Sermon Notes – 1 September 2019 – Vision Series – We Love The City

I preached this at the West Congregation of The Austin Stone as part of of our annual vision series. You can find the audio here.

Welcome to week 2 of our Vision series. WE.

  • WE Love God.
  • WE Love the church.
  • WE Love the city.
  • WE Love the nations.

Today, we will be talking about The City, our call to love and serve the city of Austin and the obstacles we have to overcome in order to do that.

Austin is kinda bananas cool. We moved here 18 months ago and we have loved it, but it is such an interesting and complex place.

  • The food is amazing.
  • The music is amazing.
  • The opportunities for study and careers are amazing.
  • The sun is much too close for flourishing human habitation.
  • The traffic is epic.
  • The property market is bombastic.
  • It’s weird, and we even have activists trying to keep it that way.

It is undoubtedly a city of tremendous opportunity. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the US.

  • 55,269 new people moved to Austin last year.
  • That is 151 new people every day! (Some dispute over this)

But it is also a place of tremendous struggle and difficulty.

  • It is increasingly secular and post-Christian. That makes Christian witness challenging.
  • It is deeply divided.
    • A recent study conducted by the Atlantic showed Travis County is in the 99thpercentile for partisan prejudice. In other words, we live in one of the most politically divided places in the nation, and there is a rapidly reducing willingness to even hear the rationale or thinking for any other position. This isn’t a liberal or conservative thing, or a democrat or republican thing. It is that in Austin (to an almost unique degree) people are fiercely divided along those lines and passionately intolerant of counter positions.[1] That makes Christian witness challenging.
    • It is divided racially, socio-economically, geographically. It is a city of prominent pockets that people don’t break out of.
  • There is a rapidly growing homeless population (it grew by 5% last year), and very consensus about what to do about that, or how to help.

So how are we to love this place? How are we to be people to help to display the love of Christ and the good news of the gospel to a city that increasingly doesn’t want to hear about that? My assumption is that most of us want to be good citizens of the city we live in. We want to be people who contribute to the flourishing and wellbeing of Austin, but we have obstacles to overcome as we try to do that. What are some of the obstacles we are facing?

What Keep us From Loving the City?

  1. We Feel Insignificant

I get this. What impact can I have here, and how can we make a difference, especially when we are just trying to survive ourselves, right? Life is busy, money is tight, time is stretched, we already feel burdened with responsibility.

I get it. The question to counter it is though … “why are you here?” What brought you here in the first place? While we will all have different answers to that question circumstantially, we actually all have the same answer theologically. God placed us here.

Look quickly with me at Acts 17:26, which is a snippet of sermon preached by Paul in the city of Athens.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth,having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.[2]

 God determines the times and places in which people live all over the world. You are here by God’s good providential hand. Here…now…through God’s wisdom. Why would God have you here? Well, as we were reminded of last year when we studied Jonah 4 – God cares deeply for cities and the people who live in them. That is why he arranges the details of the lives of his people, who may not even love the people of the cities they live in, so that his grace and mercy and kindness might be shown to the great cities of the world.

You are here as a gift of grace from God to the city of Austin. Gosh, don’t miss that. That’s too big a call to miss out on. While everyone else jumps on the Austin is a cool place to live, so let me drain her of that she has bandwagon, Christians in this city ought to be saying… God has me here now for something, and he has equipped me somehow for the flourishing of the city of Austin. How can I steward His sovereign kindness in that?

What Keep us From Loving the City?

  1. We Feel Insignificant
  2. We Anticipate Indifference or Even Opposition

As I said in the intro, this is an increasingly secular city, and you get the distinct feeling that it is starting to shift from the time when it was socially beneficial to be a believer, to it now becoming a social liability for you to be a believer. We feel that less here in the suburbs, but trust me, being a Christian UT student and taking stands for your faith does not get you upward mobility and social acceptance.

The church is being increasingly removed from the center of society and placed on the fringes, and all of us are going to need to consider the costs of that as we choose to “Love God” and “Love the Church.” The good news is that it will make us more and more like the saints of old. But is the answer to just bail from society? Our own schools, suburbs, social groups, welfare? Is that it? I mean some of those things are good, really good, but is Christian ghetto-ism the answer?

Look at what Peter said to the church a couple of thousand years ago.

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. [3]

 Look at Peter’s marvelous tension …

  1. Be removed (holy living sojourners and exiles)
  2. Be engaged (conduct AMONG the Gentiles)

Let them hate what you believe but marvel at how you live lives of good deeds. This should be our witness, and every part of it is important.

