Pray for the welfare of the city! (Jeremiah 29:4-14)

It is beautiful outside, something about the sun just makes me smile.  And it’s hard to believe that it’s already been days since we last gathered around the table as is our custom at 10AM on Sunday mornings.  It was a lively crowd, with some still coming while we opened in prayer.  After prayer of course we checked in, considering how to hold a scripture that was so hopeful (Rom. 10:8-11) with one that is so sad (Matthew 7:21-23).  Much of the conversation seemed to hinge on “belief” — that perhaps those in the sad text (Matthew 7:21-23) were choosing to try and earn/justify their salvation rather than believing in their heart who Christ is, that they need Christ, that the only way to God is through the gift of grace of Christ.  These considerations of course engage much — ideas of doctrines (like predestination, double predestination, free will, and more!) and spoiler alert — no, we did not plumb the depths of all these doctrines — however, we did hold onto the hope of Romans 10 & consider our neediness of grace, that it is a gift, one we cannot earn, one offered, and one that we are invited to believe so that we will never hear Christ tell us, “I never knew you….”

And then we turned to scripture, Jeremiah 29:4-14 (it’s after Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, & Isaiah).  There is SO much in this text.  Many are perhaps familiar with this,

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

However, we were invited to hear more than just this one verse.  We were invited to hear a bit of the context it comes out of.  Jeremiah a prophet, is speaking to the Israelites who are in exile, and this verse speaks to a time AFTER the exile (after 70 years of exile).  Furthermore, more than one person noticed the following verse,

  And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.

Wait, what?!  Work for the peace & prosperity of the city?  Pray to God while you are in the place of captivity for the welfare of where you are in exile?!  This seems a bit outrageous doesn’t it?  We mentioned that in this text, this time of exile it’s a little bit like God put the Israelites into (maybe the first official) time-out (there may or may not have been a comment that exile is a step up from a flood…. 🙂 ) but who while in timeout wants to pray for those who are keeping us in timeout?  This is hard.  In fact, while this text is beautiful, reminding us to bloom exactly where we are, to live life, even while we are living in exile, to seek the welfare of the community we are in (even if we don’t want to be there!), and reminding us how interconnected we all are — it is an incredibly challenging text.  A text that when we considered Abraham in the sermon later we might have remembered — Abraham taking the time to boldly pray for the welfare of a city that was not his own.  And so perhaps our homework makes great sense, we are to ask & answer for ourselves,

  1. “Why does God care about the welfare of the city (of [our] exile)?”
  2. What does seeking the welfare of our community (S-VE) look life?  (as an individual, as a church?)

As usual, I am excited to hear what answers emerge from the wisdom and creativity in each of you when we gather round that table again on Sunday.

Blessings in Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater  

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