Sunday, October 10

Sermon - 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-12
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles...”

We are exiles, are we not? Strangers in a strange land, sitting here around a table-- singing, praying, talking about Jesus, while the world moves on around us. Seems to me that our choosing to meet together in this way is, by the world’s standards, a strange thing indeed. It sets us apart, marks us as different-- in some quarters, as very odd, indeed. Don’t we have anything better to do with our time? Well, yes, plenty to do... but no, not better, nor more important. And so here we are.

As Christians, of course, we are set apart by God in many ways.

In baptism, we publicly proclaim our allegiance to something and Someone greater than county or clan, heritage or inheritance. In the Episcopal tradition, we say that we are “marked as Christ’s own, forever.”

Then when we live into that, and make choices based on our Christian faith, that fly in the face of cultural norms.... then, my brothers and sisters, we set ourselves further apart.
  • When we choose to forgive, rather than try to get even.
  • When we work for peace, rather than aiming for conquest.
  • When we speak to, and for, those marginalized by our larger society because of race, or gender, or other cultural barrier, rather than centering on self.
Even that terminology, “brother” or “sister,” when addressed to those outside our biological family, is a marker of alienation, as well as an indicator of community. Instead of buying into the societal truism that “blood is thicker than water,” it witnesses to the faith, to the Spirit that binds us to one another beyond the ties of genetics, blood and bone. In this way, we acknowledge ourselves alien.

So, when the Lord God addresses all of the exiles “sent into exile,” what does he have to say?

I read the three commands in this passage, and I hear them speaking to us here.

1. Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
Even as aliens, we live within the culture. “In the world and not of it,” as the New Testament says. But still-- as we make choices that are different, sometimes wholly other, from those around us-- still firmly in the world. We are to do live with our roots planted-- anchored, not transitory and wavering. We have been planted here in Rogers Park, and in the company of one another. It is incumbent upon us to make a home in this place-- to establish a presence, together.

2. Multiply there, and do not decrease.
The way to be the exiles that God wants us to be, is not to try to fit in, to adapt and lose that identity. Rather, it is to bring others out, to invite them into exile with us.. “Go therefore, and make disciples...”

3. 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.
To focus on the hope of eternal salvation, to the exclusion of the present, is not God’s will for humanity. The Kingdom of God is here and now, as well as there and then. The joyous news, the love of the Gospel, begins with care of stranger and neighbor in the present day.

That's why we pray for the President, and other political leaders, whether we agree with them or not. That's why we pray for our cities and communities. That's why Christians strive to care for all the poor and oppressed, not just those in our congregations. In our exile, we are to focus on the welfare of the world around us.

As we continue our service, and follow with discussion, I’d like to consider how we might begin seeking to do these things, as individuals and as the fledgling community that is the Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler.