Rebuilding Hope – 02.28.2021
In 2006 there was a movie released called Last Holiday. Starring Queen Latifah, the basic premise is a romantic comedy-drama where a humble department story assistant is diagnosed with a rare brain condition and given three weeks to live. There’s no treatment, but she still feels completely fine – so she takes her final few weeks and does all the things she always said she would do. She takes the precious few moments before her death, and decides to really live. I never actually saw the film, but I remember the commercial for it. It really stuck with me. In the commercial she goes to the bank, and empties her account. And the guy hands her a giant stack of cash. And he says, “I’m sure a disciplined woman such as yourself has a good need for these funds” and she picks up the cash, looks up to the sky and says, “I’m just going to blow it.” Apparently in the film, she goes on this whirlwind holiday adventure at a fancy resort. When there’s no future, it changes how we live today. Now for Hollywood it gives us a premise for a cute romantic comedy, but for our prophet Jeremiah – it comes with a very different message. What would you do, if you knew the end was coming soon?
Today is the final sermon in our series called the metaphors. For all of February, we have been exploring our way through the book of Jeremiah and taking those messages and holding them up to the messages we find in the life of Jesus. Jeremiah has had some strange visuals for us: wearing an iron yoke, a cup of God’s wrath, and who could forget the moldy underwear? Each time the metaphor had a purpose, a message for us in our modern lives. So one more time we will ask the question: what is the metaphor, for?
Now, if this is the first time you’re joining us let me give a quick rundown of what we’ve learned about prophets and about Jeremiah so far. First, what you’ve got to understand is that back in the day the role of the prophet was to be the mouthpiece of God – and most of the time they spent their entire lives warning the people of Israel to stop sinning and come back to God, or punishment was coming. Some people think prophets are like crystal ball gazing future predictors, but actually there are a lot more like a soccer mom or dad warning their kids, “if you don’t knock it off, somebody’s gonna get hurt.” Second, prophets loved to use dramatic visuals and metaphors to get people’s attention. I used the example a couple weeks ago – one time this guy Isaiah walked around naked for three years because God told him too. He delivered his message to the people, stark naked. And the reason is that it is really hard to ignore the naked guy trying to get your attention. Yikes. The third piece that has come up is the backdrop of empire and exile. We saw last week that Israel is this teeny, tiny little country, and they spend a lot of their history getting conquered by these giant, powerful empires. During the time of Jeremiah, it was the Babylonian empire they were dealing with. And every time the people of Israel would misbehave, Babylon would come in and rough them up, and then deport a bunch of their leaders. They called it exile, where a big group of people gets sent to live far away. Jeremiah warned them about this constantly, and it already happened twice. Jeremiah has always been right, because he’s a real prophet and he’s actually getting his words from God. There have been two deportations up to this point in the story, and another one is coming. Alright so, now you’re all caught up.
[read v.8a]. Oh, that’s right – one more thing I forget. Jeremiah is now in jail. He’s the prophet of God and he has been right about every single thing so far, BUT the king doesn’t like what he says – so at the beginning of the chapter they put him in jail. And you want to know what’s really ridiculous about it? The king still checks in with Jeremiah. Like, he visits Jeremiah in prison – “hey, I don’t like you because you tell me things I don’t want to hear, and so you have to stay here in jail, but also – can you give me a prophecy? Can you tell me what’s going to happen?” At the end of the book, Jeremiah spends most of his time doing his work from prison because he told the truth and he was right. So that’s fun. So Jeremiah is in jail, specifically because he predicted that Babylon was coming to conquer the city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah told people, they are coming, King Nebuchadnezzar is going to destroy the entire city. And now, the Babylonian army is at the front door. They have laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. So that’s the setting we’re working with. Jeremiah is in Jail, and the Babylonian army has arrived, and they are getting ready to destroy the entire city. [read v.8]. Wait a minute, what? Jeremiah is in jail. Like, JAIL jail. And there’s an army outside, like right now – why would he buy land? Like, isn’t that the worst idea ever? That’s like buying stock in hugs right before COVID started. It just doesn’t make sense. You don’t buy land, immediately before getting conquered by a foreign power.
But, the way the law was structured Jeremiah gets the chance to buy the land, and here’s the crazy part – he does it! Jeremiah buys the field. [read v.9-12]. Signed, sealed and delivered. Jeremiah, while sitting in a prison cell, just bought land that is about to get conquered – because God told him to. The life of the prophet takes TRUST. But then listen to this, [read v.13-15]. He might be in jail. Babylon’s army might be right outside the door, but God has told him – someday we will return. Someday God’s people will own land in this place. The visual for this final week is an open field, bought in wartime as an act of hope that someday, someday God’s people will come home. By buying this field Jeremiah is demonstrating with his actions, he is demonstrating in concrete, practical ways his hope and his trust in God. He lives his life today for the hope of tomorrow. (For those who are curious, seven chapters later Nebuchadnezzar breaks into the city and releases Jeremiah from prison, and again he was right about everything, and it does not end well for King Zedekiah).
So now let’s take a peek at our second scripture lesson, from the story of Jesus. John chapter 2 tells us, [read v.13-17]. It’s a pretty well known scene when Jesus shows up and flips over the tables. He’s very passionate about the authenticity of the house of God. But some people think he’s being a little dramatic. [Read v.18]. They want Jesus to prove his authority, and so he comes back with [read v.19-20]. Alright, first can we take a second to talk about a building project that takes 46 years!?! Man, can you imagine a world where you start building something amazing, but you KNOW you probably won’t live to see the end of it? I know construction seems like it takes forever in the modern world, but the truth is we can throw up a good ol’ building in a couple months. But back in the day, it was normal for a building project to take decades. Literally decades. And what I want you to grab on to this morning is that, slow construction never kept them from dreaming big. Even though these epic things they built might only enjoyed by their kids and great-grand kids – they still built them. Today’s footprint is tomorrow’s legacy, and they were living for that legacy. 46 years, but of course all that completely misses the point. Verse 21 keeps us going [read v.21]. Destroy this body, and I will raise it in three days. And it finishes up, [read v.22]. They say to him, prove your authority – give us a miracle. And Jesus responds by basically saying, “the greatest miracle this world has ever seen can only come after the worst day in history.” Easter Sunday needs Good Friday, the resurrection needs the cross.
