September 29, 2019

Last Sunday we talked about Lament.  We talked about how the prophet, Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God, was devastated by what would become of the people.  Devastated that they turned their backs on God and would now suffer the consequences of their actions. “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.” Jeremiah 8:21 “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.” Jeremiah 9:1

Prophets are rarely warmly received.  They have the dubious distinction of telling people what they don’t want to hear.  It is their job to speak truth to power.  Jeremiah was no exception.  People were conspiring to kill him for what he was saying.  The king had him imprisoned.  He was begging people to repent, to return to God or they would be destroyed.  The people would not accept what he was saying. 

In today’s scripture, what Jeremiah predicted is coming to fruition.  The armies of Nebuchadnezzar have surrounded the city of Jerusalem to starve the people and crush their government.  This is the second time in a decade that a king of Judah has revolted against Babylonian authority.  The current king, Zedekiah, hoped that Egypt would swoop in and save them from their mutual enemy, Babylon, and Judah would have its independence.  That did not happen.  The same army that squashed their rebellion ten years before surrounded the city again.  This time there would be no mercy.   The punishment would be severe. 

While imprisoned, Jeremiah continued to receive God’s word.

“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.”

According to the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, redemption refers to the release of an item, or person, in exchange for some type of payment.  Of special importance was the question of redemption of the land.  Israelite legal codes guaranteed the right of Israelite landowners to regain property that had been sold.  The land was considered as belonging to God and therefore inheritances granted to the tribes were divinely ordained; the laws of redemption were designed to protect the poor by keeping family inheritances intact.  Provisions were made for ways land could be reclaimed, should it be lost, due to debt or poverty:  a designated relative could purchase the land, the original owner could buy it back, or it would automatically revert to the previous owner every fifty years, the jubilee year. 

Jeremiah agrees to buy the land, even though the land, currently occupied by Babylon is worthless.  He makes a scene out of purchasing the land.  He calls for his assistant and some other friends to witness the transaction.  He follows the law to the letter and asks his assistant, to store the documents in a place where they will be safe indefinitely. The transaction was carried out according to proper legal procedure and the deeds were put in clay pots and hidden for safekeeping, rather reminiscent of the Dead Sea Scrolls.   The documents would survive the war and devastation.  Buying a plot of land was a display of hope in the future.  Jeremiah would not live long enough to see the people return to the land.  But the purchase wasn’t for him.  His purchase showed the people watching that there was hope for restoration.  Just as Jeremiah had redeemed his family’s land, God would someday, redeem God’s people. Jeremiah conducted a drama in which he has played the role of God, performing redemption, in a small way, that Israel’s God would perform on a larger stage.  Just as Jeremiah redeemed the land, God has redeemed us.  Like the land, we belong to God. 

I have made mistakes; we all make mistakes. I worshiped false gods, like money, work, and alcohol.  But ultimately, I belong to God, we belong to God and God has redeemed us.  God has paid our ransom, our redemption, through our next of kin, his Son, Jesus Christ.  All that is required of us is to repent. Repent, doesn’t mean just to confess, or apologize.  Repent means to turn, to change our ways and turn toward God.  This is one of the reasons we begin worship with a prayer of confession.  We want to confess and repent of anything that comes between us and God. 

Is there something in your life that requires repentance? Something that remains between you and God?  Is there something that requires renewal?  A way of thinking, a way of being, that is causing you pain?

Let’s take a moment to think about what those things are. What in your life, in your family, in this church, requires renewal? There is a special piece of paper included with your bulletin.  It looks like this.  Use the paper to write down those things that you want to give to God for renewal. For me, I get carried away with current events.  I spend so much time reading about everything that is wrong in the world, that I forget who’s I am. I forget to have hope.  Maybe you need to let go of an idea of how this church should be, based on how it was years ago.  Perhaps there is a hurt you’ve experienced in your life, or even here at church that requires healing.  You can give that desire, that regret, that wound to God for renewal so that you can have a fresh vision of what church can be, what life can be, or even what your relationship with God can be.

These bowls contain water, it symbolizes God’s living water that brings life and renewal to all things. I invite you to come up as you feel led and place those pieces of paper in one of these bowls of water.  If you are not able to come forward, an usher will bring some living water to you. 

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Today’s passage reminds us that God is invested in the future destiny of humankind. Even when catastrophe was imminent, Jeremiah performed an outlandish and oddly specific financial act, symbolizing God’s declaration that judgment and destruction would not have the final word. Judah would suffer the consequences that God had announced. Babylon would destroy Jerusalem and Judah and carry off its inhabitants into exile. The prophet, however, shows us a glimmer of hope through a symbolic act of purchasing a field. God’s people would be restored and would again thrive in the land. “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Perilous times require the faithful to put into embodied action the hope that God has announced, which is already here, but not yet realized.

There is plenty in today’s world that creates anxiety about our future, the economy, climate change, politics, the threat of violence, even the state of the church.  We have hope because we know that the Kingdom of God has come near and ultimately the Kingdom of God will prevail.