Keawalai Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, September26, 2010
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
The obituary indicated he died the other week at the age of 52. The cause of death in any of the obituaries in our local newspaper is never listed. But the word had already gone out among neighbors and friends that he had committed suicide due to the recent failure of a number of investments.
The Friday issue of The Maui News included 9 pages announcing 34 “Notice of Mortgagee’s Intention to Foreclose Under Power of Sale.” It is an enormous burden for many who are faced with the doubt and despair and the agony and anger of living in these uncertain times – a burden sometimes too much for some to bear.
The prophet Jeremiah lived in such a time. Our reading from The Book of Jeremiah relates the details surrounding his purchase of land in his hometown of Anathoth. We can only imagine what a real estate agent would have said to Jeremiah had he sought the help of such a person.
The city of Jerusalem was under siege. It was a time of war. Jeremiah had already made a pronouncement to the people that the city would fall to the Babylonians and that King Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem would be sent into exile.
Jeremiah was also in prison because he dared to say that Babylon was serving God’s purpose. He declared to the people that their only response was to lay down their arms and surrender. To say such a thing during a time of war was regarded as treasonous.
A real estate agent would have been the first to say to Jeremiah: “This is hardly the time that you should be paying good money for land that is in the process of being conquered.”
Yet despite what appeared to be a complete loss of their identity as a people, Jeremiah reminded them that a new covenant was now in place. No longer would they be bound by geography, or by their traditions and practices.
Instead they would become a people bound together by the recognition that God’s law was a part of their very being. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel for those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
Sharon Peebles Burch, an American Baptist minister who is retired and now living in San Rafael, California writes: “For Jeremiah . . . while the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people may mean the end of the nation of Israel as it was once identified, it does not mean that (God) has abandoned (the) people or lessened in any way God’s connection to them. The people . . . are an identified group just as much as they were under the old covenant, and they will thrive – they will till the soil, marry and bear children, worship God and celebrate together, just as they did in the past.” (Feasting on the Word, year C., Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page100)
In the midst of war and the uncertainties of war, the opportunity to buy the land comes from his family. Jeremiah is the next of kin with the right to redeem or to purchase the land and it is his cousin Hanamel who offers the land to him.
The entire transaction – offering a price to be paid, weighing the money, providing the form of the deed on which the transfer of land is recorded, securing the number of witnesses required to confirm the sale – all of this is done to establish the legality of the sale. Many of those whose properties are now in foreclosure here on Maui know the stress and strain such a transaction.
But Jeremiah insists that he is not responding to stress and strain of the war or the downward spiral of the economy. Holding on to the land of his ancestors is not “an act of foolish hope or the ability to ignore the obvious” (Op. cit.) – that it may be he will lose everything. Instead, Jeremiah emphasizes that he is responding to the will of God.
Jeremiah responds as an act of faith in the future. He makes an investment in the future despite “the current siege and defeat of Jerusalem and Judah” convinced of God’s promise – that houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in that land. (Op. cit.) Burch points out that “by purchasing the land in the midst of Jerusalem’s destruction by Babylon and while he was imprisoned, Jeremiah defines what it means to have faith in God’s future.” (Ibid., page 102)
Lest any of us think Jeremiah is a fool, we have known of others who have that same faith. I picked up Diana Crim’s voice mail on Thursday. She had called me the day before at 6:08 p.m. and said: “Hi, Kahu! It’s Diana. You remember Sunday when I asked you if it was okay to pray for selfish reasons because we had our names in the lottery for first time homebuyers for $15,000?”
“Yeah, well we won! Our name was pulled out 30 minutes ago. I’m so excited. Yipeee! Prayers work. If there’s something that you really, really want, just pray for it. Love you. Bye.”
I called Diana back on Friday on my way home from work and during our conversation I could still hear the excitement in her voice. I believe as Diana does that prayers work. They may not always work out the way we want them to work out. But prayers work.
Now she may not agree with what I am about to say but whether or not her prayer was answered and she won lottery, what seems clearer to me is that she put her trust in God and in God’s future, whatever the outcome of the lottery may have been. Before we ended our conversation I told her I was convinced that her winning the lottery was yet another confirmation that her return to Maui - after being away for a year - was a sign that your home is here.
We do not know what led to the 34 notices of foreclosures in the newspaper this past week or what caused a man to kill himself when his investments failed. The despair and doubt, the agony and the anger are real. They are powerful forces that can overwhelm any one of us.
Jeremiah’s witness to all of us is this: God is present even in catastrophe. God is present with us in all of the catastrophic moments of our lives. To those who suffer from hopelessness and despair, the prophet Jeremiah offers a message of hope and healing.
Such a message may seem of little consequence to those who may be inclined to put all of their investments and trust in the stock market. But we were reminded last week when Jesus made clear that no one can serve two masters; he will either hate the one and love the other; or she will be devoted to one and despise the other. No one can serve God and wealth. (Luke 16:13)
Jeremiah reminds us that the future belongs to God and that God’s grace occurs in unusual places and in circumstances that often seems to make no sense. Out of chaos, out of the tragedies that may come our way, we go on.
Mahalo ke Akua! Amen.
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