“Outrageous Acts” – September 29, 2013
“Outrageous Acts” – September 29th
Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15
“Let the Words of my mouth . . . “
It’s been a few years ago now, but I can still remember with great detail when Tracie and I moved to the Appalachian foothills of East Tennessee and decided that it was time to stop renting and to “take the plunge” into home ownership. We did what I’m sure many of you have done; we connected with a realtor, searched the classifieds, read all the “Home” publications, asked around about the schools, and did a lot of due diligence. We found a bank that was willing to give us a loan and we and began to fill our Saturday mornings, Sunday afternoons, and weekdays after work, looking at houses and more houses.
For us, one of the locations that seemed really promising was on one of the local lakes. How cool would it be to live on the water we thought? The old saying that “hindsight is 20/20” is really true and in our case, it was true regarding our realtor. Please, no offense to any realtors here this morning. She was nice enough, but a bit on the, how should I say it . . . pushy side. All seemed good at first, but as time went on we could tell that she was used to showing just a handful of houses and then pushing her clients to a decision. Maybe her title “million dollar producer” should have been our clue.
Anyway, we found a house on the lake that we liked okay, and she strongly encouraged us to make an offer, which we did. We left a bit excited but soon wondered, what have we done! We liked the house, but did not love it. The location was okay, but it was a part of the lake that would go dry in the winter, our commute might be long. OMG, what have we done!
Well, the sellers accepted our offer, with the contingency that they be allowed to keep their refrigerator. That was our out. We said no; have to have the fridge, so we walked away. Whew! I’m sure to this day, those folks still talk about the time they “almost” sold a house but lost the deal over a refrigerator!
In today’s Old Testament reading, we hear about the prophet Jeremiah and a real estate purchase that, on the face of it, just does not make a lot of sense. In fact, instead of an outrageous act, it seems more like a stupid act. Catch the setting.
It’s 586 BC and the Kingdom of Judah is on the brink of a takeover. The Chaledean armies have already taken most of the land and they are now starting to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem. King Zedekiah has tried to rally the citizens with various propaganda efforts, but it’s to no avail as most of the citizens are now in total despair. Some will die in the takeover but most will be taken away from their homes and into captivity in Babylon.
Now I can imagine that cash or even jewels, which could be used to buy food or maybe even stashed away until order was restored, might have had some value, but I sure that real estate was worthless, especially since the Chaldean armies have already taken it over!
But here is Jeremiah, being approached by his sly cousin Hanamel. Now Hanamel knew that Jeremiah had a right to this land, so he takes a gamble, hoping that his “religious nut” of a cousin, will bite. He offers a price that, before the Chaldean’s were tearing down the city walls, was probably quite reasonable. And Jeremiah accepts! Is he out of his mind!
We are treated to a long litany of details as the land deal is completed. The contract is written, witnesses are secured, the payment is carefully weighed out, and finally copies are carefully sealed in clay jars to be buried for safe keeping. This was not just a private transaction. Just as our closings become public records, Jeremiah’s prophetic act was being witnessed and I’m sure being talked about in the community.
“Did you hear what the crazy prophet just did”. “I can’t believe he is buying that land. What an idiot”. But Jeremiah knew what God had promised. He knew that exile would eventually end and that someday . . . maybe not in his lifetime, but someday, God’s promises would prevail. And he was right!
So what can we learn today from this “crazy prophet”? Is this a message for us to all go out and do some crazy real estate transaction? Probably not. Is it a message for us to be a little outrageous with our actions? Maybe. But what does that mean?
Outrageous actions can mean different things to each of us. I think it would be pretty outrageous for someone to go bungy jumping off the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge in Colorado. Sitting just over 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River, the idea of jumping off a perfectly good bridge for an 800 foot plunge qualifies in my book as outrageous.
I also think that it would be outrageous to hike the whole Appalachian Trail in one season. Hiking 15 or so miles per day; sleeping on the ground or in a shelter every night for 4 months; eating reconstituted food; enduring all kinds of weather; is pretty outrageous.
