Tag: Hope

There Will Be a Future — A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 16C

32 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3 where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

6 Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Hanamel, son of your uncle Shallum, is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” 8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord

9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

 

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            At first glance, this is an odd text. Preachers will wonder what to do with it. We know the context. Jeremiah is essentially in jail at the request of the king, Zedekiah, the last of the kings of Judah. He was himself placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, who according to Jeremiah 32 is besieging Jerusalem. That is because Zedekiah had rebelled against the Babylonian ruler (2 Kings 25:1). In fact, according to 2 Kings 25:1ff., Zedekiah had his eyes put out before being taken to Babylon in chains. It was after Zedekiah’s fall that the city and the Temple were destroyed. At this point in the story of Jeremiah, Zedekiah was still “ruling” but in rebellion. Jeremiah had warned him that things would not work out well for him. In the passage omitted by the lectionary creators, Zedekiah is told that he shall be taken to Babylon. His rebellion will not succeed (vs. 4-5). That is the setting for our passage designated for the first reading for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). So, what would a preacher do with a text like this?

 

            We are told that Jeremiah received a word from the Lord, and this word involved a person named Hanamel, the son of Shallum, who apparently is Jeremiah’s uncle. Hanamel will come to Jeremiah and offer him a piece of land in Anathoth because Jeremiah is next in line to purchase the property. That is, he has first right of refusal. Just like the Lord had said to Jeremiah, Hanamel came to him with the proposition to buy the land. Now, remember, Jeremiah is currently in custody and Nebuchadnezzar’s troops are at the gate. Hanamel is a bit insistent, it would seem. He suggests that Jeremiah has a duty to purchase the land (assumedly to keep it in the family). Jeremiah recounts that when he heard this, he knew it was a word from the Lord.

 

            Jeremiah purchases the property for seventeen shekels of silver. This is a prophetic action. It’s meaning will be revealed shortly, but Jeremiah takes it as a sign from God. It might seem odd to us—it may have seemed odd at first to Jeremiah—but it was a prophetic sign and Jeremiah couldn’t say no. Thus, he purchased the land. He took the deed and gave it to his assistant Baruch in the presence of Hanamel, who was one of the witnesses to the deed. It seems so run-of-the-mill. How is it prophetic?

 

            The answer comes in the instructions given to Baruch. Jeremiah told him to go and place the sealed deed in an earthen jar so they might be preserved over time. They needed to last a long time. Why? Because it would be a while before things got better for Judah. Yet, there is a word of hope here: “For thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: “Houses, fields, and vineyards shall again be purchased in this land.” (Jer. 32:15). That is it. This is the promise of this passage. It alone makes some sense of the story.

 

            There are times when the future looks dark. I recently read a biography of Franklin Roosevelt. As President, he faced difficult times (and I’m not talking about World War II). He became President as the country was mired in the Great Depression. While he created a variety of programs to put people back to work, most important was giving the people a sense of hope for the future. You can imagine the fear that permeated the land. FDR had a different position in the world than did Jeremiah, but Jeremiah wanted to give the people a sense of hope for the future. Buying a piece of land from a family member, and then placing the deed in an earthen jar that would preserve it, served as a sign that as bad as things might be at the moment, there will come a time when things will get better. People will again buy land. This piece of property, which I’m assuming Jeremiah didn’t live to see bear fruit, was just that sign of hope for the exiles in Babylon and those living in the besieged city.

           We should note that this word of the Lord follows the one in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that speaks of a new covenant. This is but one more reminder that God will fulfill the promise of a new covenant, a time when the people will be restored to the land. Still, what word do we hear in the world in which we live?

 

            I was flying home from Europe. We passed over Greenland—just the southern tip, but enough to get a sense of the land. I saw lakes and the ice sheet. I wondered, are these lakes the result of climate change. Will Greenland’s ice sheet turn into a great lake? Or is this just the natural order of things. I don’t really know, but it did make me think about the future of our planet. Should we purchase land for our descendants? Is there any hope? When it comes to climate change and the warming of the planet, there are grave concerns. Is it too late? Have we reached the point of no return? Should we purchase that piece of property, so it stays in the family for future generations?

 

            Jeremiah’s word of hope is given to exiles. They will return home someday. They will have the opportunity to again buy property in the land of their ancestors. But, remember that the jar must last a long time. It will be some time before things return to their previous state. But there is hope! Leonora Tubbs Tisdale notes that “it is often easier in prophetic witness to criticize the old order than it is to come up with creative avenues for purchasing and planting fields of hope in the very communities where we live and work. Jeremiah calls us to do both—even if our hope-filled acts seem absolutely foolish to the rest of the world.” [Connections, p. 340].

