Sermon for Sunday October 9th, 2016, the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 66:1-11; Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Text: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Theme: Pray for the peace of the city where you live
A preacher and a barber were walking through city slums. “If God was as kind as you say, he wouldn’t permit all this poverty, disease and squalor,” the barber said. “He wouldn’t allow these poor street people to get addicted. I cannot believe in a God who permits these things.”
The minister was silent until they met a man whose hair was hanging down his neck and had a half inch of stubble on his face.
“You can’t be a good barber, or you wouldn’t permit a man like this to continue living here without a haircut and a shave,” the preacher said.
Indignant, the barber answered, “Why blame me for that man’s condition? He has never come to my shop. If he had, I could’ve fixed him up and made him look like a gentleman!”
“Then don’t blame God for allowing people to continue in their evil ways,” the preacher said. “He invites them to come and be saved.”
— Brett Kays, Brownstown, Michigan
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF JEREMIAH 29:1, 4-7
Our Old Testament lesson today is part of a letter which the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles and their leaders (elders, priests and prophets) who had been captured and taken by King Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon in 597 B.C. In this letter he tells them to settle down in Babylon and pray to the Lord for the city in which they are living and seek its peace. The letter is an important indicator of the Lord’s concern that the people of Judah prosper and not simply cease to exist as a nation during the time of their exile from the Promised Land. Through Jeremiah the Lord was also opposing and denouncing those false prophets who insisted that Israel’s servitude to Babylon would be short-lived and that the people would soon return to their land.
In the temple of Jerusalem, one such false prophet by the name of Hananiah had prophesied to Jeremiah and to the priests and people that in two years God would bring back from Babylon the temple vessels seized by King Nebuchadnezzar, as well as King Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, and all the exiles. The oppression of the Chaldean Empire would be broken (Jeremiah 28:1-4). His predictions failed to come to pass. Further on in Jeremiah 29, the Lord also warns of two more false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, who are prophesying lies in His name.
In view of these false prophecies, the prophet Jeremiah’s letter is important and timely. The letter also counters the prevailing idea that because of Israel’s election and heritage, she was guaranteed freedom from oppression by foreign nations for any significant length of time. Through this letter, the Lord commands all the exiles to be subject to their heathen oppressors and to settle down, living quiet and productive lives, praying for the peace of the city and seeking its welfare.
THE COMMANDS TO BUILD, TO PLANT, AND TO PRAY FOR THE CITY’S PEACE
The letter to the exiles begins with a pronouncement making it clear that it is the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, who has sent his people into exile (v. 4) in Babylon. It will be fruitless for them to blame or to hate their oppressors, since their sin led to the exile. Instead of rebellion and hate towards the Chaldeans, the Lord commands respect and submission. Instead of thinking that in just a few years, they will all happily return to Jerusalem and Judah, they must settle down in Babylon, build houses, plant gardens, marry, have families and prosper as a nation. They must pray for the peace of Babylon and seek its welfare. Because of our historical distance from these events in the early sixth century B.C., it is hard for us to realize what an extraordinary command this was. For so much of her history, Israel had fought against various nations, both in driving them out of Canaan initially, and in defense against invaders. Now the Lord is telling his people to take an attitude to their enemies and oppressors that is fundamentally new. The Lord God gave them the key to co-operate with a powerful empire, a key which would help them greatly in their survival as a nation. What was this key?
The key to Israel’s survival was in doing very ordinary things, putting down roots, building, planting, having families, and showing the right attitude to the Babylonian government to which she had to be subject. The final verse of our lesson is very important:
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
(Jeremiah 29:7, KJV)
The Hebrew word used here for “peace” is shalom, which has the meaning not only of peace, but also prosperity and well-being. The ESV translates it here as “welfare”. Instead of rebellion and hatred, there was to be a deliberate attempt to contribute to the welfare of the city, for in its welfare lay their own welfare.
THE APPLICATION OF THIS TRUTH TO CHRISTIANITY TODAY: PRAY FOR THE CITY
Spiritually, Christians are exiles in this world (Hebrews 13:14, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” – ESV: see also Heb. 11:10; 12:22; 1 Peter 2:11). Therefore, we, too, must seek the welfare of the cities in which we live and pray for them. It is this principle which lies at the heart of St. Paul’s exhortation to offer supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that Christians “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2, ESV). This prayer accords with God’s will for everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3).
St. Augustine of Hippo reminded his readers of these two passages (Jeremiah 29:4-7 and 1 Timothy 2:1-4) when he wrote of how the heavenly city shares in the peace of the earthly city during its own sojourn on earth, calling this peace “the temporal peace which both the good and the wicked enjoy” (Augustine: The City of God, Bk. IX. 27).
St. Polycarp urged Christians:
Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, for those in power, for princes, for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, so that your fruit may be apparent to everyone and that you may be perfect in Him.
(Letter to the Philippians 12)
As we watch news from around the world or from our local area, we need to note what we should be praying for, and those for whom we should be praying, so that we may lead quiet, peaceful and godly lives. As Christians, we must not abdicate our responsibility to pray for the cities or towns where we live, since our peace is connected to theirs. We must continue in prayer for all those in authority, so that our society may not be violent and chaotic, but peaceful and orderly, conducive to godly living.