Keeping the Faith

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Lectionary-based Sermon and Study Resources

A pastoral resource for Christians in exile

Barry J. Robinson

"By the Rivers of Babylon" - from the museum of Babylonian Jewry

              "In the thirteenth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God." - Ezekiel 1.1

  Keeping the Faith in Babylon  is not just a lectionary/sermon resource for preachers and fellow Christians looking for some fresh insights into scripture (although I hope you find some in it). It is an attempt to speak to those in need of living humanly in the midst of the powers of death. "Living humanly" was a phrased coined by William Stringfellow, the distinguished lawyer and theologian, who spent some time in Europe representing the World Council of Churches shortly after the end of the Second World War. There he became acquainted with many of those who had been deeply involved in the Resistance to the Nazi tyranny. 

  You had a choice during the time of the Nazis in Germany. You could be silent about the evil that surrounded you. You could acquiesce to the brutality and even collaborate with 'the authorities' in order to secure your 'safety' and 'security'. But the cost of such a choice was moral insanity and spiritual suicide; for one cannot tolerate inhumanity without becoming inhuman oneself. Those who resisted did so because it was the only way to live humanly in the midst of death.

  The biblical paradigm for such an experience is, of course, the exile. In the year 586 B.C. the Babylonians entered the holy city of Jerusalem and destroyed it. They then deported the Jewish population to their own capital where they remained for forty-seven years. As Walter Brueggemann reminds us, the exile was not primarily geographical, but "social, moral, and cultural." It was the experience of attempting to keep the faith in a context where the most treasured and trusted symbols of faith had been mocked, trivialized and dismissed.

  Significantly, it was identical to the experience of Jesus on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." - Matthew 27.46 The challenge for the Jews in exile, as it was for Jesus, and for those who found themselves living in Nazi Germany was how to remain authentically oneself in a world in which it was dangerous to be so. We are living in such a time - when it is extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous for many of us to live the faith both in and out of the church.  

  From this perspective, "exile" has several levels of meaning; and the exiles to whom this resource is addressed are those who find themselves faced with different experiences of abandonment.

  Some of us still find ourselves in pews or pulpits on Sunday morning attempting to witness to "the way of Jesus" in a society and culture that has, for the most part, shunted us to one side. We are "resident aliens", sojourners in a strange land. Some of us find ourselves experiencing exile within the church itself, often struggling to renew an institution that has lost its way and that seems bent on self-extinction.  Some of us have been forced to leave 'the church' for voluntary exile, too heartbroken and heartsick to remain associated with the grotesque reality that too often masquerades as 'church'. 

  "Exile", in other words, describes that common sense of abandonment and loneliness that is a result of having lost our homeland or of having realized that our true homeland lies elsewhere. What we also share in common is an abiding commitment to Jesus Christ and a wistful longing for God's Day, when no one will be on the outside ever again and when everyone will be "home". In the meantime, we are now a remnant people, scattered here and there, for the most part unable to meet together or even to speak to one another regularly and yet somehow feeling the need to support and encourage one another in our attempts to be faithful and to live humanly. We are "among the exiles" by the rivers of Babylon.  

  When "the call" first came to continue to "preach" to the exiles from former parishioners and fellow clergy, I did not know how or whether I should respond. When the call persisted, I  realized that people were asking for some sort of "lifeline" or "guidepost" that would assist them in hanging on to that which they still cherished but had difficulty finding in a strange new circumstance. So, I began, haltingly, to do what I had always been called to do - to speak the truth in the sense of being as true as I could to my own experience in the light of the Gospel. I think it is the only thing any preacher and any Christian for that matter is called to do; and I was doing it at least as much for my own good as I hoped it would be for others. Although I presumed that the people I was writing to shared the faith that I had experienced, I always tried not to presume too much. As Frederick Buechner says, "Even at our most believing, I think, we have our serious reservations just as even at our most unbelieving we tend to cast a wistful glance over our shoulders."

  What came of it was the continuing effort of a pastor in exile to listen to scripture and speak the truth of my own life and ministry as best I could. Since that inauspicious beginning, those to whom I began to "preach" began to tell others who have told others still. Now, this message to "the exiles" is being read from this tiny outpost in Canada to Brisbane, Australia. Our readership encompasses Christians, both lay and clergy, from every denomination and theological perspective.

  If such an effort succeeds in some small way to awaken the humanity of others and to strengthen the faith that is ours, I will be both exceedingly grateful and as surprised as anyone."

Barry J. Robinson

January, 2001

Among the exiles by the rivers of Babylon

Our Format

  Although the material follows the weekly discipline of the Lectionary cycle, it occasionally picks up texts that the church chooses to ignore.  Each meditation is an attempt to do what William Stringfellow once called "listening to scripture" but not in a simplistic way.  Recent scholarship and illustrations from contemporary literature and film are used liberally.

  Published weekly, it includes the full text of a sermon, suggested readings (usually following the Lectionary Cycle), biblical notes, suggestions for either personal or group study, reflection and devotion. 

  It is distributed quarterly, usually at least one month in advance of each quarter.

 ** 2005 will be the last year that Keeping the Faith in Babylon will be published. The author, Barry J. Robinson, is a full-time marriage and family therapist. In recent years, his private practice has become so busy that he does not have the time he needs to devote to this resource. This is the seventh year for this effort and we are very grateful and surprised that it has been greeted with such enthusiastic and widespread support. Plans are underway to provide this material in book form. Check back with our web-site for further details. Our Order Form (below) has been pro-rated to reflect a subscription that will run until the end of November, 2005.

