How can we sing a song in a foreign land?
by Ross Flint
We in the Church live in times of enormous challenge and change.
History teaches us that in such times, people are prone to uncertainty and insecurity. And in addition to that, one of the features of being a human being is that there is something deep within us that cries out for stability and security.
In the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament, there are several historical events that shaped their destiny. Yet two events stand head and shoulders above all the rest: Exodus and Exile.
The Exodus is the time and event where Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, the land of slavery. It also involved 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before they reached their homeland. The journey was marked by grumbling and growling and miracle. Many were discontent with Moses and his leadership. They wanted to go back to Egypt - the land of slavery - even though God kept on miraculously providing provision for their journey.
Many people believe there is a parallel between that event and the times that the Church finds itself in today. Leaving the old and familiar - journeying to something new and unfamiliar.
The Exile took place some 600 years after the Exodus - 600 years before the birth of Jesus. It is the event where the vast majority of the population were deported from the land of Israel by the Babylonians to live as exiles in Babylon. In Exile, four things took place:
- They learnt how to worship God in a foreign land, to be the people of God in a foreign land. Until then, Jerusalem, and the Temple had been the significant place of worship for them. For them, that was where the presence of God was located.
- They put the Bible together. Until then the Scriptures were fragments of writings.
- They discovered synagogue and rabbi (Church and teacher). They need a place to learn, and someone to teach the Scriptures.
- There in Exile, they really discovered what it meant to be the people of God. When they went into Exile, they were people from different tribes, when they returned from Exile, they were the Jews.
The years of Exile brought profound changes to their understanding of who they were as the people of God and the way they lived as the people of God. With the passing of time, they discovered that the years of pain, suffering, heartache and questioning were in fact God's gift and his means of refounding and restructuring his people.
There is a growing number of people, including myself, who recognise there is a powerful and significant parallel between that event and the times that the Church finds itself in today. Not just leaving the old and journeying to something new, but becoming a profoundly different people in terms of our understanding of what it means to be Christians, the people of God and how we worship and live as Christians.
The foreign land in which we live is a post-Christendom era. In my devotions this week, I have been focusing on Psalm 126, that was written at the time the Jews returned from Exile. The last verse of the Psalm reads:
They went away, went away weeping,
carrying the seed;
they come back, come back singing,
carrying their sheaves.
All they had when they went into Exile was 'a seed' in terms of their understanding of God and who they were as his people! Nothing more than a tiny dried up thing that you could so easily discard.
But in Exile - that place where they hated being - that unfamiliar place, the place of doubt and questioning - this seed produced a harvest; to the point that when they returned they came back singing, carrying their sheaves with them. Not just singing because they were going home, but also singing because of the work that God had done in them whilst they were in a place that was difficult and unfamiliar, where there was uncertainty and insecurity.
Take heart dear people, the Lord is with us. Did he not promise 'I will build my Church'? He is doing a job of renovation on the old church that is no longer adequate or appropriate for the times in which we live.
We will one day look at the renovation job and marvel.