Living in Babylon

Recently at Caversham Baptist Church we completed the NZ Baptist global mission focus - Prayer and Self-Denial.  Our fourth and final Sunday service, included Isaiah 52 v7: ‘How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, peace and salvation. Our God reigns’.  As part of the service, two members painted the well-known picture of NZ’s highest mountain, Mt Cook / Aoraki.  They included a person walking towards the mountain, fitting the ‘messenger’ theme.  This creative act of worship was completed within our one-and-a-half-hour service.  There was an audible gasp of admiration when the painters revealed the painting to the congregation at the end of the service.  It was a risky venture!

Why this painting, why this theme?  Approaching the final PSD Sunday message, I always try to include a dual challenge - responding to both global and local mission.  The Jewish exile in Babylon (586 BC) has much to teach us.  It appears the exiles were generally allowed to live as they wished.  In fact, the prophet Jeremiah told the exiles (Jer 29:5-8) to ‘Build houses and settle down, plant gardens and eat the produce, marry and have families, and seek the peace and prosperity of the city’.  On the surface, life in Babylon was not too awful.

However, at a deeper level, the Jewish exiles felt somewhat broken, hopeless and abandoned by their God.  The exile was unexplainable: had not God promised he would be their God; they would be his people and they would live in the promised land?  Hebrew history was built on the promise of their God to protect them and use them for his purposes in human history.  Had their faith in this promise been misplaced?  The promised land and holy city lay in ruins… where was Israel’s God?  Psalm 137 expresses the feelings of the exiles ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion’.  All was gone - their land, their temple, God's presence, their national and religious identity.  They faced powerful cultural pressures in a foreign land, as they sought to maintain their religious identity, practices and philosophies.  But God wasn’t finished.

We Western Christians (including NZ) are living in a type of Babylon.  Previously, Christianity and the church were a much more central part of society… ‘build it and they would come’.  Now Christianity and the church are very much at the margins.  Our faith and morals are either challenged or simply dismissed.  Perhaps sometimes we too feel like weeping, as we remember previous times, when God seemed to be really working.  I think back to my conversion and charismatic days... but I must move forward, looking in a sense to a new work of God, most likely different from before.  God isn’t finished.

We have plenty of mountains in NZ… a housing crisis, youth suicide, increasing inequality, generational cycles of poor parenting and underachievement, the March 15 shootings and other issues.  As God’s people, we too need to walk across these mountains… using our feet to bring good news, peace and salvation into hurting lives.  The focus here is not about our attitude, our heart, our mind, our Bible knowledge, or our prayer (all important)…  It’s all about our feet… our beautiful feet… taking the good news locally and globally.  Feet speak of activity, motion, and progress… not sitting, thinking and wondering.  Used your feet lately?

Article written by Julian Doorey - Mission Coordinator - Caversham Baptist Church, Dunedin