This Sunday, we’re exploring one of my very favorite stories in the whole Bible. It’s a little hard to hear what’s happening, what with the Hanamels and the Shallums and the ancient property codes. I’m not overstating things, though, when I tell you that this is the best story about hope that I know.
We’re in chapter 32 of the book of Jeremiah, who is sometimes known as the Weeping Prophet. He’s credited with writing the book of Lamentations, which is lament poetry concerning the fall of Jerusalem.
In this particular story, Jeremiah is doing what he does best: predicting doom and gloom. The Babylonians are coming and they can’t be beaten. The exile is looming. It’s all going to end in death and despair. Merry Christmas from Jeremiah, who is basically the Eeyore of the Old Testament.
And then, Jeremiah gets a notice that his cousin’s field is going up for sale. As his cousin’s closest relative, it’s Jeremiah’s right and duty to buy the field in order to keep the land in the family.
The word used for what the prophet is being called to do is redeem… Jeremiah needs to be the one to redeem the property.
But! The exile is coming! They’re all going to be taken away from their land. Jeremiah isn’t going to get to grow figs or grapes on this field. He’s going to die weeping in Egypt.
What’s the point in buying this field, when you’re not going to be able to enjoy it? Why would any reasonable person buy this field, if they knew what the prophet Jeremiah could see?
Jeremiah spends seventeen silver shekels to purchase the field, and he has some specific instructions for the deed; he wants it closed up in a jar, where it will last a long time.
This is the reason he gives: For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’
Jeremiah doesn’t buy the field because it makes sense for him to buy it. Jeremiah buys the field because he believes in the restoration that’s coming after the exile, because he believes that they’ll be going home again and he wants something for his descendents to come home to.
Jeremiah knows that the exile won’t be the end of the story of God’s people. So, he sees the exile coming, and he still chooses to invest in the future. He stands in the midst of desolation and he buys the field anyway.
Friends, investing when the world feels hopeless is the best way we can live in Gospel hope. That’s the call of God’s people, in every circumstance: being the world’s wild hopemongers, “faithful weary and worn” as we are, with our tired eyes and our tired arms and our tired brains and our tired hearts and our tired voices, singing about hope.
I didn’t put an image on the cover of the bulletin this week. Sometimes I do that on accident, but this time it was on purpose.
I left it blank because I looked at images of fields and nothing I found quite worked, and then I realized that what I really wanted was for you to fill it in yourself with a picture of the field you’re buying.
I’m not going to pass out crayons and ask you to color, but there are crayons and colored pencils available back in the anteroom. Get the crayons or don’t, but ask yourself this: what’s the wild hope that you’re willing to live in? What’s the field that you’re willing to buy? What’s the thing you’re redeeming?
Not all the fields available for purchase require financial shekels. Some fields, we buy just by being willing to be vulnerable. Some fields, we buy with our patiently invested time. Some fields just get handed to us without a gift receipt to return them with. Those are the ones that are always soggy in the spring, it seems.
All of those fields cost just as much as the fields we write the checks for. They cost access to our hearts.
I don’t know where we get this idea that hope is free, but it’s not. It cost Jeremiah more than seventeen shekels to buy his cousin’s field; he had to also trade in the option to despair in the face of destruction. That’s an expensive bargain.
Last year around this time, I was shilling desperately for Hope House. We had an offer to help us buy a building, and we couldn’t stay where we were. I couldn’t see how we could possibly raise the money to buy the building in time. We just didn’t seem like the kind of organization that was meant to get into the property owning business. I mean, we went to get a mortgage on the building, and we had to escrow a whole year’s worth of mortgage payments just to show that we were capable of making the payments.
We bought the field, though. We stood in the dark and committed to hope, and the wildest things started happening. Funds seemed to come out of nowhere, and we were able to buy the field.
This week at our board meeting, which we hold in the cosy seating area in our new building, the word escrow came up again. This time, the phrase was we should escrow some money for future building maintenance. I had to stop and ask what that meant, and the translation into regular English would be tucking money away to fix things that will break in the down the road.
We’re saving money to fix things that aren’t even broken yet. That’s a sense of stability that I didn’t see coming. We bought the field, and restoration is happening, and I will never stop being surprised at the grace of it all.
What’s your field? What’s your wild hope?
We heard from Penny about the Harvest of Gold project, here in town; the meeting is raising money for that as our Christmas project. It won’t surprise any of you to know that if I colored in my blank bulletin this morning, it would be for the Belize Friends School.
I’m more of a listmaker than an artist, so I’d fill the bulletin cover in with things I want for our ministry projects there. I might try to draw a taco, too, because I must have been hungry when the kids who went to Belize shared their slideshow with us; my clearest memory was of stories of a taco stand.
Maybe Belize is a field that you’re contemplating. Maybe it’s not. There’s a lot of land to be restored, Friends. We don’t lack for fields to buy, and I’m not using sermon time to pitch the Belize project to you. When I stand here in the pulpit, I’m not trying to sell you something. I’m just here to be honest with you about how faith stories work.
And these are two things I know about living faithful stories: you gotta get your tears out about the exile, and you still gotta buy the field. That’s how we live the Gospel, how we let our lives speak.
The probable outcome of investing yourself is heartbreak. You know this if you’ve ever tried it. That’s true even in the best of circumstances, even when things come out okay in the end. Caring and investing are the bravest things we do with our lives.
And as far as I can tell, the only thing scarier than that is the spectre of an uninvested life, a series of fields unbought, just dithering at the edges of the things that matter. No. We buy the field.
Redemption is a real possibility, Friends, and the brokenness we see around us doesn’t change that basic theological fact. It’s like we sang in our first hymn: Even the hour when wings are frozen // God for fledging time has chosen. We’re called to be the redeemers, working under the direction of the Redeeming One; we buy the field.
That’s what Jeremiah was prophetically doing, when he bought his cousin’s field; showing with his life that redemption is real and it’s what we have to be investing in.
It’s what we’re called to prophetically be about the work of, too. We buy the field. So take yourselves shopping for Christmas, Friends, and tell me about the fields you’re buying.