JEREMIAH'S LETTER TO EXILES IN BABYLON. Jeremiah sends a letter to his friends who have been taken as captives from Jerusalem to Babylon (in modern-day Iraq). Speaking with the Word of God, he implores the displaced exiles to consider their plight and opportunity carefully. I frame his message to the exiles--and the enduring challenge to God's people dwelling in urban areas today--this way:
1. Be careful where you get your understanding of the city, interpretation of its conditions, and recommendations for a lived response. Jeremiah 29:8-9.
Beware of so-called prophets who offer you "dreams you encourage them to have." I have not found local news media, real estate brokers, partisan politicians, or entertainment media to be valid or helpful interpreters of the life and challenges of the city. Unfortunately, these are some of the prime sources from which many people form their perceptions and respond with their attitudes and actions.
Consider four sub-christian views and responses to the city:
- A necessary evil – endure it
- A marketplace – consume it, exploit it, use it, take advantage of it
- A dangerous place – flee it, fight it
- A broken place – work around it
There are more sub-christian views and responses, of course. An inadequate or misleading perception of the city and metropolitan area can lead to choices, behaviors and values that become a self-fulfilling prophecy of fear, division, segregation, disinvestment, and violence. On the other hand, a healthy understanding of the city can lead to barriers being bridged and vibrancy abounding.
2. Strain to see your’s and the city’s life and future as bound up together in a greater work of God’s redemption. Jeremiah 29:7, 14
Okay, maybe we are not in or around the city as people exiled because of spiritual issues. But we are here to listen, learn, contribute, and grow, are we not? Place, I am convinced, is a key component of spirituality. That's one reason I support the efforts of Indy's annual "Spirit and Place Festival." So, let's make a connection between our personal spirituality and the vitality of the place in which are living.
Contemplate two questions: (1) In what ways do I need to be formed to become more spiritually mature? (2) How does this city’s past, present and future challenges complement this spiritual formation?
3. Cooperate with God’s dream for you and for the city by investing your life redemptively in its shalom. Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10-14
Grace should be forming--and informing--our approach to life and development in the city--inside and out. It is not our city, it is a place and a people dear to God. Regardless of its self-deceptions and hurtful ways, it is highly valued and renewable. Individual and community redemption is critical to the higher purposes of God for both. Those who would grow spiritually via the city will see their vitality tied inextricably to the city's. We are invited to be grace-bearers.
Four ways to bear God’s grace in the city:
- Come alongside and invest in the city’s most vulnerable neighbors and neighborhoods. The whole cannot be healthy if one part is wounded. I suppose that might mean that an economically poor neighbor can offer the grace of friendship to an up-and-outer. Or, organizations and communities with financial resources can help to rehab houses in central city neighborhoods.
- Speak the truth in love in every setting, at every level, in every way, in every part of the city. Truth breaks through facades of fear, pretension, hidden agendas, ulterior motives, pride, toughness, addiction, shame, guilt, etc. What truth exposes, love bathes, embraces, warms and wins.
- Look for grace between the lines; help others see how God is revealing hope and offering grace in the warp and woof of urban life. There's a whole lot of grace happening that doesn't come sanctioned by the church or with a "WWJD" or Bible verse tagged to it. If you see grace at work, go with it and help others get a grip on it.
- Spend yourself in a lifetime of seeking the shalom of this city. You're likely to hanging around a city for a lifetime anyway. Why not love it to death? Seriously. Is there anything better to do?