“Field of Dreams”
By Rev. Dr. Orville James
Sunday, July 10, 2022
Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-2, 8-12, 15, 25-27
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: ‘Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” …though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign Lord, say to me, “Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.” Then the world of the Lord came to Jeremiah; “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” Jer. 32: 15, 25-27
How good are you with purchases and investments? I know of a woman who received a $100 bonus at work and went out and spent $400 to celebrate. Not a good business decision!
How would you rate your money smarts, your business acumen? On a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being “a fool and his money are soon parted” and 10 being “the Midas touch – everything turns to gold”? Some may be a five, adequate (staying within our income, buying carefully only what we need, learning to save and invest). Some score low (we need help, coaching, a change, to reduce our spending patterns and improve our finances). A few might score high, an 8 or 9 (exceptionally good at making and investing money).
Warren Buffet, 91-year-old from Nebraska is a 10. He’s known as the sage or the Oracle of Omaha and considered to be the best investor of our time. He built an investment company and personal wealth worth more than $113 billion. Pretty impressive. That kind of success requires full time research and attention, wisdom, luck, and great patience. Knowing what and when to buy stocks, properties, or shares.
For those of us who don’t have the time, or the smarts to be a Warren Buffett, how can we at least make wise purchases and build savings for our retirement? Well, one recommendation has always been to buy real estate. When you do buy – pay down your mortgage quickly; land doesn’t wear out or depreciate like a car; it rarely drops in value. Comedian Bob Hope explained this wisdom when asked why he kept buying property in Southern California; his answer: “Because they’ve stopped making it.” So, land is usually a worthwhile investment. Unless of course, it’s in a suburb of Kyiv or Mariupol, Ukraine, just before the war with Russia. Or a house in Berlin in 1944 as the Allied bombing is starting, or shack in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approaches. What, and when, can change the wisdom of some purchases.
Thinking about all that, the prophet Jeremiah might have been making a big mistake with his land purchase. On the surface it looks like he made a dumb purchase. But then Jeremiah didn’t do it for his retirement portfolio. He was making a statement – may be to himself, definitely to his neighbours and nation around him.
Give me four minutes to lay out some background/history:
The year is 587 B.C. The Babylonian army has surrounded and laid siege to Jerusalem. The Babylonian leader, Nebuchadnezzar, is angry. For the second time in a decade, Judah has revolted against Babylon. This time the Babylonians will not fail. They will reduce the people of Jerusalem to starvation and their monarchy and government to oblivion. If there are any alive after the inevitable surrender, they will be gathered and forcibly marched, dragged, or driven back to Babylon.
There is no hope. And at just that moment, something defiantly hopeful happened.
A man by the name of Jeremiah, a prophet, has predicted all this, and for his traitorous rhetoric imprisoned. At just that moment – with the Babylonians at the gate, the city about to fall, the people starving and dying – Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel shows up and asks Jeremiah to buy a field, to invest in real estate. It’s slightly bizarre.
By the way, the field is in Anathoth, just northeast of the city wall, which is currently the site of an occupied army’s encampment. That means Jeremiah can’t farm it, can’t sell it, can’t in any meaningful way, own it because his nation and all its laws and social, economic, and political infrastructure is about to collapse and disappear. Jeremiah does the unthinkable, buys the field. Then in a public display that is almost ceremonial, summons his friend Baruch and other witnesses, seals the deal, and transfers the deed in a very conspicuous manner, orders Baruch to put the deed in an earthen jar and bury it, store it for the long haul. Things are terrible and they are going to get worse, and everybody knows it. Then Jeremiah says: “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in the land.”
What do we take from a story like this? Bizarre. Why would he do this? The situation is a mess, a disaster. You know what that’s like. Some of you are feeling confronted by life’s challenges these days – it’s looking pretty dark; the enemy is at the gate; bad things are happening to good people; and maybe to you. Things are looking grim.
I read an article in The Atlantic journal this week. The title was ominous… “A Crisis Historian has some Bad News for Us.”
America and the world are living through what Adam Tooze, describes as a “polycrisis.” The director of the European Institute, Tooze talks through a long list of challenges: War, raising the specter of nuclear conflict. Climate change, threatening famine, flood, and fire. Inflation, forcing central banks to crush consumer demand. The pandemic, closing factories, and overloading hospitals. Each crisis is hard enough to manage by itself; the interconnected mess of them is infinitely more so. And he feels “the whole is even more dangerous than the sum of the parts.”
Did I mention that right now, things are looking grim?
I do want to examine Jeremiah’s buying of a field in the face of disaster but let me make a preliminary personal observation before we look more closely at Jeremiah. The bad news is always reported, but it’s usually not the whole story.
I remember a dozen years ago, I was visiting my dad and mom at a seniors’ residence, and I took them e-mails and photos that our daughter Leslie sent from Moscow, Russia. She was living there for a period doing historical research at a former Soviet institute. I showed them a picture of Leslie standing in Red Square, and I read to them her descriptions of her flat, the market where she buys fresh vegetables, the vast efficiency of the Moscow Metro, and the welcome and friendship she receives from Russian neighbours, as they help her learn words and phrases of the language.
