Below is the text from our second week of our summer series entitled "How to be a Missionary without ever leaving Lancaster." This past week we look at Jeremiah 29:1-7 and had some great dialogue around concepts like exile, bringing peace to the city, and living out the Creational mandate which is referred to in Jeremiah 29:4-6. So read the text, the discussion questions, and I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, etc...
Today we continue our discussion on our series “How to be a missionary without ever leaving Lancaster” Last week we talked about our series and how to be a missionary community is a 3 part strategy of Engaging Culture, Forming Community, Structuring Congregation. And so June we’ll be talking about Engaging Culture. July we’ll be talking about Forming Community. And August we’ll be talking about Structuring Congregation.
So last week we began our conversation on Engaging Culture by looking at our context of Lancaster, PA. Remember, if you were here, this study done by Barna showing that our mission context of Lancaster is #38 on the list of top 100 PostChristian cities. (this will come in handy later on in this message). We also talked about Genesis 12:1-3 and the call of Abram to leaving the safe, secure, and to risk, trust, and follow God’s call. And God’s call on his life, his descendant’s lives, and ultimately our calling as well, was and is to be a blessing in the world.
Today we are going to look at Engaging the Culture by seeking the peace of the city. To do that we’ll be looking at Jeremiah 29:1-7. Jeremiah 29:1-7 says, “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. (This was after King Jehoiachin 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.) 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: This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.” So the first thing we see in this text is that this is the content of a letter sent from Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon in 597 BC. You see the people of Jerusalem were carried into exile into Babylon by the Babylonian empire. And so here they were, the people of God in a foreign land, and totally unsure of how to live in the midst of exile, where there was no temple, no maps to show them the way, and where the culture was significantly different than the culture that they were used to being surrounded with. And so in the midst of this exile, Jeremiah sends the exiles a letter showing them what God’s call on their lives needed to be in the midst of living in exile.
Now believe it or not, in a very real way, we are also in exile. All the maps that we were used to, as a church, have been blown away. We are living in the midst of a rapidly changing culture moving to a postmodern and postChristian culture. Again look at the results of the Barna study, and you’ll see we are moving rapidly towards where Europe currently is. And so this text, this letter sent from Jeremiah to the exiles in Jerusalem, I believe is a radically relevant text for how the church in 21st Century America needs to move forward. To live in the postmodern, postChristian exilic world. But what does that look like? Both for the exiles from Jerusalem and to us as exiles in America? Let’s look at verses 4-7.
Verses 4-7 says, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.” So Jeremiah, in this letter, is going totally against the flow of every other prophet. People were led to believe through false prophets that they were to be brought out of captivity speedily. They were led to believe that they shouldn’t settle down, get comfortable, etc.. because this situation was temporary and God would quickly restore them back to their rightful place. But you see that wasn’t to be. Israel was put into exile because they didn’t care for the aliens, widows, and orphans. They didn’t care for the week and injured. They failed to practice, mercy and justice. They ground down the poor and needy. They engaged in the consumptive practices of the empire. And so these words were containing not only a way forward, but also an element of judgment. They were always called to be a blessing to the nations and to bring light to the Gentiles. Israel had not fulfilled this calling in it’s own land so they were now being required to fulfill this calling in the midst of exile. Now there are a few things that I noticed regarding what the exiles in Babylon were supposed to do while in exile. First of all the exiles were supposed to live out the vision and hope of Genesis, for the good of the empire itself. So in the face of the empire that would encourage them to deny their humanity, Jeremiah says, to do those things that God called you at the beginning of the story, those things linked to bearing the image of God. So Jeremiah calls the exiles to plant gardens, eat the good fruit they produce, be fruitful and multiply. Even in exile Israel is called to fulfill the creational mandate of Genesis 1:28-29 as well as the blessing mandate of Genesis 12:1-3.
The other thing that I noticed about the first part of this call of the Jewish people to live in Babylon as exiles, is all these things that God through the prophet Jeremiah is calling them to are thinks that ultimate take a long time. It just doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t plant gardens one day and eat their produce the next day. You don’t meet someone one day, get married to them the next day, and then have kids the next day. You don’t build a house in a day normally. The Jewish people in exile were hoping to short circuit the process, learn what God was supposed to teach them, and get back to the way things were before as fast as possible. They were looking for the silver bullet.
To me, I believe that this is again exactly where the church in the US is. We are in exile but we don’t want to be here. We want to get back to the way things were and do it as fast as possible. We want the days when “everyone went to church”. And so we look for the magic bullet that will help us grow, grow fast, and take us back to the way things “were”. But it won’t happen. As culture changes and get’s increasingly more postmodern and postChristian we need to do the things that Jeremiah calls the exiles to. We need to plant, build houses, move into the neighborhood, commit to the long term and most of all seek the peace of the city to which we are called.
Now verse 7 I believe is where the true rubber hits the road for the exiles. Verse 7 says, “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.” This is the call that is profoundly subversive- right up there with Matthew 5:44- “Pray for those who persecute you” This is the continuation of the call of Abram. That even as exiles in Babylon, even in the midst of “the enemy” the people of God are still called to living out Abram call, to be a blessing. You see Jeremiah doesn’t just stop with the call to live lives of wholeness that upbuilds only the community of exiles. No he extends this call outward. The exiles have a mission influenced by the call of Abram. (Genesis 12:1-3)
This is an unprecedented and unique concept not only in the ancient world, but also even in our day. To work towards and pray for the prosperity of one’s captors. God’s call through the Prophet Jeremiah was for this small vulnerable group of refugees to have a responsibility, a mission to the larger community in which they find themselves in. They are to work for it’s welfare. To work for it’s peace. It’s shalom (which is a word that means peace, wholeness, the world set right). In fact the Hebrew word Shalom is found a few times in Verse 7 in the words peace and also the word prosperity. As exiles they were to love, serve, pray, and work for the place where they we in exile. And in some way, shape, or form, their future, their status, their lives, were tied in with their “captors”. If Babylon prospered, they would.
Now we see how subversive and countercultural this truly is. To subvert the empire by working for it’s peace and prosperity. To subvert the empire by being a blessing to it. To build a faithful community and to live subject to a different rule and kingship, one where imperial might and power is used, not for itself, but for the feeding of hungry people, and to bind up wounds, not inflict more.
So the question now becomes what does Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon look like when written to the church of America in our own exile (especially when we don’t even think we are in exile)? What does it look like for you and I to live out the Creational mandate in our own missional context? And what does it look like to live out the call of Jeremiah 29:7 in our context today? What would it look like for Veritas to seek the peace and prosperity of Lancaster? Those are the questions that we’ll be looking at together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and the message? 2. What does it look like for you and I to live out verses 4-6 in our mission context? To live out the Creational mandate? 3. What does it look like for us to seek the peace and the prosperity of Lancaster? Come up with a concrete idea of something that we can do that would help us seek the peace of Lancaster. 4. “Homework” assignment: Multiple Choice: A. do something that seeks to live out the creational mandate. B. do something that works towards the peace and prosperity of the city. C. Get a group of people from Veritas together to do either a or b or both.