Field of Dreams
Text: Jeremiah 32:1-3a; 6-15; Revelation 21:1-6a
Election Day draws nigh and with it comes the political rhetoric of “happily ever after.” Like the prince waking Snow White with a kiss, hapless hobbits defeating the deathly forces of Mount Doom, Aslan conquering the evil queen of Narnia, Harry Potter vanquishing Voldemort, “happily ever after” stories suggest that no matter what the current circumstances, good will finally prevail over evil. And, in “happily ever after” political stories, it is always clear who is good and who is not.
Jeremiah knew all about “happily ever after” tales. He had heard them in the temple all his life. Had he not been hounded by God, I suspect Jeremiah would have gladly joined the chorus of the “happily ever after” Judean singers. As Chapter 32 opens, King Zedekiah has thrown Jeremiah in the slammer because this stubborn prophet has refused to join the “happily ever after” choir. All the other TV preachers in Judah are hailing Zedekiah for his exemplary faith:
“A godly King if there ever was one!”
“A King who is not afraid to get tough on foreigners!”
“A King who is not politically correct!”
“A King who tells it like it is!
The evangelical preachers in Judah rave about King Zedekiah, but Jeremiah paints a different picture. Judah, says the gloomy prophet, is about to collapse under the King’s lies. Babylon is about to sack Judah and the day of kings, especially this King, is almost over. Zedekiah tosses Jeremiah in jail for daring to suggest that God’s chosen people will fall at the hands of these garish goyim.
Even in jail, Jeremiah does not let up. He tells Zedekiah that God has called the people not to privilege but to service. God has called leaders not to care first for the wealthy and the middle class but for those who are widows, orphans, and poor. Jeremiah tells the King to remember that the people he rules are descendants of beaten and forlorn slaves, so they can never neglect to provide justice for immigrants and aliens. He reminds the King that God’s people were chosen to bring blessing to all the earth, not to promote fear. He reminds that King, then, that God’s people can never settle for nationalism or isolationism. Jeremiah sounds shrill over against the sweet “happily ever after” tales being preached in pulpits throughout his land.
Today’s text begins when cousin Hanamel arrives for a family prison visit. He comes bringing an offer that Jeremiah cannot refuse. He offers to sell his imprisoned cousin a piece of hometown property that is about to be torched by the Babylonians. With family like this, who needs enemies?! No doubt to his great surprise, Jeremiah hears a voice from God, saying: “BUY!” And, even more surprisingly, Jeremiah does.
Baruch, Jeremiah’s friendly scribe, explains Jeremiah’s odd purchase. He writes: “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. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
By buying land about to be taken by Babylon, Jeremiah is not buying into the popular “happily ever after” tweets being sent from the royal palace. Just the opposite. The surly prophet says that God has not gone soft on Judah’s sin. He says: “God’s refining judgment is upon us; it is time to pack our bags and make sure that we have two pairs of good walking shoes, one to wear on the road to captivity and one to wear when God leads us back home. Jeremiah buys land in Judah as a down payment on the future, God’s future, not Zedekiah’s.
Writing from his prison cell, not long before he would be hung by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this note to his fiancée Maria: “’When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that houses and fields and [vineyards] shall again be bought in this land’, it was a token of confidence in the future. That requires faith, and may God grant us it daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures the world and loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer and M. von Wedermeyer, Love Letters from Cell 92, 1943-1945, pp. 48-49).
I love Bonhoeffer’s image of Christians standing on one leg. I immediately think of one of the few living creature that can sustain such a stance. Not only does an ostrich stand for long stretches on one leg, but it also buries its head in the sand. “Buy this field of dreams,” was God’s word to Jeremiah to stand on two feet, get his head out of sand, reject his colleagues’ “happily ever after” tale, and look for God’s irrepressible future.
Archbishop Desmund Tutu tells the story that “during the darkest days of apartheid I used to say to P.W. Botha, the president of South Africa, that we had already won, and I invited him and other white South Africans to join the winning side. All the ‘objective’ facts were against us – the pass laws, the massacres, the murder of political activists – but my confidence was not in the present circumstances but in . . . God . . . who cares about right and wrong . . . It was these higher laws that convinced me that our peaceful struggle would topple the immoral laws of apartheid” (Desmund Tutu, A Vision of Hope for Our Time, p. 2).
When some of you saw the title to this sermon, you no doubt thought of the classic movie of the same title with Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones looking out over a mythical field of dreams, one where great baseball players, living and dead, come together to play the game they love. That is not the kind of field that God called Jeremiah to purchase. There was nothing mythical about this transaction. Even as a symbolic act, Jeremiah bought real land, signed real deeds, registered real documents, engaged in real hope for the future of the land and for his people to live on that land, though nothing around him warranted that hope.
Jeremiah was labeled a traitor and a blasphemer for not buying into the “happily ever after” tale being told by the preachers and politicians of his day. Jeremiah would buy only fields of dreams envisioned by God.
It is not bad advice generations later, buy only fields envisioned by God, whether they be fields of truth, where we refuse to succumb to daily national lies masquerading as truth; whether they be fields of justice, where we refuse to demonize immigrants or remain silent when parents are separated from their children on the border or shrug our shoulders in impotent dismay when there is one more mass shooting; whether they be fields of mercy where our compassion is not limited to those who look like us, vote like us, pray like us, love like us.
At the end of the first century of this era, facing the terror of Emperor Domitian, fearing the collapse of Christianity in its infancy, God led John of Patmos to buy a field of dreams. God sent John a vision of a throne, but on it was not the residing emperor of Rome and the message from the throne was not another Roman “happily ever after” tale. Says John, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: ‘See the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God’s people, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more . . . the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:3-5)
With fire about to engulf his beloved land, God tells Jeremiah to buy “a field of dreams.” Marooned on a prison island, God tells John to buy, “a field of dreams.” Mired in the quicksand of apartheid, God tells Tutu to buy “a field of dreams.” Those who traffic the haunting landscape of Gethsemane and invest in the risky property of Golgotha know that there is but one “happily ever after” land and we do not just drive there like we drive to Disneyworld. The road to God’s field of dreams always routes us through the state of justice, the back roads of forgiveness, and the reconciling work of mercy.
Knowing that, it is time, high time, to dismiss the “happily ever after” tales to which we cling so tightly.
It is time, high time, to cling tightly to God’s alternative future.
It is time, high time, to buy a field of God’s dreams.