Hope for the future

 Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

 

Jeremiah lived a miserable life. God called him to be God’s voice of judgment on the people and for the next 40 years he was reviled, ostracized – even by his family, and jailed. But God wanted him to warn the people that their way of living was self-destructive.

Jeremiah was born in Anathoth during the reign of Josiah. Josiah’s grandfather, Mannasseh, had moved away from Judaism to the Ba’alist religion of the nations around him. Mannasseh’s son continued this. It was Josiah who tried to eradicate the Ba’alist religion. But his successor Jehoakim, allowed the Ba’alist religion to thrive. It was against this Ba’alist religion that God called Jeremiah to preach.

We know what the Ba’alist religion taught. Their sacred creation story is recorded in the Enuma Elish. It is a story of war and brutality, where humans are made from the corpse of a slain god to be slaves to the gods. A society built around this religion is not concern for freedom or love or care, but for order. This belief teaches that the world is fundamentally chaotic and chaos is evil. The king is the agent of the gods and is expected by the gods to keep order at any cost and chaos at bay. The other … people who are different or ideas that are different … are signs of chaos that undermines order. Therefore the king is expected to conquer these people and ideas to maintain order.

God’s judgment on this belief system comes in the consequences of living it: such as engaging in perpetual war to control the chaos that is inevitably all around us, and constructing a society that is what today we would call a police state. People are not for each other, but for themselves to protect their own survival in such a society. It is this system that is ultimately undermined by Jeremiah’s preaching.

And when times are good, people feel safe in this system. But when the times are bad, the people become desperate for their individual survival and often turn on each other. They fear in either case any change, any challenge to the status quo … change and challenge means chaos … and who wants the evil of chaos in their lives.

But Jeremiah continued to warn them over and over again that their apostasy from Judaism guaranteed that they would suffer under the boot of an another empire… in this case Babylon. As the years past, Babylon conquered Assyria. And it began expanding south and west towards Judah on it is way to Egypt.

In 599 B. C. E., Babylon conquered Judah and made it into a client state.  In doing so, it visited upon it a measure of destruction and had carried off some of its very important people. Now, in our scripture, it is 588 B.C. E., and Babylon is pounding on the door of Jerusalem – again. Judah was getting overly confident again, probably because they thought they had Egypt backing them up. Egypt to the south of Judah hated the Babylonians and was plotting a war. But the Babylonians were going to make it very clear to Judah that there would be no more trouble from this upstart kingdom.

With the armies of the Babylonian empire laying siege to Jerusalem, the people were starving, and sick, and desperate. They were trapped, too, and couldn’t get out of the city walls to tend their land. Their king, Zedekiah, knew he was in trouble, but he could not accept his coming defeat. He responded to Jeremiah’s warnings of disaster by holding the prophet captive in his palace, where he couldn’t stir up the people.

Jeremiah had been a voice of warning, even of threat. But now, at this moment of catastrophe, God gives him a plan of hope. Jeremiah’s relative Hanamel offers to sell his land to Jeremiah.  And Jeremiah purchases what is, at least at this moment, worthless land.

In Jeremiah’s time, the land was precious to the people, and it was kept within the extended family, from generation to generation. By the law of redemption expressed in the Torah, Jeremiah had a right and a duty to re-claim the land for a relative who was destitute.

But what good was that land going to be to Jeremiah, when the Babylonians were camped on it? It certainly couldn’t be farmed, or provide sustenance or income for its owner. If he tried to sell it, he’d have to find another family member as “foolish” as he was, willing to pay money for what appeared to be worthless.

Even though the land is worthless, he bought his relative’s land, because he realized that God was telling him that there would be life beyond the conquest and the subsequent desolation.

Jeremiah spent his life warning the people about their lifestyle. He warned them when they had good times and bad times. Now that his warnings were coming true, I doubt he had all that much satisfaction in it. He and his people were in a terrible situation. Their homes were being overrun and their way of life exterminated. And to top it the Babylonians would destroy the Temple of Solomon, the very symbol of their way of life.

