Thanks to everyone who attended the "Return" Zoom Chat.
After our hour together I felt like we had just begun. About a dozen of us stayed for another 40 minutes and even after that extended time I still felt like the conversation was just getting started.
Thinking and reading about all we said, one subject that did NOT come up was our expectations. So let me ask that question...
What are our expectations?
To answer that question, I turn to some biblical perspective...
When the Jews began their return in 538 B.C. after 70 years in Babylonian Exile, they found Jerusalem impoverished, its walls in disrepair, and the Temple still destroyed. Here's a good historical overview of that "return."
Their "return" and rebuilding happened in four waves and took over 92 years.
As much as Ezra and Nehemiah want us to think they were "re-establishing" the past, we know from history that the Exiles brought back a new Judaism. Exile had changed them. To borrow a phrase, they returned to "build back better." Their "return" was not a return to the past because the past had changed them. Word.
In addition to rebuilding their destroyed Temple, the exiles also brought back from exile a new system of prayer services held in local venues known as "synagogues." This new way and place of doing things would be where Jesus prayed and taught. And this "new" idea would eventually give birth to the first churches.
Most of the former leaders died in exile and new leaders had emerged. Some came from Babylon and had never seen Jerusalem. Some of those who had remained in Jerusalem were undoubtedly unprepared for what and "who" was about to happen. And as scripture reveals, some opposed the changes that were coming. (Sound familiar?)
Nehemiah 2 and 3 are especially worth reading right now. Nehemiah describes his call to lead, and lists all the FAMILIES he organized to restore the gates and walls of the city. He also names his naysayers, people like Sanballat and Tobiah the Ammonite.
To be sure, many of the returned exiles brought bad habits and practices back with them --ways of thinking and doing things that were a little too "Babylonian." Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah call it out and it makes me wonder what our "babylonian-ishness" is.
One of the most important things the Exiles did during exile was collect and edit the works that form the core of the Old Testament. Genesis and Exodus to Kings and Psalms and all the books in between, plus the collected works known as Isaiah and many other prophets. In other words, they returned with the scriptures in their hands. ...and that sure sounds a lot like Sunday School.
It's going to take time.
It's going to take some new leaders and families to step up.
Not everyone is going to come back.
There will be naysayers.
Some "Babylonian habits" will need to be addressed.
More personal gatherings and a recommitment to scripture will be important.
We may be only part of the "first wave."