Even In The Worst Of Times

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15  – The 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for September 29, 2013

“Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours…” (Jeremiah 32:7)

babylonian_empireHad the prophet Jeremiah scribed a memoir, it could’ve been entitled, In The Worst Of Times.

2,600 years ago, give or take a century, the power-hungry and land-greedy Babylonians attacked the Israelites. Jerusalem was besieged. The expansion of an empire would again wreck havoc with the “chosen people.” And did they wonder . . . chosen for what? Misery? Calamity? Insecurity? Being a doormat for the newest despot scheming to conquer more people and claim more property?

In Jeremiah’s time, the folks on the streets of Jerusalem might mumble about the greatness of the past. Remember King David! How ’bout that Exodus . . . that Moses sure was a humdinger! Or they might look at the present, and in the fine universal tradition of the ostrich, stick their heads in the sand of the “Promised Land” and think this present moment isn’t so bad. Maybe the Babylonians will get bored and brandish their weaponry elsewhere. Maybe God will smite the damn foreigners. Or maybe the fine citizens of Jerusalem will get used to being under siege and, as long as there’s bread to eat, water to drink and the trains run on time, today won’t be that bad.

Relive the past.

Rationalize the present.

How could any imagine a future . . . a future with hope, and without heartache, a future with dreams, and without dread? And so it would be—according to scripture—that Hanamel son of Jeremiah’s uncle Shallum would approach Jeremiah, currently held captive in the palace of the King of Judah, and the prophet would boldly buy . . .

Stop. Wait! I refuse to quickly reveal Jeremiah’s symbolic and optimistic gesture (which you could read for yourself, anyway).

How easy as a believer, as a writer or preacher or teacher, to dash through a passage like Jeremiah’s thirty-second chapter. In a smattering of words, the reader will get to the good stuff, to the place where in the darkest days—in the worst of times—everything will work out in the future. It will. It will. It will.

But in August, I sat beside my dying mother’s hospital bed and listened to her harsh breathing for minutes and hours, for sunrises and sunsets, and there were many times where I felt no future. No presence of God. Hope had left the room. Dreams were for those without restless nights.

Not so long ago, the literary agent who had once eagerly desired to represent my work, who had declared she’d help me find a publisher, emailed to say she longer wanted me as a client. Hope was snatched away. Dreams fizzled. The future was flicked away as if lint on a suit.

I could rehash my divorce, my time of another pastor lying about me and me having to leave a church, about Dad’s grinding dementia, about my aging body that aches, about . . .

How many times in my life has the future seemed futile?

And my times are nothing. I, once divorced, with both parents now deceased, with thirty years of steady writing and little to show for it, have actually lead a charmed life.

I am not a Newtown, Connecticut parent dreading this coming (and every) December.

I am not a surviving spouse that hears my beloved’s name read every September 11.

I am not a Palestinian child scampering in streets with Israeli soldiers holding automatic weapons.

I did not lose my house because of a storm named Sandy or a Mississippi levee breaking or a tsunami unleashing a nuclear reactor’s half-life horror or an Oklahoma EF5 tornado gutting my town.

I am a white guy, middle-class, college-educated, with a nearly paid-off mortgage, health insurance and a pension plan. My life’s been swell, compared to nearly everyone else, anywhere else. Indeed, it doesn’t take much to convince me I’m far happier than Donald Trump (I used him as an example because I think he’s such a jerk, even though he apparently is rich), Barry Bonds (I used him as an example because I’m a San Francisco Giants fan and his steroid stupidity still irks and embarrasses me) or any winner of any lottery.

In my worst of times, I always feel like I have a future. Except the times I don’t.

I warily finished reading Jeremiah’s passage, glimpsing of God’s odd glory. Jeremiah, so claimed scripture, bought a slice of real estate “at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.” It was north of Jerusalem, his family’s land, and—let’s face it—it was soon to or had already vanished into the Babylonian’s voracious empire like a grain of salt added to stew. Jeremiah was the crazy fool, tossing away good money on land controlled by an “evil empire.” But Jeremiah was also the faithful fool, trusting God’s future, putting a down payment on hope. On dreams.

Maybe that’s why I keep reading the Bible. It’s honest, as a history lesson, as troubling metaphor, when it acknowledged the worst times. The Bible doesn’t shy away from depicting Noah on the days after finding dry land, when he was more wet, er drunk, than dry. Or King David blubbering over his slain son, or Mary concluding Jesus was the gardener and not the risen Christ, or Paul pawing dirt on the road to Damascus, blind and helpless.

And yet God whispers to a prophet, to even me or you, and invites a hopeful look from the present toward the future . . . even in the worst of times.

From one of my favorite children's books . . .
From one of my favorite children’s books . . .

Map from here.

Book image from here.

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  1. Yeeessss! I hear you. Beside me as I write, (actually in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet) lies one of the best novels written in this century moldering away in its nest of rejection slips. Ah well. Once divorced , a son buried, and all the others ills that a life brings … Your writing has been more important to me than the vast majority of authors I slogged through on the way to three degrees. keep on truckin’.

    1. Hey Mickey!

      Nothing like being in the club of writers with rejected novels in the dark corner of a file cabinet!

      Thanks for your kind words. We may be rejected, but not too . . . dejected?!

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