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Betting on the Future
a sermon based on Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
by Rev. Thomas Hall

What a strange story! At the core of the passage from Jeremiah 32 this morning is a Word. Lots of words swirl around our ears each waking moment. Words. So what? Yet this is no ordinary word, but an extraordinary Word that pulls all of the rest of the swirling words and action into obedient orbit. We all know those kind of extraordinary words-they define us, locate us so that we will ever afterward remember what we were doing at the moment when we first heard those words. Maybe the words spoke disaster. For me, I was in a biology lab room in the university gawking at plant cells when someone broke in with, "The Challenger just went down!" I will always remember what I was doing when the news hit me.

That’s how our lesson begins. The Word from God comes to Jeremiah with such jarring effect that it locates him in time: when Zedekiah the Israelite King was finishing his first decade, and more ominously, when King Nebuchadnezzar was finishing nearly two decades of fierce rule.

To be honest, this is the worst possible time for such a Word to come to Israel: Jerusalem is outnumbered and surrounded by a superior military-they have run over to neighboring Egypt to form an ally to fight Babylonians. That, according to the mighty king of Babylon, was the death knell. It’s like the movie Timeline when scientists time-travel back through the centuries through a new invention. The team ends up in the 11th century and right at the precise moment when a great battle is about to begin between France and England.

It gets worse - not only has the Babylonian army set up a siege against Jerusalem, but Jeremiah the prophet languishes in jail. Now prophets aren’t usually the town drunks; Jeremiah isn’t there to sleep it off. No he’s there because of the annoying Word from God. He has dared to speak up and speak the truth about reality. That, of course, is not the politically correct thing to do-especially if the King holds a different view than God’s. So the Word is the cause of Jeremiah’s doing time in the guard house.

Let’s listen to the gist of the Word that has come at an inappropriate time and has sent Jeremiah to prison:


This is me, God, speaking . . . It’s about to happen. The thing you have ignored, hoping it would just disappear. So I’m going to tell you plainly-

Your dreaded enemies are going to break through, and I’m the One who’s letting them in. Your king-yeah you, Zedekiah-will surrender and Nebuchadnezzar will bring him back to Babylon. There he’ll stay put until I’m done with him.

So if you keep on fighting it will be worse for you - hear Me: you will lose.

What if all the losing armies throughout world history had received such a Word as that? What if armies would have heeded such a Word? How man thousands of lives would have been spared?

No doubt there were other prophetic types in Jerusalem during these dangerous times. Certainly some early spin masters were busy spinning a better picture instead of Jeremiah’s bleak prediction. We do have evidence that prophets earlier had put pretty positive spins on reality: Thus saith the Lord, I will bring a great victory, I will deliver you, with my right hand will I save you." So there were other opinions about reality and the near future. But ultimately, everyone has to choose which Word is God’s and to go with it. So Zedekiah preferred the rosier colored versions of God’s words: they would get through this siege.

On the other hand, you’ve got to wonder why the king had not had Jeremiah executed as a false prophet. That’s how they treated bad words-just snuff out the candle. Yet there must have been something about the unvarnished, raw quality of the Word that had the ring of truth to it. The message was clear: God’s judging actions would seem to end things forever for these people.

That raises questions for us. How do we go around masking our real condition by choosing only the words that we want to hear? Prophets speaking prophetic words better be on the appointment system and not the popular vote system or else they won’t last long. How do we dance around reality and the truth about our lives because to do otherwise would be painful?

Isn’t it easy to become the villagers who see the truth about the emperor when he’s acting like he’s wearing gold lace elegant clothes, but in fact making a naked fool of himself? Yet everyone of the villagers see his nakedness but keep silent, for as it has been proclaimed, "only the dull and incredibly stupid cannot see the Emperor’s new clothes." So the silence goes on; we continue believing in life as usual, choosing to ignore the messages that God sends to our bodies, our neighborhoods, and to our nation.

So Jeremiah sits in jail, silenced for speaking out and breaking the silence about the truth.

Strange thing, though. Even though the villagers ignore Jeremiah’s words, as they have throughout his gadfly career, deep down they know he’s right. They know the truth when they hear it. So the story begins with nothing in the present that encourages any investment in the future.

"Hey, Jeremiah," God whispers to the prophet who sleeps between two goon guards. "That you again, God?"


This is me, God, speaking, so listen up. When your cousin drops in for a prison visit and starts talking about the family farm, go ahead and buy it.

What a bizarre Word? This is strange for even Jeremiah-five times he reminds us that "this is the Word of the Lord" as if to say, this certainly isn’t my idea! So Jeremiah believes once again in the authenticity of the Word and buys property even while he’s yet in jail and the barbarians are at the gate. You can imagine the press coverage in the village paper the next week: Real Shekels Nets Worthless Land." To buy prosperity in a city completely surrounded by every troops, to be outnumbered 100 to 1, to have no hope of escape or rescue is absolutely ludicrous. Might as well as become an investor in the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg. Might as well put your life savings in Enron the day after the corruption hits the fan. Yet that is precisely the promise of the Word the God spoke.

What did the writer want us to walk away with? What is it about this story that will help us in our own discipleship?

This story is about betting on the future. It is the gospel of grace that promises a future even when we barely have a present. What a daring, risky act of faith in God-to believe the Word that says, "Don’t despair, don’t fear; this is not the last chapter for my people. In my time and through my grace, you will once again be back and buying and selling and living in peace."

Jeremiah’s purchase of land is a down payment on the future, an inkling of God’s blessing in the midst of the reality of judgment and hopelessness. Throughout the entire narrative, God continually says, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" We discover that in the end, God has placed his people and land temporarily on loan to the Babylonians, but they will give them both back, because the God of hope sent his Word.

This story reminds us that there will always be Babylonians on our doorstep. They have been there and they will be back again and again. If you are in a small struggling church that can see no way out of your financial difficulties-the budget seems to shrink annually even as you seek new ways to be in mission-this story is for you. Not hard to feel surrounded by gloom and negatively that sees only next week, let alone a renewed, empowered future. Take this story and own it. Devour the Word of God to this ancient people. Take a risk. Do the unthinkable. Trust God. Let this story be your hope-God controls the future and God’s grace will sustain where God leads you.

Yes, there will be times when we face our own "self-invited troubles." When we’ve boxed ourselves into a corner through our bad choices. Even then, we can turn to God for courage and wisdom to move forward and to return to where God wants us to be. But the pattern of the God of Israel and the Creator of the Universe is about making and keeping promises. Disciples can bet against the future because we know that God controls the future and invites us to the hope of rebuilding, becoming fruitful again, and recovering.

Finally, the story teaches us that God is not limited. God can break out of all conventions and overcome all constraints-including God’s own actions, to bring about a new reality. God can turn your punishment into forgiveness, evil into good, suffering into redemption, and devastation into peace.

May the God of all hope in our future produce from our wayward fearful hearts a . . .

A new spirit

A new life

And a new way of living and thinking in the presence of God.