Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 09/29/2019

By now you are perhaps tired of the doom and gloom of our weekly Jeremiah readings; it does get old after awhile. Well, you can be pretty sure the people of Israel were tired of him too. For six weeks now it’s been a pretty steady diet of severe reprimand and warning, with Jeremiah speaking the word of the Lord, basically telling the people of ancient Israel that if they didn’t get back in line with the way of the Lord, bad things were going to happen. If they didn’t get back to treating people justly and fairly, there would be a price to pay. If they continued to violate the covenant concerning the way of the Lord there would be consequences and their collective wealth, power and intelligence would not be enough to prevent those consequences.

The people of Israel were tired of listening to Jeremiah and we’re tired of hearing his words repeated week after week and we’re not quite done yet; but Jeremiah was right; what he cautioned them about happened. Their world was undone; they lost pretty much everything, their homeland, the temple, their religious and political identity. All those things they thought they could depend on, were gone.

In today’s reading though, none of that had happened yet. It was starting; Jerusalem was under attack by the army of Babylon but meanwhile, Jeremiah was under house arrest in the palace of King Zedekiah of Judah for prophesying the very thing that was happening. Like many people in power, King Zedekiah wanted anyone who disagreed with him silenced and out of the way and it didn’t matter that they were telling the truth. So Jeremiah languished in prison, silenced by the empire.

Zedekiah could silence Jeremiah, for the moment, but he couldn’t silence the Lord. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah even while he was in prison, but it was a strange word, telling him that Hanamel, the son of Jeremiah’s Uncle Shallum was going to come to him and tell him to buy the family farm in his home town of Anathoth. For whatever reason, Shallum and Hanamel needed to sell but they also wanted to keep the property in the family and in the way things were done in that culture, Jeremiah was next in line; the right of possession belonged to him.

It was an odd word though, not in wanting to keep the land in the family; that’s a pretty common desire. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t; you might have your own story about that but the desire to hang on to property that’s been in the family a long time is not unusual. What’s odd is the timing of this word that came to Jeremiah. Jerusalem was under attack; the world as they knew it was coming unglued, so it was an odd time to be worried about keeping the field at Anathoth in the family when one might have thought, what difference does it make?

Hearing it as the word of the Lord though, Jeremiah obeyed the command. He paid 17 shekels of silver and followed all the legal requirements. He signed and sealed the deed in the presence of Hanamel and other witnesses and entrusted the deed to Baruch, one of the royal scribes who was also a friend of Jeremiah’s. Jeremiah was careful to dot all his i’s and cross all his t’s even as the world as they knew it was coming apart and you perhaps are thinking, “Yes, and who cares? What does any of this have to do with us?”

The answer is, not much until another word comes to Jeremiah, the last verse of today’s reading: “Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” Considering what was going on at the time, this too would have seemed rather odd as in various other places the land is described as desolate; in Jeremiah’s words, “the earth mourns.” It might have seemed possible that the land would eventually prosper again under the control of the conquering Babylonians, but that wasn’t what the Lord was prophesying. In the verses that follow it is clear that this word of hope was for Jeremiah and his people.

The land would have a prosperous future because the Lord would see to it; that’s the message. What this is, is a promise of new life out of brokenness; it’s a word of hope from a God who deals in hope, a God who deals in second chances. Because of the sin of the people in their failure to follow the way of the Lord, to be sure, there would be consequences, the army of Babylon wasn’t going to go away. But these words about fields and vineyards being bought and eventually prospering said that those consequences would not be final. At the time they would have seemed final but Jeremiah was reminded that such times and such circumstances are where God is revealed, where against all odds, God is doing something new. So, in faith, Jeremiah was called to invest in God’s future.

Seen that way, this text, this unlikely word to buy a field in the midst of what seemed like unmitigated disaster, does have a lot to do with us. The people of Israel, the people of Jerusalem were in the process of losing everything economically, politically and religiously. Their identity as a people was under severe threat. It seemed like hope was gone.

Our situation isn’t the same as it was in ancient Israel but there are what feel like threats to our identity. I’m not talking about personal identity theft which is a threat but not really one for me to weigh in on. I’m talking about our collective identity. I hesitate to lead with the words “polls show” because polls can show most anything and it doesn’t always mean much, but…polls show that around 60% of Americans feel like the country is headed in the wrong direction with seemingly endless partisan bickering for one thing, but even more because there’s the feeling that as a country we no longer stand for the values we thought we stood for.

Maybe we never really stood for those values, but still there’s the feeling that we can and should be able to do better, that collectively we should be able to find the “better angels of our nature” as Abraham Lincoln put it; but finding a way to do that often seems impossible. As was the case with Jeremiah, it can seem like those who are telling the truth about these things are silenced or ignored and nothing changes; it seems futile to hope that things might be different.

For those of us involved in the church there is also anxiety as numbers decline and fewer and fewer people find church and their faith to be a priority in their life or even a part of their life. The statistics are depressing and again, finding a way to change that also seems impossible; another aspect of our identity feels threatened and we feel helpless and hopeless.

But then…we have these stories of hope, these stories of new life out of brokenness, today even coming from Jeremiah, Mr. Doom and Gloom himself. He received this strange word from the Lord and rather than saying, “You can’t be serious,” he bought the field. He wasn’t going to bet against the Lord’s ability to do what seemed to be impossible. His identity and the identity of his people was rooted in the Lord, and it would remain so.

In addition to stories like that, we have the story of Jesus, our ultimate story of hope, our ultimate story of new life out of brokenness. His words and his presence come to us every week, providing hope in the midst of the identity threats we feel. On Good Friday his cause seemed lost, his dead, lifeless body more lost than what the people of ancient Israel faced at the time of Jeremiah, more lost than what we face. But in and through the cross, God was at work, doing something new. The dead, lifeless body of Good Friday was raised to new life on Easter morning.

Later in this chapter of Jeremiah the Lord comes to him saying, “See, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?” It’s a verse worth holding on to because it’s another reminder that despite the threats to our identity, we can’t lose hope because we trust that nothing is too hard for the Lord. Even in Jeremiah there are glimmers of hope that break through all his accusation and caution. Jeremiah bought that field at Anathoth trusting the word of the Lord. It’s another example of the theme of hope that runs through the whole Bible, the theme that really is the pulse of Bible.

For us though, it’s the story of Jesus from which we always get hope with reminders of new life and new possibilities. No matter what circumstances we face, regardless of the threats, our identity is with Jesus and the message he lived and taught and that message always ends in hope and new life. In our time as in the time of Jeremiah it’s not easy; it can seem like hope is lost and that’s why it’s so important to continue to tell and hear these stories that say otherwise. It’s important to remember those words spoken to Jeremiah: “I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?”

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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