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Since I’ve arrived at Beacon, I’ve found myself in a number of conversations with Pastor Josh about culture and history, learning quite a number of things on the topic in each conversation. This past week, in discussing the inauguration and transition of power, I mentioned how much I appreciated Washington’s farewell address, and he informed me that the speech is read aloud each year in the senate. If you’ve never read the address, it is an admonishing of Americans to reject pride, overwhelming partisanship, and tribalism, and instead work together to seek the common good. It is now read as an encouragement and reminder every year to America’s leaders.

In our evangelical tradition, it is not necessarily common for us to read or recite specific passages of scripture at certain times throughout the year. The closest we come are probably advent readings or the Easter account. However, if the senate can read Washington’s address every year at this time, I would propose that American Christians can benefit from the reading of another text at this time of year (especially this time every four years). The two passages I would point you to would be the letter of Jeremiah to the Babylonian exiles in Jeremiah 29, and the subsequent playing-out of the letter in the book of Daniel. The following is just an excerpt…
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah 29:4-7
The exile to Babylon is perhaps the single most influential event of the Old Testament. The people of God would have to figure out how to live out their calling away from the Holy City, the Temple, and the entire sacrificial worship system. They were far from home in a place that worshipped other gods and was ruled by radically wicked people. In the midst of all that however, Jeremiah encourages a lifestyle that is shocking to pagans in its willingness to dissent from the accepted culture, and shocking to God’s followers in its radically limitless grace.

For Jeremiah, Daniel, and the like, there are no riots at the capitol to plan, no culture wars to wage, and no conspiracy theories to develop. When we watch Daniel and his friends live amid a wicked society, they do so altogether differently than the average exile might. There’s no plan for escape or cloistering. Instead, they make their homes in this new land and enter into daily life alongside their captors. Prayers are made on the behalf of the people that ruined them: not for their demise, but for their good. Undoubtedly, Daniel and his friends resist the temptation of assimilation and compromise, but their resistance is markedly different than what we are often told to embrace. Their righteousness is deeply personal. They are not making a show of their differences or angrily clashing with their contemporaries for not doing the same. When they do speak out prophetically against those in power, they do so not as smug political opponents, but as trusted advisors who have shown themselves to be indispensable conduits of good to their fellow Babylonians.

As we transition into yet another era of American politics, I would challenge you as a member of Christ’s church to read this letter and think as an exile might. You are to be wildly different than your non-Christian colleagues, but you are not to be a warrior bent on their downfall and your promotion. When you confront ungodliness, don’t do so proudly or smugly. Don’t do so because you hate an opposing political party, or because you believe America should be a certain way. Do so because you love the poor and the weak- because you love your fellow Christian and fellow Babylonian. Seek their welfare and consider discerningly what that might mean (it may come at the cost of your preferred political and economic opinions). Pray on Behalf of America: not because it is God’s chosen nation, or because it is the greatest country in the world, but because God cares about its citizens, and wants you to desire their welfare (you are after all, called to be a blessing to all nations).

No doubt this will be a difficult burden- and every few years it becomes harder or easier for some Christians depending on their political affiliations, but you are a part of something so much bigger than a political party, so please, heed Jeremiah’s calling before that of your preferred pundits.

And because I know it can be difficult, I want to remind you how Daniel managed it. How did a follower of the God of Israel manage spend his days praying for, advising, rebuking, and blessing some of the most violent, evil rulers of his day? He stayed sane doing so, because in the evenings, he was dreaming of the coming Kingdom of his God: of a future era of peace, justice, and good doled out by the Son of Man who would make all things right and bring an end to suffering and injustice. Your motivation to love, pray, and bless does not come from the hope of a new republican or democrat candidate, or a new economic policy, but from the promise that God is soon coming to right all wrongs, and planning to restore all nations in a renewed creation.
(The Bible Praject offers an awesome explanation of this theme in Scripture)

Dan Vandzura