This week we will consider the first 6 chapters of Ezra:
Ezra 1: 1-4, 4: 1-5, 6: 1-15
We live in a time of exile, a time when more humans are on the move across the globe than any time since the end of World War II. Our various cultures will be shaped and changed by this movement. In our country, which is separated by vast oceans from some of the more tumultuous places on the planet, we don't always see the flow of people that places like Europe do--but it is happening.
What does it mean to return home, once the exile is over? Will humanity wrestle with this question or will these twenty-first century migrations be permanent?
In Ezra, we see a brilliant approach to the end of exile: give the people a big project. Let them rebuild the temple. The people are rebuilding an actual structure, and they're also rebuilding community as they do so.
Of course, the temple itself is soaked with meaning. At one point, the temple has defined the ancient Hebrew people: how they worship and relate to God and how they relate to each other, how they move through the week and how they structure their priorities.
Many people have declared that we live in a post-Christian world, a post-religious world, and in modernized countries, that may seem to be the case. So what will give our lives meaning?
I could argue that we live in a world that seems more chaotic every day because so many are searching for some larger meaning--and without some moorings, it's easy to make choices that unravel our society, rather than knit us together. We see many worship at the altar of violence of all sorts. We see many decide that accumulating wealth can give our lives meaning. We see so many turn inward, which leaves the poor and the destitute to their own devices.
I yearn for a leader who could come and give us a big, positive project to unify our society. And yet, Ezra also shows us the danger of that: the unification to rebuild the temple attracts the ire of the neighbors.
Perhaps my yearning for unity is a false idol too. We live in a time when many of us feel exiled, even if we're not physically unable to return home. We live in a time when many of us need our metaphorical temples to remind us of what God calls us to be. The words of the ancient prophets call us back to our truest selves.