Thursday, October 6, 2016

God of the Exile

My wife and I just returned from a two week vacation in eastern Canada where we visited Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick.  This is our fifth visit to that region and our third time to stay at a wonderful cottage on the Bay of Fundy.  For a week we relaxed and had coffee on the porch while watching the tide come in go out, making the little fishing boats in the cove rise and fall with the tide while the seabirds flew and squawked and entertained us.  Who knew that it could be so relaxing just to watch water and nature?

We also explored the region, visiting places we had discovered on earlier trips to the area and finding new ones.  One place we enjoy visiting is called Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.  It is in the Annapolis Valley where they grow a tremendous amount of apples and grapes and where many wineries have popped up over the past few years.  Grand Pre is also the home to the Acadian Visitor Centre where one can learn about the legacy and history of the Acadian people who came from France in the 1600s to settle the land and who were expelled by the British in 1755.  Visiting the museum and seeing the dioramas that depict the events of the history of the Acadian people is informative and interesting but it is also a bit heartbreaking.

The Acadian people worked hard to improve land that was  not livable by building a system of dykes and walls that drained the land of its water and they were able to make the land fertile to grow much to support their colony.  They built villages and churches and schools and created a wonderful place in which to have children and live peaceably.  Then, in the early 1700s, the British and French fought for control of this part of Canada and the British eventually won.  They felt threatened  by the Acadian people because of their ties to France and demanded that they sign a loyalty oath to the British government and the King.  The Acadians obeyed and signed the oath even though some objected.  That was not enough for the British military, however.  They decided to make the Acadians leave the area so they confiscated their land and loaded them all on ships, as they watched the soldiers burn their villages and all they had created in that good land.

Families were often divided in the shuffle or boarding the ships.  Some ships left to return the residents to France resulting in two shipwrecks that killed many of the Acadians.  Other ships left to put them out in the British colonies, only to have the British citizens who lived there not accepting them so those Acadians began the long and dangerous journey to go to the only place on the North American continent still in firm control of the French--Louisiana!  These brave people traveled by horse and wagon, walked, and even went by boat to go to the place where they thought they could feel accepted and free.  When they reached Louisiana, they found others who spoke their language and who understood their plight.  They found land and settled in the lowlands again, this time in hot and swampy lands rather than cold and marshy lands.  These people eventually became Cajuns, a corruption of the word "Acadian" and today their descendants live in south Louisiana and are proud of their heritage.

I think about these brave Acadians each time we visit Nova Scotia and when we have gone to the deportation site on the beach on the Bay of Fundy, I can use my imagination to picture those poor souls who were forced to leave the land they had worked so hard to create.  They became exiles as they watched their burning villages go up in smoke.  They had no idea where they would land or where their new home would be.  They were outcasts longing to find acceptance, peace, and home once again.

Exile comes to all of us during our lifetimes.  Sometimes it is physical exile as we leave one address and move to another.  At other times it is the exile of illness or job loss or death or a loved one or economic disaster or rejection by those whom we had trusted to be our friends.  The exile we experience places us in a state of distress that leaves us confused and feeling alone.  We may wonder if anyone truly understands us or what we are feeling as we go through these experiences.

Our scripture texts for this week describe three scenes of exile.  Jeremiah writes to those exiles in Babylonian captivity encouraging them to have good lives, to marry and build houses and find meaning while they are away from the home they long to return to.  Jesus ministers to 10 lepers, outcasts and exiles from society, and he brings healing to their lives.  One leper returns to give thanks for his healing, and he is a Samaritan, an exile in the eyes of the Jews at that time.  Paul writes to his friend Timothy, encouraging him to be a good pastor to those in the church where he serves, a house church that no doubt was feeling stress because of the persecution of Christians in their time.  These secret worshipers were exiles in the Roman land in which they lived because they could not admit that they were Christians or they would face persecution and possible death.

God speaks and is revealed in these three passages as the God of the Exile, the one who cares for those whom others cannot care about.  God is the God of those poor Jews who were forced from their homes by the Babylonians as they, much like the Acadians, watched their city being burned as they marched toward uncertainty.  God is the God of those lepers and all who are ill, whose days are numbered, whose health is their stigma, and especially for those unaccepted by society who may also be ill.  God is the God of those who are persecuted because of their faith tradition, regardless of what it may be.  There is only one God who is God and Father of us all.

We will think about this God who accepts and heals and cares for the outcast this Sunday during worship.  We will give thanks to the God who loves us and takes us in when no one else will.  We will rejoice in God's love and grace and praise God's majesty.  Will you join us on this Sunday in God's House?    

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