 

So, what prophetic actions might we take as signs of hope in our time? How might we embody hope for the future? What might be our down payment?


  Allston, Washington, 1779-1843. Jeremiah Dictating His Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem to Baruch the Scribe, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55713 [retrieved September 23, 2019]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jeremiah_Dictating_His_Prophecy_by_Washington_Allston_1820.jpeg.

 

A Change Is Gonna Come: Advent 3

A Change Is Gonna Come: Advent 3

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

December 16, 2018

Read Isaiah 42:1-9 (CEB)

Reflection

Advent gives us hope.  Hope is a hard thing to concentrate on when the wider culture forces cheerfulness and sentimentality.  There is a lot out there that wants us to forget the world we live in that is filled with sin and injustice. Isaiah 42 tells us that the world has problems, big problems. Problems that might seem hopeless.  But God speaks into that dark time to remind the people of Israel that whatever they are experiencing is not the last word. God has not forgotten them.

Advent is a corrective to the culture that wants to rush headlong into Christmas.  Advent not only tells us what their world is like, but what it can be. Even when we face the bad times, Advent reminds us that something good will happen, maybe not right away, but soon.  Evil will not have the last word.

The late R&B singer Sam Cooke once sang a song called “A Change Is Gonna Come.”   It was an important song of the civil rights movement. To a younger generation, it has a prominent part towards the end of the 1992 movie Malcolm X, the biopic on the life and death of the civil rights leader.  

Part of the inspiration of the song came from Cooke trying to register at a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, Louisiana.  He had called ahead to make a reservation, but when he, his wife and his entourage arrived all African Americans, the hotel said it had no vacancies.  Cooke, of course, was furious and demanded to see the manager.  After a while, they left the hotel to go to another hotel in town.  As they arrived, the police were there ready to arrest him for disturbing the peace.

Cooke wrote this song about racism and the hope that things would change.  The song became a staple in the civil rights movement because of the lyrics.  I want to close with some of the lyrics:

 

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me, “Don’t hang around”
It’s been a long, a long time coming

 

But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

For Cooke and countless African Americans who were alive in the early 60s, it might have been hard to have hope when things seemed like nothing would change.  But Cooke believed that things would change for the better, even if he couldn’t see it clearly at that time. He had hope that the evil of racism would not stand forever.

That is Advent hope.  It is the hope that Christ will return to establish justice forever.  It is that hope that informs the church in mission in the here and now as we long for the not yet.

1. Sam Cooke. A Change is Gonna Come. (1964), RCA Records.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

Is Everything Back to Normal? – Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23B (Job 42)

Is Everything Back to Normal? – Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23B (Job 42)

