I was challenged by Leroy Barber's message on Wednesday evening at CCDA's opening large group session. He spoke on Jeremiah 29: 1-11, and took us away from "the precious moments" usage of Jeremiah 29:11..."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."
He reminded us that there were two stories at the beginning of Jeremiah 29. The first story is one of Babylon. Babylon had just won, and it was full of itself. They had just plundered Jerusalem. This story is the one of prestige, power, empire, arrogance. The second story is one of Jerusalem. The people were beaten, tired, worn, and called to walk to Babylon as exiles, a journey of 800 miles. They had lost most everything; they had family and friends who had died and would not make the journey.
One of these stories would fall, one would last. To which people did the Lord speak His community development plan, his missional call? It was to the tired, worn, weary people of Israel along their journey to Babylon.
God tells these folks to go into Babylon- their captors, their oppressors- and to build and settle, plant and eat, marry, make a living, and to seek the peace and prosperity of the land, for as it prospers, so would they also prosper. In the 70 years that God would require the Israelites to live in exile in Babylon, He tells them to commit to the flourishing of the city so that they too might flourish. He doesn't tell them to commit to the ways of the Babylonians, but instead to commit to singing the song of peace that they represented in Jerusalem.
Barber went on to contrast power and struggle:
"Power is not friendly. We can't handle power. Power conceded nothing until it is confronted. Power wants to operate from strength. Power will re-group. Power offers small gestures and trinkets, not system change. Power masks itself in our churches and Christian ministries. Power doesn't wake up in the morning and say, 'How do I share myself today?' We can't handle power without accountability and community.
Power, however, exerted in sacrifice will lift people to life. Your life as a follower of Jesus in this world is centered in struggle. You won't get justice and not have it cost you something. Salvation is free, not justice."