(Yes, the title is a Blues Brothers reference. You can laugh.)
I'd like to juxtapose two things in the ol' blog today: a phone conversation I had with a total stranger, and a sermon I heard from the mouth of my beloved husband yesterday.
Scene 1: Random man calls into the school where I work to enquire about classes for his daughter. For some reason it came out that I live very near to this school, which is in the Downtown area of San Jose. He related to me that his wife and he used to live in the city (that's San Francisco for those of you who don't live around here) right on the Haight in a cool, funky apartment. But, all that changed when they had their first child. "Of course we had to move!" he explained. I didn't fully understand why, but he kept going. He said, "Downtown living is so awesome when you are a young couple. But let me give you a piece of totally unsolicited advice [at least he was honest!]. Start looking for a house out in the cozy suburbs of San Jose now so that when your child is old enough to go to school, you are firmly established in a great school district. We are fortunate enough to send our children to private school because my wife makes gazillions, but I realize not everyone can afford that. So the thing to do is situate yourself where the good schools are so your children don't suffer. I had a friend who lived downtown and they sent their child to Horace Mann. It was terrible! She suffered! Get out of there while you still can!"
WOW! Okay, I said juxtapose, not necessarily explain so let's just cut to scene 2, Sunday morning, very cute husband preaching on one of our core values as a church: "Mission".
He explained that our God is a missional God. He has been on a mission since the beginning of time to be the God of His people and when they strayed, to bring them back to Himself. What did God do as part of His redemptive plan to save humanity? He SENT His only son, sacrificing Him out of heaven to die a horrible death on Earth. Jesus lived and moved and breathed among us. He wasn't a monk, staying outside of society. He wasn't a street corner evangelist, preaching Hellfire. He wasn't ONLY about service projects to the poor. His entire life was lived among the very people He would save.
What makes us any different as His followers? In this sermon was the marvelous example of Jeremiah 29, when Israel is in exile in Babylon. False prophets are saying to Israel, "Don't get comfortable in this disgusting city, God will send us home soon." Or we could say in modern context, "I've got my safe little box of ONLY Christian music, Christian school, Christian friends, Christian coffee houses," and on and on...in other words, let's live in a Christian ghetto where we don't engage the culture, but build our own.
In the Bible, Jeremiah is saying, NO. The Lord God says, "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare (shalom - meaning peace, wholeness, health) you will find your welfare (shalom). Jeremiah 29:5-7 ESV
We, as a couple of missionaries, have been SENT into San Jose to live and work and have kids and send them to school and Scouts and soccer practice. We have been sent to work downtown, live there, walk through St. James Park every day, shop at Mi Pueblo, (slowly) learn to speak Spanish, eat Pho, get our hair cut for $10 by Moon, go to Martin Luther King, Jr. library, give homeless guys something to eat, and whatever else it means to be a downtown San Josean!!
That's the mission. Love the city because God loves the city. Be His hands and feet so people can clearly see His love at work. Increase, and do not decrease. We have been sent to seek the welfare of this city and intercede on its behalf, because in its peace and security, we shall find ours, but more importantly, God's glory will be made manifest.