Peace and Redemption
6 Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: 7 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.” 8 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.
9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 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 in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 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. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Years ago I met a woman named Sister Mary. Sister Mary lived in Davenport, Iowa, one of the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa. She was there with a group of nuns who could have lived anywhere around the city. There were beautiful homes along the waterfront, parks further up, and wealthy suburbs that would have been safe and comfortable. But her group of nuns decided there was one neighborhood in particular that they needed to live in.
There was one neighborhood in Davenport, only four blocks long by four blocks wide, where half of the violent crimes of the city was taking place. Graduation rates were well behind the rest of the area. And while everyone else was seeking to get out of this neighborhood, Sister Mary and her friends were looking to get in.
They moved into a row house there, started an after-school program, opened a soup kitchen, created a new community garden, and spent every day of the week getting to know their new neighbors.
I remember being at a community cookout in this neighborhood, watching Sister Mary welcome each adult who came, and saying every child’s name by heart. I saw how hard she worked, and what she had sacrificed for this. And so about halfway through the cookout, I asked Sister Mary, “Why did you do this? Why, out of all the places you could have moved, why did you move here?”
And she said back, “Because this is where God brought me.” Mary saw that God hasn’t given up on this place. God hasn’t given up on these families and children. And so neither could she. She got to know these people — their gifts their flaws, their heartache and joy, and even with all the struggles, all the stats that were against them, Mary believed in them, Mary had hope for this place. And it was amazing what a difference her hope and vision had upon the people of this neighborhood.
The prophet Jeremiah had hope for a place that no one else did. Ten years before these words we hear from today. Jerusalem was sieged and taken over the Babylonian Empire. Many people starved to death. Many were killed by the sword. The kings of the land were murdered. Great prophets like Ezekiel and Daniel were taken into captivity.
And now the Babylonian Empire was coming back to totally wipe out the city. Soon the Temple would be destroyed, the walls torn down, the fields and vineyards trampled over, and all of the people of Judah taken as servants and slaves to live hundreds of miles away in Babylon.
Jeremiah knew this was coming. He knew the devastation, he knew the pain and loss and violence that was about to descend. He spoke about it before anyone else. So you would think that Jeremiah would want to flee the land, give up and go his own way.
But in our passage for today, Jeremiah does the strangest of deeds. He doesn’t run. He doesn’t flee. Instead he buys land in his hometown. He buys a plot of land from his cousin in Anathoth. Now Anathoth is only about five miles outside of the heart of Jerusalem. It has no chance of surviving. It would be like someone buying a piece of land in Syria or Somalia right now. You would think they are crazy. This place is gone. There’s no hope there. It is only a place of bloodshed, loss, and pain.
But Jeremiah has a message that this not the end of the story for Anathoth. It’s not the end of the story for Jerusalem or Judah or the people exiled into Babylon. It’s not the end of the story for those who find themselves in the middle of violence and terror and destruction. It’s not the end of the story, because God isn’t done working yet.
One of the most quoted scripture passages are these words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” They are beautiful words, but we often forget that they come out of this context, just 3 chapters before this story. They are written not to those who know peace right now, but to those exiled in Babylon, who have seen their homeland attacked, who know what true terror and loss looks like. They are God’s words to them and to all people who know violence and pain, “I still have a plan for you. I still am working for your hope and future.”
Jeremiah buys this field not because it makes any rational sense, but because God has told him to. God has not given up even on Anathoth, even on Jerusalem, even on the most war-torn, and difficult of places. “Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought on this land.”
Jeremiah buys this land because he wants to show to people that God is not a God of violence and destruction. God is not a God who gives up on any person or any place. God is not a God who says anything or anyone is beyond redemption. God is a God of all places, all people, even those we don’t always like to face. Even those places that may seem scary to us, that may seem beyond repair, that may seem irredeemable, God says, “For I know the places I have for you – plans to prosper…plans of hope and a future.”
Jeremiah also buys this land to show us what true peace looks like. Peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of Shalom – of wholeness and joy, connection and life. It is not just that this land won’t have bloodshed. It is that this bloodshed will be turned to fields of wholeness – grapes and wine, houses and yards, kids and families, playing and singing, worshiping and dancing, embracing and telling stories.
And if God can do that in Anathoth, in Jerusalem, in Judah, then God can do that anywhere. That is why Sister Mary moved into her neighborhood. Because she believed in God’s work of Shalom. And after she did, violent crimes dramatically decreased in that neighborhood. Graduation rates increased. People knew each other. And children felt safe playing and learning, singing, and eating on those streets again.
We may not be Sister Mary’s or Prophet Jeremiah’s. We may not be called to move into a new neighborhood or buy a piece of land from a cousin. But there are still many places in our world that need their vision of peace, their vision of wholeness, their vision of what God is still up to. And we are called to carry it on.
I invite you to remember Jesus’ words that you are salt and light. You carry with you flavor and joy and peace and renewal. So as you remember that, I invite you to come to two prayer stations. One is a station for salt prayers. On each table there are maps of our area, our nation and our world. Take some salt and pick out a particular area you know needs peace. And as you say a prayer for it, sprinkle your salt upon it.
The second prayer station are the candles to my right. Here I invite you to light one candle not for a place but for a person. Who do you know that needs peace? And as you light the candle, say a prayer for that person, remembering we serve a God who doesn’t give up on anyplace or anyone.