Jeremiah 32:1-3a,6-15;Psalm 91:1-6,14-16; 1 Tim. 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
From the introduction to today’s first reading:
In the year before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, when the siege had already begun, Jeremiah, imprisoned in the king’s palace, purchased a piece of land. The purchase of the land is a sign of hope that God will restore the people to life in the land after the exile.
What would you do if you were Jeremiah? If you were in prison, would you buy a piece of land? Maybe–if you knew that eventually you would get out. But what if you were in prison and your country was under attack by a much stronger nation, & in all likelihood your nation would soon fall–would you still buy a piece of land? Would you do anything risky? Or, would you stick with what’s familiar & dependable?
I don’t know what I would do. If I were in Jeremiah’s situation I’d be tempted to play it safe. If the future is uncertain why gamble? Why not hang on to what you have & play it safe?
But a person will take risks if they have hope. They will trust in what they can’t see…if they have hope.
Jeremiah had hope. Hope is not the same as a guarantee. It’s based on something—or someone—bigger than we are. Jeremiah learned to trust in what he couldn’t see. But he didn’t learn this lesson all at once. Back in August one Sunday we heard God’s call to Jeremiah to be a prophet. Jeremiah’s response to God’s call? Ah, Lord God! Truly I don’t know how to speak, for I am only a boy. God answered, Don’t say, “I’m only a boy.” For you shall speak whatever I command you. Jeremiah listened & obeyed.
Today’s second reading & gospel readings are warnings against the dangers of wealth. At first this seems unrelated to Jeremiah’s story. But if you think about it they are related. One danger of wealth is that it can lead us to use our energy to either get more of what we want, or to hang on to what we have. And if that’s what preoccupies us we won’t have a lot of energy left over for tending to the needs of others who have less. And, if we can create our own security we surely won’t need God.
Well, Jeremiah had about as little security as we can imagine. He was in prison. His country was about to be overthrown. And not only overthrown; the Babylonian empire would take Jeremiah’s people away from their land into captivity in Babylon. And yet, Jeremiah—in spite of all this—buys a piece of land. Doesn’t sound like a shrewd business move!
Maybe this story is what our spiritual ancestor Martin Luther had in mind. One time he was asked, “What would you do if you knew tomorrow was the end of the world?” Martin Luther answered, I’d plant an apple tree. Plant an apple tree? Crazy! Why would anyone do that? Faced with little reason to hope in the future Martin Luther said he’d do something crazy. Jeremiah did do something crazy! To do something risky, something crazy, can be a statement of faith.
People of God, I have observed in recent months this same spirit emerging among many of you. I have seen “Martin Luthers” & “Jeremiahs” right here at Lakeridge Lutheran Church. Some of you are anxious because you look around & you see declining numbers at worship. You see less money in the bank. You might wonder, like Jeremiah the prophet, what reason there is to hope in the continued mission of God for hope & healing in this neighborhood.
And yet, here is what I’ve seen: I’ve seen two book studies start up among you over the past month. These weren’t my idea. I’m not leading them. They came from you! And fourteen of you (so far!) are participating. I have seen a women’s retreat planned—and twenty of you have signed up. I have seen a monthly Bible study draw at least five or six of you. All of these are spiritual growth & faith formation opportunities. Add up the numbers & you get forty people.
Now, these days our Sunday worship attendance is around forty. You might be disappointed that our worship numbers are not higher. BUT— what congregation has a spiritual growth number equal to its worship participation? None that I know of. Not here in Seattle. Not anywhere. Not Lutheran. Not non-Lutheran. Except here!
Here you are, uncertain of the future, & yet–“buying a piece of land”—which is a way of saying you believe in the future. You are investing in what is most important.
That’s one way you’re risking, but it’s more than just “numbers.” Here’s Roger choosing to sign up for one of these books studies. “You might be the only man there,” he was told. “That’s okay,” he said. Guess what–next meeting is at Roger’s house. Who knows what might come of that group?
Last week I was out visiting other congregations & I’ll tell you more about that later in worship. While I was gone several of you led worship. One of those was Velma. Velma has stepped up to the plate recently to lead our children’s ministry. Last week she gave the children’s message. “I was scared to death,” she said afterward. But she did it anyway. Velma took a risk when she didn’t have to. Like Jeremiah, it was a risk with the future in mind.
One of you who’s been a member of this church a very long time said to me this past week, I’ve never been to a retreat before in my life but I am now. That’s two new things I’m trying this year! Sounds like the spirit of Jeremiah…
Then there’s Nancy. “Everyone” knows that Nancy is the “money person”—our treasurer. When money is tight you would expect money–& only money—to be her focus. No one would blame her for that & might even expect it. But when the call went out for Sunday School assistants a few months back Nancy said, “Sure, I’ll do that—it’s important. I don’t know what I’m doing…but I’ll do it.” Nancy has also signed up to set out the church garbage on the street. Instead of simply sticking with what she knows—with what’s safe—Nancy is taking risks, doing things she hasn’t done before. Like Jeremiah, she’s acting like she actually believes in God’s promise that there is a future after exile.
Then there are those of you who are asking who it is God is calling us to be in relationship to. What risks in the use of our buildings & other resources are we being called to, for the sake of the world? How are we called to be the hands of Jesus to the world? Who are we called to serve?
These are only a few examples. Because of physical or mental or financial challenges, you may feel a bit like Jeremiah—trapped & low on options. You may even feel like your world is falling apart. And yet, as Jeremiah made the crazy, hopeful decision to buy land as his world was falling apart, so also you are taking risks. For some of you, simply being here on Sunday morning is a big risk. God doesn’t measure the risks we take against the risks other people take. God walks with us as we move from who we were in the past to the people we are becoming & will be in the future.
Our future is uncertain, but we are—each of us—in the hands of a gracious God, who promises to walk with us, & sustain us as we move forward together in hope.