Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: Exile

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 10:17-25

A central illustration in our Scripture passage for this week is a shepherd and this shepherd has not been…well…very shepherdly…

The Scripture calls the shepherds “stupid” because they do not “inquire of the Lord.”  They do not seek the Lord’s advice, attend to the Lord’s truth, or obey the Lord’s command.  The shepherds of the people – the kings and the governors that the Israelites’ begged for so they could be like the other nations – have squandered their decisions and led God’s people astray.  The shepherds have not been good stewards or caregivers for their flock.

But that’s not all.

While a shepherd is one leader over many, a shepherd can also be one person ordering his or her own life – shepherding our day to day thoughts, feelings, and deeds. Each person is also accountable as his or her own shepherd.  We are each held responsible for our actions for good or for ill.

When we understand shepherds this way, we see then that individuals have also acted egregiously as they have not inquired of the Lord.

All people then face the Lord’s judgment because of their actions.  The result of their judgment is exile in a foreign land, which – in my greatest Southern flair – ain’t pretty.

Once again…that’s not all.

What amazes me in Scripture is the hope that is found even in the midst of exile.  Throughout the prophetic texts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the Scripture will speak of the hardship of exile and then almost immediately speak of the hope for home – home being returning to God and the land God gifted  them.

For example, read Jeremiah 23:1-4:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

In this Scripture passage the Lord holds accountable those “stupid” shepherds that have scattered the people.  And then God moves – because that’s who God is and what God does – to bring salvation to the people.  God, as the Good Shepherd, gathers the stray sheep and brings them home that they may have fruitful lives.  God promises that a Good Shepherd is coming – he will be the Shepherd of all the shepherds – and under his guidance we shall not fear or be led astray.

(10 points to whoever can guess who that is!  And no…Hezekiah is not the answer…but good try!)

Reflection: Think about a time where you have felt exiled from God…a time where you didn’t make the wisest of decisions and that distanced you in your relationship with God.  Did you feel angry, lost, worried, upset?  Did you feel numb?  Did you even notice you were in a state of exile?  How were you restored from your exile experience?  What gave you hope to press on, persevere, or – in the language of Dori – to just keep swimming?  What have you done so that you do not end up exiled again?  How have you submitted yourself to the guidance of our ultimate shepherd?

Prayer: Holy God, forgive me when I stray from you.  Forgive me when the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, and the actions of my body separate me from you.  Comfort me in my times of exile for in you I find hope, and in you I find my way home.  Amen.

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