Seek the welfare of the city

where I have sent you into exile,

and pray to the LORD on its behalf.

Jeremiah 29:7

This week showed us the lack of shalom in Chicago. It’s a good time to revisit this passage that is foundational to our church’s vision.

In light of recent events, many will find reasons to disdain the city and seek to get out of it. It was the same in the 6th century B.C. with the city of Babylon. It was pagan. It was oppressive. And many Jews living there couldn’t wait to evacuate. Yet Jeremiah wrote them this letter saying that God wanted them to stay for another seventy years. They weren’t supposed to see the city as a place to leave, but rather a place to love. They were to…

Seek – hope for, work for, invest their time/energy/ heart in increasing the…

Welfare – the well-being, the peace, the shalom, the right ordering, the healthy flourishing of the…

City – that dense, diverse conglomeration of bodies and buildings that amplify human potential for good and for evil where the LORD had sent them into…

Exile – a less-than-ideal, often hard, home-away-from-home. And they were to…

Pray– constantly ask the LORD to bless the systems, structures, and inhabitants around them.

Similarly, the people of God today are called exiles (1Pe. 1:1). Our true home is the heavenly Jerusalem and we long to be there (see Ph. 3:20), but God has sovereignly determined that we live for now in Chicago (see Acts 17:26). He may call you elsewhere at some point, but always remember that there is really no ‘greener grass’ anywhere east of Eden. And for now God has us here to serve our city.

Do you ache with the pain of Chicago? And do you desire its security and prosperity? That will require more than just slogans and well-wishes. For those who marched peacefully yesterday, standing side-by-side with other city-dwellers for the basic dignity of every person made in the image of God, you heard the two African-American men on the sideline thanking the crowd for this demonstration, but admonishing that it’s going to take ‘more than this.’ That is so true.

Jeremiah 29 fills out for us more of what it will take. He reminds us that it’s going to take time, like generations. Many parts of our great city that went up in flames in the riots of 1968 are still recovering. We impatiently think in terms of quick bursts of activism and those can be part of the strategy. However, it’s been demonstrated that most deep, sustained effects require faithful presence. Please pray for longshoremen and longevity. We have some big challenges ahead in our city that was already facing a budget crisis (our kids’ school has had a budget cut every year the last 8 years that we’ve been there), and now a lagging economy, a stretched healthcare system, and the fallout of civic unrest. Chicago needs citizens committed to helping for the long-haul.

Jeremiah also shows us that a lot of what we’re supposed to do for the common good of the city is unglamorous. Buy a house and fix its broken windows. Plant a garden and weed it. Get married and raise kids. It’s all very ordinary, un-sexy stuff that won’t make the news or maybe even Instagram. But all those ordinary things: shoveling sidewalks, talking to neighbors, volunteering at school, going to work, paying taxes… adds up to a city that functions.

At the end of the movie that we watched together last Friday there was one of my favorite quotes of all time:

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. – George Eliot

I thought that quote was somewhat misapplied. After all, Franz Jägerstätter has a Wikipedia page and was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. I think it’s more about people who will never be noticed doing things that seem utterly mundane – giving a cup of cold water (Mt. 10:42) and sounding no trumpet (Mt. 6:2). That’s what God mostly uses to sustain the world.

The gospel gives us an unparalleled ability to do such un-acclaimed acts of love since we don’t need the approbation of anyone – we have it all in Christ.

And just having a functioning city is not our ultimate goal; it is sharing the gospel. Jeremiah told the OT exiles that in Babylon’s welfare they would find their welfare. Paul tells Timothy to pray for civic leaders that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1Tim. 2:2). The point is not truly selfish. It’s so that we can have an arena in which to preach the gospel and grow the church.

Someday this city will melt. “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14), “that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Until then, let’s love our city in every way we can, including inviting all its residents to join us there in the eternal city through repentance and faith in Jesus.

~ Pastor Nathan