Cousin Hanamel's Field
| Jeremiah 32:1-15
||Sun, September 27, 1998
Rev. Ed Searcy
|It happens in King Zedekiah's tenth year on the throne ...
which happens to be the eighteenth year
of famous Nebuchadnezzar's reign.
Nebuchadnezzar's troops -
the crack brigades of the Babylonian military -
have laid Jerusalem under siege.
Jerusalem ... Zion ...
the city built on a hill
and surrounded by a great wall
and promised protection by God Almighty.
is under siege.
The city is surrounded.
No one gets out.
No one gets in.
All supplies of food and of water
have been cut off.
Outside the city walls the troops dig in
for the final assault.
Ramps are constructed.
Archers practice daily.
Siege 'guns' are prepared ...
the great slingshots that will fling huge stones over the wall.
Watching these preparations from inside the walls,
Jerusalem's residents panic.
The rations decrease day by day.
The children are hungry and afraid.
The political and military leaders can think of no way out ...
except to turn to the priests and ask for prayers.
It is all as Jeremiah has been predicting.
He has seen it coming
when no one dared believe that it was possible.
They paid no attention to his warnings.
with the end so obviously at hand,
King Zedekiah has Jeremiah arrested.
Not thrown in prison, mind you.
No, he has Jeremiah held under house arrest
in the royal palace.
The point is not so much to punish Jeremiah.
He hasn't broken any laws.
The point is to silence Jeremiah.
He has become too much of a political embarrassment.
His protests are now front page news.
People are listening to him.
And Zedekiah is sick and tired of so much bad press.
He has enough troubles to worry about
without some new controversy stirred up by Jeremiah.
So he locks the prophet up.
At his first opportunity,
King Zedekiah has a word with his new house guest.
The King wants to know
why Jeremiah insists on saying that
God is about to give Jerusalem to the King of Babylon
on a silver platter.
And more than that,
he wants to ask why Jeremiah dares to claim that Zedekiah himself will be taken prisoner to Babylon
so that God can deal with him there.
You can be sure that King Zedekiah
is not thrilled by such preaching ...
and that he wants to know as many details as possible.
Besides, perhaps Jeremiah is a spy.
Maybe he knows things because he is a mole ...
a traitor waiting to be rewarded once the city falls.
The King interrogates Jeremiah:
"Why have you been saying these things?
Haven't you ever heard of 'self-fulfilling prophecy'?
If you hadn't spread so much gloom and doom
maybe we could have kept morale high.
Why do you insist on being so negative,
so critical, so judgmental? Why?"
But Jeremiah doesn't answer Zedekiah's question.
At least, he doesn't answer in the fashion that we
or Zedekiah expect.
For one thing, Jeremiah has been explaining himself endlessly.
Surely Zedekiah knows the reasons for Jeremiah's tirades:
He says he has been sent as a messenger from God
bearing the news that God is finally fed up
with the disobedience of his people
and, so, has given them and their land
to the super power of Babylon.
Remember God's call to Jeremiah:
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow ..." (Jer. 1:9-10)
This is precisely what Jeremiah has been doing.
Zedekiah shouldn't need to ask.
But Jeremiah has something else on his mind ...
something that has come as a great surprise to him.
"Just the other day", says Jeremiah,
"I had a word from the Lord.
It said, 'Uncle Shallum's son - cousin Hanamel -
is going to come and offer you first right of refusal
on the family plot over at Ananoth.'
Well, I didn't know what to make of such a word.
For one thing,
how was Hanamel ever going to get into the city
under these conditions.
And for another thing
why would I ever want to buy land in Israel now?
I am in custody.
Uncle Shallum's field is surely Babylonian property by now.
I would be a fool to pay Hanamel one red cent
for the worthless title to the land."
Zedekiah can only nod his agreement.
"So you can imagine how my jaw dropped
when who shows up here
in the court of the guard
but cousin Hanny himself!
And I wasn't the only one who couldn't believe his eyes.
The Royal Guards were absolutely convinced
that the two of us must
be agents of the Babylonian CIA.
How else could Hanamel son of Shallum
make his way through no man's land?
But all of his papers - like mine -
were in order.
And Hanny knows the roads and fields around here
like the back of his hand.
It didn't surprise me that he managed to sneak into the city.
What surprised me was that he had come
with the title to the family field.
and that he wanted to sell ...
just as the Lord had said.
That's what I said ...
Except that I had to believe it.
This could not be a coincidence.
This had to be a message from God.
So I said 'yes' to cousin Hanamel.
Then he was the one who said 'Unbelievable'.
Both of us knew that the land wasn't worth a thing anymore.
Still, I paid him the assessed value prior to occupation:
seventeen silver shekels.
I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses,
and weighed the money on the scales.
It was notarized. Everything was legal.
Then I gave it to Baruch for safekeeping
and, in front of everyone, I told him:
'Be sure that you put this in a clay jar
so that it lasts for a long, long time'."
When Jeremiah finishes answering Zedekiah
the King is nowhere to be found.
Maybe he is satisfied ... although that is doubtful..
Perhaps he shrugs his shoulders in disbelief.
More than likely he wanders off,
confused by Jeremiah's nonanswer to his questions.
Jeremiah's answer to King Zedekiah
is not directed at the King.
Jeremiah has another audience in mind:
"For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
Houses and fields and vineyards
shall again be bought in this field." (Jer. 32:15)
Jeremiah is not speaking to the King.