Our removal in holiness is important, but instead we compromise and think it will serve the city better if we live exactly like them. Our engagement is important, but instead we never really engage the unbeliever and live lives in Christian enclaves. Our willingness to be spoken against as evil because of what we believe is important, but we keep trying to water that down and disguise what the scriptures actually say.

OUR GOOD DEEDS ARE IMPORTANT!

They give people an opportunity to see our patterns of life and glorify God as a result!!

This is actually how the church has endured some of its most difficult seasons. Through the plague of Cyprian that ravaged the Roman Empire from 249 to 262 AD. 5000 people were dying a day in Rome alone! Christians stayed and cared for the sick, getting infected themselves. It changed many in societies view of Christianity. They were hated by the cities that they served. Look at how Eusebius recorded it.

“Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing from this life with them after becoming infected with their disease. Many who nursed others to health died themselves. The best of our own brothers lost their lives in this way – some presbyters, deacons, and laymen – a form of death based on strong faith and piety that seems in every way equal to martyrdom. They would also take up the bodies of the saints, close their eyes, shut their mouths, and carry them on their shoulders. They would embrace them, wash and dress them in burial clothes, and soon receive the same services themselves.”

John Piper tells the story of The Roman Emperor Julian, writing in the fourth century, who regretted the progress of Christianity because it pulled people away from the Roman gods. He said,

“Atheism [I.e. the Christian faith!] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”

And this has been a pattern throughout history. When the church has been hated for its beliefs and its insistence on holiness, it has glorified God in its witness of good deeds. When the church is embraced by empire and indistinguishable from the culture around it, well then, the good deeds tend to dry up.

If we are going to love Austin, it is going to be like Peter says by insisting on holiness, holding to our true and unpopular doctrine and doing good works that cannot be denied in the city, so that even if they hate what we believe they are stunned by our mercy.

What Keep us From Loving the City?

  1. We Feel Insignificant
  2. We Anticipate Indifference or Even Opposition
  3. We Feel Insecure and Incompetent

It can feel overwhelming and we can feel very poorly equipped. I know this and have experienced this. I remember being totally overwhelmed by the crisis of homelessness in Johannesburg and so I just dialed out. I mean, how do you help? What if you make it worse? The answer cannot be do nothing though. I love how practical God was in His instructions to His people in exile. We use this text often, but we mustn’t just assume it and miss its power. Look at Jeremiah 29, written to people living as slaves and foreigners in one of the cruelest cities in the world, ever.

“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 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 you will find your welfare.”

The instruction here is amazing considering the position of vulnerability that the exiles were in. These were their enemies who weren’t treating them well, and God calls them to seek their welfare…their shalom. But how? By doing extraordinarily ordinary things. Build houses, plant gardens, have families. Do your life, but do it for the flourishing of the people around you and not just for you. Expand your horizons. Seek shalom, for you and for your pagan neighbor. Extend the blessing of the Kingdom.

When it comes to seeking the welfare of the city, here is the advice I always give to people who are just looking to start.

  1. Do what you can.
  2. With what you have.
  3. Where God has you placed.

Here is the great news…you are placed in a phenomenal church for you to be able to take some steps.

  1. Just today, you have some of the following opportunities.
    1. Sign up for a For the City equipping class to learn more about the needs of our city and you can engage those needs meaningfully.
    2. Three different “Encounter Austin” serving opportunities. Community First; Austin Life Care and CASA.

Go on the app. Click on “current series”; then “Love the City”; then “West”. All those opportunities will be there, plus a search function that can literally connect you with any issue in any part of the city with any level of availability. It is insanely cool.

Conclusion:

So here is how I want to end it. Before we sing and head out, let’s take a couple of minutes to just let the Lord speak to us and for us to lay ourselves at His feet, making ourselves available for Him to direct us.

Take a minute to process the following questions, either on your own, or if you are sitting in family units this would be really helpful to talk through.

  • What is one area of need in the city where you feel like God is calling you to serve?
    Homelessness, Education, Pro-Life Advocacy, Race, Housing etc.
  • What is one step you can take today to begin to do what you can, with what you have, where God has placed you?

[1]https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/03/us-counties-vary-their-degree-partisan-prejudice/583072/?platform=hootsuite

[2]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ac 17:25–27.

[3]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 2:11–12.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: