Fields in Anathoth

Chad Holtz writes about a question that I hear from the lips and keyboards of more than a few people in the ordination process in the United Methodist Church: Am I climbing on board a sinking ship?

I was contemplating this question myself when I turned to my Bible for some devotional reading. I opened to Jeremiah, to the story of the field he bought in Anathoth.

Here is how the story goes.

Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians and certain to fall. The king would be captured and taken into captivity. The walls would be destroyed. There was no way to avoid collapse. All who had admired Judah now scorned her. Jeremiah had been placed under palace guard for prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem.

In the midst of all this, Jeremiah’s cousin came to him wanting to sell him a field in Jeremiah’s home town. God directed Jeremiah to buy the field, and so he did. He made a public display of making the purchase and placing his seal on the deed, despite the sense of doom and gloom that hung over the city. He put the deed in an earthenware jar, so it would be preserved for a long time. It was an act of faith built on the promise God had made to Jeremiah.

For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jer. 32:15, NRSV)

In my prayer time, this thought came to me.* Perhaps now is a time for buying fields the way Jeremiah did.

Yes, the denomination appears to be splintering. Yes, congregations are shrinking. Yes, the culture at large has turned against the very idea of Christianity in many ways. Yes, the superstructure built by previous generations of clergy cannot support itself and things they took for granted — rising pay, guaranteed appointment, comfortable benefits packages — may not be there.

The walls are falling. Zedekiah is going to be led away in chains. None of the king’s ranting at the prophet will stop that.

Perhaps a season of chastisement by the rivers of Babylon is upon us. But that is not the last word God has for us.

See, I am going to gather them from all the lands to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety. They shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for all time, for their own good and the good of their children after them. (Jer. 32:37-39, NRSV)

Fields will again be sold in Anathoth. We may be the generation who signs deeds and stores them away in the earthenware jars of our ministry so they survive the years of captivity and exile. But one day, healing will come after the punishment. One day, God will put his law on our hearts. One day, scriptural holiness will again spread like the word going forth from Zion.

Buy that field. It will be waiting for you when the exile comes to an end.

*I do not wish to be like the false prophets condemned in Jeremiah. My word here comes from me. I do not claim it comes from God.


28 thoughts on “Fields in Anathoth

  1. Thank you, John, for this word of promise and hope. I pray it be so.
    Interestingly enough, my devotional time the past few weeks has been in Jeremiah. Haven’t gotten to Anathoth yet, thus I’m still sitting in the midst of the lying shepherds and prophets and those who despise the word of God. The first 25 chapters feel rather fresh.

  2. So you’re assuming the condemnation / judgement / demise of the UMC?

    What does ‘buying a field’ entail in our time?

    1. I am not assuming, but I am responding to the worries and fears that I feel and I hear coming from others, especially those in the ordination process. The post is in response to what Chad wrote. In the immediate context of that post, buying a field would mean committing to the UMC even in the doubts people have about its future.

      It might be a metaphor for something else for other people.

      1. John, I am like you. I am committed to the future of the UMC, though I am not sure what will be in the future. Can I go it alone? I doubt it, for that is not what being a Methodist is about. For a number of reasons, I could not start my own church but I am thinking that maybe I could start some sort of meeting at my home.

        My own fear is that so many of those who proclaim the finality and exactness of the Scripture are blind to how we have held to that view in spite of what we know. For me, the battles taking place today are very similar to the battles that took place in the 1960s when segregation was acceptable because it was so stated in the Bible. Unfortunately, I have some friends who I think still secretly believe that way.

        I am not going to get into a verse quoting debate with those who tell me that certain actions are considered sins because of certain verses in the Bible. The Bible also says that I cannot be in the pulpit because I wear glasses but there is no one saying that I must give up being a lay speaker. We need to understand what the Bible is telling us about life and what God means to each one of us remembering that each person, no matter who they are, were created in His image.

        No matter where the field is, that is where we must answer the call.

  3. If General Conference 2016 is torn to shreds and delegates intimidated into apostasy, then what?

    1. Could you be more specific? I’m not sure what you mean by “delegates intimidated into apostasy”.

      1. Could it mean that Gary is suggesting that many individuals are going to be forced out of the church because of the actions of others?

        1. To clarify, I’m suggesting that intimidation may come to dominate the theater of General Conference 2016. I pray that would not be the case, but I think we can expect it to play a heavy hand. The current blog scene is tilted just that way…

    2. Gary, I don’t think that the 2016 General Conference is going to be torn into shreds. The way things are right now, I don’t think we will make it to 2016. I have a sense that many are going to take actions in the coming months that will destroy the church.

      1. Let’s be clear: the Institution may be destroyed, but the Church as a gathering of people seeking to be faithful to Jesus will remain. There are plenty of resources in scripture dealing with periods of exile and ‘earthly unrootedness’, such as Jeremiah.

        It’s really no matter to the disciple. Of course, I’ll need to find some other means of employment, but I’ve always wanted to work at a grocery store anyhow.

        1. Christopher, my reference was to the United Methodist Church. You are correct that the church in general will survive. However, how will it be rebuilt? The battles of the people inside the denomination are driving people away. Even for a disciple, there isn’t much promise right now.

      2. You are right that many are taking action to force a decision “in front” of GC2016. Will you go along with it? This is the time to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

        1. Gary, do you realise that all parties believe that they are serving the Lord? All parties are Christians trying to be faithful to what they see as God’s will on the matter. It’s not a war with winners and losers. It’s more like divorce proceedings where there’s loss on many fronts.

        2. Gary, there is something about the “tone” of your reply that bothers me. I sense that your vision of the situation/problem is 180 degrees from mine. I am formulating an answer that I will post on my own blog.

  4. Cegr76, Two stories come to mind when you say “all parties are Christians trying…” Jesus said many will come to him and say “Lord, Lord” and yet he never knew them. He also said that those who obey his commands are his friends (John 15). I have no doubt that many are sincere in their faith, but when judged in light of Scripture they are sincerely wrong.

        1. As someone who has been bought with a price, I don’t see it as my place to question “why” but to simply obey. I imagine Eve spent time musing about your question, trying to reason “what’s so bad about the fruit on THAT tree? It looks good to eat. What harm can it do?”

        2. Chad, I am being slightly facetious in this remark but where was Adam in this conversation? Would he have not had the same thoughts as Eve?

  5. Chad, so you’re certain that homosexuality is a sin, but you have an aversion to asking why?

    Love the Lord with all your mind… But clearly there is a line for you. Is there also a line for loving your neighbor as yourself?

  6. Not an aversion, just not a priority, as in: if I can come up with a good reason why this won’t hurt anyone, it must not be sin. I assure you I spent many years on that side of the coin, and at the end of the day it’s a hole-filled bucket.

    1. It’s not a priority to understand why something is a sin? What if you’re wrong? How would ever find out?

      1. How would I find out? I would go to God’s word and read there that homosexuality is a sin. The only real question is: Will I agree with God or not?

        forgive me, but I’m going to jump off the merry go round now.

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