September 29, 2019

Proper 21

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31

The Rev. Bradley Varnell

Futures are very important. The futures we imagine shape how we live our day to day lives. As much as we idolize ‘living in the moment,’ the reality is that we have to have some conception of what’s to come in order to live well now. Right - if my future holds running the Houston marathon, that’s got to impact the choices I make today: will I go for a run, or will I finish binge watching Project Runway? Futures shape our present day lives, but they also inspire the hope that give us the energy, the drive to push on in our day to day lives. When we lose sight of our future, when the future is no longer a possible for whatever reason, we lose our hope, and when we lose our hope, we lose the thing that keeps us pressing onward.

We have a much more high-stakes example of the importance of the futures we imagine in our first lesson from Jeremiah today. Jeremiah is imprisoned by the king of Judah in Jerusalem, as the city is under siege by the armies of Babylon. It is only a matter of time before the army of an empire overruns the small, Jewish kingdom of Judah. In the midst of all this, in the midst of invasion, with threat of displacement and destruction, of life as he knows it being completely turned upside down hanging over him Jeremiah is faced with a choice: the Word of God comes to him and announces that his cousin will be coming to offer him a field in his home village, Anathoth. Hanamel, Jeremiah’s cousin, is offering the field under the right of redemption, an ancient Jewish practice that required a person selling a piece of land, to first offer it to their next of kin. It was a practice designed to keep ancestral lands within the clan. It preserved a family’s heritage and inheritance.

But it’s not just Hanamel making an offer, God is in the midst of all this. In the midst of destruction God invites Jeremiah to do something that to onlookers can only appear as absolute stupidity, or perhaps a result of the madness and trauma that war and invasion bring. This offer makes no sense given what’s happening. Just imagine - armies are invading, you are locked up in the king’s palace, and you’re being sold a field in your hometown. It would be like being offered a condo in downtown Damascus today. There is nothing about Jeremiah’s situation that should lead him to buy the field in Anathoth, except for God.

God invites Jeremiah to make this purchase not because it’s a good real estate deal, but because it is a sign of hope to Jeremiah and to the Jewish people that despite how bad things look, despite the present moment, God is still God. To paraphrase one of the commentaries I read this week, God invites Jeremiah to make a down payment on the future. God invites Jeremiah to live in light of what will be. Israel is falling down around him, but Jeremiah invests in the future life that God will give to Israel. And God does give Israel a future. Babylon overruns Israel. It exiles thousands and thousands. It destroys the Jerusalem temple. But eventually, the Israelites return, they rebuild their temple, and slowly, but surely, they reclaim the life they knew in their land.

The good news is that the God of Jeremiah is our God too. Jeremiah reminds us that the God we worship is a God who has a vision for the future and so is a God who invites us to hope. He’s a God who time and time again makes a way where there appeared to be no way. He’s a God who isn’t limited by our present. Jeremiah offered hope to his people, and he offers hope to us. We may not have the armies of Babylon to worry about, but we have climate change, current and potential wars, political turmoil, lack of trust in political institutions, the global refugee crisis, the resurgence of white nationalism and racism. Mortgages and rents, the economy, the opioid crisis, student debt. We have plenty of things in our individual lives and our communal life today that can make the future look bleak. But God invites us to hope, just as he invited Jeremiah to hope.

Hoping isn’t just a matter of thinking hopeful thoughts, though. It’s about living in light of what we hope. Jeremiah didn’t just think that God would restore Israel. He acted in light of his hope by buying the field in Anathoth. Christians through the years have rightly been criticized for hoping so much in the future that we forget about the present. Ignoring suffering and injustice and hurt all around us. That’s not being hopeful. That’s being selfish. As Christians, we’re invited to live in light of our hope in God’s future where there is no more pain or suffering, a future where there is justice and peace, a future where broken relationships are mended, a future where God’s love is known and felt by all, where God’s life flows through our lives, where everyone is included. A future where God makes everything right. This means we’re invited to work to make things right today, in our lives and in our world. When we work for justice, for healing, for redemption, for the good, we’re living in light of God’s future. We’re bringing God’s future to bear on our present. This doesn’t require dramatic acts! Jeremiah lived into God’s future by buying some land, by completing a real estate transaction. A kind word, an offer of forgiveness, choosing to laugh when you just want to cry, giving out a helping hands bag, these and so much more are little ways we live in light of God’s future, these are ways we live into the hope we have in God. These are ways we share hope with others.

Hope for those of us who worship the God of Jeremiah isn’t saying ‘it’s going to be ok.’ Hope for those of us who worship the God of Jeremiah is saying ‘things aren’t ok, things suck, but God is God, and God has a future for us.’ One of the reasons we come together every week, is to remember this. Week after week we come together, and we hear stories of how God has, time and time again, come to the rescue of his people. Restoring them, liberating them, finding them. God invites us to live into hope for a future where all is restored, where all are liberated, where all are found.