“the field of anathoth”
A sermon preached
New UK Cities version of Monopoly,
“I bought the field at Anathoth” (Jer 32:9)
A strange story set 600 years before Christ,
prophet Jeremiah is living in Jerusalem.
For 20 years or more he has been prophesying fearlessly
against the King & the people,
predicting disaster unless they mend their evil ways.
Finally the King loses patience and throws Jeremiah into gaol.
Jeremiah has I suppose something in common with
the Buddhist monks of Burma this week –
a fearless holy man, imprisoned by a ruthless regime
which ultimately will not tolerate criticism or opposition.
find Jeremiah in a Jerusalem gaol, whilst ironically,
outside the prison gates all his prophecies are coming true.
nation of Judah is on the point of final collapse –
the enemy armies are literally at the gates of the city.
It is just a matter of time before the people are killed or exiled.
point Jeremiah is approached by his uncle or cousin Hanamel
Hanamel like Jeremiah comes from the village of Anathoth,
a few miles north of Jerusalem.
Anathoth has already been overrun by the enemy.
Hanamel has land there and he wants rid of it.
you need to know is that in OT Israel
you couldn’t just sell land as and when you felt like it –
there were all sorts of complicated rules and regs
which there isn’t time to go into today –
if you’re a lawyer or an estate agent and you’re interested,
its all there in Leviticus 25 –
But the bottom line was that if you wanted to sell land,
you had to offer it first to other family members.
So Hanamel ever optimistic,
sends a message to Jeremiah in prison and says
“I want to sell my field – you are my cousin – why don’t you buy it?”
didn’t need to be a financial pundit or a Wall St analyst
to make a decision on that one –
the field in Anathoth was already in the hands of the Babylonian army,
who weren’t likely to give it back -
and its market value was as near nil as made no difference.
Yet what does Jeremiah do?
He agrees to buy the field
what’s more, he doesn’t haggle about the price –
he pays the full whack –
more, he goes to a great deal of trouble
to get the deal properly signed and sealed and witnessed,
and deposited in an earthenware jar –
the ancient equivalent of a safe deposit box.
So - what is Jeremiah playing at?
doesn’t he just go out and buy an office block in central Bagdad
and a few thousand shares in Northern Rock whilst he’s at it?
Why does he buy this duff field?
says Jeremiah, it’s like this:
God has told me that one day
“houses & fields & vineyards will again be bought in this land” (v.15)
words, Jeremiah’s purchase is a declaration of faith –
He is saying – and this is really the key point -
I believe in the promises and faithfulness of God,
even in the midst of apparently total & irredeemable disaster.
And I believe so much in God’s ultimate victory,
that I will live my life,
and make my decisions on that basis and no other.
Not a bad
rule of life at the start of your University career –
or indeed at any other time.
I see that a new version of the board game Monopoly
has been launched this week.
London streets have been replaced by British towns and cities.
As an ex-Liverpudlian, I regret to say
that the least desirable properties on the board
(formerly Whitechapel and the Old Kent Road)
are now represented by Leeds and Liverpool.
At the other end, the most desirable locations
(replacing Mayfair and Park Lane) are –
wait for it - St Albans and Exeter.
Exeter and Jeremiah’s Jerusalem
may not have much in common
as far as property prices are concerned.
But our passage
of course isn’t really about property values –
it is about how we respond to disaster and despair.
And even the residents of rich and affluent cities –
sometimes especially the residents of rich and affluent cities –
are not exempt from disaster and despair.
I guess most if not all of us can
think of those times in our lives
when everything seemed to have gone wrong -
times when we felt like we are in prison and the enemy is at the gates.
might pause to review your life – think of that point
(past or maybe present) which represents your darkest hour.
I wonder what you are thinking of?
a relationship gone sour, a humiliation, a shattered dream,
a job you hate, no job at all,
something to do with your health, your friends or lack of them.
