This morning, there’s a real estate deal in the works. Under normal circumstances, the property under consideration is clearly a wise purchase. But these are not normal circumstances. Some people seem to have a knack for dabbling in real estate, and the last year or so has been grand for most of those people. Some people can make a huge pile of money buying and selling real estate. These people understand the market. They know when to buy, and they know when the time is right to sell. But given the circumstances in our passage this morning, this is no time at all to be dabbling in real estate. The year is 587 BC, and the people of God are in a very bad way. They are about to lose their land. They are at war with the Babylonians, and they will most assuredly lose the war. The Babylonians have already occupied almost every corner of Israel. Swarms of armies have put the land under siege, entire cities have been destroyed, and in just a few months, God’s people are going to be captured and carried off into exile, where they’ll languish for the next seventy years. The future looks grim. It is all doom and gloom. Its no time to be investing in real estate. And, as it turns out, the piece of property in question has already been captured by the Babylonians, and so Hanamel, our seller, isn’t getting any use out of it himself. And so its not too hard to see why Hanamel wants to unload this land. The future is frighteningly uncertain, and Hanamel probably would like to have some cash in his pocket.
To further complicate matters, the buyer, Jeremiah, is in jail. And he is in jail because he has not been playing the role of the polite prophet. Jeremiah has been prophesying that there is doom and gloom in store for God’s people, and the evidence of that doom and gloom is painfully evident. But Zedekiah, the king, does not like this. Zedekiah is one of those politicians who wants things to look like they are just dandy, even when they are not. And Jeremiah is not playing along. Jeremiah is still spouting off a message of doom and gloom. And so to shut him up, Zedekiah has thrown Jeremiah in Jail.
This actually, is probably also quite a personal matter for Zedekiah. It is an act of vengeance. Jeremiah has been preaching that not only will God’s people go down to utter defeat, but also, that while king Zedekiah will live, he will suffer the indignity of being captured and taken to Babylon as a prisoner of war. I am surprised that the king stopped short of killing Jeremiah.
While in jail, though, Jeremiah hears from God. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, and God said to him, your cousin, Hanamel, is going to come and visit you. He wants to sell you a piece of land. And, as if God himself had spoken these words, Hanamel showed up at the jail! Confirmation is good. Sometimes people purport to hear something that God has said, but really, all that they are doing is listening to themselves. And sometimes they hear really strange things from themselves.
Hanamel, however, says exactly what God has already said: “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.”
According to Hebrew law, it was expected, that when land changed hands, that it should stay in the family. Apparently Hanamel has no heirs, and so Jeremiah, being his cousin, is his next of kin, or in more pleasant terms, his closest relative. So if he wants, Jeremiah can buy the land, and be well within his rights under the law. This is a righteous thing for Jeremiah to do.
Anyone who’s ever bought or sold real estate can probably identify with all of the legal wranglings that Jeremiah and Hanamel went through to officially transfer this property. It’s a very complicated and drawn out process, and Jeremiah feels the need to describe it to us in great detail. He wants us to know that he is truly acting in obedience to God. He really is buying the property, even at a time when no one should be buying or selling.
The most important thing that Jeremiah tells us about this transaction is that both copies of the deed were sealed up in an earthenware jar so that they would last for a long, long time. Jeremiah has his eyes on the future.
In all probability, Jeremiah would never realize any benefit from the purchase of this land. He would be dead before he had the opportunity to actually set foot on it. So, what’s the point? Why did Jeremiah buy the land? Jeremiah bought it because he had hope. He had confidence in the future. In the midst of doom and gloom, and in spite of dire predictions, Jeremiah had hope. In addition to prophesying doom and gloom on the people of God, Jeremiah had also been preaching hope. He had been preaching that God would not ultimately abandon his people. Even though judgment and disaster would inevitably come, the eternal covenant made with Abraham would forever remain alive. And if that covenant was to remain alive, then by necessity, hope must remain alive too.
Jeremiah’s hope was in God. Because of his strong faith in God, Jeremiah could look at his own circumstances and the circumstances of his world in a very different way. In purchasing this land, Jeremiah took a step of faith against the odds. No disaster can take away faith and hope that is founded on God. Faith and hope that is founded on ourselves can evaporate in an instant. We may not be able to predict the future, but we can certainly have confidence in it, if our hope is in God. Jeremiah was convinced that not only would God stay faithful to his people, but he was also willing to put his own confidence in God into action. Jeremiah really did believe, that one day, houses and land and vineyards would again be bought and sold in the land, and that the buying and selling would be done by God’s people in their own restored land. And Jeremiah was right.
In a very real sense, Jeremiah’s purchase took on a sacramental quality. It was a sacramental thing because it was an obedient thing. Jeremiah would never gain any benefit from this land. He would never enjoy it. And so his purchase became a sign and a symbol of a greater reality. That’s what a sacrament is. It adds a holy and sacred significance to something that on the surface, at least, doesn’t seem all that sacred and holy. Think about Welch’s and wafers. What is Welch’s and wafers? Just juice squeezed from a grape; and the wafer? Well…you decide what it is. But neither is much. Until…until it becomes the Lord’s Table. And then it is sacred and holy. The ordinary becomes sacrament in our hearts. Then, an act of hope for the future: until he comes again.
Jeremiah”s purchase of the land became a sacrament. It became a holy thing. It was far more than just a business transaction. It functioned as a sign concerning God’s future intentions for his people. On the surface the purchase appeared to be a foolish thing. It wasn’t very wise, it wasn’t very practical, but it surely was holy.
Can we learn to act sacramentally? Can we grow a hope that is founded on God, and not dependent on our current circumstances? Can we develop a confidence in God’s promised future for us, even if things seem bleak and grim? What foolish, but sacred things are we as a congregation of Christ being called to do to demonstrate to ourselves and to our community that we have faith in God, hope that is genuine, and confidence in the future? These are things that we must ponder in our hearts. And then we must act sacramentally on them.