My father was a letter-writer. On every birthday, there was a card. Anytime I was away from home, there were letters. He always wrote to share news from home and a fatherly exhortation. While my father was not a very affectionate man. his tenderness shined through in his letters. Without those letters, much of my father’s heart would have remained concealed.
Unfortunately, the discipline of letter-writing is fading fast. Instant communication is more expedient, more practical. The patient beauty of a thoughtful letter has yielded to the pragmatic expediency of ‘messaging’ despite its copious downsides. Commercial clutter invades every exchange. Intolerance erupts over every opinion expressed. Nothing is private or secure. Conversations become threads. And our interactions become the stage, upon which we are merely players. Every word is judged, commented upon, and hijacked by unfilterable group-think. Yet the promise of immediacy seduces us to abandon the time-honored art of letter writing.
Perhaps, most insidious in this brave new world is the “death of the sentence.” My sophomore composition teacher, Ms. Sandidge, warned diligently against using sentence fragments, yet this is now the accepted norm. The stilted, stuttering language of our instant messages, fast becomes the manner of our spoken word. And the “death of the sentence” kills more than a way of speaking – it takes with it measured, reasoned, critical thinking. Words describe, express, and instruct in a way that emojis never can. This is why God speaks to us in words, not images and forbids substituting imagery for God’s self-revelation in the Bible.
To view God’s nature or purposes through the lens of circumstance or speculation, always leads to a distorted view of God, a pagan view, a view that makes a god after our fallen image. When God desires to communicate his comfort, his purpose, his grace, his mercy, his love for us, he does it through his Word. As Augustine famously said, “The Holy Scriptures are my ‘Letter from Home.’”
For decades Jeremiah had warned the people of Judah that the judgment of God was unfolding. And in 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and carried off the best and the brightest to Babylon.
He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war.2 Kings 24:14-16
Imagine how these exiles felt. Taken from the only places and people they had ever known. What would happen to them? Had God forsaken them in his judgement? How were they to live as refugees, immigrants, and resident aliens? Would they share the fate of their sister Israel, whose ten tribes were carried off to Assyrian and never heard from again? But God was not done with them. He had not washed his hands of them. God had revealed to Jeremiah that he would set his favor upon them.
Thus, says the Lord, the God of Israel… I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.Jeremiah 24:4-7
The Lord instructed Jeremiah to write letters to the exiles instructing them to live patiently as resident aliens. In these letters, God’s grace shines through his judgment as he speaks comfort and clarity into uncertainty and confusion
Thus, says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.Jeremiah 29:4-7
Resident aliens have great power to influence and effect society. They bring their particular cultural strengths to the table, but also foster the distinctives of their homeland. They are a part of society, without losing their identity. The Church is to be like this – resident aliens, “an island of one culture in the middle of another.” (Phil 3:20) But it must never be merely an enclave. For while the Church fosters the culture of its heavenly homeland, its calling is to transform its sphere of influence, not just “coexist.” The Church is a colony of resident aliens gathered to “name the name, to tell the Story, to sing Zion’s songs in a land that does not know Zion’s God.”
These exiles were not merely collateral of war, the Lord sent them into exile. He had a purpose for them among the Babylonians to reveal His glory and seek the “shalom” of the city where He sent them. We see in their immigration the paradigm and paradox of the Christian life as they are placed by God’s providence in the midst of pagan Babylon, yet called to remain distinct as God’s covenant children. Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 29 and consider its instruction and comfort to us regarding how we are to live faithfully as resident aliens in a land that is not our home.
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.