The news is so depressing! I was talking with a friend the other day who commented that our society is mean. Everyone is attacking, blaming, insulting, writing off those who are different, or who disagree with them. It is in the air, it seems. What is going on with the human race?! Have we lost our minds?
I don’t think so. But maybe we have lost our hope.
…Just like everyone in Jerusalem in the last year of King Zedekiah’s reign. Zedekiah was tired of hearing Jeremiah tell everyone that the end is near. The Babylonians are laying siege to the city, building ramps to scale the walls. It has been two years of being surrounded already! The war machine rattles the rocks and bricks, and the hearts of the captured residents. Jeremiah has been preaching a very unpopular message – “You might as well give up…no use in fighting because God has raised up this army and has assured them a victory and because of your sins they will breach the city walls and carry all of us into captivity.”
Yet Jeremiah was only saying what everyone could see happening. There was not enough water! There was not enough food! Sickness and death were everywhere. There was a general mood of despair in every house and palace, street and alley. No one was untouched.
The king’s council couldn’t fight off the Babylonians, but there was one thing they could do. They could lock up that traitorous prophet who was depressing the people. And so they did. This part of Jeremiah’s prophecy was done from prison.
Jeremiah is considered a traitor. While in prison, he has an unusual visitor. Several things make this visit unusual. First, Hanamel was a relative, his cousin. And by this time all of Jeremiah’s relatives had disowned him. We know from earlier in the writing that the people of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home town, have been trying to kill him because of his prophecies (Jeremiah 11:21). We do not know if Hanamel was among those who sought Jeremiah’s life, but we know that for Jeremiah, Anathoth is a place of danger and rejection. Yet this cousin comes to see him. I am sure Jeremiah suspects that this is not a kindness.
So why did he come? Hanamel had a farm in Anathoth that he wanted to get rid of. So he comes to Jeremiah and he says to Jeremiah, “I’ve got a great deal for you! I’ve got a farm I’m gonna let you buy. And since you are a member of the family, it is your right to buy it.”
I am no expert in real estate markets, but I don’t think this would have been an ideal time to invest in real estate – when the nation was occupied by an enemy army! Further, if you wanted to sell a piece of property, who would go looking for a buyer in the prison?
And the bizarre nature of this offer doesn’t stop here. The farm Hanamel wanted to sell Jeremiah was in enemy territory! And it couldn’t be occupied by the new owner, even if he wasn’t in prison! No wonder Hanamel wanted to get rid of it!
We would be shocked that Jeremiah would make such a purchase, except that God had prepared Jeremiah for the offer. Twice before God had instructed Jeremiah to go buy something as a prophetic action – once a piece of linen, and once a clay jar. So this word from God that his cousin was going to come and offer him some property to buy – outlandish as it was – could just happen. At least Jeremiah remembered the message and when Hanamel came Jeremiah took it as a confirmation that this was indeed God’s plan.
Jeremiah didn’t have any use for this farm…especially a farm in enemy territory, but he was doing it out of obedience to the word of God.
Why? Remember the message Jeremiah had been preaching? He had been preaching a two-point message. One, God is going to deliver you into the hands of the Babylonians because of your sin. You’re going to be carried off into Babylon and live in captivity there, far away from this land. But Jeremiah had a second point which the people were not hearing: you will be there until the Lord brings us back. Part two is a message of profound hope. Not for the immediate future. For now they would lose everything. But even in captivity, God would not forget them. God would remember them and bring them back.
That was why Jeremiah bought the land – because it would be his when they returned. It was acting out his faith the the God of Israel to fulfill his promises since the time of Abraham. A day of peace was coming, even though they could not see it from where they were. It was an act of faith. Acted hope!
This may just reveal a sly side of Hanamel. He may have figured it this way: Jeremiah is preaching doom, and he is at the same time telling us that God will bring us back. Well, I’ll make Jeremiah put his money where his mouth is. If he really believes we will be restored to an era of peace, let him buy my land to prove it.
Jeremiah’s trust in God was so real, that he bought the land. He chose to trust God. And after the sale was completed, the word of God came to Jeremiah again: 37 See, I am going to gather them from all the lands to which I drove them …; I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety. 38 They shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way…. 40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them; …43 Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, It is a desolation, without human beings or animals; …. for I will restore their fortunes, says the Lord.
Like Jeremiah, we live in an era of desperation.
…I wonder if every generation would characterize their times as desperate. I think of the songs of the slaves – Nobody know the trouble I’ve seen. Their songs are full of desperation – and hope. Jordan river is chilly and cold – an image of death. Chills the body, but not the soul – a descant of hope. Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home. There must be a way out. Hope cannot die. But sometimes it is shrouded in darkness
Children of Light, this is what we are made for! To be light in the darkest times. Those who have been captured by the Holy Spirit, the teaching of Jesus, the unstoppable power of the Creator of the Universe, we gather. To remind ourselves of the light. To get just enough joy, just enough courage, just enough light to get us through another week of the madness which surrounds us.
As a congregation, we not only gather weekly to renew ourselves. We also build bridges, open doors, to our community seven days a week. We welcome neighbor, stranger, friend and family alike into this place of sanctuary. It is a moment of hope we offer. People feel the peace with which God fills this space. And somehow, in big ways or small, they imbibe peace.
Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet. He lived through one of the worst times the people of Israel ever knew. He went through it all with them. He pleaded with them to trust God’s love to get them through. God’s love would never abandon them, even in a strange land, they would never be alone, abandoned. Jeremiah knew it in his bones, for he had come to know the voice of God – and that voice was love.
Jeremiah’s advice reminds me of Paul’s to his young protégé, Timothy. Those who pursue money, a comfortable lifestyle, honor among people – these people run into all kinds of destruction. Just as the people of Jeremiah’s time. They had pursued their own interests and run into destruction. They had let their desires woo them away from trusting God. And now all was undone.
But hope is not lost. Be of good courage. God will yet save us, even through pain. So fight the good fight of faith. Have you ever noticed that it is a fight to keep faith, especially in hard times.
And we live in hard times. Our culture has turned mean. Our planet is going through massive stress as temperatures warm. It is tempting to give up in despair. But Jeremiah’s message to us today, Paul’s message to Timothy, is to keep up the good fight of faith. Hold on. Be determined. Set your intention to know and follow God. For whatever things look like around us, whatever doom and gloom sayers are claiming (and remember that Jeremiah was one of these), God will never abandon us. Never. Never. Never. Even if we die, we are with God.
This confidence of faith fills us with purpose on the corner of 55th and Belmont. Our corner is a place where there is sanctuary from the desperation of our culture. We proclaim hope. Holy Spirit will never desert us. Even in the dark night of the soul, we are held in a forever promise of love in the arms of God.
There is no bridge more needed in our world today, than hope. It is not an escapist technique. This is not denial of the needs of our world. Still we reach out to heal and connect and make whole. All the time, knowing that in God all things are brought to wholeness. This gives us hope, and offers hope to the world.
Enough of meanness. Avoid it. Clear it out of the voices in your life. Every time you are tempted to berate that driver, or that politician or that reporter, take a deep breath of the Spirit and remember who you are – a beloved child of God, and in kindness, speak a blessing of hope. It may seem small, but it will change the world. Do you believe it? Can we do it?
Jeremiah put his money where his mouth was. He bought the land, in faith that he would yet enjoy its pastures in the land of the living. God would restore the people. And God did. So, too, we can weave acts of hope into our lives, even when it seems foolish. It isn’t. The Spirit of God infuses every kindness and will bring that work to its flower one day.
May hope infuse every conversation, taking away our fear and self-interest, giving us courage to offer hope.