My father, six weeks into chemo treatments (the lymphoma returned nine years later), received all this from Leslie, smiling and then said those words of wisdom: “The bad news is always reported, but it’s usually not the whole story.”
He went on, saying: “You’d never know about all this good in Moscow if you only listened to the broadcast news. A month ago, they were reporting major fires threatening the city; we hear about crime, poverty, unrest in Russia. That’s what is fed to us.”
But some people are also living good lives, the locals are welcoming strangers and being kind to foreigners. So, I ask that we all remember this when we’re feeling afraid or depressed or discouraged about things in our world. The bad news is not the whole story.
Of course, sometimes it truly is the end of the world as we know it. When Hitler marched into Poland on September 1, 1939 that was the end of Europe’s troubled peace and all nations on that continent were set on a path of change that is still going on. When the planes hit the twin towers, the world of relaxed travel and international freedoms (and much more) ended. When the Coronavirus invaded lungs and societies… life is different now, isn’t it? So, examining Jeremiah’s story, and his purchase of land during a time of crisis and disaster can be valuable and helpful. What might be our take-away from Jeremiah?
I’m thinking two things:
The long view is where your hope is!
There are ups and downs in life, and in history. There are smooth seasons and tough times in every life. Periods of history, and the cycle of life mean that whatever is happening will not last forever. The trouble will end, and good days will return.
Jeremiah bought land knowing that the city was about to be defeated and destroyed. Its people would exiled for 70 years (three generations) so that only descendants would come back to Jerusalem. Those living now would die in exile. Jeremiah sealed the new deed into a long-term safety deposit box (an earthen jar). Proof of his ownership would be there for later generations, and Jeremiah looked to the long term. He was willing to be patient, and see past the situation now, to the hope in the future. “Yet once more, houses and lands and vineyards will be bought and sold, says the Lord.” Jeremiah believed, trusted, and acted in that hope.
Robert Schuller says, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”
Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
The long view is where your hope is. Keep going, wait it out and eventually things will get better.
But for people of faith there’s something else:
The long view with God is a certain hope!
That is hope, a defiant hope-based on trust in God, from whom nothing will separate us. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11
From that, comes a resilient, defiant hopefulness in the midst of disaster, a characteristic that has characterized God’s people down through the centuries:
- In the Babylonian exile (in the 6th Century BC)
- In times of Roman persecution (1ST Century AD)
- As the Vikings sacked the monasteries (1000 AD)
- As the fires of persecution burned in the Middle Ages
- A pastor in 1636, his town decimated by a thirty-year war, and the Black Plague, now flooded with refugees, 50 to 100 people dying every day, and he’s the only minister/priest left. During that Martin Rinkart sits down and writes:
Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
in whom this world rejoices.
Defiant faith and hope!
Even in Auschwitz, as Jews condemned to gas chambers, observed the Sabbath: A defiant hope.
Sitting in his Gestapo prison cell, waiting for his own execution, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer remembered this exact story of the prophet Jeremiah and wrote:
Just as the Holy City is about to be destroyed—the purchase of this land is a sign and a pledge of better things to come, just when all seemed blackest. Thinking and acting for the coming generations but taking each day as it comes without fear and anxiety–that is the spirit in which we are forced to live in practice. It is not easy to be brave and to hold out, but it is imperative. (Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
In the darkest days, with the enemy at the gate, Jeremiah purchased property, invested in the future – an act of defiant hope.
What we dare to believe is that even in the darkness, when we can’t see our way out or forward, God is with us.
What we dare to believe is that the most powerful reality in the world is the love of God.
What we dare to believe is that the last word spoken about each of us will not be a word of death, but a word of love, from which nothing can separate us.
What we dare to believe is that God is Lord of the future – that God calls us into the future in courage and hope.
So, what is our situation and response today? Much better than Jeremiah faced. Yes, we do have challenges: Will global warming and the resulting droughts lower the Great Lakes by a meter or more, and ice caps melting really raise the oceans by two meters? Are we going to have double dip inflation, and a recession or a slow gradual recovery? Is technology decreasing our personal skills? Is multi-culturalism overwhelming some people’s ability to tolerate and adapt? What about you and the challenges you personally face? Work, financial, health? Let’s casts our vision ahead.
Jeremiah bought a field that he couldn’t take possession of for 70 years. It would pass down to those who followed him. But he bought it as a spiritual investment – he put his money where his faith was.
Where do you think the world will be in 70 years?
What’s God dreaming of?
I don’t expect anyone to have instant detailed answers, and yet, we can live with a confidence, and assured certainty that all will be well. In the end, God wins. So, let’s downshift our anxiety levels, and become calmly receptive to what God dreams of doing, and then let’s trust and lean into that future and that hope.
Holy Spirit, give us the eyes of faith to see as Jeremiah did, the bifocals of faith that recognize reality today, and yet see beyond the present hardship and challenge to a certain confidence in the work you are doing. Inspire us to join you in that work. Amen.