We Are Exiles. We Are To Be Different.

The Bible is filled with stories of people who lived as exiles. They found themselves as followers of God in lands ruled by people who didn't desire to be faithful to God. Joseph in Egypt. Esther in Persia. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Babylon. Jesus in Judea. These people weren't as concerned with organizing the State and public spaces into what they wanted. Instead, they were focused on remaining faithful no matter what the cost to themselves.

So it was through this lens that I have seen the hot button issue of the last few weeks: Transgenders and public restrooms. And as I was working through the stories of the exiles, I would read people's comments on Facebook and hear them in conversations. Collectively, we're trying to figure our response out. Yet, in the midst of it, I'm seeing Christians full of hate. I'm seeing people in the world full of permissiveness. And it got me thinking.

When we, as Christians, argue about bathrooms, we join in on the issue at hand being a political and social issue rather than a moral and biblical one.

Let's say that our whole public bathroom system is reshaped. Men are allowed into women's restrooms and vice versa. If that happens, I will then be able to go into the bathroom with my daughters and protect them if that is the fear. I just need to do what is best for my family under the laws we have. I don't have to enter into the social and political argument. I don't have to try and force my ethics on others. I don't have to behave in a way that is viewed as oppressive. I am an exile in Babylon, I can take a stance morally on the issue and understand that Babylon is going to be Babylon. I can love and stand up for truth at the same time.

In the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they refused to cave to society and were thrown into the fiery furnace. They stood up for truth, literally and figuratively, when they refused to bow to the idol. Yet in standing up for truth, they still allowed Babylon to be Babylon. We don't see them trying to change Babylon.

The world can do what they want out there. There are way more immoral things in our society than people struggling with gender identity who want to use a bathroom different than their biological gender. And my favorite musicians, like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, no matter how much I appreciate their music, don't dictate my morals to me. That's up to God and the Bible. What Babylon does out there doesn't change what I'm going to teach my children. It doesn't change the teachings I will share in the pulpit. We, as exiles and followers of Jesus, won't let it control the views we have and the way we actually live.

But if there is something that we should learn from all the exile stories, it's that it's not our job to tell the world how to live. It's our job to show them how to live. It's our job to remain faithful even in the face of being unpopular or being punished for our views. We don't oppress others. We sacrifice ourselves.

History shows us that the approach of trying to capture power and control, of decreeing laws and trying to win political battles, hasn't done the church any favors. It also wasn't the approach that any of the exiles in the Bible took. The reality behind any political battle is force. We want to use the power of the state to get our way. When we push for laws, we are pushing for punishments to be enacted on those who don't live the way that we want them to live. And that doesn't seem to Christlike to me. It influences us to focus on politics rather than just being the most loving people in our community. It causes us to focus on the social issue of the moment rather than the totally transformative message, grace, and love of Jesus that changes everything.

This idea of being an exile changes the way we live. And if we truly apply it to the issues of our times, it will change our approach there too. It should empower us to be more compassionate, more faithful, and more focused on the mission of Jesus. We can't choose to fight the battles of this world and the mission of God. We must choose one.

Frederick Buechner wrote in the Faces of Jesus:
"If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully - the life you save may be your own - and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion."
We are exiles. We are to be different than this world. We are to be crazy in a way. So we're going to be different than those around us. We're going to be different in our public life. Are we?