. .

. Our job is to use what God has given us of our native instincts.” (Jeremiah 29:7) All of our feverish efforts to make for ourselves a better world will be in vain unless we can bring to it a different quality of spirit. . and they were consumed with hate for their Babylonian oppressors. He urged the exiles. Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9) But Jeremiah warned them that such a spirit closes the door to any experience of the Presence of God. Seek the welfare [shalom] of the country . . . and to teach others to use these in ways that will honor God and make life good for all people. “ . . . Pray on its behalf to the LORD. for on its welfare [shalom]. But our God in His wisdom has provided us with the knowledge and the skills that we need to live in this new age. They said with the Psalmist. The Judean exiles in Babylon apparently wanted to hold on to their contempt for the neighboring Edomites who had once betrayed them. But to move from conflict with our changing world to a mission to our changing world demands a new kind of spirit. Instead of clinging to a vengeful spirit. . your own welfare [shalom] depends. . Our age’s spirit of 5 . “ .Johnston County NC Senior Games entry 2009 The pagan values of our new era and the pressures of our lives in this twenty-first century demand deeper insights and sharper tools than we have used in the past. . and opportunities for learning and for service.

And out of Babylon their faith rose to heights they never had imagined. tolerance. Its anxiety must be met with confidence and trust. (Indeed in our own day some of my own Baptist brothers and sisters have often tried to imprison God in a sacred Book!) In any case. and the compilation of the writings of the prophets. and unfailing good will. and God asks of us. Out of Babylon came the compilation of the books of the Torah. Out of Babylon came the strong impulse to preserve Jewish identity by observance of the Torah. that pagan city of many gods. and on circumcision as a sign of a Jewish man’s covenant with His God.Johnston County NC Senior Games entry 2009 violence must be met with the spirit of reason. Out of Babylon came the strong emphases on observing the Sabbath. It may be ironic to suggest that Israel just may have been in danger of losing God in Jerusalem. The times demand. the psalmists. And its despair must be met with a “hope that does not disappoint us. and in a Nation. Its fear must be met with strong faith.” as Paul said (Romans 5:5). and the wisdom teachers. in a City. The people had perhaps tried to “imprison” their God in a Temple. Our age’s spirit of greed must be met with the spirit of servanthood. that Jews once and for all abandoned the worship of all other deities but the One Living God! 6 . and it was there that they would meet Him in judgment and in grace. God sent them to Babylon. nothing less. It was in Babylon.

The very things that perplex us are the part of the mission to which our God calls us. and only after Babylon could they say. 7 .Johnston County NC Senior Games entry 2009 In Babylon those exiles received a new and larger understanding of the greatness and the goodness of God. There they had cried in despair. Even as they recited those words they were already singing “the LORD’s song in a foreign land”! After Babylon. And God will visit us here where we have chosen to bloom. or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence?” (Psalm 139:7). this age and place in which we find ourselves planted is God’s gift to us. We are called to bloom where we find ourselves planted. The Judean exiles learned in their Babylonian darkness that God is infinitely greater than the darkness. Likewise. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit. “How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4) and it was there that they learned just how wrong they were.

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