Doing Good In Bad Times!
Doing Good In Bad Times!
We live in trying and troubling times.
This does not surprise you, does it?
We see and hear it day in and day out.
We never know from moment to moment what news of catastrophe we might hear;
whether it be a bombing, a hostage situation, armed conflict, or any other tragedy.
Natural disasters continue to make frequent headlines as thousands are killed in earthquakes,
floods, and similar catastrophes.
We are in the midst of an economic slowdown where we face corporate layoffs and higher prices.
Indeed, the devastation we have seen and experienced have caused more than a few to make predictions
about the time of the cataclysmic Second Coming in spite of their own warnings to take Scripture seriously:
"It is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set..."
There is a lesson we can learn from this.
Let us go back a time long ago.
Let's go back many centuries ago to the year 588 BC.
Let us look at the life of the prophet, Jeremiah, and his times and learn
what he did in difficult times.
He was outspoken, and that got him into trouble.
People did not like things he was saying, so he ended up in jail.
In chapter 32, we read what happened to him while he was in jail.
He bought a piece of real estate: a field at Anathoth, located about a half mile outside
the walls of Jerusalem.
The things done by Jeremiah in this chapter would not be, in themselves, so strange.
Buying a piece of land is not highly unusual.
Remember the times that Jeremiah and his people were facing.
A Babylonian army, Israel's enemy, was stretched out before Jerusalem, ready to conquer the city.
All hope had been lost that they would ever have freedom again.
There was no doubt that many of them would be slaughtered; and survivors would be carried
away into slavery.
And if that wasn't bad enough, Jeremiah was imprisoned.
In chapter 32, we see that what had happened to Jeremiah before happens to him again.
The word of the Lord comes to him and says, "I am going to send you to Hanamel,
who will offer to sell you a field."
Now most of us can probably sympathize with Jeremiah, even though we have not been thrown
into jail or surrounded by Babylonians.
We don't know this cousin of Jeremiah.
But he wants to sell his field.
They were surrounded by Babylonians, so why would anyone want to buy in these desperate times?
So, Jeremiah hears God telling him to buy this piece of property.
So, this powerful force is bearing down on the Israelites; they will certainly be defeated
and carried into captivity.
Jeremiah is sitting in jail with a threat of death over his head.
With all this going on, God says it is time for him to buy a piece of real-estate.
Why would God be asking him to do this?
Why would God want Jeremiah to buy that field?
It is crazy!
Jeremiah has been told to buy this field as an outward demonstration of faith.
- There is nothing to be gained by this transaction.
- There is no promise that in buying the field that the Babylonians would be defeated.
- There is no promise that Jeremiah would be freed from jail.
- There is no promise that there would be a happy ending.
It is a sign of hope.
It is a sign that God is still actively involved and wants to do something as a witness for His people.
This is what God says: "Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies
of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time.
For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Houses, fields and vineyards will
again be bought in this land.'"
To go through the details of buying this piece of property while being faced with the enemy is
an incredibly courageous kind of thing.
It is bold; it is illogical; it is almost ridiculous.
Notice what Jeremiah said, but did not promise.
He didn't say what the people would have like to have heard.
He didn't say, "I'm going to buy this field and the Babylonian army is going to be defeated,
and we'll plant crops in that field next year."
Jeremiah did not speak a word of personal hope.
He didn't say, "I will survive this and will live to see my investment prosper.
And I'm going to make a lot of money on the purchase of this land."
The hope that Jeremiah expressed was more austere than that.
It was the hope that sustains all Christians in dark days.
The hope is not that all things will go well and go our way, but it is the hope that God's purpose
will be accomplished in all things.
It is the hope that says God will not forsake us.
Even though the darkness may descend on us and the enemy may seem to be all about us,
and the the change we are hoping for doesn't seem to be around the corner -- we can lean upon God.
We can depend upon God!
He will be with us even in the darkest nights.
We know that there is a purpose to life.
We know that God has the solution for all our difficulties.
Our hope will enable us to stand even when it seems illogical.
What happens when you and your families go through difficult times?
If you experience life like I do -- it is mountaintops, valleys, and plains -- and some things in between.
There are times of darkness, when close family or friends are mad at you; or the economy closes in
around you and you wonder if you can make it just one more year.
Or you know people who are hurting and you can't foresee any change or possibilities -- divorce occurs,
or people experience cancer, or somebody dies in an automobile accident and you wonder
where is the Word of the Lord?
What do you do through difficult times?
Where is your hope?
If you have the expectation, that darkness will only last for a time, that there will be joy in the morning,
and that indeed there is life in Jesus Christ, then you have a hope, which others in this world
do not understand.
It is this hope, which I believe, we are to witness and invite people to know in Christ.
Most of all, I think that which gives us this "radical, austere" hope is the resurrection.
If it were not for the resurrection, we would not have that sense that God can conquer
even the greatest darkness of death.
This is our greatest hope: that Christ was victorious over death to bring us life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter in 1943.
He was a pastor and theologian who refused to capitulate to Nazism and preached against
the Hitler regime.
And even though it went against his Lutheran training, he finally agreed to become involved
in the plot to assassinate Hitler.
For this, he was imprisoned and condemned to be hanged.
In the midst of all this, he was engaged to be married.
Writing from prison in August of 1943, Bonhoeffer said, "When I also think about
the situation of the world; the complete darkness over our personal fate, then I believe
that our union can only be a sign of God's grace and kindness which calls us to faith.
We would be blind if we did not see it."
Jeremiah says at the moment of his people's greatest need that people will still buy houses
and acres in this land as a sign of the trust of the future.
This is where faith belongs.
May God give it to us daily.
And do I mean the faith which flees the world?
No, the one that endures the world and which loves and remains true to the world in spite of
all the suffering it contains for us.
Our marriage shall be a 'yes'; a sign of hope for the world.
It shall strengthen our courage to act and accomplish something on the earth."
Jeremiah had faith; Bonhoeffer had faith.
They had faith that God was in control.
This led them to do a good thing in a bad time.
It led them to do what seemed to be outrageous in the midst of the darkness around them.
It leads us along the same paths.
We do these crazy things and prepare in the hope that if the world again goes crazy,
we can help keep it together.
Christian hope is not wishful, fanciful thinking; it is not hoping against hope that somehow
things will be different.
Instead, it is the act of placing our future, and the future of other generations,
in the hands of the Living God.
The refrain of one of our popular hymns is this:
"Faith is the victory!
Faith is the victory!
Oh, glorious victory,
That overcomes the world."
May it be that way for us, and may we find what it is for us that can be a light in our darkness.
Sermon by Dr. Harold White