Next Door As It Is In Heaven
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
This famous passage begins Charles Dickens’ historical novel A Tale of Two Cities, which takes place in Paris and London during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Over two hundred years later and an Atlantic ocean away, this same passage could easily describe the cultural climate of the 21st century as well. Not Paris and London, but Wall Street and Main Street.
It’s the best of times: The Dow Jones is up over 24,000, four thousand points higher than this time last year and ten thousand above this time in 2013. It’s the worst of times: Tensions between America and Russia and Syria only seem to escalate, as we learn more about spying and rigged elections and unconscionable chemical attacks.
It’s the age of wisdom: Computers and mobile devices put the whole world at our fingertips. It’s the age of foolishness: The services that connect us to one another can also allow our data to be used in ways we didn’t intend.
It’s the epoch of belief: In this season of Easter, we celebrate the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It’s the epoch of incredulity: Involvement in Christian churches continues to plummet, making the United States the 3rd largest mission field in the world, behind China and India.
This week’s sermon text is another tale of two cities. Not Paris and London, not Wall Street and Main Street, but Jerusalem and Babylon. In Jeremiah 29, the leaders, court officials, skilled workers, and artisans have been carried off into exile. The pressure upon them is immense. They’re torn between two options: Move into the city and assimilate with the Babylonians or remain outside of the city and fight against it.
Do they move into the city and lose their spiritual identity or do they remain outside the city and keep their spiritual distinctiveness? God, through the prophet Jeremiah, offers a third option: Move into the city, but keep your spiritual identity. This is the most difficult of all. It’s easy to be “in the world and of the world.” It’s simple to stay “out of the world and not of it.”
But God declares:
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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. (Jeremiah 29.4-7)
In other words, God doesn’t call us to the easy or simple. God’s call on our lives is often very difficult. He calls us to be “in the world, but not of the world.”
In his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davidson Hunter writes,
Jeremiah counseled his community not to be nostalgic for the past, for the past could not be recovered. Nor did he advise them to plan for insurrection, for there was no promise of their restoration in Jerusalem, at least not any time soon. Not yet was the community’s survival tied to the remnant that remained in Jerusalem. For Jeremiah, exile did not mean that God had abandoned Israel. Rather, exile was the place where God was at work. God’s purposes with Israel, in other words, were served by the Babylonian invasion.
We are not to be defensive against, isolated from, or absorbed into our world, but rather incarnated within it, like Jesus who “took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1.14)
- What would it look like for you to fully “move into” your neighborhood?
- Who’s names would you need to learn (or admit you’ve forgotten and relearn!)?
- How would you spend your money differently?
- Where would you spend your time?
And so we pray, "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, next door as it is in heaven..."
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