Today we heard about a time in the history of the Kingdom of Judah where market values on property have just bottomed out. Not too different than what happened in the housing market crisis here in the United States in 2008 one that many states have not yet fully recovered from. Bill and I have some friends who bought their first home together in 2007 just before the crisis really became apparent. They paid full price for this condo in New Milford, CT and still they find themselves underwater in their mortgage payments. Now they feel as if it will be impossible for them to upgrade unless they decide to rent their condo while they move to a bigger place to live. But as many of you may know that brings a number of other questions around being a landlord. They worry and struggle with hope for their future. A worry and struggle that many young couples just starting out in today’s world struggle with.
Hope can be a hard thing to grasp on to and to make a reality in our lives when we are constantly faced with problems and struggles, as we look towards an uncertain future. Jeremiah and the people of Judah felt very much the same anxiety if not more so than we do now. Jeremiah was a prophet to both the northern kingdom of Israel and to the southern kingdom of Judah. Prophets were very rarely welcomed in the communities they resided in. In good times, prophets like Jeremiah walked the streets wailing and tearing their clothes preaching the destruction of the country. In bad times, they preached hope and redemption. The latter is true of Jeremiah when we meet with him for today.
The Assyrians have already taken control of Israel and they are laying siege to the kingdom of Judah and people are fleeing seeking refuge where ever they were to be accepted. And here Jeremiah from the confines of prison, preaches of renewal and hope to the people. He lets his cousin sell him a piece of land, a field, in a market where it is worthless and he pays full price knowing that the Assyrians were going to take it away from him. He makes the proceedings very formal following the law to the letter with the community standing as witnesses.
On the outside this seems like a simple land transaction. But it’s not. In his actions, Jeremiah gives hope to the people that there will be a time when this land will once more belong to them and that Israel has something to hope for in their future even as they prepared to enter into exile and Diaspora. With war pounding on their doors, Jeremiah reminds them that God will remember them and that there is hope in the uncertainty of tomorrow.
The same message applies to us today. Jürgen Moltman, a 20th century theologian of hope, wrote,
It [reality] is experienced not in the Epiphany of the eternal present but in the expectation of the future. That is why the present itself, too, is not the present of the Absolute – a present with which and in which we could abide – but is, so to speak, the advancing front line of time as directed purposefully towards its goal in the moving horizon of promise.
It is the expectation of a better future, a better tomorrow, that helps us remain hopeful. It helps give us the courage to keep working together, to keep trying to live Godly lives. It gives us courage to not allow the danger that knocks at our doors rob us of our faith in tomorrow. Moltman reminds us, as Jeremiah knew, that the present and the immediate future may be difficult but there is hope there to build us up. It is hope that keeps us going helping us to cope with the difficulties of the present. It is the hope that God still loves us and that some time in the future we will experience God’s goodness once more even if it seems impossible for the time being.
In our lives, we each have our personal struggles, our battles that we fight. Yet, it is our hope that keeps us from giving into darker emotions. It is our hope in something more meaningful that allows for us to rise above the hardships. It is our faith that keeps us going. I think sometimes we forget that. Our faith is in the love of God is a reminder to us that there is something more to life than land, property, and money. But where does that hope come from? Where do we start?
Hope starts in the expectations of what is to come. And this is what Jesus was talking about today in his parable when he said, “The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom”. In life, Lazarus suffered greatly as many people do in the world yet still he had hope that one day the suffering might end and sure enough he found comfort in presence of Abraham. The rich man in turn received his goodness in life and felt little for those who were in need. His fall in life had been that he looked only at the present for his joy in life and not towards the future, not towards something deeper and more meaningful. What we need to remember is that the present is ever changing. So why place all of our hopes and dreams on something that can change with the wind? Why not place our hopes, our dreams, upon the promises of God which offer more sustenance and meaning in life. It is the promise of a God that loves and cares for us, a God who promises wholeness in his presence that offers to give us a hope that is sustaining. We are called to place our beliefs, our faith in the one thing that humanity has no control over, the one thing that can make the difference between the things that cannot fill the emptiness and a life filled by love, and that is in the promise that God gives. God’s promise is that we are never alone, that we are always cared for, and that though this life may be difficult there is always new life in Christ. We are called to place our faith in that promise no matter what life brings. We are called to allow for that hope to encourage us to bring hope and care into the lives of others who may be experiencing harder times, to care for those who just might need to feel the love of God in their present.
 Moltman, Jürgen. Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of Christian Eschatology. SCM Press, London, 1973.
 Luke 16: 22-23, RSV.