Just back from the Mainstream Conference. Good time.
In particular, Glen Marshall's Bible readings in Jeremiah were spot on. He dealt with chapters 1 and 29 and both studies were full of insight and wisdom.
Jeremiah 29:7 was a significant verse calling me into ministry when I was a student almost 30 years ago. It's surfaced at crucial times over the intervening years. This week, longing for a word from God, I was once again forcefully reminded how God has linked our shalom with the shalom of our neighbours.
For me, it means that my focus needs to be outside the church not inside. No change there, then. But Jeremiah's letter to the exiles contains some home truths we don't really like. For starters, he said the exile was to last their whole lives - that's the import of 70 years (v10). What about us? If it's true that the church in the UK is in a time of exile, how long will it last? Will we never see the end of it? Sobering thought.
Those exiles, said Jeremiah, need to settle into their new situation and seek God's shalom for the Babylonians. This was outrageous advice. Babylon had defeated Judah and carted half the population into exile. It was still menacing the remaining people. In just a few short years, its forces would crush Judah's rebellion, level Jerusalem and destroy the temple.
And yet... Jeremiah says seek the shalom of these people in their homeland. What are the implications of that advice for us in the secular, faith-ambivalent UK? What does it mean to seek the shalom of our post-Christendom, consumer culture?
Jeremiah 29:11, a favourite OT verse because of its promise, is closely linked to verse 7: God wants to bless us with his shalom. That's his plan for us. How will it happen? He's told us already. It'll happen as we seek the shalom of the city where we've been sent into exile. On top of that, shalom will come as we seek God in the midst of exile (v12-14). For Jeremiah's first readers this was confirmation that they can find God in Babylon and not just in the temple in Jerusalem. For us, it means that we can and should expect to meet God in the city whose shalom we're seeking, where we've been exiled.