So, every once in awhile I go back and listen to old sermons I have given. To reflect or to learn from previous mistakes.
It’s something that pastor i knew suggested as a way to get better at preaching.
So, recently I did this and I could think back and back and remember what it was like when I was originally giving these sermons and I can remember myself usually thinking that I was being fresh and original each time I spoke. But, I realized that a hugely disproportionate of my opening stories seemed to reference my time living in SLIDE Korea or Australia over and over again.
My first thought was to laugh at myself - maybe I need to rethink some original material, Which is probably quite true. but as I reflected on this longer I realized that this was actually a significant insight in my life.
My retelling these stories revealed something important.
We, I, am informed by where I have come from. More than my life experiences, but literally the geographical places I have lived. Evanston, Chicago, Rural Australia, Seoul. All of these places inform who I am today.
I think this feels particularly relevant as it’s thanksgiving week
and many of us are going to be heading home.
Going back to where we have come from. For me it’s always a strange experience.
Whenever we get to these times of year around holidays, like thanksgiving, or Christmas, or the 4th of july. I don’t know if it’s the decorations or the familiar smells, but I find that I can’t help but to reflect on memories of me growing up.
I unconsciously find myself thinking of all sorts of things. Things like remembering what it was like to be around the thanksgiving table as a kid.
But, also unexpected things, like remembering the time me and my next door neighbor got in a fight and I threw a basketball in his face, or remembering when I was in like 8 we used to play tackle football on the cement before school.
Holidays, just have a way putting me in a place of reflection.
Reflection on where I have come from. Where I grew up.
But I also find this makes me reflect on where I live now.
That being with family, as many are this time of year, who live in differents cities and places can highlight how different it is to live in Chicago, vs Minnesota, vs Indianapolis.
They are not radically different places. But, you realize they are different. Or some friends I know that go home to places that are very different than Chicago. And, that experience can feel almost jarring.
And so, as we get ready to head into this week where we will be encountering lots of chances to remember where we have come from, and reflect on on where we are today. I want to suggest that there is an opportunity on the table for us. An opportunity to be intentional about how we choose to experience and interact with the place that is currently forming us, SLIDE Chicago.
Because, in my experience if I am not intentional about how I experience the place I am, I can just kinda consume it.
Like the city is just something that offers me an apartment to live in, it collects my trash, it offers me work opportunities. It’s just about what if offers me, or I find myself only able to focus on the ways it inconveniences me. Like bad traffic, bad parking, expensive cost of living, or even I find myself feeling a kind of removed disapproval of the city.
I find myself shaking head at the violence, or at the corruption, or the inequity and poverty.
And Chicago becomes this place that I just happen to live for now, and I am removed, and a little apathetic about it’s issues.
And I think that makes sense, on first glance it does seem kinda random or arbitrary that I currently live in the Chicago. I really only live here because I grew up 20 min away from here. Honestly, every place I have lived has felt a little random It seemed to come down to where I was born, or where I went for a job or for school. But not much more to it.
However, my experience has urged me to consider if there may be more to it.
And as I read from the tradition of Jesus I see indications that would agree with that sentiment. That the places I live may have more to offer me than just being random products of circumstance.
Like the passage from the Old Testament of the Bible in your program. SLIDE Ancient Israel (the people much of the Old Testament tells the story of) has been conquered by the Babylonians and something the babylonians did to dishearten their captives was to literally re-locate/exile them. People are less likely to rise up when they are displaced But, the exiled Israelites believed that God was going to return them to Isreal So the Israel thinks they’re in this city temporarily, and thus shouldn't care for or invest in the city they are exiled too, but God has something else in mind. Jeremiah 29:4-13 (TNIV) 4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, 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." 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them," declares the LORD. 10 This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD.
So, even though they are taken to a foreign land by force, and are only there temporarily, God tells them that HOWEVER LONG THEY’RE THERE, it’s in their interest for the city to prosper.]
And A NUMBER OF FOLKS I know HAVE INCREASINGLY FOUND THIS TO BE TRUE, SLIDE that, as their heart for their city grows, they themselves find more joy and connection to God.
