Jeremiah 29:4-14

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 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. 7 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. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to your dreams that you dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Philippians 1:3-11

Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians

I thank my God for every remembrance of you, always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, for all of you are my partners in God’s grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the tender affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.    

Philippians 1:27-30

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel 28 and in no way frightened by those opposing you. For them, this is evidence of their destruction but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ but of suffering for him as well, 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.      

The second value that our elemental leadership group came to was the value of partnerships.  We know that we have a congregation rich in talent, we also know that as we mature, we become more humble and know that we want, we need, partners, or friendships willing to collaborate with us so that we can grow in our own lives and the life of the church.

A great illustration of that is the Ukrainian food festival.  There is no way we could have pulled that off by ourselves, even though we have amazing talent in our church and host the best Mett Sausage dinner in America, this was a unique opportunity that landed in our laps, we simply said yes to new friends to use our kitchen and campus for a fundraiser to help Ukraine from a Russian dictator and his military.  

Our church was filled with Ukrainians for a few weeks, and then, on the day of the event, we had around 3500 folks come.  Even though we had probably around 40-50 volunteers from the church, we needed the expertise and the human power of the dozens, even hundreds, of Ukrainians working alongside us, as well as other partners.

Partnering with others helps you to grow, as well as those you partner with.  When I coached cross country, I was always looking to build a team.  

You may think cross country is an individual sport, but when you have a group of folks pulling for each other, knowing where one another is, feeding off each other, then you can propel yourself to the finish line and do well as a team.  When our girls cross country team got past districts as the district runner up and made it to regionals for the first time in Finneytown history, we had a great group of young ladies that ran well together…especially McKenzie Jones and Julie Brueggemeyer.  They became best friends, and still are to this day.  They always knew where one another was on the course on race day and fed off of each other, pushing each other.  They also trained together…they had, and have a bond that is seemingly unbreakable.

Friends, that’s what we are looking for as we partner with others.  True friendship.  Bob and I continue to reach out to Oksana, Jane, Sergii, and Christiana.  

Our passage in Jeremiah this morning tells the story of our need for partnerships.  When our church’s bible study read this, we, like the Jewish folks in exile, may feel like we are in a foreign land at times.  That culture is changing and we often don’t know where we stand.  Yet, God reminds us to be all in where we are, wherever we are.  God told the Jews in exile, in a foreign land, to build houses, grow families, and work towards the benefit of the city.  In other words, partner and work for the common good.  

We are called to do the same today.  To work for the common good of where we have been placed, however we have been placed here.  That involves making genuine, authentic friendships.  

God has a purpose for you, for us.  For this congregation.  Are we willing to trust, to ask questions of God and one another?  To engage our neighbors for their well being?  Not for conversion or just to add another name on the church membership role, but to work towards their benefit?  And, in that process of trust and engagement, of friendship, to allow ourselves to grow and adapt?  

The church that Paul wrote to in Philippi, the Philippians, bound together in an inclusive community that was a blessing to Paul as they partnered with him and with the folks around them.  We sense that in the intro this letter, “I thank my God every time I remember you”.  And notice the word partnership, it is repeated literally a couple of times, but other words are used as well.  Paul felt a deep connection with these folks.  

There’s also the word “righteousness”.  We’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating:  when you see the word “righteous” in the Bible, it’s more about being in right relationship than being “right”.  It’s what Peter Block reminded us of often when we embark on any meaningful work together, it is more important for us to be right or to work together.  

Yes, there is suffering, there is hardship as Paul writes, yet we are not alone in it.  We struggle together and we enter into other’s struggles.  As we do, we know we can work through it together and the struggle brings us closer together.

When I coached my daughter and her friends, I reminded them often that running is a joy, and it’s suffering, together.  It formed a bond and strength within them and so many others.  

Friends, this church understands this, we are willing to suffer, to engage, to build friendships as we merge with the community and find folks willing to partner.  God, residing deep within us and residing deep within this neighborhood is calling us towards one another.  We have amazing partners in this community, and we are strengthening those partnerships even as we speak today…this week and month is full of possibilities and opportunities for our church.  May it be so.  

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