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.