“Living in Hope”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
September 29, 2019
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
— Jeremiah 32:15i
In the 1994 film, Shawshank Redemption, the protagonist, Andy Dufresne, is convicted of killing his wife and her lover — a crime he did not commit. He is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and sent to Shawshank prison. There he meets “Red” a fellow prisoner who is skilled in smuggling contraband into the prison. Andy’s life appears to be without hope. He becomes instrumental in the prison warden’s money laundering scheme and although his life becomes more tolerable, after 20 some years of incarceration, the audience sees Andy sitting on the edge of his bed with a rope in his hands. You’re left with the sense that Andy will indeed escape this hellish existence by suicide. Instead, Andy ends up using the rope to assist in his escape. The day of his escape he tells his friend, Red, “Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Jeremiah lived in an unsettled time. Babylon’s army was on the move and the land of Judah would soon fall. The destruction would be devastating. The best and the brightest would be taken into captivity. The future was without hope and Jeremiah knew it. His was a lone voice crying in the wilderness warning the nation of what Jeremiah saw as God’s retribution for a society that had lost sight of justice, the plight of the poor and its proper devotion to God. He was cast into prison, thrown into cisterns. The powers of his day wanted him silenced but still he spoke a truth they did not want to hear. We could have forgiven Jeremiah if he had given himself over to despair, if all he saw was impending destruction. In such times of national turmoil, it is hard to cling to a promise that now seems dead.
And you? Have we not all known times in our lives when despair was close at hand? When death came stealing. When our future seemed grim and our finances were unsure. When addiction controlled our lives or the lives of those we love. When we sought to protect those we love from the folly of their own blindness. When love became a perversion and in the name of love, we enabled destructive behavior. Have we not all known times when despair was close at hand?
There is, I suspect, a feeling of resignation, a feeling that the forces of life are allied against us and we feel powerless to effect change. In part, the change we envision is so large, so monumental, that it defeats us before we engage it. How easy it would have been for Andy in Shawshank Redemption, to have felt such resignation. How easy for Jeremiah to preach only impending doom.
But Andy would escape. Jeremiah would buy a field in Anathoth. And Christ would rise. Have we forgotten the hope of our faith? Have we overlooked the power of God? Jesus’ crucifixion saw a curtain torn in two. A sky turned black. Spitting and jeering, women weeping, and the disciples scattered. It was a day when Satan cheered, when the voice of truth was silenced, when power crushed justice and the rain began to fall. Yet Christ would rise. A stone meant to seal His tomb, would be ripped away by the power of God’s unfailing promise, and a day meant to crush hope became known as Good Friday, the day light won against the darkness of despair.
It is so very hard in the midst of darkness to find the light. It is hard when the starkness of the cross confronts us to see the promise of an empty tomb. When all seemed lost and Babylon had breached the walls of rational hope, Jeremiah buys a field in Anathoth and we? We look beyond our present darkness and know that by God’s power even the gates of Hell will be brought low. Remember, then Jeremiah’s purchase of a future hope and live knowing the truth Paul spoke:
that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.1
While it may be hard to see our way through the darkness, our hope is God alone. The Christian rock band Mercy Me, sings a song that captures what I am trying to say:
Our hope, like Jeremiah’s, is in God alone. Rest in that hope and forever see the light that the darkness is not able to put out. Let us pray…
1 Romans 8:38-39
i Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. 2At 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, 3where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.
6 Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: 7Hanamel 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.’ 8Then 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.
9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12and 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. 13In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14Thus 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. 15For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.