Living In Babylon

Delivered December 15, 2002 by Rev. Craig Garriott,
Senior Pastor, Faith Christian Church, leader in Partners for Transformation.

Theme: How do you live in your Babylon? When facing painful experiences, don’t become detached. Don’t become destructive. Become determined. Determined to live in hope. We have a God that when we are in the midst of sufferings and our disappointments and our losses in life, that he opens his arms and he picks us up and he allows us to put our white powdered-sugared faces in to his breast until comfort and relief comes and because you have such a God, such a Father, such a Savior like that, you can engage fully in life.

Key Verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Sermon Text:
Jeremiah 29:1-14
and 1 Peter 1:3-9
and Psalm 42

I bring you greetings from Faith Christian Fellowship Church, your sister church in the hood of Baltimore. It is a great pleasure that we have had a partnership with Central over so many years with the support particularly of Baltimore Christian School. Many individuals here in the church as a whole have given so generously and graciously over many years. This past Thursday we had Congressman Elijah Cummings come to capture a vision of the school and hopefully endorse our eight million dollar plan to expand this school and to provide a three million dollar endowment for tuition assistance He was going to spend an hour with us and yet about five minutes before he arrived, we got word that he was only going to be able to spend ten minutes with us. So I had to cram our presentation down and Maria, my wife, who is off to my left here, came to help that morning, Before she arrived she was supposed to drop off our 4 1/2 year old daughter Julianna to Central’s preschool program where she has the blessing and pleasure of having Mrs. France and Mrs. Larson as her teachers, but because of the ice storm that was delayed and so she brought Julianna with her. When I walked into the presentation room, I found my daughter Julianna sitting at the head table in a chair that the congressman was going to sit, chowing down a really sloppy white powdered sugar donut. So, when I walked into the room, she captured that, maybe this wasn’t the best place for her to be in. I said something like ” Maria you can now take Julianna out of here”, and you could see this horrified look in her face and she started to tear up. a So I just picked her up to hold her and she just like clung on to me, burying her white powder face in to my suit lapel and just held onto me until relief and comfort came. Well when the congressman came, he was impressed with the school and the presentation and he apparently must have overlooked this frazzled white powder marked pastor. Maybe you have experienced various moments of this uncomfortable, humiliating, vulnerable points of life. But sometimes we experience those vulnerable, uncomfortable, difficult times more intensely, more deeply and over prolonged period of times and if that is your case, Jeremiah 29 has some good words for you. Let’s turn to Jeremiah 29, Verse 4.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. This is what the Lord says: “When the seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you in to exile.”

Let’s pray. Father God, we thank you that you are the God of good and gracious promises, and we thank you that you delight in children who in their utter dependency comes and clings to you Lord for comfort and strength. So now we come as your children asking that you would teach us through your word and through your spirit how to apply these truths to our lives. In Jesus we pray. Amen.

So how do you live in your Babylon? Babylon has often been depicted as a place or a city of great luxury or great sensuality or great corruption. Some might say “well, that pretty much describes so much of where we live today.” But Babylon is often described as a place of captivity and exile. In the time of Jeremiah’s day, it was the capital of Babylonia in the Euphrates. It was located 56 miles just passed our present Bagdad in Iraq and under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar. That powerful nation was dominating the world at that time, swallowing up other nations like Pac-Man and it had come to Jerusalem and built siege works around Jerusalem and at that time the king was Jehoiachin, who was just 18 years old. He had just been the king for three months, but Jehoiachin surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and with him all of his leadership, all of his chief administrators and nobles and the artisans and the craftsman and 10,000 of his military men were then banished off into captivity in Babylon. They also took the gold from the temple and the treasuries of the palace and so here they were, there in Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar then made the uncle of Jehoiachin, who he renames Zedekiah, the new vassal king. I want you to try to capture with me the picture now of these Israelites who were carried off into captivity, what their experience must have felt like. Eugene Peterson, tries to imagine their complaints. A terrible thing has happened to us, he says and it’s not fair. I know we weren’t perfect, but we were no worse than the rest of them and here we end up in this Babylonian desert while our friends are carrying on life as usual in Jerusalem. Why us? We can’t understand the language. We don’t like the food. The manners of the Babylonians are boorish. The schools are substandard. There is not decent place to worship. The plains are barren. The weather is atrociously hot. The temples are polluted with immorality. Everyone speaks with an accent. I don’t like it here. You can here them say. And many of the exiles tended towards a state of bitterness and self-pity and despair, depression and to make matters worse, there was prophets, who rose among them and said, “Don’t worry. In two years the Babylonian Empire is going to collapse, and we are all going back home to Jerusalem. So just hold on. Don’t put down any roots. Don’t engage. Don’t work too hard. Just wait things out. Just get by. Just get over.” And sometime later, Jeremiah writes this letter we just read to these depressed, despondent withdrawn exiles who were holding onto lies and he tells them, don’t listen, don’t believe the lies that you are hearing. Put down roots. Live in hope in Babylon because you have a God of promise.

