Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Spectator

Meet Princess.

The Big Garage Sale

The big annual garage sale is today. This successful event raises much needed money for the church and its mission. If you happen to be in Portland, Texas, stop by First Presbyterian Church for some sweet deals!

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I'm pleased to report that the Presbytery of San Francisco's Committee on Preparation for Ministry has certified me to accept a call. The certification became official as of about 12:00 noon, yesterday.

This most happy news finally puts me on the same page with my spouse, Sara, who was certified by her presbytery last December.

Whoo hoo!

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Title of Hope

A Title of Hope
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
September 30, 2007
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: This is a sermon about God’s faithfulness and our hope for the future. This isn’t an empty vain hope of human presumption. This is a hope in God’s faithfulness that has been fully and completely revealed to us in Jesus the Christ.

Sermon Function: To teach others that we can live out our hope for the future by making choices that conform to their status of disciples of Jesus Christ. How do we live out the hope we have in Jesus Christ?

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


Those of you who remember last week’s sermon will remember that we talked about Jeremiah’s lament for the fate of Jerusalem and his people. Today’s sermon is about faithfulness toward us, even when we’re not faithful, and about how we express our hope for the future.

Jeremiah exemplifies his hope through the completion of a real estate transaction, which seems very appropriate for today, given the recent disturbances in the home mortgage, real estate, and home building businesses.

Let’s listen now for God’s word.

[Read Scripture - Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15]

Introductory Illustration

The big story on the front page of my Wall Street Journal has been pretty consistent for the past several months, and it’s been front and center even in local news broadcasts – in the midst of some pretty significant economic growth and low unemployment, real estate markets been hit pretty hard over the past year. We seem to be moving from a sellers market to a buyers market. Home prices in many places across the country have been falling. Banks and other lending institutions have been struggling with a growing number of mortgages in default in the so-called “sub-prime” market. Other financial institutions are suffering from plain-old financial mismanagement, offering cheap money and making the bet that interest rates would stay at all time lows. Banks were making loans to people who could not pay, and people were taking out loans for significantly more than they could afford. The result has been a credit crunch, making all kinds of borrowing more difficult for both homebuyers and even for corporate financial managers. The crunch has introduced a big, fat question mark into what has been a series of plus signs and exclamation points about the state of our national economy.

The purchase of a parcel of land or a home is a big deal in the lives of most of us. Anyone who has negotiated such a purchase knows the stakes. Even in the best of times, there is risk associated with buying a home. Risks associated with one’s job. Will I have the same job for the next 30 years? Will my salary go up, so that I can continue to afford my mortgage payment while starting a new family? Lots of assumptions go into the purchase of a home. Sometimes these assumptions pan out. Sometimes they do not.

And here we are today talking about Jeremiah and his purchase of a piece of land. The economic situation in Jerusalem, I will declare with some confidence, is much worse that the major hiccup we’ve seen in our contemporary mortgage markets.

In Jail, Under Siege, Predicts the King Will Be Exiled

To begin with, the buyer in question, Jeremiah, is in what we might call a form of house arrest.1 Jeremiah was
“Confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, “Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the LORD: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it.” (Jer 32:2-3 NRSV)
King Zedekiah is leading a land under siege by the Babylonian army. As we can imagine, he’s none too pleased with Jeremiah’s bold statements that the kingdom of Judah, and its King, would be handed over by God to the Babylonians. In order to keep Jeremiah for eroding further the morale of the people, Zedekiah had Jeremiah confined to the court of the guard, right in the palace.

Many biblical scholars place this story right at 587 B.C., a good date for all of us to remember, because it is the date of the destruction of God’s house in Jerusalem, the temple. The siege itself would have been horrible. No one would have been able to enter or leave the city. Supplies would have been cut off. Water would be scarce or non-existent. The prospect of starvation and death by thirst was a very real possibility.

In this midst of arrest, siege and possible starvation, and the prophetic knowledge that God will be sending the Judah’s king into the hands of the Babylonian enemy, Jeremiah hears a word from the Lord:
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. (Jer 32:7-8 NRSV)
In the middle of all of this chaos and possible death, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah and announces that his relative will be coming over to conduct a business transaction involving real estate! The place where the land is located, Anathoth, was about three miles northeast of Jerusalem. The communication from Hanamel that affirmed God’s word to Jeremiah most likely came at a time when the Babylonian siege was temporarily interrupted by the presence of Egyptian forces. Communications might have been temporarily possible, and families struggling survive would be looking perhaps to make just such a transaction. In this case, Hanamel’s offer comes to Jeremiah in accordance with the rules set out in scripture, Leviticus 25:23-25. The land was considered to be God’s possession, so the right of “redemption” required that when a family experienced some kind of hardship, “the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold” (Lev 25:25 NRSV). In this way, the land, ultimately the possession of God, was retained within the nation of Israel and God’s chosen people. Given the law, Jeremiah must have been the one in the family who was willing to consider making the transaction in a time of tremendous uncertainty and fear.2

Revealing a Faith that Is Real

Jeremiah buys the land. The agreed upon price is weighed on the scales. Two copies of the purchase deed are created, and both are signed by the necessary number of witnesses and by everyone else who was sitting in the court of the guard with Jeremiah. The first, “sealed” deed would be the official copy for posterity. The unsealed copy was for administrative, day-to-day purposes. Jeremiah charges his scribe, Baruch, to take both copies and put them into an earthenware jar, so that they might last for a “long time.”

