Ocean Front Property

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho on October 6, 2013.

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

A few weeks ago, we heard from the Prophet Jeremiah.  He was reminding the Hebrew people that they had forgotten their part in God’s story, They had forgotten to tell how their stories were connected to God’s bigger narrative of hope, of deliverance, of a future with hope and promise.

And they had made up their own stories, where they were the heroes.

In the intervening chapters, there is much woe and despair. Things do not go well.

This passage is from the tenth year of King Zedekiah’s reign, which was in 586 BCE, This is 10 years after the first Babylonian defeat of Jerusalem, when the first citizens were carted off into exile.  Babylon is again besieging a city that remembers what happened just a few years back.

Jeremiah is in prison himself, under suspicion of being a traitor. Lest you think being a prophet is easy work, remember there are risks when you prophesy the defeat of your own team at the hands of your enemy.

And from jail, he makes plan to purchase the land of his cousin.

Remember that for Israel, real estate really matters.

Leviticus 25:23 says “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine (says the Lord)”.

After the exodus, the tribes are each assigned land. And they are given very specific instructions on how to keep it in the family.
You pass it down to your son. And then down to his son. There was even—gasp—a provision for daughters to inherit the land if no male relatives were to be found. If no distant cousins could be unearthed to work the land, only then could it go outside the family. But the family still had the right of redemption.

So, when Jeremiah’s cousin comes to visit him in the hoosegow, it is to sell him a nice piece of property that has been in the family since the exodus. Property that needs to be redeemed so it can stay in the family. Property that needs to be redeemed because it is God’s, and God has good plans for it.

And Jeremiah says, “sure, why not? I’ll buy the family land in Anathoth.

It seems a foolish plan, doesn’t it. To buy land in Jerusalem as the Chaldeans are about to lay siege to the city? What kind of sucker is Jeremiah?

Didn’t George Strait write a song about it?

I’ve got some ocean front property in the land of Benjamin.
From my front porch you can see the siege.
I’ve got some ocean front property in the city of Jerusalem.
If you buy that, I’ll throw in the Sea of Galilee.

We read of buying land in the midst of war and we think Jeremiah is a rube who is being sold a bad investment. But he sees a bigger picture. He remembers God’s promise.

Jeremiah buys the land and instructs the deed to be put in a clay jar so it can be kept safe.

For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Jeremiah’s risky real estate transaction is a radical act of hope for the people of Israel.

The war and destruction they see around them will not have the final say.

For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

The failure of the political system in Israel does not mean that Israel has no hope. And maybe this is instructive for us this morning, one week into another governmental shut down. We may not have much hope in congress right now, but we still have hope that God is at work in our midst.

God’s Word of hope will come to the people when all around is under siege and when all hope seems lost.

What Jeremiah realized was this—what you do TODAY matters for the future.

You can’t just say, “I’m going to keep my eyes on that little piece of property, and then when all of this craziness is over, I’ll buy it and work toward making a better community.”

If you want to give your community hope, you can’t always wait and join in once the danger is past. You have to act now, to redeem the property that keeps your family’s claim alive, to make what the world would claim is a risky investment, to show your community that you are more than words.

Jeremiah could have said, “Jerusalem, I love you. God says things will be better at some point in the future, and I’m sure that’s right. We’ll have a great time! But right now, I’m packing up and moving to Boca Raton.”

But the act of redeeming his family’s land, of investing in land under occupation, was God’s word given concrete form.

What we do now matters.

How are our actions matching our words? Do we claim God has a future with hope for our community with our words? Do we claim it with our actions?

One small illustration of where we are claiming a future with hope for our community is next door at the school. Three years ago, we asked for volunteers to go in and spend time with the kids at our neighborhood school. The school was expecting 3 or 4 people to come forward. What they got instead was an entire community willing to be present with their time, their resources, and their love in many different ways, building relationships and showing these kids what a future with hope looks like.

Spending your time helping kids succeed at their education is not unlike buying land at Anathoth during an invasion. The world would tell us that these kids should figure it out on their own, because all across the country, we are cutting school budgets, library budgets, and social programs that benefit children. At our neighborhood school, many kids are refugees from other countries and they are trying to not just learn, but learn how to “be” in America. So, your presence in and with those kids matters now, and it gives us all hope that the future in our community will be brighter and better.

Our stewardship campaign is getting underway now as well. You’ll be hearing more about this in the coming weeks. But as the session works to set the budget for 2014, they need your pledges to set a reasonable budget. Making a claim with your money for the work of this congregation is one way to speak prophetically as Jeremiah’s land purchase did.

We invite you, in the weeks to come, to prayerfully consider the level at which you can pledge to the budget of the church. The session seeks to be faithful and responsible stewards of the budget of the church, but they are also seeking to dream for the future, to be able to do more than we can imagine just today. We pray you will join in this concrete act of hope for the future.

And whether you’ve been here two weeks or two decades, the session is hoping you will join in the work of the New Beginnings program. This is a denominational program that helps congregations as they seek to cast new vision and clarify their mission in the world. We’ve already gone through the outside assessment by the experts. But now is when it gets fun.

Beginning Oct 20, and ending before Thanksgiving, we are hoping that half of you will join in a time of small group discernment. We could just have the leaders of the church make the decisions about where we go in the future. But we strongly believe it will be a better vision with your dreams and visions. There are groups meeting in the evenings, on week days, on Sunday afternoon and evening. Sign ups are available today. We hope you can join one of those times.

Because it is this small group time where you get to make your claim for the future. This is our chance to buy some land and put the deed in a clay jar, declaring the bold future God has for this place and these people.

Friends, the world seems, some days, to be as chaotic as Jerusalem preparing for exile. We have the sacred opportunity to make a prophetic witness, like Jeremiah, reminding people of that future with hope.

As you ponder what you can do, never underestimate your ability to make a difference. But we are also called to humbly remember that the work we do is in fragile clay jars. Even Jeremiah’s land purchase placed in a jar would have seemed fragile by human standards.

Thankfully, our prophetic witness for a future with hope is grounded in the very work of God in the world. And so it is to God we turn, it is to God we trust.

For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Even when we can’t see the signs of that, we are called to remember and proclaim it.

In a few moments, we will come to the Table of our Lord. We come to be fed and nourished, so we can be sent out as ambassadors of God’s love and hope. Today is also World Communion Sunday, when we remember we gather at a Table much bigger than this one. A table where all who love God, no matter their language, their national allegiance, their doctrinal interpretations, all come together to love and serve God.


today’s communion table

That’s a vision worth living in to.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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