One of the things the church has a chance to be is a community that models a different approach to life. For many years it's been popular to describe this as 'counter-cultural'. The trouble is that this term has been frustratingly vague and often informed as much by cultural factors as by Biblical thinking.
Trevor, commenting on a previous post about social solidarity, lamented the fact that churches aren't really talking about what's happening in our country. Part of the reason for this, I guess (rather obviously), is that within our churches are people who voted for most of the options on offer in May's election; there are people who want to pay less tax and so support public spending cuts and those who think the state has a responsibility to protect the poorest in our community. Because of these divisions of opinion, we tend to steer clear of talking about these issues in church.
Trevor reminds us of Jeremiah 29 - a text that called me into ministry 30 years ago - and suggests that 'our churches aren’t going to be able to prosper if the communities around them are being ravaged by cutbacks and redundancies.' That's food for thought, isn't it?
What does it mean, in the context of impending spending cuts and the general fragility of our economy, the squeeze on household incomes and general gloom about our economic prospects following years of boom, to 'seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.'? How will we 'pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper'?
The word rendered 'peace and prosperity' is the Hebrew word shalom that offers a picture of wholeness, well-being, the welfare of everyone in the community. Church, according to Jeremiah, is a gathering, a collection, a community of people who embody the values pre-supposed by this rich Hebrew word. What does that look like?
Peter reflects on this passage in Jeremiah in his first letter and one of his observations is that 'as foreigners and exiles, [we] abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.' (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Perhaps if we see sinful desires as referring less to sex and more to our economic lives (greed, for example; the use of our cash only to satisfy our wants and desires and not the needs of those around us), we could begin to reflect on how this call to godly living might resource counter-communal living in today's harsh economic reality.