He must have reached a profoundly deep despair as his hometown of Anathoth was conquered and now Jerusalem besieged. All of his life was spent trying to prepare the nation for this day and they did not listen. Now many would be taken into exile. There was nothing left for him to do.

But God is not a cruel and angry judge. God is a sad judge, wishing the people the best. God’s judgment is to help us re-align ourselves within the love and hope of God. Now God reaches out to Jeremiah and offers him a light of hope.

God says, “Jeremiah take up the offer your cousin is making.”

“Why God? Hanamel very well knows the family land is worthless now. The Babylonians have taken it.”

“Yes, he’s taken advantage of you. But he’s trying to tie up his life so he can deal with this catastrophe. Help him, just like you would in better times.”

“Haven’t I done enough for you? Why this?”

“It isn’t for me. It’s for you and your descendants. Whatever happens in the next week, hope will still be with you. Have faith. Buy the land. That’s your faith accepting my offering of hope… This too shall pass.”

Many of us, maybe all of us, have from time to time reached a point in our lives where there seems to be nothing else to do. Everything has fallen apart. We can see no future. We can see no light. We are up against a brick wall. What we have done with our lives was for naught … it was all worthless.

Or maybe it’s not so dramatic. Maybe our lives are a routine of disappointments and struggles, paying bills, keeping a job, or managing kids or elderly parents or both. Maybe we are going through life not really living it, but just existing. If our world isn’t falling apart like Jeremiah’s, maybe our lives are just grinding down to a dull meaningless routine… and we can see no way out.

So all of the clichés about this too shall pass and seeing the light beyond, are empty and meaningless.  Yet the clichés are often right on the mark … if we are intentional in our lives seeking help or seeking understanding as what to do as Jeremiah was in his prophecies, eventually the seemingly overwhelming negativity will pass and we will pass into the light.

But in the meantime, it is important not to lose hope or faith. If we give up, then indeed the clichés will be proven wrong, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are overwhelmed with troubles or our lives are meaningless routines and that’s just the way it’s going to be. We give up and live a life underpinned with suffering, hopelessness and disappointment.

And maybe this was God’s last warning to Jeremiah: Don’t give up! It may seem hopeless and impossible right now, but nothing stays the same. The world and events are always changing. Keep trying. Keep watching for opportunity. Keep seeking help and acting on it. And you will be part of the change that will take you into the light.

This is the significance of Jeremiah buying a worthless plot of land. It is his investment that the people will come home and start again … and the land will be waiting for them.

It is important for each and every one of us to do something or to have something that is an investment in a better place and time as a visible, objective symbol of our faith and hope.

Every Spring I plant a vegetable garden. I plant various things. Always I plant peppers and tomatoes and beans. Now everything grew pretty good … except the tomatoes. Year after year, the squirrels steal my tomatoes … virtually all of them. Just as a tomato is ripening, a squirrel plucks the tomato and bites into it, spoiling it for us.

No matter how many irritants I put on the tomatoes … all guaranteeing they’ll keep the squirrels away, the squirrels win the battle.

But next Spring I will plant tomatoes again and try again to win the battle. I’ve planted the garden for 29 years and I will always plant the garden, whether the squirrels win or not, because like Jeremiah’s plot, the garden is my investment in faith and hope.

A garden is a sign and promise of new life. Planting a garden is one way we say that there’s a future where people’s lives are improving.

Others may make other faith and hope investments. J. K. Rowlings who wrote the Harry Potter books was an unemployed Scotswoman, who sat down one day in a pub and began to write a book that she’s always wanted to write … an investment that the future can be brighter.

Your investment may be your health. You may be down, disappointed, even depressed. But you can make an investment in the future with caring for yourself with good exercise.

Or your investment may be to spend a hour a week helping in a tutoring program for disadvantaged kids offering them the opportunity for a better future.

And so forth… for each of us God points us to a “plot of land” that is our hope and faith investment in our future and the future of our world.

Hope never fails. Faith is always available. We need to have in our lives, each and every one of us, that custom or that activity that says, “Have faith! Have hope! No matter how bad it is now God is present and fighting for us.”

 

Think about it.

God’s grace and love be with you …

Amen.