Series: Our Neighbourhood
Theme: Does Place matter? Blessed are the Placemakers!
Bible Reading: Jeremiah 29:4-7, John 20:11-18
Preacher: Rev Kevin Kim
Date: 23 January, 2022
Kevin continues his first worship series with us by looking at Placemaking. Placemaking is a phrase that is increasingly being used in the community sector, and gaining traction in our churches as a helpful missional approach to local community engagement. Jesus was sent into the neighbourhood. He was sent to specific place. Jesus was a placemaker. The health and vitality of a church is intimately connected to the art of placemaking. Jesus calls us to be stewards
Last Sunday we explored the question, “Does your neighbourhood matter?” – How well do you know your neighbourhood? I hope you have thought about this question throughout last week. This Sunday we continue to ponder this question with a new concept of ‘placemaking’. Placemaking is a phrase that is increasingly being used in the community sector. Now many churches adapt this concept of ‘placemaking’ as a helpful missional approach to local community engagement.
My message is based on the article called, “Blessed are the Placemaker!” When I first read that title, I thought that was blessed are the peacemaker!” You heard it right – blessed are the placemaker!
From the moment that God named the first garden, place has been important. God created the world, planted a garden but it was not just any garden, he named it Eden. In scripture, we see over and over that particular places are important. Physical space matters to God. When we name places they become significant and unique to us. They become places where we live, play, tend gardens, engage in new friendships. This is what it means to be human. To be placed.
When it comes to the community engagement, many of our churches begin with identifying needs in their wider community, and then seek to articulate and meet those needs (the Advocacy and Welfare approach).
The next stage is seeing needs and working alongside other locals so that people are empowered to address the issues (Needsbased Community Development).
In more recent years the focus has shifted to recognising assets in the community and how we can partner with people to enhance, celebrate, and add value to the good things that already exist in the neighbourhood (Asset-based Community Development and Appreciative Inquiry). As we move along the spectrum each expression becomes more sustainable, more equitable (ekwol), and in Kingdom terms, increasingly focused on Missio Dei – the belief that God is already at work in the neighbourhood and that our calling as the followers of Jesus is to align ourselves with what God is doing. Placemaking invites us to the next stage of community engagement.
There are some difficult questions to see where we are on the journey in terms of the community engagement stage:
Those difficult questions are –
Do you know the names of your neighbours?
Are you engaged with your neighbours?
Does the community around us express gratitude for our existence?
Would our neighbourhood miss us if our church closed tomorrow?
What do people say about us in the neighbourhood?
Salvation may well involve heaven and eternity, but if the ministry of Jesus is anything to go by, it most certainly involves the here and now. We need to return to the basics and ask why God has us in our particular places. It is time to cultivate a curiosity and affection for our neighbourhoods so that our lives can glow in the darkness.
For a hint about how the people of God best inhabit their places we recall Jeremiah 29, which is our first Bible reading. In this time and place, God’s people are trapped in hostile territory. They have every reason to want a way out. They have turned inward. The word of the Lord comes to them via the prophet and it turns them inside-out. They are told to seek the welfare (SHALOM) of their place. This is always God’s way (Jeremiah 29:4-7). … 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 … 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.
It’s important to notice that the word for welfare here is in fact SHALOM. It is fair to say that Shalom is the biggest word in the bible.
That is, it contains the fullness of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and blessing. The word, Shalom contains all our best hopes for salvation, justice, and peace…on earth as it is in heaven! Jesus is no stranger to this idea and his words recorded in the conclusion of John’s gospel are key to the significance of this concept. Jesus’ very first words to his followers as a resurrected person (John 20:20-21):
“Shalom be with you…
Shalom be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Jesus was sent “into the neighbourhood.” He was sent to a specific place: to love neighbours, to identify and challenge injustice, to enact healing and hospitality. Jesus was a placemaker. He recognized the cultural, political, environmental, and relational issues of his specific place. He calls us to be students and stewards of our places that we might follow in his steps.
What is Place?
Place is simply the created world around us. It includes streets, parks, buildings, art and culture, homes and businesses. It begins with the “natural world” and continues with our human constructions and modifications. Place is always particular and distinct. As the Psalmist (Psalm 16:5-6) reminds us, “The
boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places.”
Jesus comes into our experience of the world in a very specific and localised way. He is of a place (“Jesus of Nazareth”) and immersed in a historical moment (“In the days of King Herod of Judah…”). His friends are involved in the local food systems (fishermen), politics and economics (tax collectors), and he tells stories about roadways, byways, farmers, and tourists. He also hangs around with politicians, religious types, and folk on the margins of society.
Why does Place matter?
It matters because we are being saved WITH our places not FROM our places! Salvation always has a place. The story of God begins in a specific, created place. A garden. God reveals God’s-self as a placemaker! Then the Creator invites creation into the art of placemaking. We are even given the creative honour of naming other creatures. This is the first account of human placemaking. We are taught that the story of God ends with heaven and earth coming together (Revelation 21). Both are renewed. They interlock and overlap. A beautiful place is described in Revelation 22 (what?). It’s a garden city with a river running through it and a spectacular tree with healing properties.
Places flourish because of God’s creative presence through rivers, streets, and buildings. This is the new world Habakkuk described, “the earth fills up with awareness of God’s glory as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
So, what is Placemaking?
Placemaking is the playful and serious work of cultivating room for relationships. These relationships will
always include humans and the created world (architecture, urban design, town planning, etc.) and will also involve other creatures and living things (animals, plants, insect life, etc.) As Christians we would also say these relationships naturally include the triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit. Placemaking can involve hosting a street party, building a community garden, serving on the local council, volunteering at your neighbourhood school. Placemaking is always best when it is inclusive, equitable, and diverse.
To love your place you need to know it.
To know it you need to learn it.
When we live as placemakers, we inhabit the good news of Jesus. We also follow in the footsteps of the first humans in the first garden. When we join with God to love our neighbourhoods in tangible ways, we are echoing the way Jesus loved his neighbourhood and all the places he dwelled.
Remember the way John tells us the story of Jesus’ resurrection? This is our second Bible reading today. See John 20:11-18. It’s quite a scene. A man and a woman, in a garden, on the first day of the week. John is re-telling the Genesis story for us and reminding us that because of Jesus, everything begins again – new creation! Salvation has come to this graveyard-garden. Salvation has come to Mary Magdalene and the disciples. Salvation has come to a city in
the Middle East.
We have a decent size of backyard. That was a photo I took yesterday. When church members visited us, I could not find a lawnmower batteries and charger. As we opened most boxes, I found them and was able to cut the grass, but this battery ran out before I finished the whole backyard. Even half mowed the backyard provided a lovely place for my kids to run around and find out what sort of trees and flowers we had. Next week Ethan’s friend is visiting us all the way from Maroubra. I make sure I will finish the half of the backyard to make sure it looks great. I hope that place will become where my kids have lots of playdate and make some new friends. I hope my backyard and house will be a place to meet with their parents and build a relationship with them.
Even half mowed garden can be a place to provide many things. Even if you don’t feel ready, your house, your workplace, your garden can be a place to love your neighbours. You are placemakers and God calls us to follow Jesus’ example and he was placemaker himself. To you all, God says, blessed are the placemaker! Amen.