An Investment of Faith

Jeremiah 32: 1-15     "An Investment of Faith"    October 27, 2019

 

Much of the book of Jeremiah has been leading up to this moment. The prophet Jeremiah has been telling his people, “Since you are ignoring what your faith has taught, God is sending the Babylonians to teach you a lesson.” God is going to use one of Israel’s enemies to conquer their land. Here is what happened.

 

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedeki′ah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrez′zar. 2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard which was in the palace of the king of Judah. 3 For Zedeki′ah king of Judah had imprisoned him, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; 4 Zedeki′ah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chalde′ans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye; 5 and he shall take Zedeki′ah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I visit him, says the Lord; though you fight against the Chalde′ans, you shall not succeed’?”

6 Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Behold, Han′amel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field which is at An′athoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ 8 Then Han′amel my cousin came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field which is at An′athoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

9 “And I bought the field at An′athoth from Han′amel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neri′ah (Near-I-uh) son of Mahsei′ah (Ma-sA-ah), in the presence of Han′amel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Jews who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, 14 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.’

 

SERMON

An elephant, a giraffe and monkey, are lounging by a water hole, when up walks a lion. The lion yells, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The giraffe and the monkey say, “O you, lion, everybody knows you are the king of the jungle.” The elephant says nothing. The lion doesn’t like being ignored. He yells louder this time, “I said, ‘Who is the king of the jungle!?’” Once again, the monkey and the giraffe say, “Without a doubt, lion – you and you only, are the king of the jungle. You are to be respected and feared.” Once again, the elephant completely ignores the lion and says nothing. Well, now the lion is furious. He gets up right in the elephant’s face and roars, “I said, WHO is the king…” and before he can say another word, the elephant grabs the lion, knocks him on his head, and throws him against a tree. The lion slowly gets up. He shakes himself off. Then, he says to the elephant, “Well, just because you’re deaf, there’s no reason to lose your temper!”

Israel seemed to be deaf. And Jeremiah was angry with them. He was ready to pick them up, knock them on the head and toss them against tree. He told them they were not listening to God. They were listening to distractions. They were sucking on sour grapes, says Jeremiah. They were not obeying the laws God and doing things to encourage a faithful commuity.

Jeremiah spends the first 31 chapters fussing at them and telling them they need to listen: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Jesus put those two phrases together in a new way, but they were already in the Old Testament). They were not loving God and they were leaving their neighbors to fend for themselves.

So, Jeremiah calls an Open meeting of the community. There was no handholding and no promises about how it’s all going to be ok. Just the opposite. Jeremiah told them they had messed up so bad, the end was inevitable.

In fact, Jeremiah took it one step further. God was actually going to help it happen by siding with the Babylonians the way as they marched into Israel and razed the Temple.

We tried. We failed. God told me the best thing to do is to sell the church and open a Starbucks.

He wants them to be faithful, but since they stubbornly refuse, there’s nothing else Jeremiah can do. All he can do is warn them about the approaching storm. They’re too far gone. God is going to help the Babylonians to march in and swallow them up.

 

Now, as you might imagine, the people, they were furious with Jeremiah: “Jeremiah, you’re our preacher. We don’t pay you to get up into the pulpit and tell us we are wrong!”

King Zedikiah, the Hebrew king – the president, if you will or the Executive Presbyter of the Baltimore Presbytery – whatever – arrested him. They put him in chains tossed him in the storage room right next to the chairs. His license was suspended. He was censored. He was put on leave without pay until he could tell them all was ok, and they were going to win.

Jeremiah refuses to sugarcoat it for them. There will be no change, until they change. If they don’t change, the doors will be closed, and the property sold to Starbucks.

Fred Craddock was a Presbyterian minister from Georgia. He tells a story about his first church in Nashville, TN. This was way back in the 1950’s. About the time he arrived, they were building the Oak Ridge Laboratory. Oak Ridge is the largest scientific research center in the U.S., I believe.

