On Sunday, MAR 31 our church celebrated our 3rd Anniversary. Throughout this week we’ll be posting highlights from our third year together.
Jeremiah 29 is a familiar chapter in pop Christian culture. Verse 11 says some things that modern-day American Christians love to claim; but the preface to that verse is perhaps one of the most profound prophecies in the Old Testament and it goes almost entirely over looked. The first few verses go like this.
“Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. This is what Jeremiah’s letter said:
‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! 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.'”
The people Jeremiah was writing to were slaves. They had been exiled to Babylon and they were instantly low class, overlooked serfs with no rights and no privileges. It’s always surprising to me that God does not command his people to rise up and overthrow the corrupt government that oversees them. Yet, I find myself equally surprised that he doesn’t command them to give and and throw in the towel because they are in way over their heads with these Babylonians. Rather than rise up or give up, God tells them to bear down and put down roots. His gentle reminder to them is that their well-being and the well-being of the place they live are inextricably integrated.
They are to put down roots and till the literal and figurative soil. This would have benefited not only them but their neighbors as well. The very people enslaving them would have a better quality of life if God’s people heeded his invitation to care for the literal ground they shared.
Many in our church have taken this invitation very seriously and sprung to action when the soil of Englewood (both literal and figurative) needed cultivation and care. Many in our church have seen opportunities to care for the streets of Englewood, the parks, the lawns, the alleys, the infrastructure of our city. It’s been nothing short of inspiring to watch out little church take responsibility of this place we call home.
Last summer a violent flood swept through our city doing terrible damage to homes, parks, roads, and businesses. One woman drown in a basement apartment where she was pet sitting. Some of us went out the next day to assess the damage and found a few blocks that looked like a hurricane had swept through. The Mayor, the City Manager, and the Chief of Police each asked our church if we could help. Although there didn’t seem to be much we could do, many of our parishioners leapt at the opportunity to bring meals to hurting families or help clean up debris in the wake of the storm.
A “theology of place”, as it were, begins with with a deep conviction that the dirt where you’re planted is worth tilling. The place beneath your feet is where you are to put down roots and make a life. “Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”