Jeremiah is making several big points here about God and our future hope.

First, the history of the people of Israel is tied very closely to the land. The land has a tremendous theological significance because it was the land of milk and honey that was promised by God to the people of Moses. With the knowledge that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians, Jeremiah is making the theological point that God is steadfast in his promises. “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (Jer 32:15 NRSV).

Second, Jeremiah’s future hope was grounded in a very practical way – in the consummation of an otherwise ordinary real estate transaction. By putting the deeds into a container that will last, Jeremiah is making it pretty clear that his hope extends all the way to final deliverance, at the end, when his prophetic statement is fully realized.

I believe that what Jeremiah is saying is this: God is steadfast and God is faithful. He’s doesn’t just jettison his people when they are disobedient. God’s judgment might come upon us, but despite our constant faithlessness, God remains faithful. God always fulfills his end of the covenant agreement, even if we do not. And this faithfulness reveals a truth that God loves us and seeks to be with us. This is the basic truth that Jeremiah is proclaiming with his purchase of the land.

This faith becomes a concrete expression of hope when Jeremiah makes the financial commitment for the future. He’s taking what might be the last remains of his financial security and putting it at risk, because he has the hope of a steadfast God who, out of his utter love for his people, remains steadfast. He chooses a basic, concrete way to express that hope, and puts that hope on display to all those who witness the transaction, including those who happened to be watching in the court of the guard. This is Jeremiah’s witness to a hope in the steadfast love of God Almighty.

Our Hope Is In Jesus the Christ

My friends, we too have a share in this hope, because we have in our Lord Jesus Christ the full expression of God’s steadfast love, of his desire to be with his creatures. Jesus Christ gives us hope, because he is the total forgiveness we need to be saved. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:16), the means by which we are able to be in communion with God. Through his death and resurrection, and by his faith, we are able to fully understand what it means to have hope. Hope finds expression in a variety of ways. In fact, one way of defining hope is this: Hope is faith put into practice.

I was watching an interesting movie trailer the other day for a film called “The Call of the Entrepreneur.” The film features three people who view their entreprenuerism as a response to a call. Jimmy Lai was one of those people, and he had this to say about the risk involved with starting a business. He said this: “Taking risk is dashing into hope.” It’s a tangible expression in the believe that something new and rewarding will be created. And we are challenged today to ask ourselves how we dash into hope. What are the visible, tangible ways that we, like Jeremiah, can express our hope?

One way we express that hope when we show up for worship. If we do not have the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ, then there really is no point showing up at the door of the church. The church gathered in worship is one of the significant ways we express our hope and our longing for communion with Jesus Christ and his church. That hope is enlivened and sustained right here, around Word, Font, and Table – all of these things are tangible expressions of that hope for us and for the world; tangible expressions like the purchase of some real estate.

We demonstrate our hope when we invest the time to visit someone who is sick, or is homebound. Hope is demonstrated when we participate in the mission activities of the wider community, like Mission 911.

This church has proclaimed its hope for the future in tangible, ordinary ways. For example, the replacement of our sewer lines to be an expression of hope, because we all hope they’ll be needed for the foreseeable future. The formation of a Pastor Nominating Committee, and the accumulation of funds for the support of a full-time pastor, is additional clear-cut, demonstrations and proclamations the hope be have. It is interesting to stop and think that some people in the church make donations like this with the knowledge that they themselves might not be present when a particular hope realized. And that is probably the clearest, most concise proclamation of the hope we have in Christ that I can image.

We don’t make blind speculative bets for the future, we respond to God’s call to the kingdom in the sure knowledge that God will remain steadfast to his promises.

I can imagine that some people thought Jeremiah was quite foolish with his land deal. Many in the world will call us foolish for placing our trust in Jesus Christ. But hope isn’t a blind bet. Hope is the clear knowledge and subsequent proclamation of God’s faithfulness and love. Jeremiah proclaimed this hope to a struggling people by buying his cousin’s land. In Jesus Christ, God has given us the full measure of hope. I’m staking my life on this hope. And no matter what happens to me, or to you, I share the Apostle Paul’s conviction that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39 NRSV).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.

1Clements, R.E. “Jeremiah.” Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988, p. 194.
2Ibid., p. 194.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Font, Table, Pulpit

Font, Table, Pulpit
Originally uploaded by whatnext
The interior of First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas, where I currently serve as Temporary Supply Pastor.

Copyright © 2007 by Christopher D. Drew