September, 25, 2022

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

“Investing in Hope”

The Revised Common Lectionary provides us with several great Scripture texts for today, but the one that really spoke to me this week was the one about the Prophet Jeremiah. If you were here last Sunday, you may remember that Jeremiah was weeping. He was mourning and crying with the people of Judah and Jerusalem because their enemies had conquered them. People had been killed, others had been exiled, and the nation was in chaos.

But the Prophet didn’t only weep and mourn because of what was happening to the people. He also pointed out to them and to their leaders that if they changed their ways, worked for justice and righteousness, and honoured God with their lives, things might change. Last Sunday I referred to Jeremiah as the prophet who mostly had the job of bringing bad news to the people – telling them to shape up or continue to suffer the consequences.

By the time we get to today’s text from chapter 32, Jeremiah has suffered the consequences of his outspokenness. King Zedekiah of Judah is sick and tired of the prophet’s judgement, and he’s locked him up so that he can’t keep causing trouble. Meanwhile, the King of Babylon continues to besiege Jerusalem.

Apparently, locking up one of God’s prophets rarely succeeds in shutting them up. Although Jeremiah can’t be out in the streets preaching and calling the people to repent and change their lives, he can still hear God’s voice and respond to it in prophetic ways.

While in his confinement in the court of the guard in the palace of the King of Judah, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah. I don’t know if it was in a dream, or just a feeling he got, or if he actually heard a voice whispering in his ear… but somehow the prophet hears God tell him that his cousin Hanamel is going to come and ask him to buy his field that is at Anathoth, saying that “the right of redemption is yours.”

The idea here is that Jeremiah’s cousin needs his help. We aren’t told all the details, but we can imagine that Hanamel is struggling financially. Perhaps because the Kingdom of Babylon is attacking their country. It probably makes it pretty difficult to keep earning a living, whether by farming or ranching or whatever Hanamel used to do with that field.

I wonder if Hanamel and his family have become refugees because of the war. They had to leave everything behind, get out of the area, and try to make a new life in another place. But it’s hard to start a new life when you have to leave your only asset behind in the form of land.

As Hanamel’s cousin, the Prophet Jeremiah has what is called the “right of redemption by purchase.” As the closest male relative, Jeremiah has first dibs on buying his cousin’s land when it goes up for sale. In other circumstances, that might have been a benefit to Jeremiah, but in this case it’s more of a duty or responsibility. God is asking him to buy the field from his cousin. It’s land that Hanamel probably won’t be able to sell to anyone else. But if he can sell it to Jeremiah and get some money, perhaps Hanamel and his family will have a chance at survival.

If at first Jeremiah was unsure about God’s message to him, it became quite clear when his cousin did indeed show up at the court of the guard and ask Jeremiah to buy his field. That’s when Jeremiah really knew that it was the word of the Lord. This is what God wanted him to do. And so he went ahead and did it.

When we talked about this strange story at Bible study earlier this week, I asked the group to consider WHY Jeremiah bought the field. I mean, if you think about why most people today decide to buy a house, or a business, or a property of some kind, it usually has to do with either needing a place to live or considering it to be a good investment, right? And I don’t think either of those things were true in Jeremiah’s case.

So, why did Jeremiah buy the field at Anathoth? The first answer given was that God told him to buy it. That’s true. We rarely get such a clear and direct command from God about what to do or what to buy, so when God tells you to buy a field, you buy a field!

But thinking a little more deeply about the possible reasons, we noticed that Jeremiah’s decision to buy Hanamel’s field was an act of generosity and care for his extended family. We don’t know exactly how desperate his cousin sounded when he searched out Jeremiah in the court of the guard, but it’s pretty clear that the prophet is saving his cousin by this act. This is what a good follower of God would do for someone in need, if they have the means to do so. Maybe that’s why Jeremiah bought the field.

But a kind act for a relative could be done quietly and privately, and I’m really not sure why such a thing would end up being a story in the Bible. We suspected that there was more to it than just the call to generosity and care.

We noticed that there is quite a production made of the land purchase. First Jeremiah says, “I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver.” And he could have stopped there, but he went on:

“I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 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.”

This decision on Jeremiah’s part wasn’t just about obeying God, and it wasn’t just about helping his cousin. Jeremiah bought the field in Anathoth as a “sign-act” – an action that proclaimed a message to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. He couldn’t preach in the streets, but Jeremiah could still bring a message from God to the people by very clearly and publicly buying a piece of land in war-torn Judah.

Can you imagine the people observing this transaction? The Prophet’s lost his mind, they must have thought. We’re under siege by the powerful King of Babylon, and he’s buying property in the area? It would be like someone today purchasing a farm just outside Mariopol in Ukraine, or buying an ocean-view cottage in the Dominican Republic after Hurricane Fiona went through.

So, was he crazy? Or was he stupid? Or did he just do it to help out his cousin? I don’t think so. I think he did it because he had hope. I think he did it because he trusted God. God, who told him to buy that field at Anathoth, could be trusted to bring an end to the war, to the destruction, and to lead the people into a time of peace and the return of normal life.

Of course, Jeremiah wasn’t naïve enough to think that he’d be making money on that investment in the short term. After all, this is what God told him to do: “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.”

Jeremiah may well know that the land will drop in value before it ever starts to rise again. He’s not expecting to move out there and start a new life on the land any time soon. It probably won’t be safe for quite a well, perhaps not even in his lifetime. But those property deeds are stowed away in a safe place because one day they’ll be needed again so he can claim that property.

“For thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

Finally, Jeremiah has some good news to proclaim to the people of Judah and Jerusalem, and he does it with this unusual sign-act, by buying a field and declaring that things will one day be good again. People will live in peace, and farm land, and grow grapes, and drink wine.

When we look around at our struggling world today, I wonder what God is calling us to do that demonstrates our hope and our trust in God for the future that God is preparing for us all. I know that as a preacher, I can articulate lots of words about God’s love and care for us all, and I can call us to hold on and stay faithful until God’s reign on earth comes into being in its fulness.

But I think that like the prophet, we also are called not only to speak, but to act in ways that demonstrate our hope and proclaim that hope to others. And I think we can do that by investing our money, our time, and our energy into what God is calling us to do here and now in the world.

Some people might look at the church and wonder if our ministries are going to survive the impacts of secularism, individualism, and the ravages of the pandemic on our communities of faith. But when we continue to invest our offerings and our lives in our shared mission, we demonstrate hope for what God can and will do among us and through us for the sake of the world.

Some people might observe the struggles of people around the world suffering from war and weather alike, and throw up their hands in despair. But when we persevere in helping and giving and praying for our global neighbours in need, we show that hope is stronger than despair, and we will trust God until it is fulfilled.

Some people are well aware of the climate crisis in our world, but they don’t think there’s anything that can be done at this point. It’s too hard to change how we live and learn to live lightly on the earth. But our children are telling us not to give up. It’s too important, and we can make those changes if we work together.

Some people might assume that their gifts would be too small to make a difference to anyone. But when we listen to someone who is struggling, visit someone who is sick, advocate for someone who is excluded or oppressed, or give to someone who has a need, the offerings of our lives not only make a difference in that “someone’s” life, but they also become sign-acts of hope and trust in God.

As we strive each day to obey God and show kindness and care to our neighbours, let’s remember that others may also see what we do and hear God’s Word to us all: “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Yes, a world of peace and justice and joy is coming for us all. Let us place our trust in God who will make it so.