Tuesday, September 21, 2010

a strange purchase

as a united methodist pastor, i have never been forced to think about buying a house.  part of our system is that the church where we are serving provides a home for us.  but we often think about where we will live when we retire, and how we would love to buy a house that we could vacation in for now until retirement.  but when we start looking around, i quickly become overwhelmed. 

i get easily overwhelmed, actually (***warning: unnecessary tangent ahead***).  for example, one time shannon asked me to buy some paint at home depot.  this was a perfectly normal request and i handled perfectly normally until i actually entered the paint aisle(s).  then i was bombarded with words like latex, gloss, matte, eggshell, indoor, outdoor, indoor/outdoor, flat, satin, semi-gl...oh my flipping gosh!  there are too many options!  they found me curled up in the fetal position on the cement floor of aisle 37 at home depot, clutching hand fulls of paint chips.  it wasn't pretty.  (over the loudspeaker:  can we get an associate to aisle 37 for a, um, situation?)

i'm not even good at ordering food at a restaurant.  just too many options.  so you can imagine how it feels to look through book after book of houses for sale.  so many options.  and then there's the question of when is it a good time to buy?  so many experts have so many different opinions, it becomes confusing to know who to listen to. 

it's with that kind of background about the prospect of buying property that i approach the text i'll be preaching on this week.  it's a passage from jeremiah, in which the prophet makes a really questionable decision.  he decides to buy some land.  which, on the surface of the thing, doesn't seem all that dubious, but when you consider that the land he buys is about to be besieged by a great army of babylonians, who are about to take the land as their own, sending the israelites to foreign lands in exile, it becomes a bit more of an eyebrow-raiser.  and by eyebrow-raiser i mean a really stupid move.  i could see if you bought the land a month before the siege, not knowing the babylonians were on the way.  that would just be exceptionally bad luck.  but that's not what happens in jeremiah 32.  the dude knows the army is coming, that the land is about to be burned and pillaged and spat upon, so to speak. he knows that he will likely end up in a prison or camp somewhere, forced to bow to some other God and dream about his homeland.  and as one final act before he leaves, he buys some land.  and he not only buys it, he goes to great extremes to show that he is following the letter of the law here, making it quite public and quite the production.  it's as if he wants everyone to know that he is making this strange purchase. 

why?  i mean, if it were me, i would probably be curled up on the stone floor of the courtyard, in the fetal position chanting "the babylonians are coming, the babylonians are coming."  i am hopeless.  but not jeremiah.  he is quite the opposite: full of hope.  and not just any hope, but the kind of hope that puts its money right where its mouth is.  he doesn't just say, "hey guys, everything will be alright...just wait and see."  no, he does more than talk.  he actually writes a huge check to buy a piece of land that is about to be taken from him, and he makes sure to show everyone how he is putting the deed in a safety-deposit box because he wants them to know that he will one day be needing that deed again.  he is saying, in one defiant, subversive, insane act: "hope is not lost!  we will be back again!" 

and so as i am studying this text this week and thinking about how it preaches, i'm asking for your help.  how does this apply, in your opinion, to our lives today?  are we called to such hope?  do we have it?  if so, how can we demonstrate it?  how would you apply this crazy story to your own life of faith? 

4 comments:

Kim said...

Wow! I've read this passage before, yet in your framing of it with your own personal quandry over purchasing a home (or paint, which I understand!) it was eye-opening and mind-awakening! I was going to use a different lectionary text this week, but something is now pulling me to Jeremiah in light of your words - thank you! But to asnwer your question I think it definitly applies - in the culture and economic situation we are in I think many have lost their strength and faith to dream and hope that tomorrow will be better and that the Lord will still prevail. When the money pinches it is harder to have the faith to believe that which cannot be seen, it is easier to put our faith in what the economists and Wall Street predicts will or will not happen than in our Lord who makes all of that even possible. It will preach!
As for when to buy a house or not - cannot speak from a real estate standpoint here, but my husband and I bought a house at the Malaga Camp Meeting in South Jersey to use for vacation but also when we retire (a llloooonnnggg time from now) and it was one of the best things we have done - being able to totally get away without spending lots of money on hotels was/is a blessing!

greg. said...

thanks for the feedback, Kim. i think you are absolutely right on with the application of this fascinating little story. and even in a broader sense, i think it may have something to say about our own investments into the kingdom of God (versus our investments into our own "kingdoms:" homes, toys, cars, clothes, fun, etc.). happy sermon planning! :)

Emoly said...

This is how I felt when we left Michigan in 2001. Not saying goodbye, but we'll be back. I just knew we would be moving back here some day. I could feel it. Did we purchase land here before moving? No. But did we move back at a time when (and still) "younger" families are moving out of Michigan because there are no jobs? Yes. And we've met others who have moved [back] here. So in direct line with your post, I definitely see the strange purchase and because of the downfall of the market, we were able to apply to refinance our house yesterday. Yay!! Lower interest is going to save us thousands of interest. Amazing.

In a different light, I feel this way with our youth group. Through the hormonal jr. high age years through the rebellious teenage years we (the leaders) strive to show that we will remain a rock for those youth. They come back after college and see that we're still there and I know that God uses that.

Eric said...

A while back we had a conversation about me finally finding a hispanic church in Honduras that I enjoyed and where I felt an authentic community of believers. That was a big deal for me because during my time there I attended many communities that either mildly or wildly seemed quite inauthentic.

Well... that first Sunday at this new church the guest pastor spoke on this story from Jeremiah. So within me I have special affection for this verse because the message he delivered was full of the desperation for God in this specific church community where I was attending. This community is full of the poorest, most taken-advantage-of, and most broken people on the island where I lived... and the message the pastor preached was one to have hope, to remember the deposit and cost that people have stored in the iron jars (or bronze? clay? I can´t remember how it is translated in English). That the peoples´ faith, their investments of time, their struggles to provide food and shelter for families, to store it all in and have faith that after the broken-ness, goodness will come.

It goes back to our conversation of how we can be desperate for God. And this message of hope in Jeremiah, of faith to get through the hardship, that there is another side and that what is stored in the ¨safety deposit box¨ will be recovered, was extremely real and relevant for the people in this church. I still reflect on that sermon and the desperation of those people for God, and how they found God and peace in little things day to day. Pretty awesome stuff.

Thanks for reminding me of it today! Take care!

Eric