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November, 10, 2019

Jeremiah 29:4-7; 11-13

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “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.”

One of the most shocking things about Christianity and in many ways gives it great credibility is the simple fact that it still exists today. Now, I realize that may seem like an odd thing to say, but think about this way, think about how astonishing it is, that some 2000 years ago, after Jesus ascended into heaven, the number of people that we would call Christians numbered some 120 or so, (to put that in perspective that’s the seating capacity in this here sanctuary) and yet now some 2000 years later there are millions of followers of Jesus scattered across the entire globe. Have you ever thought about just how remarkable and improbable that is? Now, you may think to yourself that’s not all that surprising given the fact that there have been a handful of times in history when Christians have been in power, or when Christianity has been honored and respected in the social, cultural and political spheres. But yet, that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, for much of those first few centuries, Christianity existed on the fringes, it lived on the margins, Christians were despised and persecuted, particularly by the oppressive Roman empire they were under. The truth is, in those early years, the deck was stacked against Christians, and frankly, it’s a miracle that they even made it out of the starting gate.

So what exactly allowed Christianity to not only survive, but thrive throughout those early years? And what can you and I as Christians today learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ from thousands of years ago?

Truth is, there are probably a lot of reasons and explanations for why the Christian movement grew and thrived in those early years. I suppose on one hand we could say it was the hand of God at work, a movement of the Holy Spirit, that the same God who was faithful in providing for his people in the days of the bible continues to provide for his people today. And while that explanation might be sufficient, you’re probably, like me, looking for more to put your finger on. Some say that part of Christianity’s rise in the early years was oddly enough, due to the courageous convictions of those who were persecuted and willing to die for their faith. The thinking there being, sure we can explain a couple people dying for their faith, but hundreds, thousands of people? There’s no way hundreds and thousands of people would die for a lie, something they didn’t believe to be true.

But yet, here’s one more reason why Christians survived and thrived in those early years, and it’s what we’ll be focusing on today. And that is, in those early years, Christians lived radically different lives. They sought to be a blessing to their communities, they sacrificially served both Christians and non-Christians alike. They sought to bring Jesus’ healing wherever they went. They cared for and defended the poor, the sick, widows and orphans, pursued racial reconciliation, showed women dignity and respect at a time and in a culture that often didn’t. When there were plagues, or famines, or natural disasters, while all others ran away from the pain and suffering, Christians ran towards the pain and suffering. They were there when their communities needed them most. In short, the early Christians, had what you could call a “go” mentality. They saw themselves as missionaries, people who were called and sent by God, filled with the Holy Spirit, who were the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing Jesus’s healing wherever they live, work, play or learn. This is, in many respects, what made Christianity compelling, what allowed it to gain credibility in the dominant culture, and what, by God’s grace, has led to it continue to this very day.

This morning we are wrapping up a sermon series on Church Membership and friends, we’ve finally reached the end. So far, we’ve looked at the first three commitments, or rhythms, or practices, that ought to characterize the life of every church member, and for what it’s worth, every Christian. So far we’ve looked at the first three - Gather, Grow, and Give.

This morning we’ll look at the fourth and final one, and that is, Go – that we as followers of Jesus go and be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever we live, work, play or learn.

And this one, in many respects, is a little different than the first three. In many ways, the first three, Gather, Grow and Give, are things that you can do or live out within these church walls or solely with our church family. But yet, this final one, “Go,” is a little different – to “Go” means that part of following Jesus and representing the church means we deliberately and intentionally get outside of these church walls and rub shoulders with people who might never join us on a Sunday morning. And this last and final one is absolutely essential in order for us to truly live into our calling and responsibility as followers of Jesus today.

Now, as for those early Christians, those first century Christians who were blessing and serving and loving their city … this wasn’t their own idea, they didn’t just come up with that gameplan or way of life on their own. No, in many ways, they were carrying out the mission and command that God had given his people so many years, the one we see from Jeremiah 29.

Here’s the context of that passage in one minute or less. God’s people, the Israelites, were living large in Jerusalem, things were going relatively well, they had kings, they had land, they were thriving. But then, for a variety of reasons, their people were captured, kings dethroned, families uprooted, their temple destroyed, and they were sent to live as exiles in a foreign land, under a foreign power, that is, Babylon. And shortly after they get there, a false prophet tells them, “Hey, don’t worry, this is temporary. Hang in there, this is only going to last for a couple years or so. Just run out the clock. This will all be over before you know it.”

But yet, as we see in the very next chapter, here in chapter 29, God, through the prophet Jeremiah, telling them the truth, essentially tells them the exact opposite, saying, “No, no, no. You’re not going to be here 2 years. No, you’re going to be here 70 years.”

