September 29, 2013
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
So there is a rich man, in a gated community, wearing the clothes of the wealthy and the powerful, who feasted sumptuously. Outside the gate, Lazarus begs and starves.
Jesus is using a parable. This is not a history lesson, nor a biography, nor is it a metaphysical tour of heaven and hell. It is a story told to make us think.
The point is plain: the rich man never lifted a finger to help the poor man, so when their fortunes are reversed in the afterlife, Lazarus is unable to even dip his finger in the water to quench the anonymous rich man’s terrible thirst.
“Send someone to tell my brothers
so they will not suffer as I now suffer!”
Apparently ignoring the poor is a family trait.
“They have Moses and the prophets;
let them hear them.”
“No, father Abraham;
but if some one goes to them from the dead,
they will repent.”
“If they do not hear Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be convinced if some one
should rise from the dead.”
This is the dark humor of the Gospel. Let your brothers listen to the Torah and the prophets, for this word of taking care of the poor and the needy has not changed since Moses brought the commandments down from Sinai. By the time of the writing of the Gospel, God has indeed sent one back from the dead, and still the rich and powerful did not listen.
To be sure, this is a cautionary tale. This story is about where those who follow Jesus stake our claim. Do we hope to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by securing our future with gates and security systems and enough vigilance and anxiety and money? (Strangely, no one has shown me yet how much money one has to have to stop worrying. I usually see those with more money being more worried.)
Or do we stake our claim in the Gospel, in the love of God, in the example of Jesus, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?
Jeremiah stakes his claim with God. Jerusalem is under siege, and Jeremiah is in prison. And here, a word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is going to exercise the right of redemption and purchase a field. This makes no sense. The land is overrun by invaders, and Israelites being carted off to exile. This field is worthless.
Nor is Jeremiah purchasing at foreclosure prices because the bottom fell out of the market. As Anthony B. Robinson puts it, Jeremiah is buying in one of the sections of Detroit where the police and the fire trucks no longer go. And he is not paying current market prices. He is paying pre-recession prices.
Nor is he doing this quietly. He is signing the paperwork on the pitcher’s mound of Comerica Park during a Tigers’ game. He is putting both the the deed and title in a safe deposit box on the 50 yard line of Ford Field during the 2 minute warning pause at the end of a close Lions’ game. Everyone will know what he has done.
He is publicly staking his claim on the belief that what now looks desolate and worthless will be restored by God. He is publically staking his claim that God will redeem the lost, remember the forgotten, and lift up the fallen, that God loves the poor, the Lazarus at the gate, the one walked past by everyone on their way to something important.
This is no more a popular message today than it was 2000 years ago in Jesus’ day, or 2,600 years ago in Jeremiah’s time. Somewhere along the way, the prophet became its sillier cousin the jester. One of our finest jesters today is Stephen Colbert, who plays a political pundit on a satiric news show. He recently said of American religiosity:
If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor,
either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are,
or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love
the poor and serve the needy without condition and then
admit that we just don’t want to do it.
He gets away with this because he is a comedian. After all, he’s just joking, right? Surely no preacher could get away with saying such a thing, could they?
While the Gospel and the prophet are speaking about money, they are speaking about so much more. They are speaking about the power of God to make all things new.
Jeremiah and Jesus show us that our God is a God who is closest to us in our pain, in our hunger, in our brokenness, in our thirst, in our deep longing for justice and in our yearning for wholeness and healing.
But we hate hunger, and thirst, and pain, and brokenness, and worry, so we do everything we can to avoid looking at the very places God can be most easily seen.
We go elsewhere. We go to the professionals, to the escape hatches, to anything that will provide an alternative, hoping that somehow, some way, somewhere beyond our hunger, our pain, our brokenness, our worry, God might reach down a mighty arm and a victorious hand and take these things from us.
But God is often closest to us in the very things we deny and reject.
We who would follow Jesus stake our claim at the cross. Jesus came as the word of God made flesh. And flesh is messy. It is precisely in our moments of messiness that we can see resurrection. It is in our moments of fragile humanness that we are most open to grace. It is in these moments that we discover again that we are in the arms of the God who makes all things new.
To the rich and the powerful and the wise, this is foolishness. But to us who are being saved, this is the word of God using our very foolishness to show what true power and true love and true wholeness are.
Thanks be to God.