Man, did Jerusalem ever have it bad! Of course, they brought it on themselves. In spite of repeated warnings from the prophets to repent, they continued to pursue idolatry and social injustice. Now they were paying the price. The Babylonians had the city under siege and they’d already carted off to exile thousands of Jerusalemites (or whatever you call them). False prophets had told the exiles not to worry, they wouldn’t be there long. Jeremiah, a true prophet, knew better. He knew they would be in Babylonian exile for 70 years or so. Talk about a long time out! They were in a land that worshiped all kinds of gods, a land whose values were certainly not rooted in the Law of Moses. The Jews were strangers in a strange land.
So Jeremiah wrote them a letter to tell them what to do (Jer. 29). It’s interesting what he didn’t say. He didn’t tell them to rebel, to take up arms, to organize some kind of underground resistance and become a thorn in the side of the Babylonians. Quite to the contrary, Jeremiah told them settle in, get on with their lives, marry and have kids, build homes, plant gardens, and develop communities. He also told them work for the peace and prosperity of whatever city they lived in and pray for its welfare. It’s a great letter and not a little bit surprising.
You know, the deeper we get into the 21st century, the more I feel like an exile in my own country. I’m almost 57 years old and I can honestly say that this is not the America I grew up in. I grew up in an America that for the most part reverenced God, legislated Christian values, and sort of propped up the church, even requiring most businesses to close on Sunday. American doesn’t do any of that anymore. And I know a lot of Christians who are very angry about it all. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling which changed the federal understanding of marriage was one more in a lengthening line of defeats for Christian values.
While disappointing on many levels to see the drift of America away from traditional Christian moorings, evidence would indicate that the church often does better in settings that are indifferent or hostile to it. It gives the church an opportunity to be radically different from the prevailing culture. It keeps the church from drifting into the idolatry of nationalism. And as opposition grows in the culture against the church, the cream of the church often rises to the top. It’s not all bad.
It makes me wonder what God might say to those of us who are, as Peter called the church in the Roman Empire, “aliens in the land” (1 Pet. 2:17). Would God tell us to get mad, right angry letters, excoriate pagans, take over government, and shove our Christian values down everybody’s throat—even those that aren't even Christian? I’m no prophet, so I can't say for sure what God would tell us. But I can do this: I can take a cue from God’s word through Jeremiah and compose a brief letter to us 21st century exiles.
I know who you are and I know where you live. I see what’s going on in your country. None of it catches me by surprise. And in spite of what’s going on, I still love the world and that includes America. So make yourself at home in the land where you live. Continue to marry and have children. Work for the peace and prosperity of America. Pray for its leaders and its welfare.
And fulfill my mission. Your culture has changed; your mission has not. Love me with everything you’ve got. Love your neighbor as yourself. Worship me with joy. Grow in holiness. Treat all people with kindness grace. Serve the widow, the orphan, and the poor. Share the gospel of Jesus in your community and world. Be prepared to give a reason for your hope, and do it with gentleness and respect. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with me.
I have a hope and a future for you that doesn’t depend on how Christian America is. Seek me with all your heart, and trust me. My hands are on the wheel.
Now I’m no Jeremiah the prophet; I’m just John the pastor. So take this for what it’s worth. But if God was sending a letter to us Christian exiles in America, maybe it would sound a little like that.
So in spite of the way things are going in our nation, there are still many blessings to enjoy and God’s mission to fulfill. Happy Independence Day, everyone! And may God bless America.