Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Real Bargain--a sermon for Ordinary 26C

Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
A Real Bargain
Jeremiah 32.1-3a, 6-15
September 30 2007, Ordinary 26 C

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, ‘Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it;

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth 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.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 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 jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Please tell me I am not the only one here who hears this story of Jeremiah buying a field and thinks either “so?” or “what?” Anyone else? Oh good.

This isn’t the kind of story we generally hear a lot about. It’s not a thrill a minute, it’s not an exciting healing or a particularly powerful sermon. In fact, it all seems a little ordinary. I mean, buying a field? That is Bible-quality narrative?

Well, yes, in a lot of ways it is. You see, Jeremiah was “confined in the court of the guard” which basically means he was imprisoned. Maybe not in a cell or a dungeon or the pit of despair, but imprisoned nonetheless. Why was he in prison? For telling the king God’s Own Truth. You see, Jeremiah is a prophet. He hears God’s voice and then speaks God’s word to the people….in this case, very important people. It’s not an easy job, speaking God’s word to people. Especially when the word is not favorable to the administration. So the king, tired of hearing the voice of God through Jeremiah, tired of hearing how he and everyone else have broken the covenant with God, tired of hearing how the Babylonians are coming and we can’t stop them, has Jeremiah confined. But Jeremiah has tried before not to speak the word God gives him, and that has gone badly for him. So he keeps relaying the message of God’s judgment and God’s hope, of God’s plan to pluck up and to plant, of God’s future for the people. He’s been bringing these messages in spite of the ridicule, the mocking, the torture, for years now. He knows that exile is coming. He knows he will live out the rest of his days far from his home. He knows that his people will suffer in exile. But he also knows that one day, though it may generations from now, they’ll come home. And so he continues to speak.

For the last two chapters Jeremiah has, for a change, been talking about God’s future for these stubborn people. God said “surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for your harm, plans to give you a future with hope.” And then God said “I will make a new covenant with the people. I will write it on their hearts. They will not need to teach each other because they will all know me.” And now God says “Jeremiah, buy a field.” Well, if everyone didn’t think Jeremiah was crazy already, they sure would now! So Jeremiah waits. He takes some time to discern if this is really the voice of God or if he’s cracking up. I mean, the Babylonian army has arrived. They are besieging Jerusalem. They are occupying the land and preparing to take the people into exile hundreds of miles away. They are working out how best to destroy the Temple. They have overrun God’s holy city, they have taken over God’s chosen people. Buy a field? That’s insane! You can’t buy property when you live under occupation. It’s not your land to buy or sell. You certainly can’t go inspect the property, since you can’t freely move about your own country because the occupying army thinks you are dangerous. Besides, money is precious when you live in an occupied land, since the economy is generally destroyed under occupation, and the Babylonian occupation of Israel and Judah was no exception. Buy a field!?!? Please.

It’s not just any field, but his cousin’s field, and Jeremiah has a duty to keep it in the family and to help out his cousin who must be in dire straits to sell his land. Or is he? It’s possible he needs the money, and it’s also possible he’s looking to unload the field because it’s not helping him make a living anymore. You see, Anathoth is just a couple miles north of Jerusalem, the perfect location for a besieging, occupying army to camp. The Babylonians are literally occupying this field. Hanamel is therefore in need of other income and also willing to sell the field for a good price. Yeah, Jeremiah, this field is a real bargain! Buy it for yourself! One day only!

Jeremiah, now certain that it was in fact the word of the Lord, walks into this crazy scheme and buys the useless field, in an act that defies both his own government and the occupying forces. He knows he’ll never see the field, never plow it or build a house on it. He knows everyone will call him crazy. He also knows that God has plans to give us all a future with hope. What better way to show you mean what you say than to put your money where your mouth is? Jeremiah makes an investment—but the return is so far in the future that he will never reap the benefits. He invests in God’s vision, in hope, in faith, in trust of God’s promises. That’s a real bargain, not the “bargain” Hanamel offered. This is high-stakes investment at bargain-basement prices. All Jeremiah has to do is act on the words he’s been preaching. That’s not so hard, right?

Wrong, of course. As David LaMotte says in his song “Hope”—“I’ve got a lot of hope for the future, got a lot of faith things can work out fine, got a lot dreams for a better world…got a lot of work to do if I’m going to make them mine.” It’s a lot of work. We all know how hard it can be to practice what you preach. Well, if you’re a prophet like Jeremiah, it becomes even trickier. It’s easy to say the nation is full of covenant breakers, and less easy to model keeping covenant. It’s easy to say “trust in God” and less easy to stop placing your trust in the government or your locked doors. It’s easy to say “have hope!” and less easy to act on your hope in God rather than despair. Jeremiah lived in a time of national tragedy, of despair. To preach about hope was one thing. To actually have hope was something totally different.

Yes, it’s easy to use words. It’s much harder to prove that your witness, your testimony, is valid by marrying word and action, by sealing your life to your testimony, by acting on what you say. That’s exactly what Jeremiah does here. He doesn’t just say “God said that houses and fields and vineyards would once again be bought in this land,” he demonstrates it, he invests, he seals not just the deed of purchase but all his words with action. While this same action doesn’t say the same thing to us today, there are plenty of ways we can practice what we preach and so bring hope to the despair many people face, ways we can put our money where our mouth is and so bring light into the darkness of the world, ways we can seal our life to our testimony that God promises a future with hope. Downstairs there are tables upon tables of places and ways you can be involved, ways you can invest your time or your money and your prayers in bringing hope and light and good news to people who need it.

To speak and act in truth and hope can be dangerous, at least for your social life. It can be a risky investment. But to defy the order of the day, the culture of fear, the prevailing despair, with God’s hope is a real bargain. Those who spend their time and money for such things rather than material things are often ridiculed, and those who invest in hope rarely see the return on the investment, but that’s the price of being a prophet.

Archbishop Oscar Romero said it this way:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

May God give us the courage to join with Jeremiah in investing in hope, in sealing our testimony with our lives, in practicing what we preach, in working for God’s future, a future with hope.



  1. I think you did a nice job with this. I like the way you unpack why J bought the land and how that relates a vision for the future, God's vision. I hope it feels good to preach it...

    Also, I was out your way two weeks ago. My daughter works for a (horse, Tivoli) barn on Old Country Club Road just north and east of the Church...

    (oh and did you know, my name is Terri)....

  2. I agree with Mompriest. This is complex stuff, first reaction, yes, "so what?' but you answer that well and the weaving with the Romero writing is powerful.