Paying Attention Engaging Your World Jeremiah 29: 1-14

Martin Niemoeller stood before Hitler; he said he had no concern but the welfare of the church and German people.  Hitler replied, “You confine yourself to the Church.  I’ll take care of the German people!”  Niemoeller told Hitler, “Herr, you said, ‘I will take care of the German people.  But we too, as Christians, have a responsibility towards the German people.  That responsibility was entrusted to us by God, and neither you nor anyone in this world has the power to take it from us.” 

Hitler took Niemoeller into custody.  He refused leave ministry when told he could go free if he would do so.  Hitler would not pardon the stubborn pastor.  Defiantly, the Fuehrer declared, “It is Niemoeller or I”.  Sadly, the church did stand with Niemoeller.  The church failed to act and 6 million Jews, gypsies, handicapped persons, and enemies were murdered.  Some in the German church did not bow to Hitler, but many were silently complicit.  The church didn’t take care of the German people.

Jeremiah’s words avow the welfare of the city is the responsibility of the church.  God’s people were exiled by Nebuchadnezzar; moved to a foreign land whose customs assaulted their sense of decency.  They wanted to return to home; rebuild what they had lost.  Jeremiah, through his tears, told them they would not returning to Israel, instead they would settle, build houses, marry, have children, and establish a home among their captorsThe people of Israel wanted to escape Babylon, not build it. We hear their frustration about exile in their asking the wrong question: “How long must we live in this foreign land?  The right question would be: “How shall we live in this land?”  Jeremiah instructs them: Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  They are to give themselves to those where you live; work on their behalf.

We experience exile as a metaphor; feeling out of sorts in this world-exiled.  So, songs like “I’ll Fly Away” and “Sweet By and By” speak of our exile longing for our home in heaven.  The longing is healthy.  The problem is not in the longing.  The issue is how we live because of the longing, even when false prophets tell us what they want to hear.

Time would bear witness that God’s people would live in exile for seventy years; wrestling with why the chosen were not “saved”.  They would have to live by their convictions in a place that didn’t share their values.  Their faith became less organized around a place, the temple of God; and more focused on a relationship with the Living God.  The forced relocation was formative; became one of the most creative periods in their history-the synagogue was born and the Hebrew canon was written.  The fruit of this time in exile would sustain future generations for centuries.  In Babylon, they incarnated, like never before, their original God intended mission-be a light to the nations.  The correlation between exile and mission come clear in Babylon, as captives live as the people of God in a strange land.

The way to live into our exile is to fulfill our mission of being the people of God while in exile.  We offer a unique witness by seeking the welfare of the people with whom we live in our own strange land.  Our exile is defined loosely; making it difficult to discern a specific missional witness.  So, faith communities have responded in various ways, some better than others.  It is clear there’s no justification for separating out.  We are to pour ourselves out into our world with a unique witness that seeks the welfare of all.

Engage the world with a unique witness.  This means offering an alternative witness that counters all the ways that deafen the good news.  We’re too cozy with business as usual.  We know more of judgment, than grace; more about my own concerns, than elevating other’s concerns above our own; more about the needs of individual, than the needs of the community.  We shouldn’t readily accept this is the way it is.  It isn’t enough to call for personal confession in Jesus and not offer a shared model that challenges deep-seated ideas that are at odds with Christ’s way.

The world around us is starving for our unique witness we offer.  In the face of greed, we offer practices of generosity and simplicity.  To our culture’s thirst for violence, we offer: peacemaking, radical love, and the golden rule.  To a society that suffers from chronic loneliness, we offer a community of faith who consider each other sister and brother.  To the rise of hostility toward strangers, we offer hospitality that welcomes strangers as friends.  To a people over-worked and undernourished, we offer Sabbath; reminding ourselves we are not self-sufficient and remembering God is our provider.  These practices are the unique witness of God’s people.

Engage the world by seeking their welfare.  Welfare is a word that has lost its positive meaning.  The word was good enough for our founders to include in the preamble to the Constitution-along with insuring domestic tranquility, providing for common defense, the government is to promote the general welfare.  We debate the extent of government’s role.

We should spend less time complaining about irresponsible government and more time examining our responsibility in seeking the welfare of the city, state, and country for the benefits we receive as citizens and as the church.  The social contract the church has with the state is we don’t pay property or sales tax because we’re seeking the welfare of the city.  If the institutions the church spawned were removed from our communities one could hear kindness go down the drain; sapping life out of our neighbors.

The word Jeremiah chose means more than basic survival.  Biblically welfare means to seek God’s “shalom for all people helps to us.  Shalom is a keynote word in the old covenant.  It is the word Jesus greeted his disciples with after the resurrection.  It means to be made whole with God, so we might be well within and able to prosper in all of life’s relationship.  Jeremiah word from God to seek the welfare is a distinct spiritual mandate that God’s people are to address the needs of the entire community.

I am amazed at how some churches virtually agree we are to worry about the church and saving souls and let the state worry about the people.   We shouldn’t have to choose between saving souls and feeding hungry children.  We’re responsible for both.  Despite the inevitable difficulty in moving someone from a survival mode to a prospering and wellbeing in of life’s relationship this is still what God requires of God’s people

A prime example is the Family Promise organization whose informational breakfast I and Rod Alleman attended this week.  This is ministry that transitions homeless families back to stability in less than three months.   The city budget does not subsidize that project through taxation; churches, fundraisers and individuals make this happen.  Watch a video introducing you more to this wonderful organization that engages the city by clicking anywhere on this sentence.

I’m not saying if the church would do its job, we wouldn’t need government.  We are fortunate we live in a land where we can actually seek the welfare of the city by simply fulfilling our duty as citizens of our great country, state and in the towns where we live.  Israel didn’t have such freedom, yet God told them to do so.  We can participate in decisions about our communities; as spiritual pilgrims who are seeking the welfare of all people.

The God’s people highest allegiance is to God.  God does not divide the God’s world into categories such as our children and their children, north and south, white and black or brown, Republican and Democrat, deserving and undeserving, Christian and non-Christian.  Our lives are tied together; so we cannot come to church only to worship a God in order to comfort our souls.  That is a god of our own making.  We must be convinced when we leave here we will seek the welfare of the whole city because our welfare in here is tied to others welfare.  Our neighbors are waiting!

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Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 7:52 am  Leave a Comment  

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