9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Most of us would consider it foolish to purchase land that has been condemned but that is what Jeremiah is doing in this passage. The Babylonians were literally at the gates of Jerusalem. The temple was about to be destroyed, the government was about to fall and the people of Judah were about to be dispossessed. Deeds and legal contracts would be null and void at the whim of the conquerors. Jeremiah had no reason to believe that he would ever inhabit his land and no assurance that his claim of ownership would be recognized. Yet Jeremiah invests money as if there will be a future—even if it is a future he cannot imagine. He does so with witnesses, proper payment and legality. He even preserves the deed. His actions become his prophecy and his statement of faith.
I think it is difficult for us to appreciate what it meant to a nomadic group of nobodies to come to see themselves as the chosen. For nomads, having land was a precious sign of security. The Promised land was the concrete expression of God’s faithfulness. Their identity and their sense of safety were founded in these promises. But now their temple, their land and their national identity were being ripped from them.
In today’s world, it would be roughly equivalent to being a refugee moving from country to country, finding a nation that will ‘adopt’ you, and then having that nation change its mind and expel you. That was the experience of the Hebrews in Egypt and it was the experience of the Jews in Jeremiah’s time. All that God had promised was turned upside down. Once again, they were required to live on the margins, vulnerable and unsure. It was and is difficult to trust God in the roller coaster experience of real life. The Hebrews went from a day to day wandering existence, to leaders in Egypt, to slaves in Egypt. They fled, wandered aimlessly, reached the promised land, finally became a nation, but were then defeated and scattered across the earth. They felt blessed, chosen and safe and in a heartbeat felt betrayed, lost and desolate. How do we hold faith with God when the pillars of our lives are destroyed?
In real life, it happens every day to someone and sometimes to all of us. This tension between the promises of God and the profound vulnerability of life is with us today as much as it ever was to the ancient Hebrews. Our personal lives are not that different. Each of us has conditions in which we feel safer. It could be when our relationships feel secure. It could be when our 401K reaches a magic number. It could be when our children are thriving. It could be when we get a clean bill of health. But very few of us get through life without some of these things going very wrong. Jeremiah chose to hold on to the promises of God even when they seemed preposterous. Trusting God when we are frightened is nearly impossible but it is an orientation we seek.
In our Faith in Real Life group, we looked for times we lived into the future—even as our present was frightening and uncertain. With a news cycle that routinely reminds us of nuclear threats, unstable political systems, climate changes and hate crimes, choosing to have children is an act of faith. It is hard to live into the future when our bodies fail us. Neal Davies, who has metastatic melanoma, said that he still sets his alarm every night. My parents, at 88, moved into a new house and got a new dog (they did make plans for the dog since it was likely the do would outlive them.) Each of these was and is an act of faith. Such acts proclaim that living and loving in the present—no matter how compromised that present might be—is what matters.
But this is not just an individual predicament, it is also corporate. There are many reasons to fear for our church—both nationally and our particular church. The trends are down. Our membership is both declining and aging. As a church, regardless of the various ways we try to explain what is happening, we live in a time of uncertainty and anxiety. What does it mean for us to follow Jeremiah’s example? Our predicament is not as dramatic as the fall of the temple in Jeremiah’s day but our temple is at risk.
What does it mean for us to live as if God’s promises are reliable—even when our present circumstances are uncertain?
We cannot know the future but we can live in the faith that there is one. At a concrete level, financing a major renovation at our church was an act of faith. In fact, making a pledge to the church is an act of faith. It is not at all clear that our church will not have the fate of many churches in Europe. Many have become vacant or re-purposed buildings. Our financial commitments assume a future in an uncertain world. We, as Jeremiah, only have God’s promise. Jeremiah’s prophecy was to continue to live relying on those promises—even when the city was besieged. We are called to do the same.
Our financial commitments are the visible expression of our core faith. The trends may be down, the church may be changed beyond our imagination, we may be afraid or disappointed— but we, like Jeremiah, hold must fast to God’s promises. We believe in a God of Love. We believe that love matters and we believe love will prevail. These are huge faith claims and are no less startling to claim than Jeremiah’s buying a condemned property. We exist as a church community to live and proclaim these promises. Trusting that God’s way leads to life may seem foolish and impossible in a secular world that is polarized and self centered—yet that is a promise that can help us endure the present and hope for the future.
So in these difficult times, work harder at loving. It is the only way we will have a future. Remember we are all God’s flawed children. Remember who we worship and why we worship. Our job is to love each other deeply—from the heart. That is the way of Jesus and that is the way to life. If we fail to keep that focus, it will not matter what else we do.
Go forth. Invest in a field that testifies to God’s steadfast love. Let it be so.