Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, September 29, 2013 Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Luke 16:19-31 “Acts of Hope”

I love my home and my sense of belonging to a community. I love the way I’ve decorated my rooms. I love my books and pictures and the mementos of my life. I enjoy feeling settled, and as I get older, as much as I love to travel, I really love getting home again, among my things.
           My things. I’ve got a lot of things.

How about you?

Just on a whim, I started counting the number of pots and pans I have. I love to cook, as you know. I stopped counting at 20. Do I really need 20 pans? Most likely not. I could probably cook a fabulous meal with two pans, but I’ve accumulated them over the years and may need them for some particular recipe at some point, so I hang on to them, and I feel fortunate to have them.

We tend to acquire things, not always because we need them but because we want them. Sometimes we get buyer’s remorse, sometimes the things we acquire don’t get used. But every time we acquire something, we are making a symbolic gesture. We are saying something in the acquisition an act of hope, if you will. It might be that I buy a particular piece of cooking equipment because I believe I’m going to prepare something that requires it. Like the nifty ice cream maker I bought. Haven’t made any ice cream in it yet, but I will. Someday! I might buy a particular article of clothing even though I can’t quite fit into it right now, because I believe I WILL fit into that article of clothing soon. Soon, I tell you! Don’t laugh!

We get things, whether we need them or simply want them, because they are symbols to us of our future activity. They are acts of hope.

And that leads me to think about why Jeremiah, in our old testament reading this morning, acquires a piece of land. It is admittedly an odd purchase, given Jeremiah’s circumstances.

In this point in Jeremiah’s story, Israel is being crushed by the Babylonians. Jeremiah is actually under house arrest in the court of the King of Judah. It is a time of war and of hopelessness.

And in the midst of this Jeremiah receives a divine message and acts in response to it. Jeremiah’s cousin comes to him while Jeremiah is under house arrest and offers to sell him a piece of land.

Let me remind you: Jeremiah is under arrest. The country is in a state of war. And Jeremiah buys a piece of land.

It makes no sense…unless it is a sign of something.

Prophets, after all, are all about signs of things to come. It’s part of the job description.

So what might the acquisition of a field mean? What kind of sign is a land transaction in the midst of war?

Maybe it is an act of hope. After all, why would you buy a piece of land unless you believed that at some time in the future you would be able to grow something on it without worrying about soldiers trampling it or taking all the things you grow on it? That wouldn’t happen unless there was peace. Buying a piece of property in the midst of war – a crazy thing, right? Unless it is a sign that God will eventually give the Israelites relief from war.  Unless it is a sign that better days are coming soon. Unless it is an act of hope.

Out in Colorado folks are recovering from the heavy rains and mudslides that have devastated the area around Boulder. We had a young man from Colorado visiting us this week, a friend of my daughter’s, on his way to New York. All of his goods were packed in his van, bicycle strapped to the back, and he is making a move. I asked him if the problems in Colorado  caused him to decide to move. “No,” he said. “I was planning this all along. I had known that I was heading east, so I made sure my stuff was in a safe place, so that when the weather let up, I could head out.”

He was hopeful. He knew something better was coming, and he prepared himself. He stored his goods – his stuff – and he got the van ready, and when the time was right, he got on the road.

Jeremiah did the same thing. In the midst of the awfulness of the war with Babylon, he did something counter-intuitive. He didn’t just hunker down. At God’s instruction, he prepared for a hopeful future, the hopeful future that God promises us all. Jeremiah bought that land because God said “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” If you have any doubt that God, and Jeremiah, are talking about long-term peace, remember that word “Vineyard.” Vineyards take years to yield. This is not a short term land-flip. It’s a long term investment, which means long-term peace.

How does this translate for us, here in Lakeside in the autumn on 2013? Is God saying “go buy a piece of land?” For some of us, that may be true.

But the larger answer to this question may be that we are expected to be a hopeful people, and the things that we do, whether it is buying a piece of land or a pair of jeans a size smaller than the one we currently wear, are all signs of how much hope we have that God will care for us.

On the face of it, talking about buying something as a hopeful sign seems to be the exact opposite of what is happening in the Gospel, where the rich man who is so cruel and unhelpful to poor Lazarus gets punished for not caring for the beggar during life.

Is Jeremiah saying “amass wealth as a wise investment because God will take care of you?” Is Luke’s gospel saying “if you’re rich, give to the poor or else you’ll go to hell?” The short answer is yes and no.

God’s message through Jeremiah is not about getting stuff per se. It’s about God helping those who have been suffering – the people of Israel. The purchase of the land is merely the symbol of God’s promise of hope for the future.

God’s message through Christ in the Gospel of Luke is not about giving away stuff per se. It’s about God saying we have an obligation to offer the very same promise of hope spoken of in Jeremiah, in practical help to those who have no hope.

If you are under siege, God says there will be better times, so prepare for those better times. If you are hungry, God says that God’s people should share with you, that you will not be left without succor at the gate.

It’s not about buying or selling things. It’s about what those things represent. Are you buying for yourself or in hope for all in the future? Are you selling to “cash out” and keep the proceeds or are you planning on sharing those proceeds with those who need a hand?

What is your hope for the future? What are the signs in your life that represent that hope, not only for you, but for those who most need hope?

Let us pray for hope.

Gracious God, you have promised every blessing, even heaven itself, through Jesus Christ. We rely on your infinite power, goodness, and mercy, and on your sacred promises, to which you are always faithful. We are confident that you are always with us, always helping us, always giving us grace to serve you faithfully in this life, by doing the good works you have commanded. With your assistance, we will do those good works, helping your people as we are able, being shining lights in this community and in the world. We pray this through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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