‘Seek the welfare of the city’

We held a Blessing of the Animals service earlier in our Eucharist.

Jeremiah 29.1, 4–7

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29.7)

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‘The city where I have sent you’ is Babylon. Jews in exile are to work for the well-being (shalom) of the empire and its capital city. The well-being (shalom) of Judah is dependent upon and derivative from that of Babylon. This positive attention toward Babylon is very different from the deep resentment toward the imperial masters generally and Babylon particularly as expressed elsewhere (in the Jeremiah tradition, see chs. 50-51, and also Isa. 13-14, 47). Prophetic faith is powerfully realistic about the political situation of the Jews in exile. — Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming


‘Seek the welfare of the city…’ 

Last week, we were immersed in the agony of the exiles in Psalm 137.

Let’s recap: the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding country were forced into exile in Babylon from the year 597 BC. Their great Temple was destroyed in 586 BC. They were a long way from home, existing rather than living in Babylon. Remember, Babylon was the superpower of its day, situated in what we call Iraq. 

In Psalm 137, they are grieving and more than that, they want revenge. Gruesome revenge. 

There were prophets who were speaking to their situation. Some were false prophets speaking fake news. So the prophet Hananiah said,

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. (Jeremiah 28.2–4)

Don’t worry folks, it’ll all be over soon. You’ll be home in two years. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, Jeremiah called BS on Hananiah. More than that, he said

Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: I am going to send you off the face of the earth. Within this year you will be dead, because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord. (Jeremiah 28.15–16)

And, we’re told, Hananiah died within the year. 

Jeremiah has a different time span for the duration of the exile:

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29.10)

How long? Seventy years? What’s that about, God? But Jeremiah adds:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (Jeremiah 29.11)

So what should the exiles do in the meantime? Sit on their hands for seventy years? Wait for something to happen? No, God says through Jeremiah:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

‘Seek the welfare of the city…’ 

We can do this in small ways as well as in big ways. Taking care of one another, keeping an eye out for our neighbours, looking after our pets, are all ways to seek the welfare of the city. In fact, they’re essential; remember Jesus himself said ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much’ (Luke 16.12a). 

I do not at all want to understate the need for all of us to be faithful in the small matters. 

But there are also larger matters in seeking the peace of the city that we must address. 

We can’t have a Blessing of the Animals service and limit it to our pets. All of us, all who inhabit creation, are facing climate change. It is the fear of climate catastrophe, not just climate change, that has inspired a series of actions of civil disobedience in which members of Extinction Rebellion have been involved during this past week. 

On Thursday, I found myself helping to lead a prayer service in Grey St, South Bank outside a company that trades in war, dealing in supplies and logistics for the world’s military forces. 

We then walked under a benign police escort to Victoria Bridge where I peeled off to go to the watchhouse. My role there was to greet any Extinction Rebellion folk being released from custody. 

Was I seeking the peace of the city, slowing down the Grey St traffic? We passed some people who had superglued themselves to Grey St itself. Were they seeking the peace of the city, while obstructing traffic? 

Extinction Rebellion would say if we don’t act now there may be less of a world, let alone a city, to seek the peace of. Yet if you believe sections of the media, and both major political parties in Queensland, the protestors are the problem. People have to get to work on time! This Mark David cartoon (on 9 October) illustrates the point well: 

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‘Seek the peace of the city.’ The false prophet Hananiah said there was no problem, you’ll be home in two years. 

The false prophets of today speak in a similar way. There’s no problem, it’ll correct itself, if climate change exists it isn’t caused by human activity—despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that it is. 

We are called to ‘seek the peace of the city.’ It’s a radical call. It is where our blessing lies, and the blessing of unborn generations to come. So whether we join in any action on the streets or not, our mindset has to be renewed and renewed again, so that we can seek the peace of the whole creation. Amen.


West End Uniting Church, 13 October 2019

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Filed under Church & world, RCL, sermon, Social Justice

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