“Tenous and Tedious” (Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15)

September 25th, 2022 Sermon @ South Congregational Church UCC

Pittsfield, MA

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

(I started by placing a brick on the pulpit. Yep. A plain old brick.)

On a scale of 1-10 (1 being the lowest and ten being the highest), how would you rate how exciting this brick is?

Hold that thought….

The book of Jeremiah is filled with a lot of prophetic poetry and wisdom, but it all emerges from a horrifying time. One of the reasons Jeremiah is sometimes lifted is because he saw a clear connection between the structural violence against those who were poor and on the margins of society and the disintegration of their world. Violence against the poor was an offense against God that led to God removing God’s protections, and Jeremiah also saw his people’s sufferings as punishment. Those Jeremiah was speaking to were in exile, and day after day, it seemed like one horror after another unfolded. Jeremiah saw ways it could get worse and what it would take for things to get better, and none of it was simple or easy, and, in some cases, it was terrible. When I was here for my candidating sermon, we talked about one of those horrifying biblical texts that named a time Jeremiah led a massacre of hundreds of people. 

In today’s text, Jeremiah is imprisoned by a king during an invasion because of some of his actions and his prophetic words.

We’ve seen many pictures of invasions these days. In the early stages of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we saw pictures of people fleeing with what little they could take as bullets and bombs rained down on them. We saw the panic and exhaustion on people’s faces. We saw visions of horror and loss.

Imagine, if you would, someone in the path of the invading Russian forces deciding that this is the moment to purchase land. Not only that, but imagine someone doing so, not with an expedited process but with the same detailed process they’ve always used. Not only that, but imagine that the person purchasing the land decides to make sure that the process they use is authorized by the Ukrainian government and can only be enforced by the Ukrainian government.

This is the kind of ridiculous thing that we read about in today’s scripture from Jeremiah. In the middle of today’s text is this strangely technical language:

32:9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver.

32:10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales.

32:11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy;

32:12 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 …

It is strangely technical language to describe what, in other times, would be a normal process. But, in this case, it’s taking place during an invasion—honestly, it’s ridiculous.

You’ve heard me say that part of why I wanted to come alongside you in ministry is how you feed people and this new thing you want to try. That remains accurate and will continue to be the heart of whatever we do together. For those who might be visiting today, this church – South Congregational Church – and First Church of Christ – a church just a bit north of here – have decided to consolidate their ministries to form something new.

When you think about it, it’s a little ridiculous:

In the face of declining Christianity

In the face of economic distress

In the face of growing sectarianism

In the face of climate disaster and so much more

You all decided to create a new church.

That’s kinda nuts. 

In the middle of the vital church work of carrying for a mourning family this week and feeding hungry people, I’ve also been signing forms and conversing about how to fix the front steps or set up video broadcasting for services. I’ve been learning which key goes to what.

There have been conversations about bylaws and programming this week between the two congregations. In addition, there have been conversations about financial policies, governance, building usage, and so much more.

In the face of declining Christianity

In the face of economic distress

In the face of growing sectarianism

In the face of climate disaster and so much more

You all decided to create a new church.

That may seem ridiculous. But it’s faithful, too. In the same way Jeremiah bought this property as an investment in the time on the other side of an invasion, building a new church together is an investment in and a commitment to a different future. It might seem ridiculous, but I am convinced that what we will build together might give some of those who, for many good reasons, are leaving churches another place to call home. It might seem ridiculous, but I’m convinced that what we will build together can speak a critical word about the structural violence of poverty and, at the same time, continue to feed people body, mind, and soul. It might seem ridiculous, but I am convinced that what we might build together will become a repentant bridge that can help span the gap between people of various foregrounds and backgrounds. It might seem ridiculous, but I am convinced that what we build together can both serve those most affected by climate disaster and contribute meaningfully to the movement that calls humanity back to investing in a future where our children and our children’s children can thrive in right relationship with the earth. Again, it might seem ridiculous, but I am convinced that this new church, in the middle of the Berkshires, joining with other churches, mosques, temples, and communities of goodwill throughout the world, can help us create a better future than the one we’re facing, now. I don’t say this with a sense of grandiosity or triumphalism, but as a reflection of the faith and hope I’ve seen in each of you.

So, back to the brick. Bricks, by themselves, are kind of boring. But a brick connected to a vision and mission is a stunning and practical commitment to a future that may be even better than we can imagine. 

(I placed the brick on altar)

Over the coming days, we’ll continue having lots of conversations about some of those things in church life that you might consider boring: conversations about bylaws, budgets, financing, governance, etc., etc., etc. We will be asked for our feedback and participation; beloved, it is needed. We’ll be hearing a lot about what might be the vision for this congregation and the mission we’re called to do in the coming weeks, and our honesty and sense of investment in these ideas will be hugely important. Yep, we’ll be talking about what time, money, and other resources may be needed to help us live into this vision and mission, and our honesty and consent about what we can and cannot do will be vitally important, too. All of these conversations might seem as exciting as a brick, but when we start to connect them to a vision and mission… Well…

A brick, by itself, is never exciting. What makes it exciting is what you might build with it. Imagine this boring old brick symbolizes some of the conversations we will have over the coming months. So, on a scale of 1-10, how exciting is this brick now?

Amen.

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