To assist you in keeping up with the backstory of our upcoming sermon series on Jeremiah, the pastors are going to take turns writing weekly Text Messages. You can find them in both the Tuesday and Saturday emails. The goal is to give you some background on that section of Jeremiah and also to give you a few hints of where the sermon might be going. We hope you’ll find the Text Messages helpful as we dive into this complicated book and as we listen for ways that God continues to offer help and hope during turbulent times.
June 12 – Jeremiah 1:1-12
June 19 – Jeremiah 7:1-11
June 26 – Jeremiah 18:1-6
July 3 – Jeremiah 29:1,4-14
July 10 – Jeremiah 32:6-15
July 17 – Jeremiah 31:31-34
July 10 – Jeremiah 32:6-15
Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel 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.’ Then 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.
“And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and 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. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus 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. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
REFLECTION FROM PASTOR VERN
Three times in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet is commanded by God (Yahweh) to make a purchase. Each of these purchases function symbolically, helping to tell the story of the people of Judah, and particularly of the rupture between God and God’s people.
In Chapter 13, Jeremiah is commanded to buy a linen cloth and place it in the cleft of a rock. When he returns later, the cloth is tattered, much like the people of Judah and Jerusalem are tattered. In Chapter 16, Jeremiah is commanded to buy a clay pot. The prophet then smashes the pot, demonstrating that the Lord will break this city and its people.
Now, in Chapter 32, Jeremiah is commanded to buy a field in Anathoth, his hometown. Unlike the linen cloth and the clay pot, however, this purchase carries with it a promise for the future. Buying the land and burying the deed signals hope for God’s people. The container in which it is stored will endure. Once again they will be a nation in which land is bought and sold.
God’s people had been in the Promised Land for a long time. They had established deep roots. When they return from Babylon, they will be called to renew their commitment to the Covenant. One of the challenges will be to return the land to its rightful owners. The process is spelled out in Leviticus 25:24-25. To prevent the loss of family property, Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel offers to sell his share of the land to Jeremiah. As the next of kin, Jeremiah “redeems” the land and thus it stays in the family.
- Have you ever seen or heard of farm families struggling with passing on the land to the next generation?
- How serious a matter was it for the people of Israel to break the Covenant?
- Do you find Jeremiah’s words or his deeds more compelling?
July 3 – Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.
For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
REFLECTION FROM PASTOR KRIS
There were three foreign empires that loomed large for biblical people in the millennium BCE. First came the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, followed by the Persians. Each one was more dominant and threatening than the last.
By the time Jeremiah writes the above, Babylon has conquered Assyria and has destroyed Jerusalem, as well. Jerusalem’s most prominent citizens have been carried off to live in exile hundreds of miles from home, while the poorest people have been left behind in a state of confusion amid the ruin.
It’s a devastating moment. People have been ripped away from all that feels normal and forced to live in an unfamiliar, foreign place. Their only desire is to go back home. What’s more, the overwhelming feeling is righteous anger. They want justice now. Jeremiah’s words are therefore disorienting: Plant gardens, and wait for the harvest? Take time to build houses (with what resources)? Find spouses for ourselves and our children? It’s time to settle in, Jeremiah says. God has not forgotten you, but it’s going to be a long, long time before you’re on the way home again. What does hope look like when a promise can’t be seen, only imagined? How does hope stay alive when the wait is long?
But even more stunning is Jeremiah’s appeal to pray for the peace and wholeness of this place, of these people. He’s telling the exiles to pray for their enemy…for in their enemy’s well-being, they’ll find their own well-being. The message is as unexpected as Jesus’ call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Hearing from Jeremiah is a bit like going to the doctor’s or the tax preparer’s office and hearing, “I have some good news and some bad news.” The bad news seems to outweigh the good. And yet, the promise is that God is for us. God knows all about us and loves us anyway, promises to be found by us when we go looking, and assures us of a future with hope.
- Where do you see communities or individuals living with hope that’s distinctive from optimism? What do you think is the basis for that hope?
- What would it look like for justice to be achieved without winners and losers?
June 26 – Jeremiah 18:1-6
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
REFLECTION FROM PASTOR META
Perhaps God knows Jeremiah to be a visual learner. The Word is often accompanied by an image, vision, or scene to help Jeremiah and the people of Judah remember what God has to say in turbulent times. In this passage, Jeremiah is instructed to visit a potter’s shed, to watch the relationship between hands that guide and clay formed into good use.