He is addressing those who no longer have
houses and fields and vineyards ...
he is speaking to a culture
whose economy - whose way of life - has been left in tatters.
Jeremiah's message is for the children
and the grandchildren
and the great-grandchildren
of his generation.
The message for his own time
is a message of disestablishment
But already he can see another message on the horizon ...
a message of hope
for a lost and exiled generation.
To his great surprise,
nearing the end of his ministry,
Jeremiah is for the first time
given a Word
that holds out the promise
of "building and planting" (Jer. 1:10).
Biblical scholars tell us about the exiled generation
that Jeremiah addresses across time.
They are the survivors and the children of survivors.
They have been marched
to a comfortable existence in distant Babylon.
Here they live the life of a defeated people.
The Babylonians set out to erase their culture.
The children begin to adopt the modern ways of Babylon.
The people forget the ancient faith of the Bible
and are entranced by the attractions of Babylon's religions.
Even those who work hard to 'keep the faith'
begin to lose hope that they can ever go home again.
These are the people,
who recall Jeremiah's crazy land purchase
all those years ago
and finally understand.
Now they see:
it was an investment in the future,
it was a crazy act of faith in God
who would one day bring Jeremiah's kin home,
it was a message to exiles …
a message of hope sealed by Baruch in a clay jar
and carefully preserved in countless Bibles
through the ages
for distant generations to rediscover.
We recognize this message.
It is the one that Nisga'a elders so carefully preserved
for this generation.
Besieged by European immigrants
who overwhelmed the land of their ancestors
the Nisga'a always remembered
that the title to the land was in their name.
Even as they were faced with a culture
that set out to 'take the Indian out of the Indian'
Even as their children began to adopt the ways
Even as the people began to forget the ancient
songs and stories
They remembered that they had not lost title to the land.
They remembered that God had always intended
that feast halls and sweat lodges and potlatches
shall again flourish in this land.
It turns out that cousin Hanamel's field
is closer than we had ever dreamed.
All over North America mainline denominations
are withdrawing, bit by bit,
chaplain by chaplain
from campus after campus.
Besieged by financial difficulties
and shrinking numbers
and a less than friendly welcome from the academic community
a growing number assume
that campus ministries cannot survive.
Chaplains find themselves
on the campus and in the church.
When we tell others in the church of our dreams
for a revitalized United Church presence
on the campus of what is likely North America's
most secular university,
"You realize that the funding is drying up, don't you?"
They look startled to hear the reply:
"That's why we think it is so important
that someone invests in it now".
It is easy to imagine how cousin Hanamel reacts
when Jeremiah says:
"Sure. I'll buy the farm."
Kari-Ann Scheldrup's arrival as Campus Minister this week
is another signal to the church
and the campus
that, like Jeremiah, we are intent on buying in
to a long term hope …
not selling out to short term despair
(even if that term seems a lifetime to us ...
even if that term is a lifetime for us!)
In a way,
we worship on Hanamel's field every Sunday.
The decision to lease this Chapel
with a cash payment of seventeen silver shekels
when exchanged into Canadian dollars
and adjusted for inflation,
amounted to $177,000 over ten years,
looks a lot like Jeremiah's investment in hope.
This Congregation chose not to close down
or to leave the campus behind …
even though the signs did not look good.
Remember the mid 1980s:
an average attendance of forty ...
no university students ...
no babies ... no toddlers ...
nothing to suggest that the decline would end ...
and a Presbytery report suggesting that
it was time to give up the vision of a congregation on campus.
Instead you chose to take up residence here
and to trust that God did indeed
have a future in store for you.
But then a people of the Cross can do no other.
Look at the Cross:
the place where Christ is besieged on every side …
a place of abandonment.
Golgotha is anything but prime real estate.
Yet, look again.
The Cross stands as the great sign
of God's decision to buy into human history,
to invest in its future …
and in our future.
Golgotha, the place of the skull,
is also the place of resurrection
Jesus announces that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
His contemporaries look around
and can only see that they live in occupied territory.
Life hardly seems heavenly.
Far from it.
All sorts of malignant forces
lay siege to their lives:
The Kingdom of God is at hand?
God is about to take possession of this turf?
They can hardly contain their doubts.
But then Jesus does
what Jeremiah has done:
he makes investments that others cannot believe.
He calls lepers his own.
He calls women of the street his own.
He calls tax-collectors his own.
He calls Samaritans his own.
He calls sinners his own.
He calls me his own.
He calls you his own.
Jeremiah invests in the future
of a land that is occupied.
Jesus invests in the future
of a people who are without hope.
In Jesus and in Jeremiah
we meet a God who invests in the future
of Creation at the very moment
when it seems to have no future.
This is the reason
that a people of the Cross can do no other
but invest in new life
even when there seems nothing but death.
What do you see?
Do you see a marriage in shambles
with no way ahead?
Do you see a church too ashamed
to confront the legacy of its past?
Do you see a world where the poor
lie forgotten in the dust?
See what Jeremiah sees.
See a field of hope already planted.
See what Jesus sees.
See a neighbour worth the investment.
See … and ignore the temptation
to sell out
or to walk away.
See … and say 'yes' to Jeremiah's call to buy into
the future of the devastated earth.
See … and say 'yes' to Christ's call to walk with
the besieged of God's earth.
The Cross is God's 'Yes' to us.
It begs the question:
Will you ...
will we ...
say 'Yes' to God?
"Will You Come and Follow Me" - Voices United #567