There is a line in Lord of the Rings–I don’t think it’s in the film, only the book–where one of the soldiers in Minas Tirith says that sometimes Mordor feels closer and sometimes further away. From the football field at All Nations you can, on a clear day, see the Shard, the Gherkin and Canary Wharf. I think sometimes it seems further away and sometimes closer; well it can stay where it is!
Cities can be scary places, places of violence and evil but the Bible’s view of the city is generally not negative. The Bible may begin in a garden but ends in a city. Jesus weeks over the city of Jerusalem.
Yesterday we had a visit from an former pastor of Hertford Baptist, Phil Barnard. Apart from it being wonderful to see him again, he preached a very challenging sermon from Jeremiah 29: Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles. He didn’t preach from the verse that is most quoted out of context, “I know the plans I have for you…” but from verses 4-7.
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.’
The Israelites had sinned against God and the done evil both in following other gods and doing evil to the poor and vulnerable and it was God who had sent them into exile. The people of Israel had to live out their lives and do their mission in a strange land.
We often feel that we are having to live out our lives and fulfil our mission in a strange land. I still find I feel culture-shock in my own country. We are sent into this world to carry out our mission.
As an aside, I would recommend Chris Wright’s book on the first six chapters of the book of Daniel called Tested by Fire. It shows how Daniel and his three friends worked out their mission in Babylon.
Returning to Sunday’s sermon, Phil emphasised that we are to develop the physical good of the city; i.e. to build houses and plant gardens; to develop an alternative community; i.e. to marry and have sons and daughters; and to seek the spiritual good of the city; i.e. to seek peace, prosperity and pray for the city.
Jesus also challenges us to be salt in the earth to preserve the good and light of the world to show the way and highlight evil.
This made me reflect upon how sometimes in our churches–not referring to HBC– we have so many structures to maintain in our church that we have no resources, human or financial to carry out our mission. Do we need a radical rethink about who the church serves, itself or God and His world?