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  • Rev. Bradford G. Olson

Acts or Exile

Acts or Exile

I like to reflect on the state of the church. For the last 30 years I have served rural, urban, and suburban United Methodist congregations in the West Ohio Conference. In these churches there have been times of growth, times of decline, times of keeping on keeping on, times of transition, and times of strategically preparing for a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit. I am currently enjoying giving my best to help Loveland UMC “connect faith with life (our mission statement).”

I have often turned to Acts 2 as the model of what the church should be. It is the story of Pentecost. The disciples were together, the Holy Spirit descended, they started speaking in other languages, and most everyone else listened. Lives were changed. The role of the disciples was to be open to the Holy Spirit, to take risks, and to share the Gospel. Thousands were added to their number that day. The urgency and excitement oozes out of the story. I long to be a part of that kind of a church, and so I have tried to do what they did in hopes that I would feel what they felt. It has not always been my experience.

If I am really honest, a lot of the time I feel anxious. It worries me that I meet people who don’t see any need for the church. I share my faith and see eyes glaze over. I am working hard to do my best, but I don’t always see the fruit of my labor. I’m afraid to watch the news for fear of what I see going on in the country. I am concerned about things going on in the world, but find that most are too wrapped up in their own problems to care. I don’t like what we are doing to the planet, but am not sure that the little bit I am doing will make much of a difference.

I would like to propose a better metaphor. Here it is: The Exile. It happened in the 6th Century BCE. After King David and Solomon Israel had a bunch of kings that no one remembers. More importantly, many of the faithful turned away from the Lord. It didn’t end so well. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Israel, and then Jerusalem. He dismantled the culture, burned the city, and destroyed the temple. Many were taken out of their homeland into captivity. You can hear the pain of living in this time as Psalm 137 says,

By the rivers of Babylon –

there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs,

And our tormentors asked for mirth, saying sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

During the Exile you hear messages like: Hang on. Keep the faith. This too shall pass. Do good works, not because they will change the world, but because they are the right thing to do. Tell others about the Lord, not because it will change their life, but because it is who you are and if you lose that, you have lost your identity. And, most importantly, hold on to hope, wait on the Lord.

There is a lot of good that comes out of the Exile. The people of God had to come to grips with why they were really following the Lord. Prophets with named like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Micah rose up during the Exile. Much of the Bible was written down, collated, and preserved because there was a fear that their memory would be lost. A faithful remnant was preserved that was expectant so that when Jesus arrived, they were ready to welcome the messiah.

I’m not really sure why I am sharing this, except that there might be someone else out there who is also trying to find a better way of explaining the times that we are in and a better way of navigating through. I would be interested in your thoughts. I hope this helps.

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