Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
It is the year 587, before the common era. The superpower of Babylon is storming the gate. The beloved city of Jerusalem is under siege. The people are afraid; the future uncertain. The unthinkable question is in the air “Is this the end? Has it come to this? Are we to be no more?” Devastation howls at the door and despair weighs heavy on the people’s hearts.
And then in the midst of the clamor of swords and wailing of voices, Jeremiah hears a whisper that is on his heart. He hears that his cousin is going to come and offer him some land to buy. And then in the next moment, there is a rap on the door and Hanamel, Jeremiah’s cousin does indeed show up with that very request!
Jeremiah is convinced it cannot be coincidence, the whisper on his heart must have been the word of the Lord! The word of the Lord pointing him towards something he had not seen before. Perhaps devastation will not get the last word.
And so Jeremiah without a moment’s hesitation, purchases the land. He is convinced now despite the way thing may appear there will be a way through the devastation, a way through the heart ache, a way forward for the people. He begins to see a future take form, he begins to see that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” And he commits himself to living into that future and speaking of it to all who will listen!
Paul Tillich, that 20th century theologian, said “It takes tremendous courage to resist the allure of appearances” ( P. 157), to see into a deeper reality, to see with the eyes of a prophet.
Or perhaps of a master artist… For it is said, that when Michelangelo, that great master of the high Renaissance, was ready to sculpt, he set out selecting a stone for his work in a way that was very different from that of the way of his peers.
Instead of looking for a block of stone that was just the right dimension for the statue the sculptor had in mind to carve, Michelangelo would instead, wander among the blocks of stone in the quarry looking intently, fiercely even into each block, until he found the one that had the figure he was to sculpt within it. He looked until he found what was already there, waiting and perhaps even struggling in its bondage to emerge. And once found, Michelangelo would work tirelessly with chisel and mallet to free that figure from the stone.
We can catch a glimpse of what it is to free the figure within in Michelangelo’s series of statues called the “Captives.” For whatever reason, Michelangelo never finished these statues and so each one if frozen still in that process of emerging — twisting arm reaching out to touch, a taut muscular leg stepping forth stand “as though surfacing from a pool of water” as Vasari, a colleague of Michelangelo’s put it.
I had one of these Michelangelo moments just this past week, where I witnessed something beautiful emerge. It was at a community wide meeting that the supporters of the proposal to turn the old engine 6 fire station into 9 units of housing for the formerly homeless had organized. About midway through the evening a formerly chronically homeless person was ask to get up to speak. And so slowly this person moved to the microphone; and as he spoke with his soft voice and simple sincerity, an amazing thing began to happen.
Out of this monolithic and rather ugly if not a bit scary label of homelessness, a man began to emerge. A man whose name was Paul. And Paul told us about some hard times that he had had, some really hard times when he really did not know how he was going to go on or what the future could possible hold. And he told about how by the grace of God there were people there in those moments who saw things in him and in his future that he could not yet see but that he needed to believe in enough to keep walking and hoping.
As he spoke, his life took shape before us too, it emerged in front of us and all the judging and labeling that may have been present in the room seemed to fall away at least for those moments. And there was left just this lovely man doing the best he could and wanting to speak a word of hope and vision to others who may need to hear it.
Whatever happens with the engine 6 proposal, whether it goes forward or not, I believe Paul helped us see what it could look like for all the people to once again have houses and fields and maybe even vineyards in this land.
I believe that one of our greatest responsibilities towards and most valuable gifts for the world as people of faith is to do what Jeremiah did and what Paul helped us do. It is to resist the allure of appearances” ( P. 157), and to see into a deeper reality, to see with the eyes and speak with the voice of the prophet.
To have the courage not to turn away from doubt, despair, meaninglessness but instead to enter into them — to gaze upon them intently and fiercely until we are able to see the possibility that lies within and work tirelessly to bring it to being. To listen deeply until we begin to hear that whisper of what is to come next and then act courageously to make it so.
We may not know what it is to be besieged by the Babylonian army but we do know what it is to be surrounded by many terribly difficult and entrenched problems that threaten the future.
Global climate change cannot be turned from, it cannot be ignored. It is going to take some prophetic witness and deep courage to see a way through. But it is possible. And there are prophets out there, in here who are speaking if we have ears to hear and courage to act.
The growing disparities in public education and opportunity cannot be turned from, they cannot be ignored. It is going to take some prophetic witness and deep courage to see a way through. But it is possible. And there are prophets out there and in here who are speaking calling us into new actions and ideas if we have ears to hear and courage to act.
The rich man in the parable today refused to see the poor man Lazarus who was lying not just at any gate but at his gate at the rich man’s gate, at his very doorstep. Now tormented in Hades, the rich man begs Abraham to send a message to his brothers so that they won’t make the same mistake he did, but Abraham says they already have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them! We too need to listen to and be the prophetic witness in our time if we are going to see a way through the economic bifurcation of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. We cannot turn from this. We must find a way through.
This is the challenge that the good news of Scripture speaks to us. There is a way through, we can trust in that. It is there if we have the courage to see it, the prophetic witness to speak it and strength to live it.
But it does not stop there. The Good News of the scripture this morning also speaks a word of comfort because in these challenges that are before us we can be assured that we will not face them alone. We will face them informed by the wisdom of God and the strength and companionship of each other.
Jeremiah was quite convinced that “throughout his struggles, the power that animates him is the creative and sustaining hand of God. He knew that God was present and working in the world. This certainty that human beings, even in all our limitations, participate as an integral part of something that transcends them utterly, Tillich calls “faith”’ This is not faith in the sense of declaring to be true something that cannot be proved through the physical senses.” Rather it is faith in the lived experience of and confidence in a future that unfolds not just from present circumstances but that is also affected by and formed through the love we have for each other and the love that God has for us.
The good news is that when we find ourselves besieged by some illness or loss; when one of us may be going through a really difficult time when it may be hard to imagine what tomorrow could possibly look like not to mention next week or next year; When one may feel immobilized as if in a block of marble, we as brothers and sisters in Christ have committed to picking up our chisel and mallet and to tirelessly work until that one is freed. The good news is that God may be even now whispering words in the ears of the one who will speak just what it is we need to hear.
The time is now. In so many ways, devastation howls at the door and despair weighs heavy on the people’s hearts. And, like the rich man we can no longer afford to ignore the cry of the prophets. So as we walk together this year, may we be like Jeremiah and have wisdom to hear the whisper of God. May we have the courage to see how the future can be and have the confidence and commitment to live into that vision. And may we have the humility and strength of that man that Monday night, that man named Paul, may we too speak what we know, share who we are and work together for a future where houses and fields and vineyards shall again be available to all in this land. Amen.
 Sharon Peebles Burch. Pastoral Perspective in “Feasting on the Word” Year C.