September 29, 2019

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Contemporary Service:

Traditional Service:

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Jeremiah Buys a Field During the Siege

32 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, “Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it;

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.


Sermon: “Field of Hope

What are you afraid of—I mean, really, really, afraid of? What would you do if your worst fear came true? Think about it as you watch this trailer for an upcoming film.

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The creepy clown’s name, obviously, is Wrinkles. Thanks to the Internet, his fame has spread far beyond the Naples, Florida area where he lives. For a few hundred bucks’ cash, Wrinkles will show up at your party, prank your friends, or scare misbehaving kids straight, as he’s often asked to do.

“I’m just a good old-fashioned clown,” Wrinkles once said in an interview. “When I was a kid, it was okay to scare kids. I want to bring scary back.”

Offhand, I’d say he’s done a pretty good job.

Aside from Wrinkles, putting a name on what we’re afraid of is harder than you might think. The latest Chapman University survey of American fears came up with this list from 2018, but it only scratches the surface.

Some fears run so deep and are so unspeakably awful that we either can’t or won’t name them. Any of us who have had those kinds of fears break into our lives know that their power runs a lot deeper than some clown in a creepy mask.

Fears like that shake our lives and our faith down to their very foundations. Today we hear Jeremiah speaking to people whose worst fears are only days or weeks away from coming true.

King Zedekiah made the foolish mistake of rebelling against the Babylonian Empire. It didn’t take long for Babylonian armies to lay waste to most of Judah and then surround Jerusalem. Inside the city, food and water ran out. Scripture says people were so desperate that some killed and ate their own children.

Hope was in short supply, yet that’s just what Jeremiah proclaimed. Some thought he was mad. They shouldn’t have been surprised, though.  Jeremiah had always been at odds with popular opinion.

  • When times were good, he warned of famine and starvation.

  • When other prophets spoke of peace, Jeremiah spoke of war.
  • When some took refuge in religion, he called them to account because of their hypocrisy and worship of false gods.
  • When the people were joyful, Jeremiah wept.
  • When the king wanted a word of hope, Jeremiah preached death and destruction.

 

Then, when people slipped into despair, Jeremiah spoke of hope.

 

Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel wanted to get out of Dodge, and get out fast. To do that, he needed money, lots of it. Why not foist off the family farm, now worthless and occupied by the Babylonian army, on his weird old cousin Jeremiah? Jeremiah proved as easy a mark as Hanamel had hoped.

I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales…. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jeremiah 32:9-10, 15)

 

We can assume that Hanamel took the money and ran. Jeremiah stayed. Someday people would need to know that God had been with them, creating a future even when things looked so bleak and fears ran so deep that the people dared not hope for a future themselves.

One of my commentaries put it this way. “In a shattered, scattered time, resistance can come in intentional rootedness.” Jeremiah dug in his heels and stayed. He stayed when others ran, facing his fears with faith, determination, and hope.

Jeremiah’s hopeful actions didn’t cancel out the word of judgment he’d preached for the last forty years. There was no changing the people’s fate. In fact, it was taking shape even while Jeremiah signed the deed of purchase and paid his cousin. Still, Jeremiah dared to hope.

Admiral James Stockdale wasn’t just Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992. He was also a prisoner of war in North Vietnam from 1965 to 1973, brutally tortured more than twenty times. Author Jim Collins asked him how he made it through. Here’s what Stockdale said.

You must never confuse faith that you’ll prevail in the end—which you can’t afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that may be.

Admiral Stockdale knew we can’t make our fears magically vanish or get rid of all the challenges life brings. What we can do is what Jeremiah did—face them head on with faith, determination, and active, embodied hope.

In their book Active Hope, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone say that people look at and understand the world through one of three lenses.

  • The first is “Business as Usual,” which assumes there’s no need to change the way we live.

 

  • The second is “The Great Unraveling,” which bemoans the disasters that business is usual has already caused and the even greater catastrophes it will one day bring.

  • The third they call “The Great Turning.” It’s held and embodied by those who know that business as usual will lead us to disaster, but who also refuse to let calamity have the last word.

 

People of the Great Turning show up for the challenging work of hope. That’s why Jeremiah invested in an impossible to imagine future.

For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jeremiah 32:15)

 

We are that field at Anathoth. We’re people of the Great Turning, what you and I call the Kingdom of God.  We are a sign, however imperfect, that destruction won’t have the last word, that God’s promise of new and renewed life in Jesus Christ won’t be frustrated.

Sometimes we live out that hope marching on the front lines, protesting to those in authority, and actively resisting the powers of oppression and evil. Other times we live out that hope in quieter and simpler, but no less powerful, ways, as this last clip shows.

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God’s future is the only future there is. The question is whether we’re willing to do the demanding work of investing in it, even when common sense and our own worst fears tell us to take the money and run.