a sermon on Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
preached on September 29, 2013, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
I took a major step of hopefulness recently: I bought some new clothes. Now this might seem like a rather normal thing to do as summer changes to fall, but this decision was a bit more involved for me. Not only did I buy some new clothes, I bought some new clothes that wouldn’t have fit me just a few months ago. As several of you have noticed, I’ve been paying closer attention to what I eat and doing my best to exercise more regularly, and I’ve lost a few pounds over the last couple months. I still have plenty more to go before I get back to where I’d like to be, but my decision to buy some new clothes was a sign of hope that I actually intend to stay in shape—and a reminder that if I don’t I will have spent a lot of money on things that don’t fit me anymore!
This morning’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah tells us of a moment of deeper hopefulness about the future that had its roots in a much more troubling time. Things with Jeremiah and the whole nation of Judah were not good. The city of Jerusalem was under siege, and the people were weary of the continual assaults of the Babylonian army. Jeremiah took a large share of the blame. Beyond his prophetic words that ruffled the feathers of the people and the leaders of Judah, Jeremiah had tried to leave Jerusalem and go to Anathoth when the siege had briefly lifted, and so they thought he was deserting to the enemy. Eventually the king imprisoned Jeremiah in the palace to keep an eye on him and make sure that he didn’t get any more out of hand. The siege was actually nearly over, but the things that followed were much, more worse, as the leadership class of Judah would be taken away into exile, and city would stand in ruins and despair for forty years.
But in the midst of all this, our reading this morning tells us that Jeremiah bought a field. Any other time, this would have been a routine property transaction, with little or no meaning, but in this case, this purchase meant so much more. The reading today goes into great detail about the process of the transaction. We hear about how Jeremiah was next in line in the family to buy this piece of property, how Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel sought out the imprisoned Jeremiah in the palace to make this transaction, how he weighed out the seventeen shekels of silver to pay for it all, how he sealed the deed of purchase and made sure that it was properly registered, even about how Jeremiah gave instructions that the deed should be preserved to last for a long time.
But all these details aren’t the point of the story. The specifics of measuring out silver and sealing a deed and storing it in a jar instead all point us to a deeper meaning here suggested in the opening and closing verses of our reading. First, Jeremiah said that he had gotten the initial instructions to buy this field as the word of the Lord. God had told him that his cousin was going to come to him and ask him to buy this field, and when it actually happened, Jeremiah knew that he had to do it. But ultimately the purchase of the field meant very little on its own. Jeremiah was not hoping to take advantage of a good real estate market or even just trying to keep the keeper of deeds busy in a quiet time! Even though he was certainly fulfilling the requirements of Jewish law to buy family property so that it wouldn’t get passed along to a stranger or foreigner, that wasn’t the main thing he was thinking about here. The end of the reading makes Jeremiah’s broader purpose clear:
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Just when everyone had given up all hope, just when the siege had tightened and everything looked bleak, just when everyone expected Judah to be swallowed up by Babylon forever, in buying this field Jeremiah insisted that there was a future for the people of Judah. Jeremiah insisted that there was good reason to keep doing the basic things of life together in community—to keep buying and selling property, raising crops, preserving records for perpetuity—to do all the sorts of things that suggested that the story of the people of Judah was not yet over. In this simple transaction of buying a field, Jeremiah insisted that he at least would not give up hope yet because God had not given up yet either.
Giving up hope is often the easy way out, even and especially in times like ours. It’s easy to just assume that there is no way out of a difficult situation and so we just throw in the towel. It’s easy to set aside our hopes and dreams when it looks like pursuing them might be more difficult than we expected. Like we are seeing in our Congress in these days, it’s easy to try to put off change when we are afraid of its consequences rather than taking the risk of trying something new that might actually make life better for so many people. It’s easy to assume that when our immediate and obvious options are exhausted that there is nothing more that God can do.
But taking little steps like buying new clothes while still losing weight or buying a field while a city is under siege are signs of hope in our world. These little things point us to God’s transformative presence in our midst. They remind us that life goes on, that the struggles of the moment should not overwhelm our desire for deeper and greater living, that God’s presence and action in our midst will guide us through any and every challenge we might face. If I can decide to buy new clothes in the face of uncertainty about whether they’ll still fit in six months, then we might be able to embrace a new hopefulness about some other things in our lives. If God can convince the prophet Jeremiah to buy a field right when the land is under siege, then we can be convinced that there is more to our story than what we ourselves expect or know. And ultimately, if God can turn the death of Jesus Christ at the hands of the authorities of his day into the promise of resurrection life for all, then we can be encouraged to set aside our own fear of death—in our lives and in our church—so that we might actually embrace something new.
This way of living out the signs of hope in our lives and our world is described well in a hymn by pastor and poet David Beebe:
Let us hope when hope seems hopeless,
when the dream we dreamed has died.
When the morning breaks in brightness,
hunger shall be satisfied.
One who sows the fields with weeping
shall retrace the sorrowing way
and rejoice in harvest bounty
at the breaking of the day.
Ultimately the word of God’s hope is the one word that matters for us. Our confidence cannot be in our own ability to redeem our troubled world. We cannot expect to find our hopes realized in the work that we do to change things for the better. Our own actions will not give us the promise that sustains us. No—the hope that enabled Jeremiah to buy that field while Jerusalem was under siege and enables all of our own signs of hope does not come from you or me or even the church but from God. This is not a hope that nothing will go wrong—Jerusalem ultimately did fall to Babylon, after all—but it is a hope that God will be in the midst of it all, that God will redeem even the darkest hour, that dawn will break even after the longest night because God is still in the midst of us. This hope is rooted in nothing less than the experience and encounter we have with God in Jesus Christ, where we have seen that we can and we will experience deep pain and even death—and yet there is always more to the story because God is in it. This hope does not come in putting off all resolution of the troubles of our world and our lives until we move into eternal life but rather embraces the work that God is doing among us here and now to make all things new.
So may we hope when hope seem hopeless, may we trust God enough to carry us through the darkest hour into the dawn of new day, and may God’s hope break into our lives and our world each and every day to inspire us to deeper faith and love until all things are made new through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord, come quickly! Amen.