One of the questions lurking in the minds of us who live here on the island regards Brexit - what will it be? How will it impact my life? Some who are old enought may feel it is a return to how things used to be. The younger generation has never known a UK that wasn't part of the EU. Whatever the future is, it will be different from the past.
But we are not the first generation to live in tumultuous times. To whatever degree we feel disorientated by the emerging shape of society and culture, others have faced equally challenging changes. My mind goes back to the people of Israel, living in Babylon, when it came time to return:
Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. Ezra 1:5
Before noting the three key things stand out to me about this portion of scripture, we recall that most of the Jews who returned to the Israel had been born in Babylon. Yes, there were a few old-timers who could remember the ‘former glory’, but for the most part, this was a new generation. This was a HUGE disruption to their lives. And three things stand out about their journey home:
- The price of going home: this was a 900-mile journey; with families including children, and elderly people, this took four months. That’s not a convenient journey.
- The purpose of going home: in Ezra 3:1-3, we read the first thing they did was to rebuild the alter. Spiritual home is first of all about doing business with God. And they got that rifght.
- The problem of going home: In Ezra 3:6 we read that they began to offer sacrifices (good!), but then we read this:
But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.
Now we might be inclined to think that this was an oversight, or that they simply hadn’t got around to it yet, or it was up next on their to do list. But the prophet Haggai comes to them at this time to tell them – and us – that they have forgotten God’s priorities:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house’. Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Haggai 2:1-5
The problem with going home is that they forgot the purpose of God. Their priority became their own family – their own house, their own well-being, their own comfort – and God’s purposes got put on the back burner.
It is not difficult to appreciate the dilemma they faced: after years of feeling like they didn’t belong, because they were exiles, they wanted their ‘share of the pie’. But God didn’t bring them home just to live happy lives; He brought them home to be fully-devoted to his purpose and to establish a people in the Promised Land through whom the Promised Messiah could come.
In the same way, it’s quite normal for us to want a ‘slice of the pie’ and to be content with a nice, comfortable, happy life. But more important than the personal dream is God’s dream of the whole earth filled with his glory. And while there are always going to be political and economic and cultural ups and downs, the call of Jesus to the nations stands perpetual and consistent.
God’s glory fills the earth as we faithfully go to the nations. Like the return purpose of the Jews, God has given us a return purpose to be light in the midst of darkness. And we do that – not by prioritizing our own ‘paneled houses’, but by placing God’s purpose first.
Going home means that we recognise God brings us into his family to be a people, committed to his purpose, enjoying his presence. Remember:
Our faith in Jesus is personal, but we follow Jesus in community.
There are certain expressions of faith that can only be expressed corporately. This is why the author of Hebrews challenges us to 'not neglect to meet together' so that we may encourage each other (Hebrews 10:24-25). And this is why the Psalmist invites us to worship together:
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
God is good and brings us home; but home isn't just for us, it's for all those who don't have a home. At home with God's people, we enjoy God's presence as we stay committed to His purpose. Together.