Pastoral Prayer: Holy One, we gather this morning aware of hopelessness around us. Powers collude to threaten our future. Sometimes we conspire with these enemies unaware. The threat is real. Remind us today that in Christ we captives with nothing have been given everything by grace. Lord God let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight our rock and our redeemer. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.
In 1947 Andy Dufresne entered Shawshank prison sentenced to serve two consecutive life sentences for killing his wife. But he did not do it. A successful banker with nothing but his word that he did not do it, left him vulnerable to conviction. When he entered Shawshank prison he was befriended by Ellis “Red” Redding. Red had already served twenty years of his own life sentence for murder. He had just been denied parole when Andy began his sentence.
Some of you may already have identified these two as the primary characters in the 1994 Box Office failure known as The Shawshank Redemption. It cost $18 million to make and only earned $10 million dollars at the Box Office. Failure. But a line from the movie proves not only true for the plot line but also for the barely known Director Frank Darabont.
“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Darabont bought the rights to a Stephen King short story in 1987. He spent the next seven years writing the screenplay and directing the Box Office failure. But, when the nominees for the Emmys were announced for that year, The Shawshank Redemption, earned seven nominations. It was a bit startling. Tom Hanks who might have played in the movie actually won Best Actor for Forrest Gump. Quentin Tarantino’s, Pulp Fiction had John Travolta. Kevin Costner, who was considered for a part, was tied up with Waterworld. Lion King came out and who could forget Dumb and Dumber?
Once the Emmy nominations were announced plans to re-release The Shawshank Redemption were made and the re-release earned the movie $58 million dollars. Over the last 25 years, The Shawshank Redemption has gone from Box Office Failure to rank as IMDb’s, the Internet Media Database, #1 movie. What was met with a dismal start ended in a way that surely fulfilled Darabont’s hopes and dreams. Several years after the movie came out, Stephen King had the $1,000 check Darabont wrote him, a check he never cashed, for the rights to the film framed. He sent it back to Darabont with a note that said,
“In case you ever need bail money. Love Steve.”
If the story behind the making of The Shawshank Redemption is intriguing to you, then the movie will surely capture your every emotion. And when Andy, played by Tim Robbins, emerges from his 500 yard journey through a sewer pipe to freedom, you will want to raise your hands as he did in celebration with him. If there is a Hollywood movie more laden with biblical images and themes, even if the not made for TV version is as rough as you would expect a prison move, I don’t know it.
For instance, the scene where Dufresne escapes to freedom, the one I mentioned with his hands lifted, is in the form of a man hanging on a Cross as thunder peels and lighting lights the sky. The Bible in which Andy kept his rock hammer he used to dig his way out of the prison wall in his cell opens at the book of Exodus. More significantly, his friendship with Red is an illustration of Christ who became flesh and suffered with those whom society discards as unredeemable and beyond rehabilitation and led Red to paradise, Zihuateno. The driving force for Red are the ringing words of hope he heard as he read Andy’s note.
Somewhere Andy had buried a box in a field beneath a black rock that was out of place. He told Red that if he ever got out to find the field, find the rock and look for the box.
What, you ask, does The Shawshank Redemption have to do with Jeremiah 32? It is as good a question as it is when we heard our Text read and wondered, “What in the world does it mean that Jeremiah’s cousin came wanting him to buy a field in Anathoth?” Think about it, what does a real estate deal have to do with a people, even a prophet, that was under arrest and about to go into captivity with the rest of his people? How could this request inspire hope for a people who will be subjects of another power for the ensuing 70 years? Babylon was coming and an alliance with Egypt was no help.
The people we know as God’s people will be forced to sing their religious songs in a foreign land. It would be a taunting reminder of their own failures. Daily they will be faced with what they did, even those children born in captivity will face the haunting consequences for what their ancestors did. Their ancestors had failed to represent the character of God, of YHWH. They conspired to ignore that God called his people to give people what they deserved. That is, provide others the same grace and mercy they experienced. Rather than hold other people down on the basis of where they had been born and how much they were worth, they were to be a community of people that said no to any power that treated people less than those made in in the image of God. Instead they colluded with the powers to ensure they maintained life as they had enjoyed it. Nothing would stand in their way, even if the prophets ridiculed them for their faithlessness.
What sense does it make to buy a piece of property when your future includes being driven from the very land whose title you hold? It sounds as promising as a box hidden under a black rock in a field among fields. It makes no sense at all.
If we have learned one thing, been reminded of one thing, in our five week series in Jeremiah it is that God does not make sense at all. He invests his love and action in a people that repeatedly fail him. So if Jesus told parables, even on occasion was a living drama of a parable, it can easily be traced back to the prophets who often were asked to perform parables as drama. Think about it. Hosea was asked to take a wife of harlotry, a prostitute. The story of Hosea and Gomer proves to be a performative parable of the way Israel had chased after other gods and how God kept pursuing Israel despite and in spite of her rejection of Godself. It just does not make sense. It makes even less sense that a people pursued with such a determined love that they would pledge allegiance to any other.
And yet we do.
So, the real estate deal makes no sense to Jeremiah. That is, until he receives the request and views the request as a confirmation of God’s own word. Notice the progression. YHWH speaks to Jeremiah in verse 6. God tells Jeremiah what is to come. He was not sure. Surely it did not make sense for him to buy a field. He was under house arrest by King Zedekiah. He knew disaster was coming to Jerusalem. The people persisted in their rebellion. But, Jeremiah needed to know. When Hanamel came pitching the land deal as a, “right of redemption, for his own possession,” he discerned that God had indeed asked him to do something that made little sense given what Jeremiah knew about his own future.
The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah and reveals that hope makes sense when YHWH is LORD of all.
For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields shall again be bought and sold in this land.
Do you see? Does it make sense now? Despite what their immediate future looked like, the real estate deal represented a future hope. Jeremiah could take heart that his action in the face of disaster at the door would be overtaken by a future promised by God. He could move forward with hope. It was not that Jeremiah was an optimist. Remember, he wept with God over Israel whose actions would make us more pessimist than optimist. No, the real estate deal here in Jeremiah, just before Israel goes into captivity, a deal that does not make sense, is rooted in the promise of God that there would be a return after exile. Enduring the crisis was made possible by the hope represented in a sealed deed placed in a clay jar.
And this is our hope.
Seeing Jesus in Jeremiah brings the same plot line into focus. Jesus, God in the flesh, an earthen vessel, a clay jar the Apostle Paul images us, spent his life traveling through yards of sewer created by a people committed to their own best interest at the expense of others. Rather than seeing that justice is done, that everyone created in the image of God gets the good they deserve, some were determined to conspire and collude to get all they could. Let all those others fend for themselves. So Jesus shows up and leads those captive to the powers and those who conspired with them to freedom.
Emerging from that long trudge through all the muck created by a people Divinely loved, Jesus opens his arms on the cross and embraces his suffering, our suffering and in the Resurrection brings us a hope that these powers do not win. Even more, the Resurrection brings what is promised in the future into our present.
The Land the people were promised, even that Jeremiah purchased, was simply a deposit on a greater promise. In the New Testament, Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians in Asia Minor, that God gives us his spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. It is the imagery of the land as a deposit in the Old Testament. In other words, it is a real estate deal. God will redeem and reconcile all things to himself and the signpost he has given is the Church.
The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.
Jesus is the jar of clay in which God vested our own, and his own future. Jesus takes up a real estate deal and the Good News is that in Christ we have hope that we will not be overtaken by the crisis that we see on the horizon or that we are enduring. For in Jesus God has given us a future today.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen to the preached sermon here.