Sermons represent copyrighted material and are not to be reproduced, transcribed, or used in any form without the permission of Rev. Chris Moore or the speaker for that day.
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
In his remarkable book, This Land is Our Land, Professor Suketu Mehta writes about Friendship Park, what used to be a small patch of land adjoining the Pacific Ocean between San Diego and Tijuana, inaugurated by First Lady Pat Nixon as a place for families on either side of the border to share picnics together. In 1994, the Clinton administration erected a 12-foot high barrier for the first time. In 2009, the Obama administration shut down the U.S. side of Friendship Park and put a second fence behind the first one.
The park remained open, but contact between family members was reduced to reaching across the expanse of the fences and touching fingertips together. Mehta writes, “Friendship Park is at once a monument to bureaucratic stupidity and the absurd rules that lawyers make as well as to the power of love and family to surpass them. It is the cruelest and the most hopeful place I have ever seen.”
It is strange how often those two things are dance partners – cruelty and hope, pain and promise, struggle and possibility. One often follows another, as if there is some interdependent dance at work, where we can define the day only because there is night, or heartache only because we know what it is to love. For Jeremiah, these two sides of the same coin are meeting in a prison cell in the court of King Zedekiah, who has had Jeremiah tortured, beaten and thrown into a sewer before locking him away. But there is a surprise today from Jeremiah, who we know already from the past few weeks of readings is not the prime example of hopefulness.
Seems like a really good morning to bring this up. Climate change is front and center, thanks to some very young activists who should be home in school, not having to lead us so called “responsible” adults into making changes, immigration and refugee stories continue to break our hearts, the Amazon is burning and we seem unable to stop it, and one other thing…what is it? Oh yeah, we’re actually having impeachment hearings on a sitting President! I realize that this is a process which some of us may applaud, maybe something for which some have been actively praying and hoping. AND I do hope that we realize how terribly damaging this will likely be to whatever vestiges of democracy we have left. There are many here in this room who remember the last couple of times we’ve had impeachment proceedings…the atmosphere was not calm, nor did it resonate an abundance of hope. Impeachment is, in many ways, a lose-lose scenario, no matter the outcome, and it is because whatever action is taken is taken upon all of us. We are in this together.
So here we sit once more, faced with a world outside that feels more and more perilous, locked in our own dance of struggle and expectation, maybe feeling metaphorically trapped in our own prison, helpless, standing on the sidelines and watching as things that seem to big to do anything about collapse all around us. Maybe this morning we might actually identify with Jeremiah’s lament and surrender to a bleak future. We know that the world is on the brink, in many ways, and we also know that there is no plan B. It is in the midst of such despair that Jeremiah offers us a way forward: we lament, we express our rage, we do not allow ourselves to be numbed or silenced by the enormity of it all, and we evoke our faithful imagination for rebirth, for renewal, for resurrection. It has taken a long six weeks of harsh speech, but here in this last passage something pretty well hidden in Jeremiah’s angry, fiery rhetoric all along is revealed…hope.
The symbolic representation of this hope is found in today’s passage. Jeremiah is told by God in his prison cell to purchase his cousin Hanamel’s land. In verse eight, Hanamel visits Jeremiah in prison, and asks Jeremiah to “redeem” the land, meaning that he couldn’t support it anymore and it might fall out of the family’s hands. So, Jeremiah purchases this land, but he does so very publicly, in front of a group of witnesses he weighs out a certain weight of money and signs two copies of the deed, a kind of elaborate version of what needed to happen. And then he takes the deeds, places them in earthenware jars and buries them, “in order that they may last for a long time.” Jeremiah makes sure that this act is done as publicly as possible so that everyone will see this demonstration, supposedly of faith in his family, but actually a prophetic display of faith and redemption of the people and the land of Israel…hope for the future.
