9/25/2016: Stuff Jeremiah Bought

Jeremiah 32:1-15

Jerusalem is under attack, and God asks Jeremiah to buy a field.

Which makes no sense.  Why would you buy land when that land is about to be taken?

This isn’t the first time that God told Jeremiah to buy something.  In Jeremiah 13 the prophet is instructed to buy a loin cloth.  He’s to wear it for a while without washing it and then go hide it in a rock.  After another while he’s supposed to pull it back out again.

hikingshirtHere in the 21st century we don’t talk much about loincloths.  So let’s say this is like my backpacking shirt.  I typically wear it all five days – no washing – on our overnight hiking trips.  I bet you can guess how sweat-drenched and stink-infused it is after 40 miles of hiking.  Then, what if I took it and put it in a ziplock bag.  Six months later I open the bag up… Can’t you just see the cloud of green rottenness that would float up out of that bag.

This is what Jeremiah does with the loin cloth; this is the object lesson for God’s people, who have stubbornly turned away from God.  “This is what you’re like,” God says to them.  “You’re rank.  You’re gross.  Your stubbornness has spoiled you.”

So when God tells Jeremiah to buy a field, it’s not a real estate investment – it’s for that same kind of symbolic purpose.

Jeremiah buys something again in Jeremiah 19:  a pot.  He’s to gather all the elders and religious leaders around and then smash the pot to pieces.

I don’t do a lot of pot-smashing, myself, and I certainly didn’t want to break a pot in our Sanctuary during this sermon.  But there is a recurring “breaking” event that happens in my house, always with tragic consequences:

balloonPopping balloons.

So let’s say God asked me to blow up a balloon in worship and then pop it, right in front of all the Christ-followers gathered there.  All that’s left is scraps of plastic.  No amount of tape or super glue can put it back together.

“This is what you’re like,” God says to the people.  “You’re broken beyond repair.”

That’s a pretty bleak message… and an excellent example of why it’s dangerous to read parts of the Bible in isolation.  Reading Jeremiah 19 alone might lead us to think that God gave up on the Israelites, wiped those Divine hands clean and walked away.  But God didn’t give up on them.  They weren’t broken beyond repair.  Their story would continue (and spread to all of humanity) through Jesus Christ.

Even before Jesus, the story continues in Jeremiah 32, when God asks the prophet to buy something again.  This time, it’s a field.

The purchase makes no sense.  The Babylonians are literally climbing the city walls.  Why buy real estate when that very real estate is about to be taken by another empire?

It’d be like if God sent one of us back to the spring of 2007.  You know full well that the bottom is about to fall out of the housing market, that anything you buy will take a sickening drop in value later that year.  God says, “Buy a house, the bigger the better.”  That investment would be nothing but an un-vestment.  It’d make no sense at all… unless it was meant to make a statement.  Unless it was meant to say, “Don’t lose hope, because one day this house will be worth owning again.”

Jeremiah’s purchase didn’t make any sense, either – except it made perfect sense as a symbolic prophetic action.  What God was saying through Jeremiah was this:  “Go and buy a field, because there is a future here.  One day, that field will be worth having.  I haven’t given up on you yet.”

That’s a pretty profound word of hope when Jerusalem is under full attack, when Jeremiah is shut up in the palace with the King.  It looks like their future will fall with their city, but God says differently.  God says there is still a future to hope for.

If that was God’s word in the days of Jeremiah, how about for us today?

There are riots in Charlotte and bombings in New York.  There’s an election full of negativity and division.  There’s an abundance of fear and hate and a shortage of hope.  Are we a loincloth, a hiking t-shirt that’s so spoiled no one would want to touch it?  Are we broken pot, a popped balloon that can’t be mended?  Has God given up on us?

Sometimes we Christians come to that conclusion.  We look around at this impossible mess that is the human existence and declare, “Jesus is about to come back!”  Because if things are this bad, the Second Coming must be just around the corner.

Now, I don’t know when Jesus will return.  Maybe he is about to come back.  But maybe not.  Jesus himself said that no one knows when that will happen – not the angels, not even Jesus Christ himself (Matthew 24:36).  Only God.  So our challenge is to live every day like Jesus might show up, live every day in a way that Jesus would be proud of whenever he returns.

But there’s a danger in fixating too heavily on Jesus’ return.  If we look around at the mess we’re living in and decide that Jesus is about to come back, we might stop investing in this world now.  We might stop working to feed people who are hungry, protect people who are vulnerable, love people who are unloved.  We might stop caring about this planet and all its inhabitants, human or otherwise.  In other words, we might stop buying real estate.  Because Jesus is about to come back – so why buy a field?

Maybe Jeremiah’s message is for us today, too.  The news of the day has made many of us feel like we’re living in a castle with enemy forces climbing the walls.  We feel like we’re on the brink of defeat and destruction.

But no!  Keep buying fields.  Keep feeding people.  Keep protecting people.  Keep loving people.  Keep caring for creation.

Because God’s last image isn’t a stinky loincloth or a broken pot.
It’s not a rotten hiking shirt or a popped balloon.
It’s not even a purchased field.
It’s an empty tomb.

So go:  live and serve with all you’ve got.
Buy a field.
Invest in the kingdom of God, here and now.

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