I spent the first six years of my life in a small “Dorf” the approximate size of Grafton. After that we moved to an ever-growing city, Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg was founded in 1938 to become the home of the original VW Plant where my father found a job as a specialty welder. Today Wolfsburg has a population of 125,000. The last time I visited, nine years ago, I was uncomfortable because the city had ‘lost the feel’ it had when I grew up. Well, then perhaps, I had lost my appreciation for what it means to live in such a big place. However, I also lived in Wausau, WI with about 38,000 citizens and just outside the City of Green Bay with 105,000 people and a huge suburban area. Quite a difference from living on a 40 acre lot with only a church and a parsonage as we did when we moved to Central Wisconsin in the early eighties in the throes of the farm crisis! My point: I think there is beauty and challenge in every community, small, mid-sized or large. Folks often miss the blessings small, close-knit communities offer – while those of us enjoying the tranquility to a St. Ansgar, Grafton or Manly often have no clue of the hidden treasures a Des Moines, a Philadelphia or a Kansas City have in store for those who search for them.
“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.” Jeremiah 29:7
The prophet Jeremiah refers in this passage to the ancient city of Babylon – one of the most prominent and powerful of its time. But the people of Israel, to whom Jeremiah wrote, were aliens there. They were there against their will – having been brought there as prisoners, facing a long exile away from their home. Babylon was not their home geographically, politically, culturally, and most important, religiously – it was as strange a place as any of them could have imagined. Yet Jeremiah told them to seek its welfare. He went on to say the Jewish people should not only pray for Babylon but become active within it – build homes and businesses, plant gardens, and start families. Yet, to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city where they were eating the bread of captivity—this surely required an almost superhuman patience.
It is quite astonishing that Jeremiah could say such – the natural response of a Jewish prophet writing to fellow Jews might have been “get away as quick as you can – escape the first chance you have – pray against it because it doesn’t represent your values.” But God changes things from within – that is the gist of Jeremiah’s message. God changes the world by engaging the world, not withdrawing from it.
Christians believe that God inhabits us – by faith through the Holy Spirit. We believe that the God of creation seeks our welfare by shaping our values and guiding our words and decisions. Jeremiah speaking to his fellow Israelites living in a place that was foreign to them, encouraging them to seek its welfare, illustrates the Christian belief that our holy God choose to live in that which was “foreign” to Him – sinful people. Thank God for Christ! God changes things by inhabiting them, not abandoning them.
Many of our nation’s cities are troubled these days. The concentration of illness due to the Coronavirus is primarily in our cities. The majority of protests and riots, looting and burning of buildings, are taking place in the larger cities of our nation — places with which few of us are familiar and even fewer would probably be very comfortable even in more peaceful times. It seems like we would want to stay far away from such venues of trouble and just thank the Lord that the streets of Worth and Mitchell Counties are quiet. But that is not enough. That is not what God does and that is not what Christians who call on the name of the Lord should do. We are indeed tempted – I am!!! – not to go there, not to think about them, not to wonder or worry about them but only to leave them to their own devices, destructive or otherwise.
But we can’t – the welfare of the places people inhabit depends, if Jeremiah is correct, on the people God inhabits. Please pray for our cities. Pray for their healing, pray for those who live in them and those whose vocation it is to protect and serve them. Pray, Christian citizens, and do whatever you can to help the cities and their people prosper. Do whatever our good and gracious God lays on your heart. Amen