Connections 01.02.2022: Exiles

Jeremiah 31:7-14

The prophet Jeremiah preached in the last quarter of the seventh century and the first quarter of the sixth century. About a hundred years before Jeremiah, the Assyrians had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The verses in our lesson text originally addressed the situation of exiles from Israel. Jeremiah encourages those exiles to have hope that God will restore them to their land.

The book of Jeremiah was put into its final form during the Babylonian exile of the sixth century. The Babylonians had conquered Judah, destroyed Jerusalem, and sent many people into exile in Babylon. So, the exiles from Judah who lived in Babylon could hear the words that Jeremiah originally spoke about the exiles from Israel as applying to them too.

How can we Christians living in the twenty-first century hear words that are addressed to exiles? Is there a sense in which we are exiles? Are we in exile now?

I can think of two ways we live in exile.

First, we live in exile from our home in heaven. That may sound odd. After all, we’ve never been to heaven, so how can we miss it or feel exiled from it? As we walk with Jesus, we can come to feel as if we are away from our true home. We can come to realize that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20) and so we long to take up residence there. We may feel like we don’t quite belong here.

But we are here, which leads me to the second way we might feel as if we are in exile. We might feel like we are exiled from the company of like-minded people. Some people would put this in terms of living in the midst of a non-Christian culture, but that isn’t what I mean. I’m thinking in terms of living among professing Christians who seem to have little knowledge of, understanding of, or interest in following the way of Jesus. I’m thinking of feeling like you are in exile in your own community of faith. This can create the sense of feeling like you don’t belong even when you are where you should be.

Both of these ways of being exiled can make you feel as if you don’t belong where you are. It can be disconcerting.

There is a way, though, in which we aren’t in exile. In fact, there is a way in which we are never in exile. We are never in exile because God has come to be with us.

One of this week’s other lectionary texts reminds us of this great truth: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Someday we will be at home with God. But in Christ, God has already made God’s home with us. God is with us no matter where are. In that vital sense, we are never in exile. We are always at home.

Discussion

  • Who are “the remnant of Israel” that Jeremiah says God will deliver (v. 7)?
  • Why might Jeremiah name “the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor” as among those whom God will gather?
  • How does Jeremiah describe the experience of homecoming? What images does he use? What emotions does this imagery elicit?
  • What other ways can we feel like we are in exile?
  • How can we remember that God is always with us? Why should we do so?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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