Just Stewardship, Shared Prosperity, Shalom For All

Epworth Pulpit Ministry  
Epworth Berkeley United Methodist Church
Michael J. Christensen, Pastor
“The church is the Church only when it exists for others.” –Dietrich Bonheoffer
“Just Stewardship, Shared Prosperity, Shalom For All”
-A Sermon by Pastor Michael Christensen, October 13, 2013
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon… Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they 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 you will find your welfare.(Jeremiah 29:4-7)
(Wall Street Journal, front page, Oct. 8. 2013)
I don’t usually read the Wall Street Journal, but last week this headline and photo on page 1 caught my eye:
“My generation grew up in pews,” the grandmother of three says. She worried that the sanctuary of Windham First Church of the Nazarene (in Maine) would resemble a movie theater. Windham is a church divided over changing from pews to chairs.   Lots of tears. Hard decision. Finally, after two years of prayer and process, they voted to put in softer chairs and flexible seating to create a more inviting atmosphere for new people, and to host community events.
In the Church of England, in the town of Epworth (where John Wesley’s father was the priest of the Epworth parish, the church Epworth Berkeley is named after), “roars have erupted over decisions to remove pews, forcing churches to delay remodeling plans for months while protests wind through diocesan courts.” Two church members filed official objections over the switch from pews to chairs, calling the plan an “unnecessary act of official vandalism.”
Having lost the battle over chairs, churchgoer Jim Asher spoke for many in the congregation in saying: “I grew up in a church that had pews, and I think that’s what belongs in a church.”
Reading this article about Traditionalists vs. Modernists, I could not help asking myself: What kind of church is Epworth Berkeley? And what kind of church do we want to become?
Models of Church
First Church:
I grew up in a large suburban church in Southern California with comfortable theater seats instead of hard wood pews. First Church had over 2000 members, with gifted pastors and multiple staff, lots of interesting programs for children and youth, and young adults. There were over 100 members of my church youth group, and we functioned as an alternative Christian community to that of our secular High School. We were successful in leading people to Christ and making disciples. Not very good at doing justice or social action in the world. Members tithed 10% of their income and we took special offerings for mission projects around the world, but we were not engaged in local ministry in our immediate community. Not a neighborhood church. More of a Regional Church. Members drove from far away to attend, to hear good preaching and teaching. Pastor-centered. Program-oriented. Focused on the needs and interests of the members of the congregation. What was happening inside our church buildings was a lot more important than what was going on outside the walls. It was a good church. I really liked my church growing up. It was fun and fulfilling and safe. 
The Oak Street House
: Fresh out of seminary in 1981, I was asked by my denomination to plant a new church in SF. A neighborhood church that would be mission-minded and outward focused. I recruited six others willing to move into the city, to live together as an intentional faith community, and start a house church in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. We moved into the neighborhood and within a few months managed to raise the down payment to buy a 4-story Victorian house on the corner of Oak and Lyon Streets, at the end of the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. 5200 square feet. 14 rooms, a large living room on first floor that could hold 50-60 parishioners. It was the house where Janus Joplin lived in and partied with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.
We were a family-size house church (about 30 people) that tried to help our neighbors and invite them to church: homeless persons who lived in their vehicles or on the streets in our community. Families in transition. Young Runaways. Displaced persons. New immigrants. Folks unemployed. People living with HIV/AIDS. Our primary focus was on the needs and gaps in social services and what we might do to help. Several hundred people registered with us for social services and hospitality, and thought of the Oak Street House as a community Center.   A sign on the door read: “This is God’s House of Peace. No drugs, weapons, harsh words or fighting allowed inside.”
We thought of ourselves as a House Church and Mission Station for JC. “The difference between a mission station and a church congregation,” according to Robert Schuler (founder of the Chrystal Cathedral) “is that a mission station for JC puts the needs of the [unchurched] a notch above the needs of the [churched].”
We wanted to be a Mission Station. A Shalom Church. What Dietrich Bonheoffer called “a church for others.”
Besides always having to beg for money, our major limitation was that we understood ministry as evangelism through direct services and relief work–offering food, clothing and shelter to those in need and sharing with them the good news of God’s plan of salvation. We did not know about ‘speaking truth to power’, or coalition building and working with others for community transformation. We did not know much about community organizing, or economic development, or how to advocate for change in public policy or take political action. Nor even to ask the deeper questions, like “why are these people hungry? Why are people on the streets? Why is this neighborhood poor?”  Theses are practical ministry skills taught in Shalom Zone Training for churches and organizations interested in starting a community of Shalom.
