So, when Jeremiah buys a piece of land in prison, knowing that that land is going to be overrun by Babylonians, what is he doing? For one thing, he is standing on the promises that God made to Abraham. And he is sending a message of hope to the people of Judah, saying: "I put my trust, not in kings, not in armies, not even in a piece of property. But I'm going to buy it to show that I put my trust in God who will bring us home."
So, the message in the formation of Israel is this: don't let the enemy write your story. In concrete terms, that means don't lose hope in the midst of a messy divorce. Don't give up your faith because of financial stress or chronic illness. Don't abandon God or think that God has abandoned you because your life is busy or your family is crazy. Don't be tempted to go after other gods because you don't see how this One has done anything for you lately. Instead, do what the ancient Hebrews did. Like Joshua, keep telling your story, over and over, until you can find God in it. Because, by locating God in your past, you will be convinced that God is also living in your present.
Jocheved didn't just stand there. She made a basket of hope and gave Moses to God. If she hadn't let go of that basket, there would be no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no Mount Sinai, no people of the Covenant, no Promised Land. There would be no King David, no Jesus Christ, no Christian Church, no kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. You see, God has big plans. The prophet Jeremiah tells us: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." [Jer 29:11] So I don't care how old you are. If God were finished with you, you wouldn't be here. There's still life you need to live, still growing you need to do. So what we all need to do is make ourselves a basket, plaster it with hope, climb inside and push out into the river of life.
So the story of Joseph teaches us to put our hope onto a much bigger canvas than the one upon which we paint our little dreams and plans. Like most of us, Joseph was scheming for himself and didn't realize that he was part of a much bigger plan that no one but God could see or comprehend.
If you want to understand something about the intersection of race and religion in the world today, just read Genesis. It's a book that is chock full of ancient ethnography: stories that don't just tell us about individual heroes and heroines, but are intended to tell us about the relationships between different tribes and races of people. The story of Hagar is known by the three Abrahamic faiths, but it is told from very different perspectives by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all of whom have different motives in telling it. The question is not "whose version is the right one?" The question is whether the differences in these stories can still point to the same God and testify to the same hope. Is there Truth here that is not just tribal, but also universal?
Ephesians says that Christ came over 2,000 years ago to break down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, but wouldn't you know: the Israeli government has put it back up. Over 400 km long and not yet finished, the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel has been called a security fence by the Israelis and an Apartheid Wall by the Palestinians. Either way, it is a "wall of shame," and it stands as a symbol of the enduring hostility between Jews and Gentiles, between Israelis and Palestinians. And that wall poses a very challenging question for us: Does the God we worship through Jesus Christ have the power to take down that wall and make peace in our world?
As John Wesley kept reminding his followers, if it goes on for any length of time, physical pain will cause emotional pain which usually ends up causing some kind of relationship pain and without a lot of grace, will result in spiritual pain. Chronic pain can make us feel physically depleted, emotionally depressed, socially isolated and spiritually forsaken. And no pill or procedure, no matter how much it costs, can make all those layers of pain go away.
The horrible shooting at the church in Charleston shocked the conscious of our nation. And it is looking likely that nine dead African Americans will succeed in doing what countless civil rights and faith-based organizations have been trying and failing for decades to do: remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. I guess it's true what Paul says in our reading today: when you are weak, then you are strong. This act of domestic terrorism raises up questions for us: what is power and what is weakness? Did Dylaan Roof have power because he had hate in his heart and a gun in his hand? Were the church members weak because they didn't? Depends on your perspective, doesn't it? So today we're going to look at power and weakness from God's perspective.