My college roommate was (and is) a potter who would lose track of time in the basement of the art building. I’d find her for dinner hunched over the wheel humming to the music on her headphones, a ballad to the clay underneath her fingertips. Some things about her work required muscle and force – hauling blocks of clay for cutting, kneeling the air bubbles out of the clay, dragging open the large kiln doors – but whenever I found her sitting at the wheel, it was tender. She seemed to be in conversation with the clay and its own agency. I was watching a relationship between potter and clay, not a task that needed to be completed on a schedule or a maker who needed the elements to submit to her will. And so there was no telling how much longer she’d be in the basement of that building. Their dance would not be rushed and neither would dinner.
When I picture the potter at the wheel in Jeremiah, I picture them covered in clay just like Sarah – splatters on their pants and smudges on their face. Sure, the potter works the clay. But the clay marks the potter, too.
- The potter can keep working the clay until it goes to the kiln and a little sponge with water can keep the process malleable. Do the waters of baptism keep moving and shaping you and your relationship with God? How so?
- Sarah says if you shove or force the clay, it will lose its center and fall apart. How do you experience God guiding and centering you in your becoming?
June 19 – Jeremiah 7: 1-11
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.
Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.
REFLECTION FROM PASTOR HEATHER
If you have not read the first text message, check it out below. I love the way Pastor Vern describes Jeremiah as a budding prophet. By the time we get to chapter 7 in the book of Jeremiah, he is about 5 years into his ministry. He is not so budding anymore, but what modern-day scholars call the “doomsday” prophet.
In this text, Jeremiah is calling out the people in the temple for being hypocrites. People come to the temple crying out “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” And then they turn around and kill, lie, cheat, and steal their way through life. God calls them a “den of robbers.” Between Jeremiah and Jesus, I don’t think much changed. If you remember, Jesus cleanses the temple, expelling the merchants and consumers of the temple, and calling them a “den of robbers.”
So I have to wonder here, has anything really changed? Are there parishioners who come into the dwelling house of God, and say “This is the church of the Lord, the church of the Lord, the church of the Lord!” and then turn around and not welcome the stranger? Maybe they refused the orphan, or turned away from a widow, or followed the god of money, power, or greed?
But here is the thing with God. Even in the midst of this showdown between Jeremiah and the temple people, they are given a reminder to repent in their ways and their doings. Jeremiah is pointing out that saying “you go to temple” or “you go to church” is great, but what God really wants is your faithfulness and your repentance. God here is acknowledging your humanness, not a need to be perfect. Jeremiah reminds the people that God cares about how you live your life, that God cares about how you treat others, and that God cares about you – enough to offer you over and over again a chance to repent each day.
- How do you remain faithful to God?
- How do you seek out forgiveness from God and from others?
June 12 – Jeremiah 1:1-12 – Appointed for Change
Jeremiah was being called to an incredibly tough assignment. He was to go to the people of Israel with a hard-edged message from God (whom Israel called Yahweh). And he was to do this during the most turbulent time in the nation’s history. Jeremiah could have easily come up with excuses: he was from the small town of Anathoth; he was hardly older than a boy; his work would involve confronting three powerful kings of Judah – who may or may not want to listen to anything he had to say. Yet, amazingly Jeremiah came to believe God was speaking to him in that moment, and God would speak through him to others, and thus he took it to heart. Little did Jeremiah know that this calling would lead to 40 years of often demanding and thankless prophetic ministry.
Jeremiah 1:1-12 (NRSV)
The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a branch of an almond tree.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.’
REFLECTION FROM PASTOR VERN
As we begin to explore various passages from Jeremiah, it might be helpful to remind ourselves of the role of a biblical prophet. We often think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future. And there was a little of that in Jeremiah’s preaching. But his work was much more a forth-telling of how God felt about Israel’s (and the king’s) actions and how it might inevitably lead to unintended consequences. Again, the prophetic word was less a prediction and more a projection – turn away from Yahweh and the Covenant, serve other gods, and bad things are bound to come.
We can feel the hesitation in Jeremiah’s initial response. If you’ve ever wondered if you were the right person to take on a certain job, the bigger and harder the assignment, the more you might have hesitated too. In Jeremiah’s case, we can imagine pushback at almost every turn. And perhaps self-doubt: Would they question if I am a prophet? Would they believe this was actually a word from God? Would they be willing to repent and turn back to Yahweh?
For Jeremiah, this moment of divine illumination would prove to be a decisive turning point in his life. Like a potter takes a newly formed vessel from the wheel, so God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Indeed, Jeremiah was “consecrated” or set apart for this distinctive work. He might have hesitated, but the Potter persisted, at least symbolically, touching Jeremiah’s mouth and saying, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” It was time for Jeremiah to get ready. He would pluck up and pull down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant. Little did this budding prophet know just how powerful words – and especially God’s words – can be.
- When was a time you hesitated before an assignment?
- Does God continue to speak prophetically today? And if so, through whom?