In the City For the City
by Tom Goodman
January 23, 2013
A letter from fourth-century Rome can teach us how to "do church" in twenty-first century Austin.
In 362 A.D. the Emperor Julian launched a campaign to revive the fading religion of Roman gods and goddesses. In part, he believed, this would require matching the care-giving that Christians had become so famous for. In a letter to a prominent pagan
priest, Julian complained that Christians "support not only their poor, but ours as well. Everyone can see that our people lack aid from us."
The temples never really rose to this imperial challenge. In his book, Cities of God, Baylor historian Rodney Stark explained that paganism simply had no comparison to the moral force of Christ's commands to love one's neighbor as oneself -- commands
which the earliest Christians took seriously:
Members nursed the sick, even during epidemics; they supported orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they concerned themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created "a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part
lacked social services."
How do Christians in twenty-first century Austin stack up with those in fourth-century Rome? Do we take Christ's words about service as seriously as those ancient brothers and sisters?
Do you remember the letter Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon, commanding them to"seek the peace and prosperity of the city" and "pray to The Lord for it?" (Jeremiah 29:7). Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the leading citizens, and now
God's prophet told those very citizens to work and pray for Babylon's well-being!
As a believer you may sometimes feel an exile in your own land. You may feel that a culture famous for "tolerance" has lost tolerance for your values. So how should you respond? By seeking the peace and prosperity of the city where God has placed
you. I'll guess that Christians in fourth-century Rome weren't looking to make a cultural impact with their care-giving: I imagine they were simply obeying Jesus' commands to love their neighbors. But Julian couldn't ignore it, and neither will
twenty-first century Austin.
This Sunday we'll take a close look at Jeremiah 29. It's part of our January sermon series entitled, "This Is Your Wake-Up Call." You can catch up with the series on our Sermons web page, and then
join us @ 10 this Sunday for the final message.
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