So here’s what I want you to do:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce ... 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.”

Do you see what God is telling his people? He’s saying, “You’re going to be here for a while, so hunker down, settle in, get cozy, start a family, begin your career, go ahead and make this place your home.”

And notice what he says in verse 7, it might be the most important line of all –

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.”

Now, this language of peace and prosperity – it’s worth reflecting on for a minute. Often times, when we hear the word “peace” we think the “absence of conflict.” Which is a piece of what peace is, if that phrase makes any sense, but it’s only a very small piece of it. The word used in Hebrew for “peace” is shalom, which is a beautiful Hebrew word that means so much more than the absence of conflict – shalommeans total and complete flourishing, socially, economically, physically, spiritually, total and complete flourishing. In fact, that’s why our translation not only says “peace” but also adds the word “prosperity” – it’s trying to get at that fuller meaning.

God calls his people to seek the peace and prosperity, the shalom, the total and complete flourishing of the city to which he has carried them into exile. saying, “Hey, I don’t want you to stand on the sidelines, I don’t want you to wait this one out. I want you to get your hands dirty, I want you to roll up your sleeves, I want you to get to work, go and be a blessing to this place that I brought you to.”

And friends, here’s the thing. He’s calling you and I to do the same thing. He’s calling you and I to go and seek the peace and prosperity in the places we live, work, play or learn, right here in Dillon. Now, our situations aren’t the exact same as the Israelites, or the early Christians, after all we’re not persecuted, at least not to the point of death, but let’s be honest, we live in a post-Christian world where in many respects, Christians are ridiculed, mocked, or simply seen as irrelevant. We are, in so many ways, exiles in a foreign land. And the way to change and win the culture will only happen by living radically different kinds of lives, as you and I go and be the hands and feet of Jesus and seek the peace and prosperity of the town of Dillon and beyond.

Now, at this point, you may be asking, sure this sounds nice, but what does this actually look like, or how do I actually do this? What does it look like for me, here in 2019 to seek the peace and prosperity wherever I live, work, play and learn here in Dillon? Well, here are 4 things to get you started.

1) Focus on the things we can all agree on.

Here’s what I mean. One of the challenges in living this out is the fact that different people and different groups have different understandings of what peace and prosperity look like. You don’t need me to tell you this, but Republicans and Democrats have very different ideas of what peace and prosperity look like in our nation today. Shoot, even different groups of Christians themselves have different understandings of what this looks like. And while we can’t completely avoid and push these differences aside, let me encourage you to focus on the things we can all agree on, the things we can all agree would be a blessing to our town.

For example, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Mormon or a Christian, an atheist or a Jew, I think we can all agree that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status is worthy of having a meal on Thanksgiving. Or for example, I think we can all agree, that regardless of your religious beliefs, that every kid should be able to walk to and from school, morning or night and not feel like their life is in danger. Do you see what I am getting at here? Let’s focus on, work towards, invest in the things we can agree on, and go from there.

One of the things that’s so striking about God’s challenge to the Israelites is that they’re being asked to neither critique or distance ourselves the city, nor are they being asked to completely embrace it either, which in fact, are the two ends of the pendulum we as Christians often swing to. We either critique or distance ourselves from the culture, by, for example, grumbling and chastising people for saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” or we embrace everything about the culture and look exactly like it, both of which hinders our Christian witness in the long run. Instead, we as Christians are simply called to love and serve, seeking the peace and prosperity of our city, and one of the simplest ways we can do that is by focusing on the things we can all agree on.

2) Love and serve the people and places where God has called you.

You all, do you see your neighborhoods and workplaces as people that God has called you to love and serve? Do you see your neighbors, or parents that stand next to as you watch your kids sports game, do you see your employees, or clients, or patients and customers as people God has called you to love and serve?

As I’m sure many of you know, Bill and Ann Swanson recently moved to the Legacy Center, just south of town. And Callie and I had a chance to visit briefly with the Swanson’s as they were moving in, got to see their new home, and Ann you said something, I’m not sure if you remember it, reflecting on this new season of life. You said something to this effect, reflecting on your new neighbors, you said, “This is my new flock.” Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Ann, I wanted to hug you, but I know you’re not a hugger, so I tried to show some restraint.

Friends, do you see what Ann is saying when she says, “This is my new flock.” She’s saying this is the place where God has called me to in this season. These are the people he’s put around me to love and serve in season.” It’s just beautiful. You see, in some respects, Ann and Bill could look at this season at the Legacy, and believe what the false prophet told the Israelites, that this is just a “run out the clock” situation. But no, they’re seeing this season as a God ordained opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus right where they live.