So how do you live in your Babylon? Maybe you feel overwhelmed or maybe you feel oppressed by huge cultural forces that blast against your values and your convictions and you feel marginalized in society and you feel on the outside. Or maybe, you have been going through a major transition in life. Maybe its been a prolonged illness, or maybe its been a job change or move and you feel your world has been turned upside down and you wonder what’s going on and you feel disoriented and confused. Maybe you have experienced a recent tragedy, maybe the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s the illness or a broken relationship, a divorce and it has left you emotionally numb and you feel spent and you wonder where is God in all of this. He seems distant. Well maybe you have been a church that has been praying for a pastor for a couple of years and you wonder where is God in all of this. If you feel any of these feelings, you are feeling an experience in the pain of exile. There are three ways that people often respond to a crisis and losses. They become detached or they become destructive, or they become determined.

Tim Allen, the top rated sitcom actor of Home Improvement, honestly shared his battle and his fear of intimacy. When he was 10 years old, his father whom he loved and adored was suddenly killed in an automobile accident and he said this, he says, “It hit me hard. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t understand it and it hurt like hell. Why would God take my father away?” Then came guilt and anger. I kept looking around for someone to help me deal with these feelings. I needed to be taken care of, but nobody was going to do it. From then on, I cut myself adrift. I was alone. When no one dealt with it at all, the butchy boy inside me, the survivor boy said, you don’t want this to happen again. So don’t love too deeply anymore. That is the simple lesson I learned.

Now some of you might identify with Tim’s orientation. You have been hurt or deeply wounded before and you don’t want to open yourself up again to the possibility of more hurt and so you close yourself off and you don’t let people get too close. You won’t become vulnerable and so you become detached. Other people become destructive. They allow their losses to become these cauldrons of anger and bitterness that eventually erupt into destructive explosions. This past fall a nursing student of the University of Arizona, Robert Flores, Jr., killed three of his professors and then committed suicide and he left a letter. In that letter it revealed a troubled life and he had a list of grievances of failed marriage and poor health and he felt slighted by the school, that he felt like a token as a male student.

Well Jeremiah, he comes to people in their losses and he says, “Don’t become detached. Don’t become destructive. Become determined. Determined to live in hope.” Jeremiah speaks words to nurture this hope so that you would live; that we would live fully engaged lives in our various Babylon’s. The first thing we need to do to nurture this hope, is to hold onto Gods promises. To take hold of the promises of God. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a hope and a future. And so God assures them, he assures them that he is coming back for them. He assures them that his plan, his determination is for their prosperity. And that word prosperity is the word Shalom in Hebrew. It is the most rich word of fullness and joy and happiness and contentment and health and all the great blessings of friendship and life, particularly not only in relationship with each other in our world, but in relationship with God and he says, “I want and I am determined to have shalom for you. I am determined that you will have a hope and a future that my dreams will be fulfilled in your lives.” Yet we live in a world of many broken promises and it’s easy for us to become apathetic. There are a lot of voices that tell us that we don’t matter and we are all alone and it’s easy for us to look at our losses and grief and feel like God doesn’t care.

Paul tells us in Romans 5, he says that God gives us the hope that does not disappoint, that he will not fail us. That he has poured out his love in our hearts through Christ Jesus. He tells the Thessalonians that he remembers them in his prayer and he remembers their work produced by love, their endurance inspired by hope and fueled and energized by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter says in his great mercy he has given us a new birth in to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is not just words on a paper. These aren’t just idle static words. These are dynamically energizing words that transform persons suffering experiences in to hope filled joy.

You see, hope is something that must be fought for. When you are in the midst of exiles and disappointments and the traumas and the Babylonian experience of life, it won’t come naturally. You will have to decide to listen to God’s voice above all the other noise that tells you that he doesn’t care and that he has left you. Joshua came to the end of his life and he says; now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and all your soul that not one of the good promises that God has given us has ever failed. Every single one has been fulfilled. Not one has failed. And so the question is, do you and I live out of that foundation of Gods promise and his foundation of hope in a future. Do you believe that? And when you do, when you take hold of Gods promise, when you live in this hope, then you take hold of life and you can engage fully and positively in life, even while living in Babylon. One of the first ways he shows us here in Jeremiah in this passage is that we live out the creation mandate of personal engagement. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says, “Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Have children. Marry. Men find wives. Pray.” He says, “He who finds a wife, finds a good thing. Take hold of life. Women, be open for marriage. Don’t let your fears hold you back. Don’t be paralyzed by your past. Engage in creative productivity. Buy land. Build houses. Plant fields. I will bless you. Enjoy what I have given you. Celebrate life.”

