God’s Story is Still Being Written

This is a sermon preached at Montreat Youth Conference this summer. It seems relevant today as yet another shooting fills the news. The theme of the conference was This is Our Story.

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The Prophet Jeremiah is a bit of a drag, truth be told. If you read through his whole book at one time, it might depress you a bit. In his defense, he was working with people who 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.

There is much gloom, despair, and agony in their story. If it weren’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. Mistakes are made, as they say.  Things do not go well.

This passage is from the tenth year of King Zedekiah’s reign, which was in 586 BCE, as I’m sure you already know. 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. They could always buy it back if it went up for sale again.

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, not just for him or his family,  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.

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

Jeremiah realized that 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 of hope given concrete form.

What we do now speaks hope into the story of our lives, and into the lives of others.

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?

This past week, there was another shooting. This was the 204th shooting this year in which 4 or more people were shot. The day of the Lafayette shooting was also the 204th day of 2015. One mass shooting a day this year. (This was the first of August. As of Dec 2, 2015, we have had  352 mass shootings, including the one in process in San Bernardino, CA)

And now we add Lafayette to the list of the ones that have come before. Chattanooga, Charleston, Aurora, Sandy Hook. And on and on. Sadly the list of communities in our country that have been devastated by gun violence is longer than we have time to read tonight.

I’d already gotten here to Montreat when I saw the news of this most recent shooting. And I realized how numb I’ve gotten to the pandemic of gun violence in this country. Because if I were to keep feeling the pain of each shooting, how would I make it through a day? If I were to remember each time that it could have been my children in that movie theater, or my friend in that church or my church member in that recruiting station, would I be able to leave my house in the morning?

How long, O Lord? Must we wait forever?

Friends, this violence we commit against ourselves leaves me needing a word of hope.

I need to figure out what the modern day equivalent of buying land in Anathoth is as gun violence batters our nation like Babylon’s invading armies.

Because I’m weary of the death. And of the way we just move on and prepare for the next one. I don’t want to be numb anymore.

As Christians, as people who follow a savior who renounced violence and called us to care for each other in his name, we must respond.  The world around us needs to hear of our hope, and how our hope doesn’t rest in our selves but in the God who sends us to act.

Maybe it begins in making beauty, metaphorical clay jars in which we can display our deeds of hope.

After the Charleston shooting, the band Delta Rae wrote a song called ‘All Good People’. Listen to this.

Like Jeremiah before them, with their music they have offered us Hope and called us to our better nature, reminding us of our connectedness, one to another.

I hear their song and remember we can’t make it through exile alone. We are here to help each other through it. As Andy spoke of in keynote—I am because you are.

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.

Amen.

from our Prayers of Hope

from our Prayers of Hope

 

After worship, we wrote our prayers of hope onto ribbon, which were then woven onto a cross. Here is the prayer we prayed in that service.

Our individual voices calling for hope may seem quiet when the noise of the world howls around us. When our voices join together, however, we boldly proclaim God’s Hope for a world desperately listening for the promise.

Our prayers have already been woven into the cross. As we add these final prayers, let us join our voices together, loudly and joyfully, proclaiming hope for the world.

—We hope for restored relationships and forgiveness.
—We hope for healing of racial wounds and division.
—We hope for messy stories to be made beautiful.
—We hope for a better tomorrow.
—We hope for people about to move to college, that they may connect with other people who also want to tell God’s story.
—We hope for a love of peace to be stronger than our reliance on violence.
God, we offer up all of these prayers to you, trusting you will help us give voice to your hope to the world. We place our hope on your Cross because we know your ability to conquer death is where our hope is truly rooted.
Hear our prayers, O God of Hope. Amen

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