June 18, 1940. Winston Churchill stands in the British Parliament to address his country and its government. France had fallen to Hitler and the British expeditionary forces narrowly escaped at Dunkirk. It was the darkest period of World War Two. He gave a famous speech in which he said the Battle of Britain was about to begin and concluded with these words that have gone down in history:
Churchill had a way with words that few since have mastered. He was a leader as few since have been. His words rallied an outnumbered island nation to stand virtually alone against the nazi menace which had overrun most of Europe.
Jeremiah stood alone both in the face of an ominous enemy, the Babylonian army, and alone against the anger of his own people. Alone except for God, his friend Baruch and possibly one or two others
Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet, and no wonder! God told him to remain single, and then directed to speak to his king and his people in a way that earned him constant hostility, and threatened his life. God had promised to protect his life, but not to keep him comfortable.
In the passage we read today, Jeremiah is imprisoned in the main courtyard of the palace. The Babylonians had Jerusalem under siege and Jeremiah kept telling the king it was pointless to resist. This was not a popular message. The king was not pleased.
It's one thing to stand for God. It's quite another matter to take the same stand when that puts you at odds with everyone around you.
It may be darkest just before the dawn, but its pretty dark at midnight, many hours before dawn.
It was midnight for Jerusalem and it was midnight for Jeremiah.
In the middle of this scene of desperation, God once again speaks to Jeremiah, and its a most peculiar word at that.
If you were Jeremiah what you might be hoping for is a word from God that He will intervene and lift the siege.
Jeremiah might even hope that God would say, "Good job, Jeremiah!. You can go home to Anathoth and get back to life, and you will be well rewarded for your pain and suffering."
That's not what happened.
What God did was to tell Jeremiah that his cousin, Hanamel, was going to approach him to buy his farm outside Anathoth. Normally, this would be an attractive offer, depending on the price. Anathoth was rich farmland and the center of almond farming. Apparently Hanamel was in debt and had mortgaged the land. The custom in those days was that in order to prevent family land being lost to the family, a close relative always had the first option when land was forfeit due to inability to pay.
Under normal circumstances, this would be a routine transaction, providing Jeremiah had the cash, which he apparently did. But these were not normal times.
There was one flaw in the deal. Just one detail.
They were in the middle of a war and the land Hanamel wanted to sell was under Babylonian occupation. But Jeremiah knew his duty to God and his family duty to Hanamel.
I often pray for divine guidance, and I know that God guides us when we ask.
Often God's word is a simple "just do your duty." Jeremiah knew this too, though in his case it led him into imprisonment.
God says, "your cousin Hanamel will come to sell you the field at Anathoth."
I suppose we might assume that divine guidance would automatically warn Jeremiah, "Don't touch it with a ten foot pole."
But this is not the case.
God says to Jeremiah that he should buy it. Not only should he buy it, but he should place the deed in a sealed clay jar so that it will remain safe for many years. Jeremiah's investment is going to pay off. Jeremiah will not be around to profit from it personally, but the investment will not be lost.
God says, "Houses and vineyards shall again be possessed in this land."
It is a word of hope on the eve of their darkest night, a long while before any evidence of dawn.
Babylon would capture the city and totally destroy it and Solomon's temple. The ark of the covenant would disappear never to be seen again to this very day. It would be a disaster of colossal proportions.
But there is a word of hope, albeit a word that would not benefit that generation. Their descendants would return one day and life would resume in their land.
Jeremiah does as God asks and buys the land for about seven ounces of silver, and has Baruch witness the deed and seals it away for posterity.
How does hope come to us?
Hope comes first of all when we remember what Jeremiah says immediately following this incident.
?Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you." Jer. 32:16-17
Hope comes when we remember in whose hands we rest.
To anyone who was there that day, Jeremiah made a bad purchase. Jeremiah perhaps knew better than anyone that he personally had little hope of ever enjoying the fruit of that field.
But he was not afraid to make the investment.
You and I are often called upon to make an investment in others where we have little or no hope of personally reaping the rewards. This is true on many levels.
We all pay school taxes whether or not we have children in school. You can resent the fact or you can choose to see those children as your investment in hope.
We send money overseas in missions and world relief. What does that do for us personally? On one level, nothing.
On another level, you can choose to see those faces as your brother and your sister; your mother and your father; those little ones as your children. You can choose to see that your investment like Jeremiah's is an act of faith. We make our investments knowing we will not in this life reap the reward, but doing so believing that it will make a difference for our grandchildren or their children.
We give ourselves and our time and money in situations that we sometimes feel is pointless.
We have a choice.
We can become angry believing we have been cheated of our due, or we can like Jeremiah, put it away in faith for safe keeping.
Jeremiah used a clay jar and entrusted it to posterity.
We offer our investments in others to God for safe keeping with the prayer, "nothing is too hard for you."
Midnight of our lives can be a very lonely place.
I imagine that there were times when Jeremiah was cold, hungry and tired and wondered what good any of this was doing.
But he knew that God was guiding him, wherever that took him.
Remember Psalm 23.
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
There was a 60's song by Gale Garnett entitled, We'll Sing in the Sunshine.
The second and third stanza go like this:
The cost of love's too dear.
But though I'll never love you,
I'll stay with you one year.
And we can sing in the sunshine,
We'll laugh everyday,
We'll sing in the sunshine,
Then I'll be on my way.1
That's not God's promise to you and me and God asks more than that from us in return.
The cost of love is dear.
And since I'll always love you,
I will be always near.
And we can sing in the sunshine
We'll cry in the rain,
We will walk through the valley
Until I come for you again.2
God asked Jeremiah to make an investment in hope and faith alone, knowing he would not take possession of the land.
God asks us to make investments in others in hope and faith alone, not knowing whether we will ever see that investment pay off.
Midnight in the Garden of Gethsemane
Jeremiah followed God's guidance his adult life though it cost him what likely had been his boyhood dreams.
God may ask you to follow his guidance wherever that leads.
But remember that Jesus followed the father's guidance.
Midnight in the garden of Gethsemane, it was settled in blood and tears.
Jesus made an investment in you and me that He did not have to make.
But he made it in faith and in hope and in love, the three things that will never pass away.
The light of God shines in the darkness, in the midnight of yours and countless of millions of others souls, and the darkness has never overcome it. And it never will.
You invest yourself in a child who turns away and you wonder where it went wrong. Keep investing yourself in that child by prayer, then seal it up and give it to God for another day. You may not see those prayers answered, but someone else may.
Your life and all your dreams have gone belly up due to an illness, a death or catastrophe.
Give those lost dreams to God in prayer and then put them away for another age.
You may feel that you have always come up on the short end of life.
Give that disappointment to God and offer your love and hope to the next person in your life. Give it in hope then offer the rest to God for another time and another day.
Paul offers these words in 1 Corinthians 15. They are words I use at every graveside and are based on the promise that what we sew in this life will be raised by God's wonderful grace.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15: 57-58)
Who knows, maybe some day you may hear our Lord's voice speaking about that dark time in your life when you persisted in spite of everything. His words to you may be, "That was your finest hour." Amen
Preached September 26, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia
1. Words and music by Gale Garnet.
2. My own revision, apologies to the author above.
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