September 28, 2019

Living with Hope

Text: Jeremiah 32:1-15

What do you do when it seems as if the entire world implodes around you. Maybe relationships aren’t working. Maybe politics aren’t working. Maybe kids aren’t working. Maybe you’re not working. Those times when you’re not quite sure if you’re going to make it through the hour or the day. Tomorrow, or next week, or next year seem inconceivable.

I tend to want to bail. Or at least fanaticize about bailing. I once, years ago, applied to a job in Anchorage, thinking Alaska might be far enough away from my troubles. In our house we sometimes mutter about moving to Canada, but its only half a joke. Once, during a difficult stretch when we lived in New York, I called my friend Sr. Katie King, and begged her to let us move to the nun’s farm in Villa Maria, PA. We’ll do anything, I remember saying. Help out at the farm. Help run the order. Let our cute son entertain all the older nuns. Anything for a change. Anything for a chance to start over.

Jeremiah buys property. More precisely he redeems property, buying it off his cousin to keep it in the family. His cousin needs the cash because he’s had enough. He’s bailing out. Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside is imploding. Think Atlanta after Sherman marched in. Think Puerto Rico after a hurricane. Think the Steelers after Ben Rothensburger hurt his elbow. Babylon has already captured the land Jeremiah’s cousin needs to sell. They’ve surrounded the city of Jerusalem. And Jeremiah is in jail. Jeremiah can’t use the land, can’t get to the land, will never see the land, yet he buys the land so it will stay in his family.

I once asked my dad why he planted fruit trees. We were, if I remember right, planting a tree when I popped the question. We were a mobile family, moving reliably every six or seven years. Fruit trees are long-term investments, taking years to mature and bear fruit. Time after time, just as the apple harvest could be measured in bushels, the for sale sign would go up in the front yard, the moving truck would come, and the orchard over which my father had labored would be left to the care – or neglect – of someone else.

In my mind all the work my father had done to plant so many trees at so many houses seemed pointless and futile. To my father each tree was a statement of confidence and hope in the blessing of a fruitful God. There was always a possibility our migratory pattern would break and he would get to experience the fruit of his labor. But even if it didn’t, God’s faithfulness toward the land, toward the place where we lived, toward those who would live on it, remained. For my dad each tree was a sign of divine promise, a statement of faith in the place where he stood.

I never quite knew how intentional my parents were about our family’s migratory pattern. Did my dad plant his trees knowing they’d probably move or was each house the last place they planned to live? Jeremiah holds no such false hopes. He knows Jerusalem is going to fall. He’s so sure, and so vocal about Jerusalem’s demise the king has put him in jail for treason. Yet still he buys his uncle’s land. Jeremiah’s cousin might be fleeing, Jeremiah might be in jail, Jerusalem might be destroyed, God may even have abandoned his people, but Jeremiah knows without a doubt such destruction, such abandonment, will not be permanent. Healing might take years, or decades, or generations but it will happen. God’s people will be restored.

Where we see ends, God sees beginnings. Where we see destruction, God sees the potential for renewal. Where we see death, God sees life.

I remember a few years ago talking with someone – it might have been Scott or Elmarie Parker – who had spent time with the Christian community in Iraq in the aftermath of the war. It was a difficult time for the churches. Their country was in chaos, their leadership and members scattered, their buildings damaged or destroyed and their lives threatened. Despite all of this, the churches were energized. Never had their been more opportunities to minister in the name of Jesus Christ. Never had they seen more instances of God’s grace, God’s power, God’s healing presence. Death opens a doorway to resurrection. Chaos opens a doorway to hope. Being wounded opens an opportunity for healing. Being brought low opens a pathway to new heights.

As Jesus hung on the cross his disciples began thinking about going home, patching their lives back together and putting wasted years behind them. Little did they realize the true power, the true scope of God’s healing was still to be revealed. We don’t know what’s coming. We know where we are. We know what we feel. And we know God will remain faithful. So we recall the great works God has done. We look for the movement of the Holy Spirit in the now. And we have hope in the future.

We live with hope when, like my dad we plant trees even if there’s a pretty good chance we’ll never gather the harvest. We live with hope when, like Jeremiah, we redeem our families land even as the world collapses; we speak God’s truth even when nobody wants to listen; when we practice justice even if we’re the only one; when we practice holy obedience even if not one other person cares.

As we live with hope a funny thing happens. The our lives, the world we live in, slowly – sometimes ever so slowly – gets better. That was the thing about those trees. The first spring they would bloom and the blooms, no matter how few, were beautiful. And their leaves, no matter how few, gave shape, texture, shade and oxygen to the yard. Their branches, no matter how spindly, provided a perch to a happy songbird. And that first piece of fruit, a treasure for which we would give thanks to God.

We live with God’s hope at the pain we feel becomes a little less. We live with God’s and our hopeful actions begin to change the community, the society in which we live. We live with God’s hope and we see a way out of the hole entrapping us – a new way out, a healthier way out, a holier way out. We live with God’s hope and the death surrounding us transforms to resurrection.


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