Communities of Shalom
(you may have heard) are an international network of community development projects or demonstration acts in small, geographical areas (called shalom zones). By working together to build coalitions, they seek to raise the quality of life in a particular community (maybe in just one square block, or a zip code, or village or even one long country road). Instead of individual churches or community organizations working independently on their own agenda, they try to work together across cultural and religious boundaries for the Shalom of All.
Shalom, of course, is not just a Jewish greeting or a special way to say hello. And not just a word that means Peace. Its as a biblical vision for community transformation with many threads of meaning, including: health, healing and harmony; welfare, wellness and wholeness, just stewardship and shared prosperity.
The inspiration and principles of Communities of Shalom are based on the insights and instructions of Jeremiah to the exiles from Jerusalem to Babylon in the lectionary text read today. An ancient text from the 6
century BCE where Shalom is used four times!
Shalom Insights for economic community development
— Jeremiah 29:4-7
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  
5a. Build houses and live in them; in other words, stop wishing you were back where you came from in Jerusalem. You can worship God here and now, in Babylon, outside the walls of the Temple of Jerusalem. So Settle in and join the community where you have been sent. Bloom where you have been planted. Live your life in the community where you find yourself. It’s going to be awhile before you go home. (Like 70 years, an entire generation). Shalom is about building affordable housing in safe neighborhoods, where kids can play on the streets and go to school.
5b. Plant gardens and eat what they produce, said the prophet. Eat local we might say. Stop wishing you could eat the food that you grew and ate in Jerusalem. You’re in Babylon now, and the food is different. There’s an ecological motif to asset based community development. Greening Shalom, we call it. Most Communities of Shalom have a community garden that brings residents together.
6. Get married. Have children. Raise your family: find wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. Shalom is about family values, for sure. Not just the nuclear family, but also the extended family, and the multicultural families living in places like Berkeley or 7. Babylon.
7a. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile…
Shalom is used three times in verse 7. Sometimes is translated peace, sometimes welfare, or prosperity. Shalom means to seek the health and prosperity of the community to where you have been sent by God.
Seek prosperity not just for yourself and your families, but also for the whole community where you have been sent, for if it prospers, you too will prosper. Shalom is about just stewardship and shared prosperity.
7b. And pray to the Lord on its behalf, Spirituality is essential in shalom ministry. Pray for the community of which you are a part. Story of how we marched and prayed last week in West Berkeley…
So here we are in Berkeley and we’ve had 4 homicides so far this year (just a few compared to Oakland and other cities). But still, two young men shot to death and bled out on the street just a few blocks from here. We seek shalom by praying for the needs and challenges of the community where you live, or work or worship, knowing that if you seek shalom for others, you will find shalom for yourself.
There’s self-interest here. In its welfare you will find your welfare. In its shalom you will find your shalom.
There are community interests here. If Babylon prospers, the exiles will prosper.Our fortunes are tied to those of the community of which we are a part. When you seek the shalom of others, we ourselves are blessed….
What are the lessons here for Epworth Berkeley?
. We’re all connected. Bound together. “I am because we are.”Enlightened self-interest (knowing that my welfare is bound up and connected to your welfare). As MLK said: “As long as there is poverty in the world, no one can be truly rich. I cannot be who I need to be unless you can be who you need to be. This is the way the world is made. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
If you focus only on the congregation, a church becomes insular and exclusive. If you focus on the good of the whole community where the congregation is based, if you focus on raising the quality of life in the community where you live, work or worship, then both the community and the congregation can prosper.
Metaphysical principal: “If you want the fire to come down here, you have the build the altar over there.” Uh?
Focus on community; the congregation may grow as a by-product.
Seek first God’s kingdom… and all these other things will be added as well…
Jeremiah appealed to enlightened self-interest: If Babylon is blessed you will be blessed. If city of Babylon prospers, you will prosper. If Berkeley is safe, you will be safe, if the larger community survives and thrives, so will the community of faith. “For in others shalom you will find your shalom.”
So, What kind of church is Epworth Berkeley becoming? A family church? A pastor-centered church? A program church? A Mega Church? A Shalom Church?
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to help you and not to harm you, plans for your welfare and shalom, to give you hope and a future. (Jer. 29:11)
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