SEEKING THE SHALOM OF THE CITY

(Jeremiah 29:7)

In 1800, only 2.5% of the world's population lived in cities. In 1900, the number had grown to 10%. Today, half of the world's population lives in vast metro areas. By 2020, 75% of people will live in cities![1] Floyd McClung the author of “Spirits of the City” notes, “Cities are the mountain peaks of society-trends, Ideologies, and fashions are born in the fermenting cauldron of city life- and then flow down and out to influence the populace.”[2] Cities world wide including, Boston and Quincy share the same problems: single generation families; poverty; chemical dependency; mental illness; housing and development issues; gangs, justice and prison systems, prostitution; HIV/AIDS and much more. And also these swirling, teeming cities are multi-cultural[3] 

When we hear and read about problems in the cities we can be overwhelmed. Then what are we to do? Are we to avoid and run away to safer places? Like the white flight where in the years after World War II, many white Americans began to move away from inner cities to newer suburban communities because they thought that suburban communities, with their new housing stock and open spaces, were more desirable places to live. How should Christians respond to the problems in the cities? What is God’s mandate for Christians living in the cities? In order to discover, we will look into a letter prophet Jeremiah wrote to the remnant of the Israeli exiles who were living in the cities of Babylon. (Jeremiah 29)

 The context of the remnant of the exiles: (597 B.C)
Once a might nation, Israel now was reduced to a little country Judah, because its kings Jehoiachin and Zedekiah broke the covenant with God and caused the people to sin against God through their idolatry. As per the warning given by God through his prophet Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar a Babylonian king attacked Judah twice and conquered the city of Jerusalem. Babylonians razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground, burned the temple and took all the capable leaders, artists, craftsmen, priests and prophets into captivity only leaving the weak, and the old behind in Judah to take care of the Land.

There in that heathen city the Israelite captives began to despair. They grieved for their land, began to loose all hope and became depressed. They were receiving misleading messages from false prophets saying that with in two years the Lord will take them back to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 28:1-4). Believing that false message Israelites have settled for a mediocre lifestyle of transition and complacency. They were not integrating into the lifestyle of the city, they were not contributing to the welfare of the city, instead they set their heart on returning to Jerusalem.

The message of the letter contained mainly two things, firstly, the exile will not last for only two years but for seventy years. Secondly instead of looking to go back to Jerusalem, they have a job to do which is to seek the peace and prosperity of the city and to pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, they too will prosper.”(Jer 29:7).

The exiles were, told to increase in number and not to decrease. They were to carry on the normal course of life such as planting gardens, building houses, getting married, giving their children just like the rest of the citizens of Babylon. This indicates that they are in for a long haul and it is about time that they get busy and do something for the Lord. What does this have to do with you and me the urban Christians and the Urban Church in the 21st century?  .
 
I.  Are we exiled or called?

Whether we notice it or not God’s invisible hand guides all our destiny. None of us are here by accident. You are here today, alive and living wherever you are living for a purpose. Paul explains the sovereignty of God in placing people throughout the earth, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”(Acts 17:26) It is God who determines our time and allocates set places for us to live.

Were the Israelites “exiled” or “sent” to Babylon? The Hebrew word actually contains both the meanings. When it is translated, it reads “I have caused you to be carried away captive” In other words God is saying to the Israelites, “you have been exiled to the city of Babylon or you have been sent to the city by me. The scriptures are clear under what circumstances Israelites were exiled, regardless of the circumstance it was God who caused that to happen.

You are present location where you are living is no coincidence; Why are you living in your city? Some of you may have been born here or some of you may have moved in for job purpose, or others may have moved in because of marriage, education, for medical purpose, a business or for ministry. Regardless of your circumstance as Robert C. Linthicum says in his book, “City of God, City of Satan” “You have been sent by God to this city, the Lord in his infinite wisdom needs you in this city. God needs the presence of his people in the city.” Whether you realize or not you are here by God for a purpose. What is that purpose?

Our family’s journey from India, via Holland to Malden, then to Quincy was no accident. We strongly believe it was God’s invisible hand has been guiding every step of our journey.

 
II. In the City and For the City:

The letter of Jeremiah was addressed to a whole range of people that Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile the list includes: the priests, the prophets, the quean mother, the court officials, the craftsmen and the patricians. If I stop here you may take a deep sigh and say Oh good God was addressing only those in leadership therefore I am excluded. No way the list goes on to say “all the other people” so without exclusion this speaks to all of us who were sent by God into a city. I hope by now you are getting the hang of it, you are in the city without a doubt sent or called by God. Finally you come around and say OK I am in the city, what For?