But danger or pushing oneself to the extreme is just one aspect. Outrageous acts can also be those actions that fly in the face of what society would call NORMAL or APPROPRIATE. And that is what we as Christians do. We are in a counter-cultural movement. We are asked to do things that the normal conventions of society often frown upon.
Think back to some of the lessons we have heard from Jesus in our journey though Luke’s Gospel. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”. “Sell all you have and follow me”. “Don’t sit at the place of honor”. And “The first shall be last and the last shall be first”. We see this upside down aspect in today’s Gospel reading.
Our story has two characters representing polar opposites. The rich man is not given a name, but is told to be dressed in Purple, so we assume that in the convention of that time, he is in an extremely high position. The poor man, named Lazarus, is so bad off that dogs are licking his sores, which would be as low as you could be in Jewish Society.
Both die and their status is reversed . . . the Rich man is in Hell and Lazarus is in heaven. Now we are not told that Lazarus was especially virtuous in any way or that the Rich man was evil or unjust. All we can glean is that he neglected to see, really see Lazarus and he let him go hungry. After pleading for a drink of water and being denied, the rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers but Abraham says that he can’t . . . that the message is already there . . . they just have to hear it.
And what is that message? It’s that God loves the poor, the widow, and the orphan. It’s Amos telling us to “let justice roll down like living water”. It’s Micah telling us that that we are to “have mercy and walk humbly with our God”. It’s Jesus telling us that whatever we do to the “least of these” we are doing to God. And to do this . . . justice, mercy, caring for the needy; often means we have to fly in the face of convention . . . we might just have to be outrageous.
Jeremiah was outrageous. To begin with he spoke the truth in the face of adversity. Remember, this is the same Jeremiah who earlier told God, “I can’t speak for I am just a boy”. Now he is speaking up against the King; telling him that his policies were wrong and that the country would eventually have to pay for his mismanagement. Speaking up got him placed under house arrest.
All this week there has been talk about a government shutdown for failure to pass a funding extension. Party lines have been drawn, but once again it’s the poor and vulnerable that get caught in the middle.
Coming this November, 47 million people who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known by the acronym SNAP), 22 million of them children and 9 million elderly or disabled will see their benefits decreased. Here in the VI alone, this will be a decrease in close to 4 million dollars. What will this impact be? Are we letting our voices be heard or are we like the Rich man . . . not seeing and not acting?
Outrageous acts. They go against the grain, but they don’t have to be huge like buying a piece of property like Jeremiah. They can be as simple as a phone call, letter, or email to a legislator.
Deciding to fast one meal a week and give the money that you would have spent on food to an agency that fights Hunger can be outrageous. Staying out all night on sea turtle watch, helping to protect an endangered species, is an outrageous act.
Committing to tithe 10% of your gross income to the church, putting your money into its mission and ministry, especially in these difficult economic times, is an outrageous act.
Taking the time to see, really see a homeless person can be an outrageous act. In San Francisco, a seminary student started sharing a McDonald’s hamburger and a cup of Starbucks with some of the homeless that he passed every day in the city. He was interested in not only giving them a meal and something warm to drink but in hearing their stories, of really seeing them.
Before you know it, others became involved and soon a hair stylist was donating time for haircuts. A dentist began offering some much needed dental care. Another helped with teaching and practicing interviewing skills. A full-blown ministry came from simply listening. Conventional . . . no. Outrageous . . . yes!
The parable of the Rich man and Lazarus is just that, a parable. It’s not intended to give us a systematic theology of what heaven and hell is like. But what is does do is tell us that as Christians, we need to be committed to social justice because God is committed to social justice. And this cause pushes us to do what society might just call outrageous acts.
There is so much more going on in the world than meets our common sight. God is alive and active, bringing new ways and new contexts in which to engage our insights.
Jeremiah invested in God’s future . . . he bought his field. What are we going to do?
Thanks be to God!
Let us pray:
God, we thank you for your Word which goes before us to lead, to guide, and to illumine our path. Help us to be doer’s of your Word and not just hearers. In Christ Name, Amen.