G2A #7: "Adventures in New Worlds" – 1 Kings - Nehemiah
Most of our favorite stories are set in a new world. Not just a new world for the reader, but a new world for the characters of the story. The new and strange location drives the plot as the protagonist learns about the new world (and learn about him or herself) while trying to find their way back home.
Think of your favorite books, movies, or television shows. Chances are they follow this pattern.
Perhaps it is a story about a little girl who journeyed down a rabbit hole and found herself in Wonderland; or a story about survivors of a zombie-apocalypse world where the rules of survival and the ethics of human behavior have changed; or a story about children who walk into a wardrobe and end up in a land called Narnia; or a story about a young woman sealed in an arena and fighting for survival in a competition called “The Hunger Games.”
A new world is a great plot element because it introduces tension (what are the secrets and differences in this new place?), suspense (will the character make it home?), and adventure.
And yet, as wonderful as the stories often are, in real life we rarely embrace new worlds; precisely because they introduce those elements of tension, suspense (aka. stress), and adventure.
When we do find ourselves in a new world, we make every effort to transform it into something familiar. The most obvious example of this is the historical context of our Thanksgiving celebrations - the occupation, genocide, and transformation of this New World into settlements and territories strikingly similar to the cities in England from which the settlers departed.
Humans are people of routine who prefer to write the story of our lives ourselves, leaving very little to chance. Often our adventures in “new worlds” are limited to trying a new recipe or buying new clothes. Most people, not just Lutherans, have trouble dealing with change.
Our inability to deal with change is ironic because the overarching Biblical narrative–our focus over the last seven weeks–is essentially a story about explorations in new worlds:
- new world created in the first two chapters of Genesis,
- the new world that emerged after the flood,
- the new world promised to Abraham,
- the new world of slavery in Egypt,
- the new world in the wilderness,
- and the new world of living in a kingdom.
Which brings us to today’s scripture:
Generations after King David united the twelve tribes into one kingdom, the kingdom has split into two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Following Israel’s defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, the people were scattered and lost into the mist of human history. They are referred to as the lost tribes of Israel. One century later, Judah was conquered by Babylon and after refusing to pay their taxes the people were exiled. This is what is referred to as “The Babylonian Captivity.”
In these periods, God gave messages to prophets including Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah. Over and over again, these prophets bring God’s message to those living in the new world of exile; a message that seems to have no obvious anchor in the lived human experience; a message that is hard to believe. Jeremiah’s message is “God is in control, God is present, God will bring us home.”
God is in control. One of the unsettling elements of the Old Testament is that God is portrayed as constantly pulling the strings of human history, even in acts of violence. Something good happens? It’s a blessing from God. Something bad happens? It’s a punishment from God. God’s excessive control of every situation can seem manipulative, judgmental, and harsh. Certainly it should give us pause to hear God’s words: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” God initiates and takes responsibility for the misfortune of the Hebrew people. And yet there is a sense of beauty, reassurance, and grace in the claim that God was the one who exiled the Hebrews. This means that even though the people have been defeated, God has not been defeated.
God is in control and God is present. God’s promised triumph throughout history means that God is present with the Hebrew people even in their new world. God, through the prophets, instructs the people to settle in their new location–to build gardens, raise families, pay taxes, and avoid those false prophets who claim there is an easy way or a quick fix to get back to the way things were. God is present, even in the city of the enemy.
God is in control, God is present, and God will bring us home. God’s plan includes both exile and restoration; punishment and salvation.
God continues to make promises when no future seems possible, despite the peoples’ inability to trust and believe. Despite all evidence to the contrary, God will give them a future with hope and will bring them home again.
This text and context speaks to those of us today who feel as though we are living in a new world where...
- neighbors don’t know one another,
- relationships are facilitated through social media,
- religion is viewed as an option,
- planes crash into skyscrapers,
- self-worth is based on the busyness of your schedules, and so on…
The text speaks to those of us who lament the way things used to be. The text speaks to our feelings of fear, oppression, isolation, and resentment. The text offers us hope, trust, and peace in the midst of a world which at times feels so foreign and misaligned.
Every time we gather as a Christian church we are called to proclaim a message that speaks directly to these feelings of fear, oppression, isolation, and resentment; we are called to proclaim a message originally given to the prophets– the message that God is sovereign and reigning in the midst of a world where it doesn’t look like God is sovereign or reigning.
If you feel as though you are a stranger in a new world, take solace in the truth that God is God even in places of exile. God is at work in the world; in places we would never expect and in ways we would never expect. This is grace. This is cause for hope, optimism, selfless giving, and extravagant praise.
Plus, it makes for an incredible story!
Much like the protagonists of our favorite stories, we are on a journey in what can seem like a strange and unfamiliar world. Yet no matter how much things change, this truth will always remain: God is in control, God is present, and God will bring us home.
As our summer journey through the Hebrew Scriptures winds up, I would like to fast-forward a bit and leave you with words from the coming King, Jesus Christ, who, as he was journeying toward the cross, spoke to his disciples - people who were about to find themselves in a new world: