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November 10, 2017

By the Waters of Babylon

Speaker: John McLarty

Audio Recording:


Jeremiah 29:4-7
Matthew 18:23-34

Listen carefully to this Psalm.

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! 7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!” 8 O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! 9 Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! Psalm 137:1-9 ESV

Their world had been upended. Homes smashed. Children killed.

How do you move forward in life after something like this?

They are filled with outrage. Understandably.

No, they will not sing. No, they will not feast. They will nurse their wound. How can they not. They will pray that God will punish those who defeated them and those who cheered their defeat.

Smash them, God. Punish them. Damn them. Stone them.

Happy is the person who snatches their children and deals out unspeakable violence.

And we watching the movie of this event—we understand their outrage. We share in their cries for justice.

Then as the movie comes to the final scene of unspeakable violence, we look away. We become sick to our stomachs. We lose our sympathy for these exiles. We see that they have become the monsters they hated. They have become child killers, rapists, murderers. The victims at the beginning of the movie have become the monsters at the end.

We weep.

This is what happens in some Christian circles. Fulminate against various sinners. Fornicators. Perverts. And what happens. These very things we have hated on and condemned and damned turn out to be descriptions of our secret selves. Pornography use is highest among conservative Christian men. Abuse of power is common in the Christian church.

There is another passage in the Bible, a word from a prophet, that offers a very different picture of the people of God. The video starts the same. The Jewish people whose homes have been smashed and whose children have died in the war. People who have been dragged a thousand miles from home and settled in immigrant villages in Babylon.

A prophet named Hananiah is preaching. God hates the Babylonians. God loves you. God is going to rescue you. This place is not your home. Don’t get sucked in. Don’t settle down. Don’t mix with your neighbors. In two years God is going to take you back to Jerusalem where you can be with your own people. You won’t have to put up with all this Babylonian nonsense.

Then a letter arrives from the Prophet Jeremiah in Jerusalem.

Don’t listen to Hananiah. Settle down. Build houses. Have kids. Celebrate marriages. Make babies. And pray for the prosperity of your town. Because if it prospers, you will prosper. I have plans for you, God says. And those plans are set right in the place where you are. You are living in the center of God’s will by doing right and doing well right where you are.

This is our place. Not heaven. Not some imaginary place here on earth. This is our place. What are we to do here? Work for the prosperity, the happiness, the success of this place.

We cannot do what God has called us to do if we are dominated by anger.

Consider Matthew 18.

The evil debtor was evil because he focused his attention on what was owed him instead of focusing on what he had received. Both were true. But one fact was the source of life, the other was a source of death and destruction.

What are we feeding ourselves?
Are we feeding ourselves indignation?
Do we imagine all the harm that is done by people unlike us?
Black people. Brown people. Poor people. Teenagers. Foreigners.

We will eventually come to mirror the people we hate. Not the actual people, but our imagination of them. Hatred binds us to the people we hate in a deadly dance. The longer we dance the dance of hatred the more the hated one will shape our own characters.

When we live in Babylon, we should love Babylon.

Let us reject the spirit of Psalm 137. Let us sing the songs of the heavenly Zion. If we sing sweetly enough, grandly enough, citizens of Babylon will want to learn our songs and eventually will taste our values, the values of the kingdom of heaven. Let us sing so frequently, so brightly that our songs become the most enticing fantasy of the world around us.

When this happens, salvation is here, because the “fantasy” celebrated in our songs is rock solid reality. It is the reality of the Eternal Empire, the place of our highest, noblest dreams.

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