Today's Scripture Reading (September 26, 2023): Ezra 1 and 2
It was called the Achaemenid Empire, an empire founded by Cyrus the Great. One of the things that Cyrus and his Empire are remembered for is that they returned the exiles taken from their homes by the Babylonians to the various places where they belonged. This "return" included the Jews who were authorized to go home to Jerusalem and the surrounding area, but they were not the only exiles who were returned. All exilesHowever, not everyone received the decree of Cyrus happily. After all, it had been five decades since these people had lived anywhere other than Babylon or Persia. These exiles were a different generation from the ones who had been unwillingly taken from their homes, a generation that did not remember Jerusalem and didn't remember the temple. They had built homes in Babylon and had children and grandchildren. They were content right where they were. As a result, they had no desire to return to Canaan; this place was home.
As I considered this journey, I began to remember some of my own. I was born in Newmarket, Ontario, a town just outside Toronto, Ontario, Canada. At the age of eight, my family moved to Calgary, Alberta, the home of the Calgary Stampede. When I was sixteen, we moved to Sundre, just southwest of Red Deer, Alberta. From Sundre, I moved back to Calgary, then to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I met my future wife, Nelda, and then back to Calgary. I spent twelve years in Claresholm, Alberta, an hour south of Calgary, where both my children were born. And then, twenty-seven years ago, we moved to Edmonton, Alberta, the home of West Edmonton Mall and the Edmonton Oilers.
I have great memories of all of those places. A church in Claresholm was recently going through a pastoral transition, and I met an old friend who suggested maybe it was time for me to return to Claresholm to finish my career. It was a bit of a tempting offer to return to a place I knew with some old friends. But the problem is that Claresholm is not my home. Newmarket is not my home. Once, these places were home, and I was happy, but not now. Calgary is not my home. Edmonton is my home. I have lived longer in Edmonton than I have in any other place. I have friends here who are special to me, but even more importantly, this is where my children and grandchildren live. This is home. It wasn't always, but it is now.
Cyrus gives the decree, and the people receive it, but many don't want to return to where they once called home. Babylon, or some other town within the emerging Achaemenid Empire, had become their home. Some were now living in Persian-dominated territory. They already lived in the places where their children were born and their grandchildren lived. These places were home, not Jerusalem.
And yet God had set this in motion before the first exile left Judah. It is a struggle that we all sometimes have to suffer through. But our service to God is a responsibility. Christians are not the ones who chase after God's hands, always seeking gifts from him like a child greeting a traveling parent with words like "What have you brought for me this time?" We seek after his face; his presence is enough for us, and we live lives of responsibility to him. Some received the declaration from Cyrus and made the tough decision to become part of the remnant that would return and rebuild what was once Israel. They gave of themselves and what they had to support the project and the return home. They would give their sweat and treasure to rebuild the land of their ancestors because they believed that this was what God wanted from them.
As I struggled with this passage, the thought came to me that I am not a Christian because I am loved. Even though I know that if no one else loves me, God loves me, that does not define who I am. I am a Christian because I love; God's love travels through me to others.
A friend is always asking why Christians are so entitled and why we think we are perfect. My answer is always the same: that shouldn't be who we are. We are a people of responsibility. We love even when no one else seems to love. We serve even when no one else serves. We reflect the person of Jesus to those around us. This is who we are and what makes us Christian.
Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Ezra 3