Acts of Service, Blessing, Jeremiah 29

Seek the Good of the City…

Jeremiah 29. This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin[a] and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.)3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:

4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.

This passage is well know for the last bit, which is often used as a message of hope and a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness…

So the people from Jerusalem are pretty depressed, they are in exile from the promised land and are really unhappy.

God’s message to them is one of hope, he WILL restore their nations and take them back home, but for now they are to stay put and wait.

Wait. If any of you have had a ‘wait’ message from God, it’s pretty tough, it’s only later (or maybe the other-side of eternity) that we understand why we didn’t get what we wanted when we wanted it.

Wait is a hard message, as we all are, by nature, a bit impatient -at least I know I am.

Yet what are they to do in the mean time? 

Kick their heels and do nothing? 

Play solitaire on the computer?

No, God tells them to put down roots, marry, build  homes, have kids…

Too often when we wait, we forget that the journey is also part of God’s call, people fix on the goal and not on the lessons God wants to teach us, shape us and mould us as we get there.

Sometimes, -and this is a bit shocking, but sadly I believe true- people do a ‘bargain’ with God where they say “you provide what I want, and then I’ll serve you”… forgetting who they are talking too… Our lives are not on hold until God fulfils his promise to us.

Mike Piliavachi talks about waiting for the call to ’employed church youth based work’ and said that it wasn’t until he began to realise the value of his job and the importance of the people he was working with that God answered his prayer and opened up a job at his local church.

I believe that God has called you where he has called you, on the various front-lines of your home, work, social spaces where-ever, and he’s saying to you to commit to the places he has called you, put down roots, roll your sleeves up and become part of these communities.

Too often I fear that Christians are in ‘bubbles’ where their home could be anywhere because they don’t know their neighbours, their work colleagues they get on all right with but its all a bit superficial really, and the only community they are part of it the Church community, which sadly often becomes and insular and inward looking group…

Jesus is saying get out there, take the risk of developing real relationships with those around you, which risks being hurt, rejected and maybe costly  -but also has the potential to be fruitful, life giving and blessed.

‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ (or community) -sometimes Christians can be too heavenly minded for any earthly use… and when you talk to some of them, it’s almost like their gospel is waiting to die, rather than being called to bring something of heaven to earth… I think we have tagged the wrong verse as the great commission, we think its Matthew 28 “go into all the world and make them my disciples”, but I think our great commission actually comes earlier in Jesus’ prayer “May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, this is Christ’s mission statement, bringing in the Kingdom -which of course has making disciples as a core tenant of this, but actually is broader and bigger…

I was asked when I was interviewed for radio Bristol about meeting the spiritual or practical needs of the parishioners through street pastors… thinking about this later, I wished I’d rejected the premise of the question: people aren’t split into ‘spiritual’ and ‘secular’ bits, and since the incarnation (Jesus coming as a human) there is no longer a spiritual/not spiritual divide.

The Jewish idea of Salvation is the word Shalom -peace or wholeness- I remember doing some touring schools work with a Christian rock band (think a Christian-ish busted, but lovely guys) around the midland’s with a band called ‘My Spoon’… And they sung the Girls Aloud song “Whole again” -with an ironic nod towards Jesus… wholeness. To often we in Churches talk about getting people to ‘pray a prayer’ -which is good, don’t get me wrong- but actually that’s the START of the journey rather than the END! In fact when you are cold and hungry, are you able to concentrate on a salvation preach.

‘Faith without works is dead’… Christians aren’t called just to preach good news, but actually live it, BEING good news.

I heard a story of this nightmare Australian village, which the government pumped money into to try and turn it around, to not much success… what turned it around? Someone who planted a Church, and took discipleship seriously, saw the aboriginal guys get sober, walked with them enabling them to become whole in Christ…

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city, one of the biggest indictments I have against my theological college was it had all the missional rhetoric, but even though the local area had about 90 Christians living locally, the community didn’t feel any different.

We are called to be salt and light. We are called to be changers and transformer of community.

After-all when you sprinkle salt on your steak, you don’t say this salt tastes steaky, but rather  this steak tastes salty… we are called to be people that impact the community.

I long for the day the councils eyes light up every time a new Church is planted in their patch as they can see Christians bless their community, the more Christians here the more the community looks and feels like heaven… The more we are visible and obedient, the more of God’s Kingdom we will see break in on earth as it is in heaven, in Kingswood as it is in heaven.

And then this brings us to the famous bit of the passage, we are called to be where God has placed us, and in many ways it will feel uncomfortable, as it is not our home, we are ‘alien ambassadors’ as our rightful home of best fit for us is heaven, and yet we are called to ‘carpe diem’ ‘seize the day’, waiting for Christ’s return and the break through of his Kingdom… but we have this promise that what we are doing is not pointless or waiting in vain, for God is faithful, he’s not dropped us in this situation as a kind of sick game. God is good, all the time. He loves us and he is a faithful God with whom there is always hope, a God who wants to be found by us in our waiting, in the struggles with living out Kingdom lives in a broken, fallen and occupied land he says to call on him and he will answer.

So I will conclude, by saying in many ways all of us are exiles awaiting the promised land, some of us feel more in exile than others as we wait for God to make good on a promise, or something that we desperately long for. Yet let us seek God in this journey, make the most of our waiting, serve him faithfully, put down roots where he has called us, build relationships and settle down where you have been called rather than have your eyes on to clock/door (when he wants to move you, he’ll let you know and will sort it out, you don’t need to stress). Remember  he is faithful, he is good, with him there is always hope, he longs to be found by you as you search and reach out to him… and remember that he is a God of rescue who loves us.