“When All Seems Hopeless”


Pentecost 19

September 25, 2016

 

Text:  Jeremiah 32:1-15


 

    Is it just me, or does there seem to be a real shortage of hope in our world these days?  Please turn to another person and talk about the evidence you see of a lack of hope in the world.  Go!

(allow about 2 minutes for people to talk, then bring group back together and invite anyone to share their thoughts)

I see a lack of hope in the following ways:

  • A badly polarized electorate, and a lack of candidates for public office who seem to be worth electing.

  • A society that seems all too willing to resort to violence, both to exercise control and to seek redress for grievances.

  • Lack of willingness to take responsibility when things go wrong, and too much willingness to blame others.

  • Little tolerance for disagreement, coupled with people becoming offended very easily.

  • Churches everywhere are struggling with reduced participation, less giving, and in many cases low morale.

    In those circumstances, things can seem pretty hopeless.

    The prophet Jeremiah was active in a time when hope was often hard to come by--the years preceding and following the conquest of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonian Empire in 587 BC.  Today’s Scripture from Jeremiah comes from the time just before Jerusalem fell, when Zedekiah was king of Judah.  Zedekiah, although a descendant of King David, was merely a puppet king who ruled at Babylon’s pleasure.  At the time our Scripture from Jeremiah tells about, Zedekiah was considering waging a war of rebellion against Babylon in an attempt to regain full independence.  Jeremiah had spoken on behalf of the Lord, saying that if Zedekiah tried to rebel against Babylon, he would be captured by the Babylonians, brought before the king of Babylon, and carried off to Babylon as a prisoner for the rest of his life.  

    I am sure it seemed to Zedekiah that Jeremiah’s message was one of hopelessness.  So he confronted Jeremiah, demanding why he prophesied in that way.  Never mind that what Jeremiah said was from God--Zedekiah didn’t seem to care much about that.  His mind was made up, and he wasn’t interested in hearing that God might have different plans in mind.  I suspect he also thought Jeremiah’s message might negatively impact the morale of his soldiers as they prepared to fight the Babylonians.

    Jeremiah never answered Zedekiah’s question of why he prophesied as he did.  Instead, he offered another prophetic word. God had told Jeremiah that his cousin Hanamel was coming to see him, and would ask Jeremiah to buy his field in Anathoth, since under the rules of the time, in which land was expected to stay in a family forever, Jeremiah was next in line to buy it.  Hanamel showed up and asked Jeremiah to buy it, which he did.  He instructed that the deed be placed in a clay jar where it would be safe for a long time, declaring that the Lord had said, “Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”

    On its face, this must have seemed a foolish act.  Why would one buy a piece of property knowing full well the land was about to be conquered by a foreign invader?  But the point of this act was to assure to Zedekiah and the people that although things were bad and about to get worse, God had not given up on his people, and one day they would be restored to their land.  There is still hope.

Zedekiah seems to have missed the point of Jeremiah’s message.  He did not listen to Jeremiah.  He started a revolt against the Babylonians, and what Jeremiah said would happen did happen.

Where do you find hope?  Once again, turn to another person and share your thoughts on this question.  Go!

(allow about 2 minutes for people to talk, then bring group back together and invite anyone to share their thoughts)

    Where do we place our hope?  Too often we put it in the wrong places.  Zedekiah put his hope in his army, even though against the Babylonians they must have been horribly outnumbered.  In our time we often put our hope in our wealth, our weaponry, our intelligence, or our character.  But all of these things can and often do fail us.  Our ultimate hope is in God alone.  Maybe Zedekiah thought God was going to get him through the crisis at hand, even though Zedekiah refused to listen to God’s spokesperson Jeremiah, and even though Zedekiah is reported to have not lived in faithful obedience to God’s commandments.  But when Jeremiah prophesied that “houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land” he was not talking about the near future.  He was speaking of a more distant time.  First God’s people were being required to go through a period of failure and defeat.

    Could this be what we are also dealing with?  Is the church today also being required to go through a period of failure and defeat in order to accomplish God’s purposes in the long run?  I don’t know.  I do believe it  is possible.  One thing I am convinced of--our hope is in God.  It is not in our human devices, our schemes or programs, nor our ability to influence the larger world.  God is at work in the world, whether through us or in spite of us--and I have found over the years that many times God does his best work in spite of me.  My job (and yours) is to join in on what God is doing.  May God help us to trust in him and be faithful.  Amen.

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