Our Readers Write:

Since Keeping the Faith began in 1998 with a small group of subscribers, word has spread and our readership now includes a growing number of persons, both clergy and lay, across North America.

". . . thanks for . . . the marvelous materials . . . The fact that you have acted on the whole vocation of exile is an incredibly powerful witness, and I am glad to have your materials in hand. Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia

"Keeping  the Faith in Babylon is a high quality lectionary based resource for "Christians in and out of the institutional church". The Reverend Richard Fairchild, Golden, British Columbia. (UNITED)

". . . I have enjoyed reading this biblical grounded, present time related material." The Rt. Rev. Dr. Marion Pardy, Moderator of The United Church of Canada

"I appreciate the intelligence and the integrity. You resist easy answers but without losing the sense of joy, celebration and hope that I find in God and God's word that I hope to communicate in my preaching." The Reverend Brad Purdom, Alliance, Ohio (UNITED METHODIST)

"I appreciate your fresh approach to scripture interpretation. I'm drawn to things that cause me to say, "I never thought about it that way." Also, your title is appealing. We are all in exile, and too often we try to send each other into exile by the exclusionary ways we behave toward one another." The Reverend Ann Spindt. Janesville, Wisconsin (EPISCOPALIAN)

"... very impressive... the most positive writing I have seen on challenging the faith community to a new way of being.  At last a triumphant note which speaks in a biblical way about what we as believers ought to be about... there are many hungry people out there to whom your words will be a breath of hope." Dr. Fred Miller, Owen Sound, Ontario (PRESBYTERIAN)         

"... excellent, extremely well crafted, and deeply moving... another high quality resource for us". Deacon Tony (ROMAN CATHOLIC)                      

"I appreciate your penetrating insight into scripture and daring to look at the Word through another set of lenses." Jerry Guthrie (UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST)                                                                

"Your work has helped me so much in my preaching." Rev. Geraldine Kush Gregersen, Bensenville, Illinois (LUTHERAN)                                                                                   

"Thanks for your publication efforts."  Thomas P. Haverly, MLS, Ph.D., Colgate Rochester Divinity School (BAPTIST)                                                                                                           

" . . . exciting and stimulating . . food for the brain and balm for the heart . . ."  The Rev. E.C. Prinselaar, Thunder Bay, Ontario (UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA)                                               

"These messages are a great blessing and resource."  John Wright, Harvest Chapel, El Sobrante California (CHURCH OF GOD)                                                                                     

"Your sermons touch the very fabric of human life. . . . Thank you for believing in Kingdom vision."  Pastor David Williams, New Hope Nazarene Church, Rogers, Arkansas (CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE)                                                                                                                                         

"Great stuff!"  Pastor Mike Duncan, First Christian Church, Metropolis, Illinois (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST CHURCH)                                                                                                                             

"Through using your work . . ., my preaching was transformed. I have never gotten that kind of response from folks. The work really helped me open to God's Word in most helpful ways with my congregation. Your work is a true Godsend for me and breath of spiritual air." The Rev. C. Rodney Hudgen, Toledo, Ohio (EPISCOPALIAN)                                                                            

"Just when you thought you knew what a particular text was all about . . . You will find much that is refreshing and to chew on in these weekly reflections on the Word." Larry Broding, www.word-sunday.com, La Costa, California (ROMAN CATHOLIC)                                                                              

"Thank you for 'Keeping the Faith in Babylon. It really does mean a lot to us. Sometimes what you write has such an appropriate meaning for us . . . right at the time we are reading it." Doug and Sharlene Pettit, Ingersoll, Ontario (UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA "IN EXILE") 

"I have been deeply touched by the material." Roslyn MacGregor, Montreal, Quebec (ANGLICAN)     

". . . I've explored a lot of "corners" of theology and religion and history and prayer and all sorts of stuff. What you write appeals to me because it isn't satisfied with simple churchgoing - it's challenging, and that's what I need."  Bob Boatwright, Douglas, Alaska (UNITED METHODIST)

". . . your ability to tell a story and to reveal different levels of meaning is deeply appreciated." Philip Baxter, Franciscan Friary, Raheny, Dublin, Ireland (FRANCISCAN)

 

We hope you will find the attached samples helpful in your Christian journey.

Barry and Susan Robinson

How To Subscribe

  Keeping the Faith in Babylon is available in printed form on 11 X 17 newsletter size sheets and is suitable for storing in binders. It is mailed quarterly.

  It is also available by e-mail (which looks exactly like the printed form) and is also sent quarterly by way of attachments in Microsoft Word format. In e-mail format, you simply download the attachments and print them up on your own computer, the savings reflected in the different subscription price.

  Please choose whichever edition you prefer and make sure we have the necessary information we need to send it to you.

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FERNSTONE, C/O Barry and Susan Robinson, 54 Carter Rd. R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0

Te;/Fax: (519) 592-4551  e-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org  web-site: www.fernstone.org

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Fernstone, C/O Barry and Susan Robinson, 54 Carter Rd., R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0

Tel/Fax: (519) 592-4551 e-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org web-site: www.fernstone.org

 

 

Permission for use. All materials found on this site are the property of FERNSTONE (Copyright 2000). Viewers may copy any material found in these pages for their personal use or for use in any non-profit ministry. Materials may not be sold or used for personal financial gain. 

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