Summary: Jeremiah’s message to seek the welfare of the city applies to the church’s urban setting of drugs, violence, and alienation.
Drugs bring Death
Unless you have been out of town for a long time, you know that lots of things have happened in our city during the past several months. Some are hopeful, some confusing, and some are troubling.
In addition to recent acts of violence, we hear charges of racism, profiling, and prejudice. Unfortunately, some of us don’t listen to each other well and as a result don’t understand each other.
At a clergy luncheon Sue and I attended, a black pastor helped us understand some of the questions he and others from the black community have about the Tarika Wilson case. He told us that some African-Americans feel that the system is stacked against them and that nothing they do makes a difference in the way things turn out.
Violence in our city continues at a high rate. In 2007, the police reported 596 incidents of domestic violence alone. Already this year they have reported 238 incidents. Those are in addition to hundreds of burglaries, assaults, and vandalism incidents. In 2007, police reported a total of 9292 incidents. That calculates to 25 per day. We all know that there is plenty of crime to go around.
Last Wednesday, we were walking on Central Avenue and noticed a young man carrying a large bundle of aluminum siding as he walked toward the recycling center. Just then a police car came and the officer stopped him and ask, “Where did you get it?” We heard him say that a friend gave it to him.
How do we cope with a world saturated with crime and violence? Do we lock our doors and stay to ourselves and just give up? We know people who don’t know the names of people who live next door. They don’t want to know. They just lock their doors and stay inside.
In recent weeks, lots of people have joined Jesse Lowe in his demonstrations against drugs. I don’t know how many of you have stood with him, but I encourage you to consider it. Last Tuesday, I went to the public meeting he called. There were about 100 people there, common, ordinary folk, who were concerned about what is happening in this city.
This movement began with Jesse’s concerns about the connection between drugs and violence. He created a sign, Drugs Bring Death, and stood alone at first on St. Johns Avenue, across the street from drug dealers who taunted him. Now each week, a hundred or so people stand with him.
At the meeting the other night, Jesse handed out a pack of reports and resources, but the thing that struck me as I got to the last page, was a full-page prayer that began with the words,
“Father in Heaven, In the mighty name of Jesus, release your powers and anointing to flow over this city.. ..“ and, it said further on, “Father, release a spirit of conviction and repentance upon the people of this city. Release a spiritual hunger into the hearts of the people.”
For me, that prayer brought perspective to everything that is happening. The events we hear about are not in the hands of the drug dealers, police, or politicians. They are in the hands of God. And our response must be not to give up, but to stand up. God has called us to his mission and we must be about his work, working for the well-being of the city and looking forward with hope.
God provides a future
In today’s scripture, Jeremiah came to God’s people, not by carrying a sign, but with a letter. Many of the Israelites had been taken out of their country as prisoners and carted off to a foreign land. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way because, after all, they were God’s special people. But it did.
The Bible tells us that generations earlier, God had commissioned his people to be his light to the nations. God had led them and blessed them in many ways, but they had not been obedient to God. As a result, God allowed Babylon to invade their land and deport them by the hundreds.
Now they were living on unfamiliar streets in a foreign land. Psalm 137 reflects that experience. “By the rivers of Babylon- there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.”
How were they to cope with their desperate situation? Then from 800 miles away comes this letter from Jeremiah, who was still in Jerusalem. God had a word for them:
1. Settle down there where you are. (29:5,6). Go ahead and call Babylon your home for now. Don’t get in a hurry to escape your circumstances. It doesn’t matter where you live when God is with you and when you know that you are a citizen of heaven.