TAKING HOLD

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah. Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do?

Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’ “Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’ “I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy—  and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions:

‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’

1 Timothy 6:6-19

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Three-and-a-half years ago a teenage girl was murdered in the village of Kake.

I’d met her, and taken several pictures of her, four years ago this week, at the presbytery meeting that was held in Kake.

All across Alaska, thousands of people were angered by her murder, which happened in the vestibule at the Presbyterian church. OUR FRIEND, David Dobler, traveled to Kake after the murder to pray for pastor Joey, and to clean the crime scene.

But here’s what almost just as many people knew: Her murder was the tip of the iceberg, and iceberg of violence that happens to women every day in Kake and in Alaska.

I personally knew one other teenage girl in Kake who had been the victim of several assaults, and nearly died on at least one occasion.

A month ago- and maybe it was more recent than that- a woman from Hydaburg was murdered, in Klawock, by her boyfriend. Women from Ketchikan who knew her held a vigil in her memory right here, in our town=- and some of those women were probably part of the group that held a vigil here in Ketchikan following the murder three-and-a-half years ago in Kake.

The last few weeks I’ve been watching, one-by-one, old episodes of the show Longmire, which is a television type series produced by Netflix. One of the episodes I watched yesterday was centered around a rape case, in which the victim was a young Native American woman. The plot involved all the problems in prosecuting a case like that, including a reluctance to testify or even file a criminal complaint. Two of the show’s characters were discussing those problems, and one told the other- “There is a sweat every third Sunday, at a certain location, for women who have been harmed.”

This was news to the other character, and she asked, “A sweat! For women who have been harmed? How long has this been going on?”

The first character answered, “Forever.”

Forever. That’s how long it seems sometimes, and when forever has gone on forever, we are encouraged by the one the Bible calls the accuser to “give up on the goodness of God.”

The news this last week was filled with the shootings of black men.

The news has been filled with that kind of violence for a long time now.

Many of us disagree on that subject, I’m certain. But if you’re black, you have been suffering, and it seems like forever.

But in chapter 32 of Jeremiah, the suffering was pretty new. Israel had been attacked, and she was surrounded, and it looked for certain like her days were numbered.

Can you imagine? No, not unless something very precious in your life is coming to an abnormal end, and you are filled with terror so vivid that it grips your throat.

And Jeremiah? He was under a sort of house arrest, confined to the royal palace, being held hostage.

He was a man of God, and the various factions in Israel were fighting over him, thinking HE was some kind of talisman. But God had been telling Jeremiah, “This is going to last awhile.”

And Jeremiah was filed with grief. “God- does it HAVE to be this way?” And the answer that came was yes. But in these verses God said something else.

God said, “Go buy a field.”

Buy a field and have the deed recorded, and then store that deed in a secure place, and hold onto that deed in your heart. Because that deed is my promise, and my promise is good.

“Israel’s days are numbered, but life shall return to this very place, and children will laugh in the playgrounds, and tomatoes will ripen in the gardens, and salmon will swim in the streams, and people will LIVE off of my abundance.”

So this morning, in an African-American church in New Jersey, pastor Simeon Spencer is preaching to his flock, and he is telling them about the goodness of God.

He doesn’t NEED to tell them about their suffering, because their family stories include stories of slavery, and Jim Crow, and lynching’s, and rapes, and atrocities of every sort.

And they include stories of being spat upon.

On Friday I read a whole long thread by black Americans about the first time someone addressed them using the N word. Most of them were in grade school, and my friend Bert was at the Lincoln Memorial when someone first called him by that word.

So pastor Simeon does not NEED to tell his congregation the stories of their suffering, but he does need to tell them some more stories of God’s goodness- and the good news yesterday was of the ribbon cutting (actually, it was a bell-ringing) at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

This is what Pastor Simeon had to say about that event: “If God knows the end from the beginning, then the juxtaposition of the shootings at the beginning of the week against the opening of the museum today could be God’s way of trying to tell anybody who needs to hear it, “Hold on! I have not brought you this far just to leave you now.”

And this is what God says, whenever we suffer and whenever justice is lying beaten and bruised beside the road: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

And I am painfully and personally aware that for most of us, there is an almost daily need to be reminded that God is actually in charge here!

All we have to do is look around at our little church. We love God and we are filled with a wonderful spirit and our testimony is faithful, if not very loud.

We feed the hungry and we give to alleviate the suffering of the world and yet our neighbors shrug, and we have no idea how long we’ll be able to keep doing what we are doing.

But our testimony MUST be, “God is in charge,” because that was Jeremiah’s testimony. Israel’s days were numbered, but their God was still God of heaven and earth, no matter what happened to them.

So we need to look at ourselves, and think: I need to hold on to God’s promise- the promise that not even death can separate me form the love of Christ Jesus.

I need to take hold of that promise, and I need to live it through fire, and flood, and drought, and famine, and war, and riot, and struggle, and through grief.

And we need to say this together- repeat after me:

We need to set our hopes

NOT on the certainty of good things

but on the love of God.

And then we need to say that, in word and deed, no matter what is happening to us.

There was another scene on Longmire, in which the Sheriff was looking to hire a new deputy, and in the midst of interviewing 8 candidates, a ninth presented himself.

The sheriff essentially told him to leave and not come back, and he was severely disappointed.

Later that night, a deputy sat down beside him in a bar. “Did you REALLY think he would hire you? You have a record!”

“Misdemeanor arrests,” he said. “But I thought he would give me a chance.”

And he would not be consoled, except by one thing. That deputy nodded her head, and handed him a drink, and spent the evening with him in solidarity- together in al of their disappointments.

We need to testify, in every situation, that our hope is in the goodness of a mercy-loving God, because there are other folk who are struggling, surrounded by armies of enemies, and THEY do not KNOW the good news.

But if we tell them in the very MIDST of our own imprisonment,

It will be powerful testimony indeed.

And THAT is why we are here.

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

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