The least likely thing
By Rev. Jeff Lackie On Sep 30 2019
Jeremiah is perhaps not the best place to start…but here we are. The prophet is under arrest for daring to suggest that the Babylonians will win the day. It was obvious to the casual observer – bigger army, more resolute leadership – how can Israel possibly respond? There’s a siege in the works, and the advantage (in this case) goes to the attacker. Jeremiah said so; loudly and often and in the name of the most high, so he’s locked up. It’s difficult to imagine a worse set of conditions for splashing on a prime bit of real estate, but these nudges from God are difficult to ignore.
First, God tells Jeremiah to open his eyes and predict a winner in the Babylon V. Jerusalem cage match. Easy; Jerusalem’s going down. Then God suggests it’s time to play in the real estate market “Your cousin will offer you a chance to buy the family field. Do it.”
Now maybe I’m a little thick, but this doesn’t seem like a good time to make an investment of this magnitude. Nonetheless, Jeremiah, upon confirmation of this request (in the form of his cousin doing just what the ‘voice from God’ said), seals the deal. He makes sure it’s done right and proper – witnesses, signatures, and the deed sealed a state-of-the-art ‘clay-pot’ safe deposit box so the record of this deal will last for a long time (v. 14) The details of this deal can tell you much about the business dealings of the ancient Israelites, if that’s your thing. But the fact that Jeremiah choses to take this chance is meant to tell us something about the economy of God’s ordered universe. Not ruled by sage business doings, but by the act of ‘doing business’ – faithful observance of a grand, ineffable truth. The kingdom of Israel is crumbling, but God’s promise (of a place for God’s people) endures. Jerusalem will be laid low, but the sense of place that is so much a part of God’s activity among, within and over all creation continues to matter. The last sentence in the reading is lost in the intricate web of transactional detail, but it is the most important – “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
Human sovereignty over creation is a myth. Human ‘control’ is always fleeting. We have collectively and repeatedly dropped the ball where ‘care for creation’ is concerned, and still God’s spirit whispers “get up! It’s time to act! Do this unlikely thing!” And I’m left to wonder why…
Why, in spite of our prayers, our pleading, our earnest assertions that ‘God is in control’ do we continue to hear – like Jeremiah – the voice of God calling US to action? Is God not able to fix what we have broken? Not willing…? Or has it simply been our job all along.
Partners in creation, in solidarity with the wounded and broken; with those most badly affected by rising sea levels and diminished bio-diversity. The message about cooperation is ancient and consistent. God’s passion for the broken and defeated is well documented. You have Moses and the prophets to demonstrate these things. When will you listen?
Now surely someone will take me aside, in a spirit of Christian love, and tell me that the gospel is concerned for OUR salvation - for human well-being - you’ll quote scripture (or hymns - or some giant of the faith) and remind me that Jesus died for our sins. It’s about us, they’ll say, as I nod and smile. I’ll probably still be smiling when I tell them that our “sins” include (especially in the last three hundred years or so) such an arrogant, indifferent and abusive attitude towards the earth and all that is in it that Jesus must wonder why he bothered.
Why would he bother to participate in the revealing of God’s grace to those who had eyes only for their own comfort; their own profit? Why counsel us to love our neighbour as ourselves (an idea, while not original to Jesus, is one he certainly perfected) if we insist on seeing our neighbour as either a customer or a competitor?
There is (for me) a sense of that faithful frustration in the parable from Luke concerning Lazarus and the rich man. For all the Old Testament teaching about care and stewardship of the earth - jubilee laws and Sabbath rest (the list is vast), this parable suggests that the ‘rich man’ has missed the point.
There no direct comparison of the faithfulness of these two characters, just a comparison of their station in life. As far apart as two people can be, and one is escorted by the angels; the other, condemned to suffer.
Jesus seems to understand the futility of his own message - the comfortable, content, ruling-class folks don’t ‘get it’ until it’s too late. The torment of the nameless rich cannot be eased, because they imagined that living for the moment was sufficient. Eternal life is too broad an idea for those who already have everything. But with the example (in parable) of the salvation of Lazarus, who had nothing in life - and for the sake of generations yet to come - Jesus calls us to be aware; to be proactive; to be compassionate; to be mindful of the bounty of the earth; to share in it, and in doing so, calls God’s ancient and timeless promises to mind. Moses and the prophets weren’t talking about ‘pie in the sky when you die by and by’; they were talking about the real life and workings of this creation that God called very good.
Jesus is more than simply the “Saviour of humanity’ (and he is no one’s ‘personal Saviour’). He is the Lord of Creation; present in the beginning and ruling over all things. And we are invited to be partners - stewards - with him in the restoration of all that is, was, and ever shall be.
It is hard to know how to finish this. If indeed Jesus is offering skepticism- then maybe the invitation should be to go an d prove him wrong. Live as though you were listening to the one who rose from the dead. Live as though today matters - that stranger on the street matters - live as though the future that you will not live to see matters.