The truth finally had dawned on the remnant of the captives. Unlike their expectations, they have to reconcile with the fact that they may not be returning to Jerusalem for another seventy years. But one thing must have been hard that was to accept what God was asking them to do, that was to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which they were exiled and pray for its prosperity.” Try to put yourself in their shoes. How would you react for example let’s say you were forcefully taken to a far way city like Bhagdad, all your family members were killed, and your city was completely destroyed. Here you are in this heathen country, longing to return to your beloved homeland and God says for the next seventy years you got to stay there then I will rescue you. Not only that you have to work and pray for the peace and prosperity of that city. I am sure you might be outrageous with that whole idea.

When this letter was delivered to the captives, some may have responded and said no way I am going to pray for these wicked people, let alone work for their welfare. Yet others may have responded, wow I can finally settle down, plant gardens, build home and get married and have a normal life again.

However hard it may have been for the exiles initially, they had no other choice but to work for the welfare of the city because they knew very well if they want to see prosperity they have to work and pray to the Lord for the peace and the prosperity of the city because their prosperity is linked with the prosperity of the city.

We can grumble and complain about the drugs and alcohol problems, gun violence, robberies, internet pornography, teen pregnancies, high divorce rates, homelessness, and so on for the rest of our lives, but that doesn’t change anything unless we as the Christian community raise up and get involved in the city through our prayer and hard work for the welfare of the city. Why are you in the city in which you find yourself? You are there as Jeremiah suggests, for one reason because God has called you to be there. So it would be wise for us to know the city we are living in. great city of Presidents a bit more: The population of Quincy where I live is roughly 90,000 out of which: African American 1,947, Asians 13,546 which includes (Asian Indians 1127, Chinese 9,184, Filipino: 517, Japanese: 146, Korean 241 Vietnamese 1679, Other Asian: 652)[4] You may be living in the City, but are you for the City? What are the particle implications of Jeremiah’s letter?

A. Seeking the peace and welfare of the City:
The word seek in Hebrew language is not a good suggestion or a good idea but it was a direct command from God like many other commandments. Whether we like it or not we have no choice but to obey. Regardless of your persuasion and background you are called and commanded by God to work for the peace and welfare of the city you are living.

Early Christians after the death of Christ subsequently from that point of onwards many have understood this command have sacrificed their lives for the welfare of the society. They were the imitators in the fields of health care and education, science and technology. It can be said that Christianity has produced more literate and educated people than any other movement in the history of mankind. For example, in America all but 3 of the first 126 colleges established in the United States were built in order to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Science has many Christian roots. Most of the early scientists were Christians (Copernicus, Galileo, Pascal, Isaac Newton, and others). These great scientists operated within a Christian frame work.”[5]

I was impressed with a particular ministry named“North East Christians at Work” They are dedicated to encourage Christians who are working in secular culture yet seeking to be Christ like in their everyday work lives. They have given awards in 2008 for most on fire business owner, manager, most helpful church, most helpful college, most helpful, most helpful media, and most helpful resource speaker/author and so on.”[6]

We as Christians are called to be contributing in all spheres of society. We are called to influence that which influences the minds of people. There are seven areas that influences the society i.e (Arts, Business, Church, Dissemination of information, Education, Family, and Government) Whether you are a government job holder, or work in a private managed company, student, or stay at home mother, or self employed we all have a key role in contributing to the welfare of the cities where we are living. Never underestimate your obligation and positive influence you can bring upon wherever you are.

B. Peace and Prosperity through Prayer:
The exiles have realized that with one hand they have to work for the city but on the other hand they are to pray to God for the prosperity and peace of the city because ultimately it is God who will establish peace and brings prosperity. Work and Prayer goes hand in hand. When man works, many only works but when man prays God works. There is so much power released when we pray because we pray to a powerful God.

We can either complaint about every problem we read, see or hear about our cities or we can turn every problem into a prayer point and pray to God to do something about it. After all he has all the power to change things that you can not change. Psalmist David’s prayer in Psalm 122 for the city of Jerusalem gives us a glimpse on how to prayer for our cities. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May those who love you be secure? May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my brothers and friends I will say Peace be within you. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your prosperity.”

Again here we see the combination of seeking and praying that will release peace and prosperity not only into our cities but also into our lives. Recently a group of Christians, clergy and neighbors took a strong stand against a particular dance group that was seeking to rent a place in Billings Road in Quincy. They have prayed against it. After much discussion on this issue finally the city council has denied the permission on the basis of the potential damage this dance group could cause to the society. This is one example of praying for the welfare of the City. We can be praying for the schools, fire department, the police department, for the healthcare, the government, churches, families, so that there will be law and order and good governance, righteous businesses in our city as a result we will have peace and prosperity. Let’s rise up and fulfill our obligation to seek the Shalom of the City.

 [1] http://www.linchouston.org/school-of-urban-ministry
[2] Floyd McClung, Spirits of the City
[3] http://www.linchouston.org/school-of-urban-ministry
[4] http://quincyma.areaconnect.com/statistics.htm
[5] http://www.faithfacts.org/search-for-truth/questions-of-christians/are-christians-anti-science
[6] http://www.christatwork.org/templates/System/details.asp?id=22809&PID=61229