Sermon, September 29: Jeremiah’s Field

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar…

Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative, it is your right and duty to buy it.’

“Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’ “I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen silver shekels. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase – the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy – and I gave this deed to [my scribe] Baruch in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.

“In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”

Jeremiah bought a field at a time when it seemed there was no reason to hope for any good thing. Is that pointless or a sign of profound trust in God’s promises? What can you do when your present comes to a dead end and your future looks bleak?

In ancient Israel, it was Jeremiah’s question. The time was around 600B.C.E and the enemy’s name was Babylon. Jeremiah’s life was at risk. His nation was at war. His city was besieged by an invading army, complete with devastation and horrors not unlike those we still see on the evening news.

Jeremiah had warned King Zedekiah over and over that this was coming. But when the catastrophe began to unfold, the King did not say: “so, it looks like Jeremiah was right.” Oh no – he had Jeremiah thrown into jail. When supplies to the city were cut off and food grew scarcer and scarcer, when fear and terror grew stronger and stronger, Jeremiah lived in prison and waited for the end. And then his story took that amazing twist.

His cousin came to him with this really great deal. It’s not that difficult to imagine why Hanamel might be interested in selling this land –  Anathoth was about three miles from downtown Jerusalem. Maybe he wanted Jeremiah to have a home after he got out of prison. Maybe he needed the money to get his children as far away as possible. But, in any event, the law required him to offer it to the family first, lest the family lose their right to the land forever.

Not that the land had any value at that point. There was no way to till it, to plant it, or to harvest anything from it. And – even if there were – there was no market to sell it in and soon there would be no people to sell it to. In short, there was simply no rational reason for Jeremiah to spend a dime to buy that land.

And yet, he bought it: bought the field, signed the deed, sealed it into the clay jar, and buried it until the day when the land might live again.

Of course, what happened next was exactly what Jeremiah had been prophesying:  the people lost their homes, their country – everything – and went into exile for over fifty years. Jeremiah was taken to Egypt, where he died. So, for all practical purposes, the transaction was meaningless. But, of course, not all purposes are simply practical.

The prophet of Judah bought a useless field because he trusted that the God who told him his world would die, also told him that

The days are surely coming… when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people… The days are surely coming ,when this city will be holy to the LORD.

It was clear to Jeremiah that times may change, but God’s love never does. For Jeremiah, that meant a last minute investment in worthless real-estate. He chose to live his life in the light of a future yet to come.

What do you do when the present ends and the future looks bleak? You live on hope. Call it grace, or survival instinct or anything else you care to – it’s a gift from God.

How do you imagine hope might look for us? For this church? For this planet? How might it feel to recognize that hope is about something far more than simple wishfulness? How might it feel to give ourselves up to the possibility that God’s promise at its deepest is for radical newness of life?

Many of us have known times tough enough that no one could offer either explanation or comfort. Those are times, it seems, when only God can speak of hope.

The great sweep of biblical stories have a single pattern. They tell of new life, and a new beginnings, no matter how bleak the bad times. They say that, as tough as it might be to grasp in the sad times, God’s one promise – from Eden, to the Exodus, to Babylon; from the flight into Egypt, the journey to Jerusalem; even from Calvary to resurrection morning – God’s one promise is that devastation and death are single events within God’s whole eternity. They are never the end.

Hope is, I think, is what is happens in the moment when God’s unthinkable bursts into our possible. At first it seems ever so small and maybe meaningless: an outstretched hand, a deed in a clay jar, a melody in the dark. And then suddenly, it sparks, stretching the limits of who we are into who we might become. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

Leave a Reply