9/1/13 Jeremiah, Resilient Prophet

I have been reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah this month with you – on the presumption that this major prophet of Israel was a model of resiliency, of grit and determination in the midst of a difficult world. The passage that we read today for our second reading is one of the main reasons he has that reputation in my mind. It tells about how Jeremiah heard God’s word telling him to buy land in the midst of a war, right before he knew his land was going to be overrun by the Babylonians.  How much do you think land like that would be worth?

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15  The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH in the tenth year of Zedekiah ruler of Judah, which was also the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. At that time the army of the ruler of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was imprisoned in the court of the guardhouse attached to the residence of the ruler of Jerusalem Zedekiah the ruler imprisoned him after demanding, “How dare you prophesy the way you do?”
The word of YHWH came to me and said, “Hanamel, the son of your uncle Shallum, will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field in Anathoth.  As next of kin you have the right of redemption to purchase it.’ “And just as YHWH foretold, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guardhouse and said, “Buy my field at Anathoth in Benjamin.  You have the right of redemption to purchase it as next of kin.  So why not purchase it?”  I knew that that this was the word of YHWH.  So I bought the field in Anathoth from my cousin, Hanamel, and weighed out the money—seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed and sealed it, had it witnessed and then weighed out the money on a scale. I took the copies of the deed of purchase—both the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions and the unsealed copy— and gave them to Baruch ben-Neriah ben-Mahseiah in the presence of my cousin, Hanamel and of the witnesses who signed the deed and all the people of Judah who happened to be in the court of the guardhouse.
I game Baruch these instructions in their presence. “Thus says YHWH Omnipotent , the God of Israel.  Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and the unsealed deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so that they may be preserved for a very long time. For this is what YHWH Omnipotent, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will once again be purchased in this land.”

Sept. 1, 2013

Jeremiah, Resilient Prophet

The land Jeremiah bought was worth 17 shekels of silver to him. And I’ll bet that Hanamel, from whom he purchased the land felt really good about getting those 17 shekels for land being threatened by the mighty Babylonian empire. Jeremiah explains at the end of the passage why he would pay for land that may soon be worthless: “Houses, fields and vineyards will once again be purchased in this land.”
It was a symbolic purchase, a symbol of his commitment to his homeland. He purchased the land to show that he was committed to the future of the people in this land even if they would soon be exiled, even if they would soon be taken away from the land. From his prison cell, Jeremiah purchases the land to say, “I am committed to this land and to these people.”
For thirty chapters, Jeremiah has been yelling at these people, decrying their lack of faithfulness to God, their quickness to go off and worship idols and other, easier gods. But when things get really hard, Jeremiah shows that he will be faithful to the people and to the land, because of his deep commitment to YHWH God.

Commitment, resiliency, grit: these are words that resonate, because they point to a need in our time. We need to learn deeper levels of commitment. When young people are having trouble living independently apart from their parents, they have to learn resiliency, to keep working to find their way. As I send my son off to his intern program in Massachusetts next Sunday, I want him to have the grit to take on the challenges he will face, to push through his own self-doubt and reluctance to meet his demons and succeed.
It’s tough for young people today. The economy is in bad shape and they have little guidance or structure for their lives. The weakness of the church and other religious institutions is part of the problem, part of the reason that young people have little guidance or structure. And even if they come to church, I’m not sure they would find the guidance or structure they need, the model for commitment, resiliency and grit.
One of the areas in which young people need support to understand the need for grit, resiliency, and commitment is in the area of relationships and sexuality.  We are going to be talking – possibly with fear and trembling – talking a lot about relationships and sexuality in the next year at St. Luke. With Jeremiah as our background and Holy Communion as our foreground, I want to open some of that conversation today.
In the last few years, we have all noticed that young people today are getting pregnant before they get married. That was not all that unusual when I was a young adult, but today many young people are having children before they get married, so there is no hiding, no sense that marriage might well have come first. When I was growing up I was taught that if you got pregnant, you got married, and the ideal was always to be married first.

Research shows that when people have a baby before they get married, they are less likely to go ahead and get married if that baby is a girl. They are somewhat more likely to get married if they have a boy. What has happened to us so many children are being born without the committed love of both a mother and father in their lives?

These days there is a hooking up culture which I understand can make sexual relationships a pretty casual affair. So, I want to have a conversation with the young people of our church and our community. How much commitment does there  need to be to enter into a sexual relationship? If a woman gets pregnant, what is the commitment required by the father of that child?
Does anybody else think this is an important conversation to have? To have it, we have to be non-judgmental, committed to each other, and to listening – and we have to have resilience and grit to support each other to be an alternative to the culture around us. I have had people coming to me lately wondering whether they are welcome here if they are pregnant and not married yet, wondering whether I would do their wedding, or accept them if they did not get married.
The answer is yes. We will love you and care about you and your children and do everything we can to support loving, committed relationships. I do not think that the hook-up casual sex culture is a good thing for women, or men, and especially not for children. And we want to be about supporting women, and men, and children – just as they are. We hope to shape a culture of support that will help each person through the difficulties of their life, so that they may gain the resiliency and grit to commit to their best selves and to the people they love, so that they commit themselves to create families and homes in this land far into the future.
This is God’s good news.
Jesus recognized the grit and resiliency it took to redeem a future from its failures and difficulties. Today we come to this altar to find sustenance for each of our journeys, to strengthen ourselves for whatever trials we are facing. As we receive the offering this morning we will sing Spirit of the Living God, inspired by Jeremiah’s image of being clay molded by God. Then we will bless the bread and cup that gives us new life today.