But, even if you have some reservations about our great city. I think this passage in Jeremiah would indicate that there is a lot of value in loving the city you live in.
So, I want to take a look at the wisdom of Jeremiah 29 and examine what insights it may offer to us today.
Let Chicago into your heart, even if you may not stay. Let the city affect you. There seems to be some real meaning in letting yourself care for the city. Be pained by it's shortcomings, like the issues of Violence and poverty. rejoice in its victories Like the Cubs winning, or The Blues festival that celebrates where we came from.
We seem to be offered a fuller life as we see our city as an extension of us. As Jeremiah says, we prosper as our city prospers. Letting Chicago into your heart can be a gift. It makes you aware of something bigger. It gives us awareness of the suffering we may never have to see in our own life. Giving us a heart of care and compassion. But it also offers a chance for celebration, and shared joy that we may never have the chance to see on our own. So, even though I joke about it, this is the reason I am a Chicago Sports fan.
SLIDE I get to share a narrative with my city.
SLIDE I get to be part of something more. SLIDE I get to celebrate with random strangers when the Cubs win the world series. SLIDE I can still remember the night it happened. People up and down our block coming outside to celebrate. We had a friend from BLV over at the time, and he ran up and down the street high fiving our neighbors.
This was happening all over the city WATCH VIDEO There was something powerful about sharing joy with a whole city of people. That is a fuller experience of life. And the thing is, this gift is on the table even if you are not here for the long term.
Chicago will be part of your story, no matter what. Your experiences here will inform who you will be.
So I encourage you to let Chicago into your heart. I would even invite you to do the wise thing and become a cubs fan. But, also Rejoice in the diversity and resilience of the people in this city. The city will influence us whether we are passive or active in it. So I encourage you to actively let Chicago into your heart.
Invest in making Chicago better. Jesus addresses this in something he said in,
Matthew 5 :13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Today we don't think much of salt, but when St. Paul writes this it was a valuable commodity. It did two things, it takes food and makes it more flavorful, makes something you could have eaten anyway, but makes it more enjoyable. It also worked as a preservative. They didn't have refrigeration so salt was the only way to prevent things from going bad, fighting off rot. I think this gives us cool picture of what we can be. We can be people that make our city, our workplaces, our schools more desirable. And in the process we fight the rot.
I think of someone in BLV who's an elementary school teacher. They had a student who was falling way behind, it became clear that this student had some special needs that needed extra attention. However, the student had been passed through the system for a few years without anyone adequately addressing the issue. So, this teacher decided to advocate for this kid and push for them to get the help they needed. Unfortunately, the teacher received some push-back. The people they reached out to made it seem like it was my friends teaching that was the issue, not the child's special needs. However, the teacher decided that this student getting their needs met was more important than not-stirring the pot. There was finally a meeting with the parent, the teacher, and the appropriate administration at the school. In the end, there was the acknowledgment that the child needed the extra help the teacher was fighting for. Everything was not made perfect, but a process was started where the student has a chance to get the help they needed, all because of the advocacy of this teacher. This is what I am talking about, this teacher held back the effects of a system which was breaking down, one that would pass a kid through it rather than actually care for the needs of this child. I believe this school is better place, this city is a better place for having this teacher.
The second part of this passage is that we are to be light. Pre-electricity, Light was precious, you couldn’t just flip on a light switch after dark. It allows you to see things as they are, when darkness would obscure them. Or in other-words it allows people to see what’s good and true even in the midst of the darkness. in short, the city should be better for us being there. Taking the kind of action that can give hope for Good. Cynicism creeps in easily but stories like that teacher's story, can fight off this cynicism and give hope that there is good.