Eugene Peterson again says, “You are not camping. This is your home. Make yourself at home in Babylon. This may not be your favorite place, but it’s a place. Dig foundations, construct a habitation. Quit sitting around feeling sorry for yourselves. The aim of a person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible, but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible, to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.”

God took me through a Babylonian experience in this past year. After 22 years of living in Baltimore City, a place that I believe God had called me to for life, pulled me out and put me in this foreign land of Towson. Now my country, my Babylonian. I had lived out what I classified a call in the pastor of living in carnational and community and so I have gone through a huge amount of transitions in this past year. John Eldredge wrote a book called, “Wild at Heart” and in that book he lists three driving needs that men have. A battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty of love. And for me my battle was living this incarnational ministry out in Baltimore and when that changed, my whole world was in an upheaval. And God said, “I have got another front line for you.” I felt _______, I felt domesticated, I felt like he just put me on the bench and he says, “I have another front line for you.” He said, “I have got to do some work on your soul, because so much of my identity had been focused on what I was doing and not who I was as a Son of God. And he said, “You’ve got to do some work on your marriage. You have got to set some boundaries and work on your family.” He says, “I want you to finish well.” And then he said, “I want you to build a house.” And so, probably only one of the lots available in Towson on Burke Avenue, by God’s grace my father is a builder and we were able to establish a home there and it was a good distraction for me to like throw myself fully in this place and to build this house.

Well Towson is a wonderful place to be in. What a tremendous community. It is really becoming an international community. Just a block from me is the mid-eastern food market and the Palestinians Americans are there. Behind me are some African American friends and I saw some Chinese Americans picking up ginkgo fruit in the trees in front of our house. Some of the first people I see in the morning are Hispanics and this has become a place where the world has descended here in Towson. What a great place to be in.

Which brings me to this last point, which is that God not only calls us to personal engagement. To live out of a hope where we are personally engaged in life, but that he gives us the kingdom mandate to be publically engaged. He says, “Also seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I have called you. Seek the peace and prosperity and pray for it. Pray for this city.” Now you think about that. These were the Israel exiles who were taken captive and put into slavery in Babylon and now Jeremiah is saying, pray for their peace and their prosperity. That was a big order. Where did that come from? I think it came from the same God who sent his son and said, you heard it said was to love your neighbors and hate your enemies. Well I would tell you to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.

The scriptures give us kingdom values and public engagement, to pray for kings and all those in authority. You see, those who live out of a context of hope, those who live out of a context of Gods promises, realize that our call is not to become detached, but to become fully engaged in life, to be in the political centers, to be in the cultural centers, to be sought in light in the kingdom. It is the Joseph’s who are in pharaoh’s courts. It is the Daniel’s who are in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. It is the Nehemiah’s and the Esther’s who are in Persia, engaging in life.

The song that we sang, “Angels from the Realms of Glory” was written by a man named James Montgomery. He was the son of two Moravian missionaries who were missionaries in the West Indies and he was in seminary when he got a letter. In that letter he found out that both of his parents had suddenly died on the mission field. And so he left the mission, he left the seminary and for several years wandered in aimless discouragement. But then eventually he got in to the newspaper industry, became the editor of a very major newspaper in London and one of the chief things that he was known for, was to write against slavery. He was an abolitionist. He championed the cause of the poor and oppressed. And because of his controversial writings, he was imprisoned several times. But when he got out he was highly engaged in world missions and in 1816 he wrote this poem, “Angels from the Realm of Glory”.

Wing your flight for all the earth.
Ye who sang creation story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth.
Come and worship. Come and worship.
Worship Christ, the newborn king.

Where does a person who has lost both parents suddenly on the mission field find the energy and hope to engage in life to the level that he did. It’s because he had a newborn king. He had a newborn king that God is the God of promise and he is the God of hope, he is the God of the future. All the promises of Christ are yes in Christ Jesus. And so we have a God that when we are in the midst of sufferings and our disappointments and our losses in life, that he opens his arms and he picks us up and he allows us to put our white powdered-sugared faces in to his breast until comfort and relief comes and because you have such a God, such a Father, such a Savior like that, you can engage fully in life.

Let’s pray. Our Father and our God, we are so grateful that you are a God of promise, that none of the promises that you have ever made have failed, that you have fulfilled every single one of them. And Lord even though at times we experience losses, even deep losses in life, we know that you ultimately will be our shalom and have our shalom and so God we thank you for that. We thank you for the Messiah’s birth that we celebrate during this season. O give us hearts that are fully engaged to be sought in light in this world and we give you glory in Jesus name. Amen.