For whatever reason, maybe it’s the prophetic nature of God, I have had several meetings with people who make a dramatic impact on policy and social justice causes in our city and beyond over the past couple of weeks. And these haven’t been strategy or planning meetings, though some of them started out that way. They have been meetings about hope. We didn’t say that, didn’t even use that word, but all of the people I have talked to, myself included, are wondering how things really might change. They are feeling worn out, beaten down and are lamenting the prospects for meaningful change. What is the next step? If this doesn’t work, if another well-reasoned argument, another press of social conscience, another display of people power doesn’t convince the leaders to change direction to avoid the impending conflict, what will?
In verse fifteen, God promises Jeremiah that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land,” placing again the image of rebirth into the imaginations of the people. God does not abandoned Judah to its fate, but promises to remain among them, providing them with the kind of salvation that we can only see generationally. So trapped have we been by the fundamentalist interpretation of salvation – YOUR salvation as an individual in some heaven to come – that we have never been told the word is not singular, it is plural. It is OUR salvation, the redemption of humankind, not a momentary thing, but a long game, more like an old-growth forest than a fast-food drive-thru. The way of salvation means that we plant seeds for things we will never see grow to fruition, you and I. But WE will…I mean the bigger “we,” the we that must be an increasing part of our conversation because we can no longer afford to simply think only of ourselves or just the next generation. We, like Jeremiah, must consider seven generations from now, stocking away dreams in earthenware vessels to bear fruit at some other time, in some other place.
Jeremiah wasn’t going to plant any crops on that land. He wasn’t going to build a house there or raise a family, no sheep to tend, no harvest to secure. But someone would. He wasn’t going to change the world, or heal the rift, or bring about salvation with a single act like this, but he was going to make a step – his step – towards a better world.
Jeremiah takes his hope and buries it in a piece of pottery, still imagining a future that is not here, a future that will be for someone else.
The time is here friends, for such a shift in our understanding as well. We must strategize out for the long game. We, too, must make investments towards a promise, even when we won’t get to taste the fruits of such work. This is a time for our moral imaginations, for considering not only what we want to build right here today, but also what kind of world we want to start for our grandchildren, a world which we may not be able to give them with house and farm and family already intact. Perhaps we can only give them the land on which to grow, the foundation on which to build. That means it’s time we do the same thing that was done for us, working through a process to remodel our church space which we were given as a trust, imagining what the next generation might need, re-thinking what it means to welcome people with the very infrastructure itself, so we might setup this church, OUR church, with the foundations for the 21st century church that none of us can fully imagine, but which all of us know starts with radical inclusion born from a spirit of interconnectedness. It means re-thinking about who we are partnering with, making sure that our connections, our ministries, our missions build connections that dream the same dreams of equity, of justice and compassion, of a new theology and a new culture for a nation and a big capital “C” church that both must change. And all of this means that we’ll have to think less about what we are comfortable with, less about the familiar and the traditional and more about what our traditions, all of which were born from radical change, call us to do and to be…not only in what it might gain us today, also what we can enable for the next generation as we take part in this dance of pain and promise, struggle and possibility.
This we can do, Jeremiah shows us, even as we doubt and lament and express our anger about the ways that God seems to not be present, when any kind of protection feels wanting, or absent all together. That is not a lack of faith, it is the awareness of right relationship, the consciousness of covenant that can set us back on track, helping us remember our focus, with the help of another prophet, Amos – do justice, where we are with what we have; love kindness, nurturing it in ourselves and others; and walk humbly with your God, with a strong emphasis on the humility.
Our six weeks with Jeremiah has been rough sledding, harsh words and convicting, prophetic language that may have been so difficult to hear because of how close to home they hit. Make no mistake, this is a turning point in history, and if we allow ourselves to get caught up in short term, reactionary stuff – as good as some of it may feel to us viscerally – we will lose the long game that God calls us to see…God, whose vision we must now lean upon and have faith in so fully that we will choose to take steps onto the unlit staircase, trusting that we can climb up, one step at a time.
May God be with us on the journey, as God surely is…Amen.