There were hundreds of people working there and many of them came from different states. The church parking lot had license plates from TN, GA, NC, KY and even a couple from places like PA, IL and NY. Now, it wasn’t said out loud, but many of these visitors were either different colors or a different nationalities. The Session wasn’t so sure they wanted all these new and unusual people in their church. One elder made a motion to only allow people to join if they owned property in the county. Craddock argued against it. But he was new, and they were not. So, he was outvoted by people who’d been there awhile. About a decade after he left, he was driving by the church on a Sunday and noticed only a handful of cars in the parking lot. Then, about five years later, he drove by again, and this time the parking lot was full. He asked someone, “What happened to the church to make it so successful?” The fellow said, “Oh no, the church closed a few years back. Now it’s one of the best barb-que places you will ever find.” Craddock looked around and sure enough. There were cars with license plates from TN, GA, NC, KY and even a couple from places like PA, IL, and NY.

And Jeremiah said, “If you had only listened…"

 

Then, out of the blue, completely by surprise, God gives Jeremiah an epiphany: “Jeremiah, you know that land on the border where the Babylonians are about to over run? Go and buy it.”

Without hesitation, Jeremiah says, “Ok.” He calls his cousin, Hanamel. He offers to buy the land. Now, Hanamel doesn’t need to be asked twice. He knows the Babylonians are coming. He sees their campfires from his front porch. He can’t believe his luck. It’s his good fortune that his cousin is the guy who thinks God is talking to him all the time. This time God tells Jeremiah to buy land which is just about to be grabbed by the Babylonians. Hanamel didn’t waste a moment, lest Jeremiah come to his senses.

But Jeremiah doesn’t change his mind. In fact, just to make sure everyone knows what’s going on, he calls all the Session, and all the Congregation together. He has all the papers drawn up and the deed brought out. He puts it all on a table for the people to witness. He repeats what’s happening as loud as he can so everyone hears it, everyone can see it, and everyone can remember: “I am buying this land, from my cousin, Hanamel. I am buying the very land the Babylonians are going to overrun – maybe as early as tomorrow!”

Jeremiah is making a point. The Hebrews didn’t live up to the old Covenant so God is going to make a new Covenant. This new Covenant is not about following laws on paper. This new Covenant, we’ll later learn, is about following a Man on a cross. He would not hold onto their sins but promises to hold onto them. If we follow this man long enough and if we follow him far enough, this new Covenant will not need paper, because it will find its way into our hearts.

The best thing we can do now is invest in faith. Jeremiah 31 says:

 

I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers, my covenant which they broke, But this is the covenant which I will make, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest; for I will forgive their mistakes and I will remember their sin no more.

 

My wife and I were having an argument this past week. I know it’s hard to believe I can be argumentative, so you will have to suspend your sense of reality for a moment and use your imagination.

I was being difficult. Right in the middle of it, Kathy got up out of her chair, walked over and kissed me.

Well, that shut me up.

Even though I was clearly being a pain, she decided to invest in our relationship. At just that moment when you’d think it would be the best time for her to walk away, if not forever, but at least for a while, she stopped and bought property in the land of hope. Do you see that?

Just when the marauders of discontent were gathering at our border, she doesn’t pull up stakes and run. Instead she plants herself firmly in the relationship. Shed buys property in the land of promise where hope blooms. She believes the discontent will pass. Not only that, she can actually show it the door, knowing she will still be here, even when the sour grapes pass.

We do that with relationships. Those who have been married for a while can tell you. We can do it in our church. We can do it at our work. We can do it with ourselves At just that moment when those marauders of discontent are threatening everything, we say, with stubborn resolve. We are going to turn tale and run. We are going to pray, listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, call a friend, go for a walk in the woods. We are going to be kind and forgive. We will purchase hope in the land of hope, knowing the discontent will pass and we can even help it’s departure by refusing to give up on faith.

 

I thought about that, because that is what Jeremiah did. At just that moment when the people were being a pain, and all was lost, God gave them a kiss of hope. Telling Jeremiah to buy that plot of land was a testimony to the future. When things are the worst, that’s the best time to invest in faith. Jeremiah buys land just when all seems lost to show he believes God will come through even when we fail.

 

Today is Consecration Sunday, and what better day, than to do what Jeremiah did. He called all the people together. He placed the deed on the table. He made a public demonstration of the whole thing, so they’d all hear, all see, and all remember.

We have the chance to do what Jeremiah did.

God is inviting us to invest in our church with a public demonstration of faith. When we make our pledge, it is like buying property in the land of promise. We are saying we believe in God so much that we promise now to give for what God will be doing with us then.

Let’s give ourselves to our church, like we believe in it. Let’s invest our lives to serve God in this place so this place may serve God.

 

TO GOD BE THE GLORY FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN.

 

 

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