“You Give Exile a Good Name” – Reflections on Brokenness – Post 5 (& Blogging Through Our Sermons Series)

I’ve fallen very behind on blogging through our sermon series. It’s not that they have become boring to me, it’s that they have become even more important and I am hesitating on puling the trigger on some of these posts.

Back in January I got to preach at our Sunday night service and my portion to cover was the Israeli exile. I entitled it, “You Give Exile a Good Name.” Like most people, when I think of the exile of Israel, I think of Bon Jovi. I opened the message with the first 90 seconds of this infamous video from my childhood. You can listen to the rest of my message here.

How do you explain the idea of exile to a present day Westerners? In short, the closest I could come was that the exile from the Israelite perspective, it could have felt like the ultimate break-up by God. He promised to be there for them, to love them, to take care of them, but here they were, under siege, overcome and the best of their population was marched into the Babylonian captivity. Hard to convince yourself that you are among God’s chosen when you are hands and feet are bound by iron shackles.

Now for the sake of responsibility, God wasn’t the one who actually dishonored the covenant. Israel did …. repeatedly. Collectively, they chose to worship other gods, pursue their interests and forfeit the promise God had invited them to. God sent them prophets, rescued them from numerous previous invasions and reemphasized His hope for them. They left him standing at the altar, at some point, the groom needs to leave the chapel.

Only God doesn’t do that. In this case, He takes the chapel with Him and meets them in captivity. And we see God’s presence throughout the story of Daniel.

There are so many sad parts in the story of Daniel that we tend to gloss over. The first chapter of Daniel describes him as a talented, intelligent, handsome young man. I tried to contextualize Daniel to those gathered that night that if we were making a movie about him, we tried to cast a young Jake Gyllenhaal, we’d show young Daniel with his happy family, answering tough questions in class, and leading his lacrosse team to the All of Judah Finals. He’d go to his synagogue and he’d hold eye contact with his love interest who was his perfect counterpart, and afterwards they’d sneak off to share their dreams of the future and then they would … pray.

But then he turned 17 and Nebuchadnezzar’s forces sacked Jerusalem and took the noble in captivity. In addition they took a significant number of the younger population into captivity. The idea was not to kill all the Israelites, but to create a bigger Babylonian empire and these people were currency for them – more people + less rivals = bigger empire.

I wondered how Daniel processed all of this. Though he had “success” in the test that eventually allowed him and his friends to eat the food of his choice, it was a small consolation to what he had lost. He had lost not just his home and his nobility but he had also lost his future. Literally. Not only does he lose the position he would have enjoyed in Israel but most likely he had become a eunuch. Safe to say he lost his future in a profound sense.

But to add to it, not only does he lose his future in this sense but he loses so much of his past. His Hebrew story was being replaced by the Babylonian narrative. I mentioned that a little more in my message but for Daniel, his entire identity was being threatened. That’s the story of Daniel in the exile – keeping his identity and God’s presence being there for Him, even in the exile.

This is why he prays as consistently as he does. It’s his access to God that informs who he is and allows him not only to retain his identity but to continue to grow in it. It’s very beautiful and it tells us many things, that even in exile and abandonment, God’s presence can still be found. Hence the title, “You Give Exile a Good Name.”

I find myself thinking about this for a couple of reasons. One is that I’m preaching again this week and I try to look at what I’ve said to avoid repetition but to retain certain themes (it’s a balancing act … we’ll see what happens with that). Second, I appreciate what Peter Rollins says about the crucifixion of Jesus. To paraphrase – he experiences God’s abandonment. Now this is nothing new in some sense but Pete has a dramatic way of saying these things and it’s stuck with me like gum on the bottom of my soul. Pete’s not for everyone but I encourage you to read him if you could (and I go to see him lecture this past weekend – great stuff – stay tuned).

Lastly, Lent is the time to consider such things. What are the dreams that have been taken from us, what have we given up on, what should we seek to reclaim and what should we hope to pursue. It’s in this soul-searching in the presence of God that we may (re)discover the beauty and meaning that we may be in need of.


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