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By KEITH ANDERSON
Since January, the people of First Lutheran Church have been reading through the bible in chronological order. As you might guess, there are challenges along the way — like reading ancient and foreign names in Numbers, detailed laws that most of us will never keep in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Reading through the Bible this year has humbled me as I realize how much I don’t remember of these instructional and inspirational stories. Gaining an historical overview has been most appreciated.
Currently, we’re reading the history of the exiles when first the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 BCE, then the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE fell into the hands of the Babylonians. (While exact dates of most events in the bible can be debated, that is not our focus at this time).
Now the exile of the people of Israel was anything but pleasant. Following a lengthy siege, Jerusalem was finally overtaken and anyone who was of significance was removed from the city and surrounding area. Only the poorest and simplest remained to fend for themselves. All others were taken away to the land of Babylon where the language, foods, songs, customs and religions were all foreign and unknown.
In learning more about the impact of exile in its biblical context, I came across a book by Micheal Frost called “EXILES: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture.” The author’s premise is that Christians living in today’s world and culture can learn much from these biblical exiles. Core values, customs, practices of Christianity, once held by the majority of western societies, are no longer the norm these days. During the exiles, Jewish people had to decide whether to dig in or coalesce. Either live out their faith at risk of harm, or see the influence of foreign gods and practices creep into their lifestyles and beliefs. Consider Daniel, who took a stand by refusing to bow down in the king’s presence. He trusted God to be with him as he was thrown into the lions den. (Daniel 6) Daniel’s faith was in God who was bigger, better, stronger than all the powers of Babylon. And he knew it.
Clearly, the author is not suggesting Christians sacrifice their lives needlessly. The point being is that Christians are those who live in a sort of exile within this current culture. Norms and values have changed and will continue to evolve even more so. Multiple religious beliefs and foreign gods are lifted up and worshiped. Therefore, Christians of this modern age must be willing to take risks for the sake of living the life God hopes for all people to live, as embodied in the life, death and resurrection of his son, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus stands out in the gospel stories because he, too, lived in exile. He attracted attention because he called a spade a spade, meeting people where they were at, and setting them free to live a new life, a better life with God. A life lived differently from the norm.
May Christians of this age be bold in standing up to make things right as scripture reveals. May we be rooted in God’s truth, inspired by the ancient stories of faith, and moved by God’s own spirit to love one’s enemies to death. There is a cross to bear and this is it. (Mark 8:34-38)
The Rev. Keith Anderson is pastor of First Lutheran Church.
Perspectives is a regular column sponsored and written by members of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association.