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  • EXTREME WHAC-A-MOLE

    In the weeks ahead I’m going to be moving away from all this talk of Exile and Jeremiah and how the story of Israelite captivity relates to our lives in the 21st century. I’ve been hitting on these topics like an all-star Whac-A-Mole Champion and it’s time to move on.

    Before I do, however, I think it’s important that I wield my mallet one last time and really go to town on a final point: God calls us to serve EVERYONE.

    whac-a-mole champion

    Allow me to remind you of Jeremiah’s final instructions to the Israelites before Babylon forcefully  annexed the Promise Land, parentheses added:

    “Also, seek the peace (shalom) 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.”

    This one statement, this single line, this outright COMMAND is staggeringly critical to Christianity’s mission in the world. At the same time, it’s completely unsettling. After all, as Mike Metzger writes in his blog DoggieHeadTilt, it’s about “seeking the wellbeing of others, not just within the community of faith, but to all…Shalom was promoting human flourishing in pagan Babylon.”

    What!? Promote the human flourishing of the pagans? Pagans!? I know! Crazy, huh?! But it’s true. Read it, again:

    “Also, seek the peace (shalom) 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.”

    Remember this verse, write it out, tape it to your wallet or your computer screen or the back of your child’s shirts. 

    The reason I’m so adamant about making this verse part of our everyday lives, is because historically, we Christians have been HORRIBLE at living this out. In the first episode of “For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles,” Amy Sherman points out (referencing Greg Thompson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian in Charlottesville, VA) that we generally approach culture (pagan Babylon) in three different ways: Fortification, Domination, or Accommodation (FDA).

     

    Fortificationists (hey, a new word!) like to create safe and secure Christian hideouts away from the storms of the outside world. 

    Christian Bunker Mentality Gif

    Dominationists (call Merriam-Webster, I’m on a roll), on the other hand, are always up for a good fight. They confront “pagan culture” in a warlike fashion. Their goal is to take back the world from the clutches of evil, to fight, fight, fight—until they win. 

    Culture Warrior Mentality Gif

    Accommodationists are a different breed altogether. They don’t want to fight or hide, they just want to go about their lives, and blend in. This is not a bad way to go, but it’s a faithfully tepid existence and leads to some big “identity” issues. Namely, are you a pagan or Child of God? Who knows?

    Christians Blending In GIF

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I regularly respond in all three ways…and it remains a struggle to overcome. I’ll even mix’n’match.

     

    There are a lot of flaws to these approaches (not necessarily in every thought and feeling behind them, mind you…more on that later), but the most obvious and ironic flaw of them all—WE, the people of God, are the true aliens. Paul tells us we are citizens of heaven. The author of Hebrews reminds us that we are seeking a country of our own. Peter flat out calls us strangers and aliens. God’s gift-giving nature, makes it possible for us to call his kingdom our home. In that sense, none of us “home” in this world. There is no “us” against “them.”  Each and everyone of us is a broken, estranged, image-bearer of God. Whether we know it or not, we all need him and his shalom.

    And this is what makes Jeremiah 29:7 so powerful and important today. 

    “Also, seek the peace (shalom) 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.”

    Friends and strangers, we as the church, the body of Christ, are the reflection of God’s shalom in this exile. We are the embodied hope of his promise—that he will return. We are the sneak peek into the City of God and the Kingdom Come. As soon as we start assigning requirements for who gets a glimpse his kingdom, as soon as we fashion a checklist for those we think are worthy to prosper from the work of our holy hands, we tell the world that God’s Kingdom and his grace, the Gospel itself, is  only available to those of OUR OWN choosing. We undermine God’s wisdom and power at work in his creation.

    This is not the message of God’s grace. Is it? When the author of Hebrews reminds us to show hospitality to strangers, does he/she call for an inquisition first? Were the caveats for caring for widows and orphans lost somewhere in the greek translation? Must those who hunger hold to the tenets of TULIP in order to be fed? Must those who thirst first claim Christ to find refreshment? Do we only care for the sick who made great life choices?  Is our time visiting prisoners only for inmates who happened to find themselves in the “wrong place at the wrong time?”

    Heavens, no! God’s grace is for GRACE FOR THE SINNER! FOR EVERYONE! ALL is gift. This is Jeremiah 29:7 fully realized. This must be our anthem. We strangers, through Jesus, embody God’s abundance and love in the world. We must be FOR everybody. If this sounds extreme, good. It is. God’s love for humanity is nothing less.

    MLK Mugshot Pic

    I’m reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In it he captures all the tension of oppression, the pain of abandonment, and the only hope for justice (parentheses added): 

    “So I have not said to my people: ‘Get rid of your discontent.’ Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’”

    An Extremist for Love. It is only through this extremism, this sacrificial love, that true change will come. King also writes in his letter:

    “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

    We are “co workers with God” for peace and prosperity. In every part of our broken and beautiful world, in our families and in our work, in our communities and civic responsibilities, in our educational institutions and in the arts, be an extremist for love, for the life of the world and all God’s image-bearers.

    whac-a-mole mallet

     

    To read King’s full Letter from A Birmingham Jail, go here.

    PHOTO CREDITS
    Martin Luther King, Jr.: Wikipedia
    Whac-A-Mole: JMazzolaa via photopin cc

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    • Dawn Leskoske

      For way too long Christians have forgotten that the most identifiable trait we should exhibit is LOVE. We do not need to yell louder, we need to stoop lower and remember to wash the very feet Jesus would.

    • FLOW_Evan

      Right on, Dawn!

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