Here’s what I hope you catch today. The main teaching this morning is that God gives us hope. And hope, by definition, is a light in the darkness. In the middle of our worst day, God comes in to give you that little spark that you need to get you through. Jeremiah was in prison in a city surrounded by conquering enemies – God has him buy a field as an act of hope. To show him, this darkness you’re in – that’s not the end of the story. Jesus dies on a cross, bearing the sins of all humanity, but Easter Sunday is coming. Good Friday is rough, the death is hard to witness – but we need Good Friday to understand how good Easter is. So now take a second and let those words echo into your life this morning. Maybe you’re in the middle of something right now. Maybe you’re going through some darkness. Or maybe you will tomorrow or the next day. In that moment, to make it through to the other side, I want you to hang on to this four word teaching – God gives us hope. I am not here to say that God’s going to come in and take all your problems away. Jeremiah was still in jail for seven more chapters, and Jesus still died – but that was not the end of either story. And this darkness you’re walking through right now – that’s not the end of your story either. God gives us hope.
But here’s the thing – I need your help with a project. God gives us hope. Sustaining hope that the dawn is coming and that gets us through the darkness of night. Christians have their hope in the steadfast and eternal love of God. But I need your help, because I’m starting to realize that not everyone has that hope. Like, it’s been really rough for Christians too – I don’t want to discount our pain, but we have seen the value of connection – even digitally at helping people get through this crazy COVID time. We have the reassurance of presence and love from our incredible God. We are in this together. I can’t imagine what it’s like for those out there on their own. And I think maybe this hope that God gives us is something we need to share with people who don’t have it. Take a second, think about someone you know who might need an invitation. They’re all over the place in our world right now. Hey, if you feel like you need a little hope – I’ll sit to you. Invite ‘em to church, send them the link to the livestream – it’s never been easier to check out a church, right? God gives us hope, and we should be inviting people into that.
It’s a funny thing, but when the question is asked – what would you do if you only had one week to live – our culture and our God give very different answers. Our culture gives an answer a lot like that movie – the Last Holiday. Fill your time doing whatever you want, so it can be fun for you. But God says fill your time taking care of other people. The world looks at it like, you’ve only got one more week to be selfish, but God says you’ve only got one more chance to be self-less. God gives us hope, and so the first challenge for us this morning is to live today for tomorrow. Live today like you got hope tomorrow is coming. Buy that field, tear down that temple, even in the middle of the night, in the middle of the valley, when you are at your lowest trust that the story is not over. Trust that the light is coming. Hope lives in our faithful actions today. I’ll tell you a quick story. I got an phone call this past week. A woman’s about to get evicted, landlord sold the home – new owner kicking her out, and she needed help getting into a new place. Now we have a fund here at the church for that – we call it assist day. To help people, but most of the time we give it all away as soon as it comes in. And so I told her what I tell everyone, well – I need to check. I need to see if I have the funds to help you before I commit to it. She needed like 400 bucks. I checked the account for assist day. I had $75 to give. But I know this church. I know that we are good at loving people, at rising up and taking care of people when they are in need. So I cut the check, we gave her what she needed. I’ll cover it from another account – the money will come. God told Jeremiah to buy the land, and he said, “I promise someday my people will own land in Israel again.” Live your life today planning for tomorrow. Live your life in a way that is faithful to God, as a statement of hope that this present darkness is not going to last. That’s the challenge for us today.
I think about how people back in the day used to start construction projects that would take practically forever to build. 30 years, 40 years. They invested in something for the next generation. They built, knowing they would never see it done. Jeremiah bought that land KNOWING that Babylon was going to destroy the city and the exile was coming. That’s a long term investment – and I think maybe that’s the message of the metaphor for us today. Jeremiah invested in the future, and so should we. We need to demonstrate our hope in tomorrow, with our faithfulness today. We keep going – not because we think the problem will be gone tomorrow, but because we know someday the darkness will be gone. As a church, but also individually in our lives, we need to invest in the people around us, even if it’s going to take a very long time. It’s still worth it to pour into people. Think about it, that’s what God does for us. Long term investment. He pours his hope into us, he works on our spirit. It can take a long time to transform somebody’s heart. I’m 32 years old, and that means that God has been investing and working on me for 32 years. He never gave up on me – he’s still working on me. And so, in the same way, we can pour into the people around us. Even if it takes a long time, we demonstrate our hope in a better world tomorrow, by being faithful today. Live today FOR tomorrow.
From moldy underwear to an iron yoke, from a cup of wrath to doing property deal in prison – prophets like Jeremiah are bizarre. But if you read those ancient words through the lens of Jesus’ life, there’s a lot to learn. Who would have thought that moldy underwear could teach us that love binds better than pride? I never would have imagined that buying land while sitting in jail could be so inspiring and make me want to take care of my neighbor. And so I’ll leave you with this. In your darkest hour, may you cling to the everlasting, sustaining hope that God gives us. May you show your hope for a better future, with your faithful, selfless living today. And May you share that hope with all the others in your life who are trying to weather this storm on their own. Amen.