We’ve set aside some time this morning to take a look at what we are calling the mission ‘intentions’ of The Village as a Christian Community where we find ourselves at this point in time. The two passages we’ve just heard have been, in the process of forming the mission document, quite influential in the background of our work. And so, I wanted to take a couple of moments to talk about them so that perhaps the underlying flavour or ethos of things might come to the surface a little more.
Jeremiah was one of the prophets who was called by God to speak to the Israelites while they had found themselves in exile. They were in Babylon at the time. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had forcibly removed the Israelites from their land and taken them back to Babylon. They found themselves in foreign territory surrounded by a different landscape, different people, different language, different religious practices – all sorts of different and new. Being in exile, in a strange land, surrounded by strange people I imagine was quite frightening at first – everything they were used to no longer worked or functioned as it once had. They were feeling rather lost, rather like God had abandoned them. They were hoping that God would rescue them – like God did before when they were enslaved in Egypt, but actually God had a different message for them. As we heard, God’s message came to them singing a different song. In Egypt it had been that God would destroy their oppressors and remove them from that place. But here, in Babylon, there was a different message. God said, ‘Settle down, establish your lives here, get to work, grow your families’ and, perhaps the most interesting part, ‘Pray for the welfare of the city.’ This was a very different posture towards where they were compared to Egypt, and I imagine towards what they would be hoping would happen to the Babylonians. It was a posture of permanence, of being there. It was a posture of relating to their new surroundings, a posture of making a home and a way of being in it that had the interests of their neighbours at heart. It was an open and engaging posture rather than one that was closed minded and disengaging. We could say it is in line with something Jesus said a little later on about loving one’s enemies and loving one’s neighbour as one loved themselves. In short, yes, they were in exile but it was not the end of the world. There was still hope. God was with them and was to provide all they needed as they set about being active participants in the world they now found themselves in. It is said actually that during this time, because they were in exile and because they no longer had the familiar surroundings and comforts of home that they actually got to work and figured out much of what was to shape the way of their faith for many generations to come. It was out of this time in exile that the scriptures were first written down, the patterns of meeting in the synagogues were first established, and many of their festivals were brought to life again. Because they found themselves in a strange place, they got to work innovating new ways to keep their faith alive and active for the generations to come. It was in fact in exile when their faith came alive again.
Some have, with some accuracy I believe, described the Christian Church in 21st Century Western Culture in a sort of exile. No longer are we at the centre of society. We are, if you like, surrounded by a new landscape. We exist in a society that no longer identifies with our faith. Literally we haven’t been removed from our land, but in a way we have been pushed aside. We could lament this and raise our fists and demand that we are reinstated as the centre of our world (in a way that is what we see some Christians doing is it not?). We could take on an attitude against our society condemning all we see as evil and godless (again, isn’t that what we see from some Christians?) or, we could take a page out of Jeremiah’s book. What would it look like for us to settle here, to plant roots in this new society, to get about our living amongst our communities with an openness and having their best intentions at heart? What would it look like for us to innovate new ways of doing things so that our faith could be passed on for generations to come, just as it has been passed on to us? It is this attitude that has informed the content of our mission document. And I would add that if we stopped to think for even a moment it has been in our DNA right from the formation of The Village. A posture of openness to our communities, working for the wellbeing of our communities, and innovating our way to a future faith that is vibrant and alive.
We have talked about Luke 10 a couple of times recently, so I won’t labour the point apart from to say that it has been quite influential in forming our current understanding of mission. Mission according to Luke 10 is about heading out to discover people and places where the Spirit of God is already at work. We do this trusting that God is at work in the world and trusting that we will see and notice this happening. Our work is to go gently, and go lightly, trusting that God provides all we need for the journey, and believing that God’s love, grace, hope, peace, and joy etc. will make a difference in the lives of those people we come into contact with. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has famously said, “The Church does not have a mission, but rather, the God of mission has a church.” We participate in the mission of God, actively looking for where we might find God at work. This of course is easier said than done, but again, it is a posture thing. We trust in God and we go looking and even though it may take a little bit more to figure out what we are to do we can be sure that we will find as we search because we are open to seeing whatever and wherever it might be.
A posture of openness. A posture of relating well to our neighbours. A posture of innovation. Held in an understanding that God is active, and we join in with that activity.