The unthinkable had happened. After a thousand years Israel had lost the promised land. Some had been left behind, but the great and the good had all been deported. Now they were in Babylon. They were exiles and captives. The Exodus had been undone.
The prevailing wisdom, however, was encouraging. ‘We will not be here long,’ people said, ‘Just hold your nose. God will visit us soon. Then these pagans will get what is coming to them.’ But then a messenger arrived. He carried a letter from Jeremiah that offered a very different vision for the people of God. ‘You’re not coming home yet’ it said, ‘Settle down among the pagans. Establish yourselves as a community. Increase and do not decrease.’ Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, there was more: ‘Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf’ (Jeremiah 29.7).
Can you feel the force of that? The Babylonians were the enemy. They had besieged and destroyed Jerusalem. But God says ‘Care about them. Pray for them. Seek their good.’ God is saying ‘You need a vision for the people around you too; a vision for Babylon’
There is my point. We do need a vision for our churches; a vision to build and plant, to increase and not to decrease. But that is not enough. We also need a vision for our community. We need double vision. It isn’t a new Idea. God offered Abram a vision of the nations being blessed. The Lord Jesus secured it, sending us out with that same aim. Paul too offers a vision of walls coming down. John’s vision is of a heaven filled with people from every tribe. It has solid theological roots too. God is the creator. Every inch belongs to him. He is also the God of ‘common grace’ ensuring there is much to be admired and nurtured in every person, community and culture. He is also the God of Redemption, committed to rebuilding his world.
So what does it take to have a vision for your community? The answer is simple. It takes love. We need to know our community; the different groups who belong to it; where they are coming from; their hopes and fears; the injustices they suffer; the disappointments they have. We need to find out what they think of the gospel; what parts they already affirm; what parts they find unacceptable; being willing to learn as well as teach. We need to be there for people irrespective of their beliefs or response; and they need to be confident of acceptance among us. We need people to be glad we are there even if they don’t get what we believe. We need real people who are our real friends. Like I said; it takes love.
Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. People like us can find a love like that. It is waiting for us at the cross. The cross is the defrost button of the soul. As we see the Lord Jesus pouring out his life for us our self-righteousness loses its grip; our insecurity, tribalism and defensiveness begin to melt leaving us open to people who are different from us. We realise too the possibilities of redemption and renewal in every person we meet. We become willing and able to pour out our lives for others. Love is what always happens when Jesus is real to us. When he isn’t all you get is religion.
So how is your eyesight?