There are tons of ways this can happen, it can happen in our daily lives and workplaces as we invest in making them better. It happens as we vote and take interest in who leads our city and communities. It happens as we volunteer in our communities to make them better,
Jesus, really, is pointing us toward something that flies in the face of rampant consumerism, which is about using up the environment and space and resources we’re in, rather than becoming a part of them. Every one of us swims in consumerism - it is not possible to be untouched by it - It is the default approach most of us take to our cities And it breeds a sort of entitled disdain for our city (it gives us shelter, collects our trash, provides us with workplaces, but “ugh, Chicago is horrible”)…
In contrast to that, we see this investment approach to our cities as a kind of legacy of followers of Jesus, throughout time they were at the fore-front of making their cities better. this approach cetainly acknowledges the horrible parts of the cities we live in, but rather than complain, it invests We see the origins of that in this passage from Jeremiah We see it in the examples of the so-called Desert Mothers and Fathers of Christianity, who in the first centuries after Christ, retreated from cities to deserts to re-center themselves, but all with the intention of returning to their cities more whole and mature and wise so they could be a part of improving them We see it in the example of St. Francis, who in the midst of the Crusades -- when racist and religious tensions were at full tilt in 13th century Europe -- entered into and invested in cities in the Muslim world, instead of declaring war, as much of the rest of Christendom in his age did. We see it in the way black theology and black religious leaders set this country on a track toward civil rights in the 1960s and continue to do so today And this is the kind legacy I would love for us to continue to carry in this church
- Investing in Chicago actually benefits us The funny thing we see in Jeremiah 29, is not that they should do this out of obligation, or out of the vast kindness of their own heart. But if you put in, you will actually get more out, This is the big hook in the Jeremiah passage that as you invest in your city, you actually prosper. That God leads you towards good. I have found this to be true. Not always in literal 1for1s but, I find my heart softening and my joy increasing as I begin to care for and invest in Chicago.
How might we go about this?
Pray for our workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools. -This means the city in general but it can include Mayor Rahm Emanuel, our councilmen, The Businesses and Companies, our bosses, principals, the things that affect the welfare of our city This is not an easy thing. This is not just sending "thoughts and prayers". This is inclining your heart toward matters that are broken, toward people in power that may have hurt you or taken advantage of you (or others you love). -And watch how it changes your heart. This is probably the best way to let the city into your heart, as we pray for it we find ourselves caring about it, letting it affect us in new and deeper ways
Work toward improving chicago. Consider our neighboring partners This can mean you take the kind of action as the teacher to better their school. Or vote, or volunteer. If that interests you I would urge you to consider one of our partners Warming center Books & Breakfast Family Matters World Relief This week for Thanksgiving - Lakeview Pantry, who will be giving out thanksgiving meals.
Enjoy Chicago this Winter and invite Jesus into the experience.
We have found that inviting Jesus into even our most non-spiritual experiences can give it a kind of meaning that we couldn't have without it. When we first started the church, we would do open hangouts. Which had not deeper agenda other than going to a bar or a festival. However before we go, Vince and I would pray that Jesus would be there. The results were awesome. Not only were they all kinds of fun, but we found ourselves having more meaningful connections while we were having fun.
I remember talking to someone who was a big part of our church until she moved out of state. And our conversation started out around our beer and music preferences but moved into questions about faith and life meaning and uncertainty, then stories about people and churches and bosses who had hurt us in the past, and the imaginings of what an honest connection looks between people who don’t already agree on everything. Those were the first connections that became the early community of this church
So, this winter enjoy Chicago -
go see the zoo lights,
enjoy one of the many public park ice rinks,
enjoy the windows at what will always be Marshall Fields, the Krist kindel market, get together with friends drink hot chocolate and watch Christmas movies. But we would encourage you to invite Jesus into the experience, cuz we have found that it can add meaning that we may have missed if we didn't have Jesus leading us towards it.
This kind of depth, meaning and adventure in life does not always and actually usually doesn't mean moving or changing jobs. Most of us won't be moving cities or changing jobs tomorrow. So, what if we could invest more and get more out of our current city, our current Job, where we currently are. That would not only allow us to get more out of life now, but even give us the room to dream bigger about the future. Our experience of the present informs our future. So, if we are getting more out of our imperfect presents, won't that give us a hope that we can get more out of our dreams for the future. And that's my hope for us here at BLV
STAND WITH ME.3