First Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-19
Gospel Reading: Luke 16:19-31
Sermon: “A Good Investment”
We have been studying parables the last few weeks, scratching our heads and wondering just what Jesus was really trying to say. Today’s parable is different, it seems pretty obvious what it is talking about – perhaps even frighteningly obvious, with an image of hell and eternal regret that tugs at our heart. It is quite true that scripture has a strong consistent theme that our love of wealth over love for our neighbors is sin. Matter of fact, Paul even equates greed with idolatry in his letter to the Colossians. The key point is this: It’s all a matter of where we place our ultimate trust and confidence – in the material things of this world (which is passing away), or in God, who is eternal. There… that’s the sermon, if you don’t listen to the rest at least remember that much.
But let begin with a parable in real life from our reading from Jeremiah. You really need to understand the backstory so that you can fully understand the point – from a worldly, practical point of view, his actions are plainly ridiculous and a foolish investment. But when viewed from God’s point of view, they speak of a deep abiding faith and the promise of new life, hope and redemption in the face of present disaster. Between these two viewpoints lies that seemingly uncrossable chasm that Jesus’ parable mentions. These perspectives are quite literally as different as heaven and hell.
As you may remember, Jeremiah was called to be a prophet at a young age. He was Born into a priestly family in the village of Anathoth, which was just a little ways north of Jerusalem. His early years speaking for the Lord were during a brief last bright spot in the history of the southern Kingdom of Judah – the reign of Good King Josiah. This boy king, who started his reign at only 8 years old, had the ruined Temple restored, removed the many pagan temples and shrines that had been built over years of rampant idolatry in Judah, and faithfully kept the feasts of the Lord for the first time in years and years. Jeremiah wept when he was killed after foolishly trying to intervene in a war between Egypt, Assyria and Babylon.
In the turbulent years that followed, the kings were first vassals of Egypt, and then Babylon. Jeremiah warned the people that God had sent the Babylonians as punishment for their centuries of idolatry. If they would only accept their punishment meekly and return to God, they would be restored. Unfortunately, Jeremiah’s warning were resented deeply and he was considered a traitor. People in his own home town of Anathoth plotted to have him killed! When a king named Jehoiachin rebelled against Babylon, he was forced to surrender and he, together with many of this officials and the leading citizens of the land, were exiled to Babylon. These first exiles probably included young Daniel.
A vassal king named Zedekiah was installed on the throne after Jerusalem had been conquered and things settled down for about 9 years, until he too stupidly rebelled. Babylon returned with a huge army and laid siege to Jerusalem for 2 years. Of course, Jeremiah’s message of divine punishment and urgent calls for repentance didn’t set well and he was thrown into prison during the siege. At this point, we are up to date for our reading this morning, when Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel shows up outside Jeremiah’s cell, offering him a portion of the family property that Jeremiah was bound by Levitical law to redeem – as we read in Leviticus 25:25 “If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold.”
Oh, he was in difficulty all right, Anathoth was right under the Babylonian army! Talk about a bad real estate investment – this was it from any sort of a normal, human perspective. Besides, the folks in Anathoth wanted to kill Jeremiah. But God was using this horrible situation to teach a powerful lesson. Jeremiah is told to go through with the purchase – which he carefully does – dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s, as we say. He takes the extra step of having his secretary Baruch seal a copy of the deed in a clay jar for long term preservation. Incidentally, this is exactly the same way that the Dead Sea scrolls were preserved for nearly 1900 years at Qumran.
The promise of God that Jeremiah was demonstrating was that the current state of affairs, horrible as it was, was not the ultimate reality – the will of God is the ultimate reality. Dear sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ, do we believe that so strongly that we are willing to live that way? Or are we trapped in a worldly mindset that says power and wealth are the ultimate security in life? From a worldly point of view what Jeremiah did marked him as a sucker and a fool. From a Godly point of view, Jeremiah shines as a faithful servant of the God of Israel.
So how are we to live? Well, Paul’s instructions to Timothy are a powerful antidote to this world’s noisy messages and the distortions preached in the name of unfettered consumption, popularity and ease. Paul writes 1 Timothy 6:6-10 NLT  …true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.  After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.  So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.  But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”
The section concludes with these word which are teach the proper use of the blessings that God gives us: 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT  Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.  Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.  By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.
Can you possibly imagine what the world would be like if all of us behaved that way and insisted that the powerful behave that way too? The road of materialism and self interest that the world preaches night and day is disastrous and ignores the way of the cross and the empty tomb. We have received Grace upon grace and God’s gifts are meant to be shared. The world tries to censor the Gospel with its so called reasoning and rationality. The church will continue to cause the Gospel to be heard in this world, yet it too often attempts to tame that Gospel because of societal pressures. But we know better — after all, someone we claim to know quite well did rise from the dead one bright Easter morning. For we who believe, it changes everything. God has bridged the gap and made it possible through his grace to understand that all of humanity has ultimate value – Christ died for all. There are no worthless, throwaway people. There is no ultimate security to be found in hoarded wealth and endless stuff.
Its time now to turn back to that disturbing parable that sounds so worrisomely harsh. Did you notice? The poor man is named, while the rich man is not? Did you also notice that even after his death, the rich man considers the poor man to be his potential servant and errand runner? These things are meant to warn us. They are not meant to be used as a literal description of hell, steeped as the are the the popular mythologies of the day. It most certainly intends to say that God’s perspective on this world’s values are completely opposite of what is practiced. I can’t help but see our current cruelty to immigrants here and worry about policies that value the profit margin of huge corporations over the workers that make them possible. Policies that mortgage the future of the planet for short term gain. They might make sense for the next Wall Street Forecast, but they are completely separate from the Testimony of scripture. Scripture tells us that contrary to appearances, these things are really bad investments.
The prophetic writings teem with such verses such as Isaiah 58:6-10 NLT  “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.  “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.  Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!  Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.”
It is against these verses that the parable is set. Is it practical? Is it Efficient? Will it maximize stock holder value for the next 6 months? Probably not. It is simply the command of God. Through his Son Jesus, God has shown us true love, total forgiveness, and commanded us to follow in his steps in loving gratitude. So now, how shall we live and invest the bounty that God has given us? I would recommend investing where the returns are eternal.