Maybe your move to Exeter wishing you were back home!
Or maybe the death of a loved one or fear of your own death
Or simply losing a sense of purpose, wondering what life is about…?
None of us is immune to crisis and despair and disaster
And to all of us at such times
Jeremiah says: Buy a field in Anathoth!”
Trust God even in the face of the greatest disaster.
Even if we lose faith in God, He will keep faith with us…
[Note, God does not promise quick and easy fixes
tomorrow or even the day after –
God didn’t promise Jeremiah that the King of Babylon would pack up,
go home and attack someone else instead – quite the reverse –
Jeremiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were captured and exiled to Babylon –
he was never to see Anathoth again.
But that is why he needed the earthenware jar
to keep the documentation safe – His was a long term trust in God,
which went way beyond his own personal lifetime on earth.]
So – if your personal world is in
Jeremiah says “Trust in God – he is faithful.”
of you know, our family has been coming to terms
these past couple of weeks with the death of my son’s wife
at the age of only 30 –
and coping with crisis and disaster has been very much on my mind.
like these, there are no glib answers –
but I find comfort in Jeremiah standing in the ruins of Jerusalem,
when all seemed broken & lost & pointless –
looking up and saying
“God will be faithful – the city will be rebuilt,
and even if I and my loved ones die by the waters of Babylon,
yet still shall the day shall come
when again they shall gather in the harvest at Anathoth,
and God will have the victory!”
us were here on Friday for Margaret Pearson’s funeral
and sang again “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my father”
Jeremiah says - Whatever the disaster, God remains true
song reminded us earlier in the service,
we may sometimes be trapped by our fears –
but God will ultimately give us wings to rise up and fly
given our technological power as a human race,
the ultimate disaster is now more than my death or yours,
more than the defeat and annihilation of this nation or that –
it is nothing less than the destruction of the planet
and the annihilation of life.
The King of Babylon is indeed at the gates –
and he carries with him a nuclear arsenal
and an environmental time-bomb.
As Christians, how do we respond to that?
Is it the
ultimate and unthinkable defeat?
or will our God yet be faithful even if
we wipe all life off the world which he gave to us?
answer is simple –
if we really believe in God’s love and power, nothing -
not even my death or yours,
nor the four horsemen of the apocalypse,
nor the very gates of hell itself,
shall prevail against God’s love & power.
So what’s all this
mean for us today?
Well, it means never despair –
and it also means “buy a field in Anathoth”!
Which is to say,
live our lives now
as though God’s kingdom had already come!
Live by Kingdom values –
invest in love and peace and justice and hope –
even when the worldly wise scoff
at our idealism and foolhardiness.
And yes we will sometimes get trampled on ,
and yes we may end up in shackles in exile,
and yes we and our loved ones may die ,
and yes the whole world may yet be destroyed –
And yet – those hopes and values
by which we have lived
are those which shall prevail,
and though the whole of my world may shatter and die,
yet the City of God remaineth -
and beyond the walls of the Heavenly Jerusalem,
the fields of Anathoth shall yet bear eternal harvest.
ORDER OF SERVICE
30 Sept 2007 10.30 a.m. Worship led by Rev Andrew Sails
Minister: Let us share God’s blessing:
Adults: The peace of the Lord be with you
Young Church: And also with you.
Minister: Go in peace
(Young Church leave)
Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 (p.793)
Song: “Rise up to be free”
Trevor Jones, Harriet Jones and Nancy Day
Reading: Matthew 6:19-33 (p.971)
Hymn 571 “Sometimes a light surprises”
Sermon: “The Field at Anathoth”
Hymn “Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided”
[Timothy Dudley-Smith NHWS 204]
Prayers and Lord’s Prayer
Leader: ……..Lord , hear us
People: Through our lives & by our prayers, your Kingdom come
Hymn 238 “I cannot tell”
Organ Voluntary: Toccata and Fugue in D – Max Reger