William Blake – Job and his daughters
 
42 Then Job answered the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
 
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10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17 And Job died, old and full of days.
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                It seems that all it took was a bit of humility, a word of repentance, and a recognition on Job’s part that he didn’t know what he was talking about to get his life back. The ending of Job has always given people pause. After all the speeches on the part of the “friends,” urging Job to repent, which he rebutted, and the back and forth between Job and God as to why Job suffering (he may have cursed his own life, but Job never cursed God) in the end Job gives in. Maybe God just wore him down. Starting in chapter 38, God began assailing Job with questions. There is a brief response on Job’s part in chapter 40, but it’s a brief respite, as God starts right back up and continues the diatribe on through chapter 41. The message appears to be that there’s a lot that Job doesn’t know, and thus he needs to be careful with his responses. Job seems to agree, at least that’s what it looks like here in chapter 42. After that gets cleared up, everything returns to normal. Isn’t that the way we like things? Don’t happy endings make for a good story? After all, who doesn’t want to live happily ever after, as is always the case in a Disney story?
                This reading from Chapter 42 is the fourth lectionary choice, and it brings the story of Job to a close. It might not have been the way we would have expected it to end, considering how things started, but maybe ending on a high note is for the best. The lectionary creators, as is their penchant, do a bit of editing to the chapter, excising verses 7-9. In these verses we find God giving the “friends” a tongue-lashing. It’s a bit harsh and may not fit the intentions of the lectionary creators, but this omission is unfortunate because it essentially justifies Job’s complaint. Consider this word: “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, he said to Eliphaz from Teman, ‘I’m angry at you and your two friends because you haven’t spoken about me correctly as did my servant Job.’” (Job 42:7 CEB). Yes, Job is in the right, and the friends are not.
Before we get to this excised response on God’s part, we must first attend to Job’s response to God’s diatribe. Job had asked plenty of questions of God, but in the end, he admits that when it came to God’s questions, he simply doesn’t have any answers. After all, God, seems to know everything and whose plans can’t be thwarted. In seems as if Job is defeated by God’ outburst, and yet there is a sense of vindication in that God deals directly with Job. In Job’s response, we hear him say that whereas before he had only heard God’s voice, now, having encountered the whirlwind, Job has seen God with his own eyes. With that, all Job can do is repent with dust and ashes. I wonder, is he repenting of his questions or simply affirming his lack of knowledge and understanding. Job recognizes that he is not God. With that, I prefer the latter explanation. Job isn’t repenting of us questions, just his lack of understanding. This is good news, as I appreciate the questions.
Job’s response, which might have been the original ending of the book, gives way in verse 7 to God’s response to the three friends, who learn that their response was incorrect.  They simply didn’t know what they were talking about. Job, on the other hand, while there might be much that he doesn’t understand or have knowledge of—after all, he wasn’t there to witness many of these things first hand—he was right in this—Job’s “misfortunes” were not the result of unrighteousness or sin. God directs the three friends to atone for their mistake by offering seven bulls and seven rams as a burnt offering, asking Job to offer a prayer of forgiveness. It wasn’t God who was to receive this offering, it was Job, the righteous one.  It’s unfortunate that this is missing because God does admit that Job was correct all along (though God doesn’t repent for putting Job in this predicament).
When we return to the text chosen by the lectionary in verse ten, it seems as if everything has gotten back to normal. It was a series of unfortunate events, that cost him family, land, his own skin (suffering on his part), but now everything is good. After Job prayed for his “friends,” God restored everything that was lost, only this time he is doubly blessed. He was faithful, and therefore he was rewarded. I know this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book. Wasn’t the prior message that Job’s misfortunes had nothing to do with a lack of faithfulness, so how could this act of blessing be a sign of faithfulness?  In any case, standing at the center of this blessing is the provision of children, specifically three daughters, as well as seven sons. The sons aren’t named, but interestingly the daughters are—Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-Happuch. Of these three daughters, the author of Job declares “in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters.” They even received an inheritance, along with their brothers—that mention is made of this suggests that this is unusual. But perhaps the message here is that even as Job is blessed, so are his children. After all, as we learn in chapter one of Job, he had always taken good care of his children, offering sacrifices for them so that if they had fallen short of righteousness they were covered. Of course, faithfulness and blessing involve a long life—one hundred and forty more years to be exact, so that the one who lost his original family was able to see four generations of children born. Interestingly enough, no mention is made of Job’s wife. I wonder why? Has something happened to her? Why is she not sharing in the blessings, at least not by name?
When we read Job, I’m not sure we encounter a God we wish to embrace. Here is a God who makes wagers, and seems to be a sort of bully, pummeling Job with unanswerable questions. But maybe this isn’t about God, it’s about our own understandings of righteous and relationship. After all, in the section omitted by the lectionary creators, God does affirm one thing about Job. He was right, and the friends wrong about the cause of misfortune. Deanna Thompson spends a good deal of time with Job in her book Glimpsing Resurrection. She explores the question of trauma in light of the Job story, and she concludes:

And perhaps most important, the book of Job models a relationship with the Divine that allows for anger, grief, complaint, and protest, a relationship that may not yield clear answers regarding the reason for suffering but one that can move between tragedy and joy, and one that dares to include laughter even when the risks of living are intimately understood. [Glimpsing Resurrection, p. 99].

Perhaps that is the message of Job for us. This isn’t really a theodicy. It doesn’t give a full answer to our questions concerning God and suffering, especially if we wish to insert love into the equation. After all, God seems to respect Job, but not necessarily express this in terms of love. The message appears to be that when it comes to suffering and trauma, there are no clear or easy answers. We may want clear answers, bit they always seem elusive. With that the story might have ended, but the creators of this story have chosen to end on a high note. Job is blessed at the end, but not everyone is so fortunate. Sometimes all we can do is end with where things stand at the end of verse 6. We may need to simply kneel before God in sack cloth and ashes and repent, even as we continue to ask why.

10646937_10204043191333252_4540780665023444969_nRobert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.