1 TIMOTHY 6: 17-19 AND JEREMIAH 32: 1-3A, 6-15
Reverend Marguerite Sheehan, First Parish of Northfield and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon
1 Timothy 6: 17-19
As for those in who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
The lectionary this week gives us a number of readings about the uncertainty that just about all of us feel about riches. (see also Luke 16: 19-31 for the story about Rich Man and Lazarus.) Whether we are feeling rich or scarce of money or good health and whether we are feeling secure or insecure about our jobs or our ability to pay our mortgage payments, we know that tomorrow may be a different story. These past couple of years has been a hard reminder that what looks like a flush can, at the turn of a card, become a loss. Reading a prophetic message from the ancient Hebrews who were suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, and the teachings given by Timothy to the young Christian community who were also living in uncertainty, puts our modern challenges right into the stream of time. Has there ever been a time when we humans have not needed comfort and counsel about our physical, spiritual and fiscal well being? Has there ever been a time when we have not had to stop and reorient ourselves so that we can make choices that will serve us well in both in the days of richness and poverty?
The Transcendental minster Ralph Waldo Emerson writing in the 19th century said it well. “People only see what they are prepared to see.” The prophet Jeremiah heard a word from God that told him to try something new, try to envision something that he was not, in his life time, prepared to see. He was advised to do a foolish thing. In a time of scarcity he was told to go out and purchase land and then to “Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
That must have sounded like really bad advice, even if Jeremiah was certain sure (how the heck did he really know) that the tip was from God. My guess is that Jeremiah was not any more prepared than we are to see what God was dreaming of: houses and fields and vineyards brought back to life. He did not see what God was talking about but still he took a leap of faith and bought that deed and buried it in a jar for what was to be a long, long time. Maybe the doing while not knowing was his preparation to be able to really see a new creation.
Timothy also heard a strange word that he then delivered to those “in the present age” who were rich. He preached to not be haughty about what you have in your hand today but get ready to share it because in sharing, your hands will be free to take hold of something new; the life that really is life.
How do we prepare for a life that is really life when all we know is the life we are living? How do we know how to listen, in good times and in bad? These texts tell us that in order to be prepared for real life we need to give over our preconceptions and take a risk that something new might break in. For some of us that will be giving up on the idea that we are forever captive to our sad and sorry history. For others it means giving up on the idea that the stuff (what we call the good life) we have accumulated is worth the weight.
It is hard to do this preparation alone. Together, whether we are in our own Babylon or Ephesus, we can lean on each other and ask each other for advice. How can I live my life in such a way that when freedom is offered to me that I will accept? Our communities and practices of faith can point us toward something that alone is too hard for us to imagine. “House and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” The message is clear. Get ready. Be prepared. Give up what blinds or binds you. Open up to the life that really is life. Maybe it is right there in front of you.
Gracious and Merciful God, God who speaks even when we do not listen, help us to prepare for a new life while we are yet captive in our own limited stories. Help us to take a risk to buy into something that we do not fully understand. We want to live a life that is really life. Show us how to begin. May it be so.