Lois Hammer is also living there too, and a few weeks ago I was leading a bible study with her and a few other women, and I got to watch this incredible conversation unfold between Lois and a few other women as Lois was warmly inviting other women at Legacy to join her in saying grace before a meal. And it was just this lovely interaction as Lois was sharing with others this practice that is so meaningful for her and inviting and encouraging others to do the same. Just beautiful.

Friends, it doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80, what might it look like to love and serve the people God has put around you in this season?

3) See your work as a place to live out your faith.

You all, do you see the place where you work, as an opportunity and primary way in which you live out your faith. After all, think about your week ahead. Most of us will spend an hour or two at church, but yet, we’ll spend 40 or more hours at work. So just from a sheer numbers game, we as Christians need to be thinking, how can we live out our faith where we work, where we invest so much of our time and energy?

So what might this look like? Well to be clear, by living out your faith at work, I don’t mean that by putting a bible on your desk or in your office and hoping that it sparks conversation. That is more than fine, by I’m thinking more practical than that.

For example, think of it this way. Say you’re a car mechanic. What would it look like to go and be the hands and feet of Jesus as a mechanic? Or if Jesus were working at Les Schwab, how might he go about his work? What would it look like to “Love your neighbor, love your customer as yourself” as a mechanic?

I heard of one company that really began to think through this and here’s what they decided, one of the foundational principles of their business. They decided and agreed that they would never ever profit or capitalize off a customer’s ignorance. After all, think about it, many of us have no idea what a tire, or carburetor or oil change really costs … so if a mechanic charges us $100 for something that costs $50, how are we to know that they’re lying to us or cheating us out of our money? This business decided that they would never do that, that they would always be honest, and never exploit someone’s lack of knowledge.

Friends, whether you’re a doctor, a farmer, teacher or lawyer, what might it look like to live out your faith where you work? It doesn’t matter if the tools of your trade are a spatula or a stethoscope, a spreadsheet or a skill saw, all of us have the potential to live out our faith at our work.

4) Be ready for Jesus conversations.

One of the things that will happen when we as Christians have this “go” mentality and love and serve our town is that it’ll open up all sorts of doors for meaningful conversations. So with that in mind, patiently wait for opportunities to share your faith, where you can begin to have Jesus conversations. Listen and wait for doors to open where we can share about the hope that we have in Christ.

Now I know this can be difficult and uncomfortable and awkward for many of us, truth is, it can be for me too. But friends, I’m not talking about forcing religion down people’s throats or preaching at them. Rather, simply wait and be ready for opportunities to share about your faith.

Earlier this week, someone asked me why I became a pastor. It’s a simple, straightforward question. And yet, in it, I get to tell people about the joy it brings me when people grow in their love and knowledge of Christ, how gratifying it is to watch people understand and apply what they see in the bible, and how beautiful it is to see the church, the body of Christ, live into its calling and mission. That’s not me preaching at them or forcing something on them. That’s just me sharing my story, me telling them about my personal experience. Even if they don’t understand it, how can they argue with it? And if they’re disappointed in my answer, we’ll shoot, they asked the question.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Listen well, patiently wait, be ready for Jesus conversations. And when they come, just share from the heart. I know it’s not as simple as that, but it really is as simple as that.

Alright, we’ve got to wrap this up … I’ll finish where we started this morning, and that is, with the kids message. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus would say that we, as his followers will do greater works than him? Isn’t it kind of crazy that Jesus said that it was to the disciples advantage that he left them?

How could he possibly say that? This is a man that healed the sick, cast out demons, raised people from the dead, a man who walked on water, fed the 5000, calmed the seas, the man turned water into wine for goodness sake! How could you and I possibly do better than?

Well, of course, as we talked about with our kids, it’s because we as followers of Jesus are filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and so that means, wherever we go, the presence of God goes with us.

And Jesus, during his earthly life, took on the limitations of a human, he could only be in one place at one time, only with one group at any one time, whether he was in Jerusalem or at the temple or in a disciple’s home.

But now, some 2000 years, followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, millions of them are spread all across the entire earth, being the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, work, play or learn. And so friends, as you leave here today, as followers of Jesus, God’s presence goes with you, as you go to your neighborhood and places you call home, to our schools and classrooms, to the parks and coffee shops and grocery stores, to the businesses and offices, ranches and farms where you work. As followers of Jesus, everywhere you go, the presence of God goes with you, and throughout this next week, all those who are worshipping this morning in churches all across town, will go their separate ways and be the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing Jesus’s healing wherever they live, work, play, or learn. That’s how Jesus can say, “you’ll do greater works that me.”

I’ll finish with some of Jesus’s final words to his disciples, he says this,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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